The name “backhoe” refers to the action of the shovel, not its location on the vehicle. Backhoes draw earth backwards, rather than lifting it. A backhoe loader is a tractor-like vehicle with a backhoe at one end, a front loader on the other and a swiveling seat to position the operator facing whichever he is using at the time. In North America, this arrangement is often referred to as simply a backhoe or, when on a chassis originally derived from farm tractors, a tractor loader backhoe. To differentiate, a backhoe on its own dedicated chassis may then be referred to as an “excavator”.

Backhoe loaders can be designed and manufactured from the start as such, or can be the result of a farm tractor equipped with a front end loader and rear backhoe. Though similar looking, the purpose-designed backhoe loaders are much stronger, with the farm variation unsuitable for heavy work. The farm variation also requires that the operator switch seats from sitting in front of the backhoe controls to the tractor seat in order to rearrange the equipment while digging, and this often slows down the digging process.

With the advent of hydraulic powered attachments such as a tilt rotator breaker, a grapple or an auger, the backhoe is frequently used in many applications other than excavation and with the tilt rotator attachment, serves as an effective tool carrier. Many backhoes feature quick-attach mounting systems for simplified attachment mounting, dramatically increasing the machine’s utilization on the job site. Backhoes are usually employed together with loaders and bulldozers.

Backhoe loaders are general-purpose tools, and are being displaced to some extent by multiple specialist tools like the excavator and the speciality front end loader, especially with the rise of the mini-excavator.

Sometimes a backhoe bucket is reversed to work in a power shovel configuration. This is generally when loading from a large stockpile, for picking up or filling material next to walls, to increase the reach of the machine, or working around obstacles such as pipes.

Sometimes a backhoe arm is used as a crane, by slinging the lifted object from the support linkages behind the scoop.


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