Mobile, multipurpose material handling machines, skid-steer loaders can maneuver in tight spaces. Pallet fork attachments make them a handy means of moving brick and concrete block across a jobsite. Masonry contractors also find skid-steers useful in demolition, site preparation, and cleanup work. Contractors in the market for a skid-steer loader face a dizzying array of models produced by more than 15 manufacturers. NAME FITS TO A TURN With turning radii measuring from 52 to 139 inches, skid-steer loaders can be operated in confined spaces such as residential, downtown, and urban areas. Most units are steered with two levers, each controlling a hydraulic motor that powers one side of the machine. The machine is steered by having the tires on one side of the machine go forward while the tires on the opposite side go in reverse. The operator literally skids the vehicle to steer it. As a result of this method of steering, the tires undergo tremendous wear and tear. VITAL STATISTICS A basic skid-steer unit, which typically comes with a general- purpose bucket, costs from $5,000 to $30,000. The price increases with operating load capacity, which varies from 550 to 4,000 pounds. Some skid-steer models have more than 30 attachments available. Most masonry contractors use only a few: pallet forks, various buckets for cleanup work, and hydraulic hammers for razing old walls. There are also attachments for laying pavers, rotary brooms for sweeping, and backhoe attachments. PERFORMANCE CLUES The best way to determine a skid-steer loader's performance is to rent it first to make sure it meets your needs. Durability also affects performance. The average life expectancy of a skid-steer loader is 3,000 to 5,000 hours for most applications and customers. For maximum durability, look for a machine made out of a heavier-plate steel. It is especially important to consider the cost of maintenance when shopping for a skid-steer loader. If you buy a lower-priced model, the initial savings may be lost to excessive downtime and upkeep and repair costs.