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Backhoes 101 – The Most Versatile Machine Around!

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Backhoe Loaders 101

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Volvo BL70 Loader pictures at work. Photo credit Volvo CE

Backhoe loaders are among the most versatile types of heavy equipment available today. They are known by many different names all over the world; the term digger, backhoe, excavator backhoe, or retrocargadora all refer to the same equipment. In general, a backhoe can be described as a machine with a shovel or bucket unit on the front, with a backhoe on the back. Due to their start from farming tractor equipment, backhoe loaders have a tractor-like look about them.

Although various manufacturers offer backhoes in several sizes, they tend to be relatively small in comparison to other type of heavy equipment. Their size is one element which lends to their popularity; their versatility is another.


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A used BL71P3 backhoe loader from Volvo available from

Size makes backhoes maneuverable and easy to transport. The number of attachments for and applications of the machine makes it versatile. Backhoes can be found on construction sites big and small, road building projects or excavation and earth moving sites. Smaller backhoes can be easily used for small landscaping projects; large backhoes can be utilized on demolition projects.

Attachments available from various manufacturers just lend this. Plow, breakers, buckets and thumbs all make the backhoe loader increase a backhoe’s versatility, according to Volvo CE.

Global Use

Backhoe loaders are popular in developing nations due to versatility, size and cost. While bigger construction and mining efforts employ a fleet of very large, very expensive machines, contractors and municipal works in developing nations can get the applicability of several machines with just one backhoe. Their size makes them easy to haul and move from site to site. Their relatively low price makes them accessible where other machines are simply impossible to procure from the cost perspective.

We see a very strong demand from Latin America for backhoe loaders, though they are a popular machine across developing countries.


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A Volvo backhoe loader getting the job done. Photo credit: Volvo CE

A backhoe loader can do a lot of things, but a machine of this size can never match the strength of large dozers or excavators. When extensive excavation or earth moving output is required, for example in mining applications, the larger, more powerful machines are required. In these cases, however, backhoe loaders are often still on the jobsite– helping to support and clear the way for larger machines.

Another limitation is the new-vs-used questions. As developed nations completely adopt Tier IV fuel and engine quality standards (there was even talk of Tier V compliance at this year’s Intermat!), developing nations may potentially loose some sources of used backhoe loaders. This is due in part to the lack of availability of high quality fuels in many developing nations (more on that here). Without the right fuel, the latest backhoe loaders will simply not function in many parts of the world without a detiering performed on the unit, which may not be available, may not detier enough for really high-sulfur fuels or may not be economically viable. Importing or resale of used, low-tier engine backhoes becomes an attractive option in many construction markets worldwide, as long as they can still be found.


  • A backhoe is a versatile, relatively small piece of heavy equipment that feature a backhoe in rear and a bucket in front
  • Backhoe loaders have many applications: excavation, landscaping, road building, material handing, and more
  • Attachments offered by manufacturers make backhoes even more usable: plows & breakers are two examples
  • Size, price and versatility make backhoe loaders very popular machines in developing markets
  • Size can also be a draw back: backhoes will never outpace  a 30-ton excavator
  • Tier IV requirements in developed countries make used backhoe loaders a good option in developing nations