How Caterpillar Skid Steer Loaders & Multi Terrain Loaders Work

By: Karim Nice

What They Can Do

Demonstrating the use of the grapple bucket
Photo courtesy Caterpillar

Skid steer loaders and multi terrain loaders are versatile machines, and are fairly easy to operate. They can turn within their own footprint, just like a tank.

There are several steps to getting started:


  1. Use the convenient grab handles and steps to climb over the bucket and get in. Fasten your seatbelt and lower the wrap-around armrest.
  2. Turn a key to start the engine, just like you do to start your car engine. If the engine is cold, you might have to wait a few seconds for the glow plugs to warm up.
  3. Release the parking brake to unlock all of the hydraulics.

The loader has a foot throttle, which, like the gas pedal on your car, makes it go faster. It also makes the loader arms move faster.

Operating the loader is simple. There are two joysticks: The left-hand joystick controls direction, and the right-hand joystick controls the loader. Each of the joysticks controls hydraulic valves that regulate the flow of hydraulic fluid to either the hydraulic motors that power the wheels or the hydraulic cylinders that power the loader.

Skid steer loaders have wheels, while multi terrain loaders have tracks.

The track configuration of the Caterpillar Multi Terrain Loader transfers machine weight to the ground through 48 wheeled contact points.

The advantages of tracks include:

  • Increased traction (especially in slippery conditions like mud or snow)
  • Low ground pressure and high flotation
  • Track tread design prevents damage to the surface
  • Reduced soil compaction

Driving a Skid Steer Loader and Multi Terrain Loader

When you push forward on the left-hand joystick, all four wheels start to spin, or in the case of the multi terrain loader, both tracks start to turn. If you keep the joystick pushed forward and move it to the left, the machine turns left. It does this by slowing down or stopping the two left wheels or the left track. The farther left you push the joystick, the slower the left wheels or left track will move. The opposite is true when moving in reverse: If you pull the stick all the way back, the machine goes straight backwards, but if you then move the joystick to the left, the right wheels or right track will slow down, causing the machine to turn right. If you center the joystick and then push it to the left, the left wheels or left track will move backward and the right wheels or right track will move forward -- this turns the machine around in the smallest possible area.

Operating the Loader

The right-hand joystick controls the loader arms and bucket. Pulling the joystick back raises the arms, and pushing it forward lowers them. Moving the joystick to the left tilts the bucket up, and moving it to the right causes the bucket to dump.

Controlling the loader arm and bucket of the skid steer loader

One of the cool features of the Caterpillar Skid Steer Loader and Multi Terrain Loader is the anti-stall device. The pumps that power the wheels or tracks and implements can sense the load, so they won't exceed the power capacity of the engine.

Next, let's take a look at the drive system.