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What Is a Trackhoe?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 17, 2024
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A trackhoe is a type of excavator used in heavy construction that is built upon a pair of rotating tracks similar to what army tanks use. The name comes from the machine being similar to the backhoe in the UK. Using a trackhoe in construction is often done to finalize the demolishing of a building after a wrecking ball has knocked down the bulk of its walls and structure. The trackhoe has an articulated arm with a large bucket on the end, which is used to break apart concrete and other debris, pick it up, and deposit it in a dump truck or other location to be carried off-site. They are also used as the excavator name suggests — to dig up the ground around a foundation and prepare it for new construction.

Trackhoe machines come in a range of sizes, with the smallest models being called mini-excavators or compact excavators. A similar type of miniature version of an excavator usually built on wheels instead of tracks is the American made bobcat, or skid loader. It is often used in confined spaces where a trackhoe would be too awkward or too heavy to do the job. Trackhoes are also generally referred to as diggers or a "360" when they are capable of turning 360° on their axis. If a similar machine has wheels at its base instead of tracks, it is referred to as a "rubber duck" in UK construction terminology or a "Yumbo" in Japan.

The trackhoe is a common machine seen on construction sites during the early phase of preparing the land for building, but they are also used in a variety of other industries. They have applications in demolitions and mining, as well as finishing work around buildings such as landscaping. Their ability to turn completely on their axis and lift heavy loads also makes them useful where heavy pipe is being laid or if rivers or other waterways need dredging.

The heaviest trackhoe construction equipment weighs in at 85 tonnes, and requires a firm foundation on which to operate. Even moderately-sized machines, however, can be difficult to operate, as there are many safety precautions that must be followed. They are also machines that are used for a diversity of tasks, so operating a trackhoe requires someone with a familiarity in many types of outdoor construction and mechanical engineering environments. The Occupational Outlook Handbook for the United States listed 75,700 US jobs in the excavating machine field as of 2008, with projections that the overall outlook in material moving would decline by 1% between then and the year 2018.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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