Picking the Right Equipment for the Job: Toro Breaks Down Compact Utility Loaders vs. Skid Steer Loaders

Different equipment is needed for different jobs, but how exactly do you make the distinction between a skid steer loader (SSL) or compact track loader (CTL) and a compact utility loader (CUL)? Kyle Cartwright, marketing manager at Toro, guides us through some of the key considerations.

In the construction industry, SSLs and CTLs have had a long-standing role at jobsites large and small. Ideal for hauling heavy materials such as soil, sand, rock and trees from point A to point B, skid steers can immediately increase project efficiency. However, in recent years, CULs have also become a popular choice for construction jobs, blurring the lines between SSLs and CULs. Historically, CULs had been reserved for smaller-scale construction projects because of a lower operating capacity as compared to SSLs. Manufacturers of SSLs were able to claim that skid steers were more productive on-site. However, today, CULs like the Toro Dingo TXL 2000 can lift over 2,000 lbs — that rated operating capacity even exceeds the capacity of some entry-level skid steers.

To further distinguish the two classes of equipment, CULs include a better vantage point during operation, better maneuverability due to their size, and easier mounting and dismounting than the larger SSL/CTL counterpart. Many of Toro’s Dingo CUL models have the ability to pass through a standard 36-in. gate to access areas where space is limited. These mounting benefits are leading to conversations around the right equipment to have on-site. Perspectives shift when equal lifting capacities can be reached, but the CUL offers even greater maneuverability than the SSL/CTL — and with a lower price tag, generally speaking.

Comparing Features

Vertical vs. Radial Lift Loader

One of the many features that can help contractors decide on equipment is whether they need a radial lift or vertical lift out of a skid steer. A vertical lift loader design on a skid steer or CUL is ideal for reaching lifting heights that cannot be achieved with a radial lift design. Many projects can be completed with a radial lift unit, and ultimately, the contractor will be able to decide whether or not a vertical lift design is needed. Historically, the rated operating capacity is higher in vertical lift loaders, which also makes an impact on the decision. As a CUL, the Toro Dingo TXL 2000’s vertical lift loader arm helps it reach the same rated operating capacity as entry-level SSLs/CTLs.

High-Flow Hydraulics

A second feature that Toro customers are seeing benefits of is high-flow hydraulics and auxiliary hydraulics. Especially useful in specific applications on the jobsite that require digging, such as auger applications and trenching, high-flow hydraulics deliver extra power through the attachment, helping it muscle through the task. It only delivers the right amount of power at the right moment — without bogging down the machine’s drive system.


While horsepower is undoubtedly a specification to consider, it’s not the same driving factor it was 20 years ago. When Toro launched the market’s first CUL, horsepower was hands down, the main focus. Today, technological advancements have propelled the skid steer’s performance and CUL equipment classes in ways that are not fully dependent on horsepower. There’s a long list of additional features to consider when selecting the right piece of equipment for the job. Beyond horsepower, savvy contractors are considering the overall performance, which hinges on hydraulic system pressure, flow, and machine design, among other features.


SSLs and CTLs are historically known to include a wide variety of attachments, making this machine a versatile option for tackling construction jobs. However, CULs also include a wide array of attachments that are available for various jobs. Many manufacturers, like Toro, offer an entire suite of attachments to help the end-user accomplish the task at hand. For example, Toro offers over 35 different Dingo CUL attachments, including implements like the auger attachment for quickly and easily digging holes, the trencher attachment for utility installation, and a soil cultivator for construction applications, just to name a few. With such a wide range of attachments at the contractor’s fingertips, CULs also prove to be versatile as they are innovative.

The lines continue to blur between skid steers and CULs, leaving contractors and equipment managers with a tough decision. Rated operating capacity previously helped differentiate, and favor, skid steers, but it’s no longer a focal point in the conversation. Greater importance is put on size, power-to-weight ratio and price — all of which favor the CUL. Contractors will have to decide if having a smaller, nimbler piece of equipment is the most important factor. CULs deliver the same amount of power, but in a smaller package, many use tracks instead of wheels. Tracks have come to be universally recognized as the more turf-friendly option, leading to widespread adoption. By choosing a CUL, contractors can reap the benefits of tracks without having to upgrade to larger equipment like a compact track loader.

Some contractors may still see the need for skid steers, but the right CUL can take their place without a drop-off in rated operating capacity. Different cost factors like capital investment costs, maintenance costs, transport, and warehousing costs also come into play — but each is historically lower for CULs over SSLs/CTLs.

For contractors looking to purchase a CUL today, they should certainly select a machine that’s proven itself through extensive testing, is well-respected in the industry and is backed by a large network of dealers. Toro was the first to introduce this equipment class in North America over 20 years ago, and still continues to make important innovations to the equipment category today.

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