Used Equip­ment Test: Cat 311cu ex­ca­va­tor

Ron Horner ran into the owner of a tidy lit­tle Cat 311cu ex­ca­va­tor he re­viewed a cou­ple of years ago and the con­ver­sa­tion came around to how the Cat was far­ing th­ese days

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

Ever won­dered just how much money a ma­chine could earn in its life­time? I have, and af­ter speak­ing to so many con­trac­tors and hav­ing the plea­sure of owning over 50 ex­ca­va­tors in my life­time, the mind bog­gles at the an­swer.

We haven’t done a fol­low up on any of our re­views to date so it was by chance that I ran into the owner of a tidy lit­tle Cat 311cu ex­ca­va­tor which I re­viewed a cou­ple of years ago and the con­ver­sa­tion came around to how the Cat was far­ing th­ese days.

When we looked at it in 2016 it had ac­cu­mu­lated about 8000 hours for the 2008 model, was in need of some work to bring it up to scratch but had worked many of its hours in the dif­fi­cult ter­rain of the Scenic Rim and be­yond – steep, rocky and heav­ily tim­bered coun­try.

I cheek­ily re­quested an­other look over and an up­dated re­view on the now 10,000-hour ma­chine of which I was for­tu­nately granted. Date and work­ing ad­dress sorted, we ‘cof­feed’ (no dou­ble caramel lat­tes here), shook hands and both looked for­ward to the catch up.


We were very for­tu­nate when the owner dropped the Cat 311cu up to the test­ing grounds for us to check it over whilst it was cleaned and on its way to the next project. First im­pres­sions are that, in my opin­ion, Cat got this one pretty well spot on for its day. Over­all pre­sen­ta­tion of the 10,000-hour ma­chine is pretty good con­sid­er­ing its work­ing con­di­tions en­dured over the last five or so years.

A trained eye can im­me­di­ately zoom in on some good points – namely the track ten­sion­ing, no­tice­able oil leaks, well-greased pins, square­ness of the cut­ting edges or teeth, bucket or dip­per arm slap due to well-worn pins, dents in body work, glassed cab in tack, over­all clean­li­ness and pre­sen­ta­tion. All those boxes ticked off with­out a worry and, be­lieve it or not, I’m keen to have a look at this lit­tle favourite of mine (I am known to tear up with some ma­chines … I do tend to get a bit sen­ti­men­tal).

A few ex­tra scrub scratches, a handrail miss­ing, maybe a new small dent on rear off-side but min­i­mal is­sues on a ma­chine work­ing in th­ese con­di­tions and of such age. Sur­pris­ingly to me, the tracks and track gear had not been touched in the two years since the pre­vi­ous re­view.

A few crazy cracks had de­vel­oped in the bushes hous­ing the track pins, the drive sprock­ets which, in my opin­ion were pretty worn way back then, still had life in them. This tidy lit­tle trac­tor just sat there pa­tiently await­ing its in­ter­view and the time has come to give it a work out.


As in our first re­view, the cab was pris­tine. Dark tinted win­dows ad­dressed the bloody hot and hu­mid con­di­tions of the Queens­land sum­mers and, with the AC set to 18 de­grees, we had R




Pre­sen­ta­tion of the 10,000-hour ma­chine is pretty good con­sid­er­ing its work­ing con­di­tions en­dured over the last five or so years.

some­thing in com­mon im­me­di­ately. Seat­ing in Cat gear has al­ways been above par in my opin­ion. Good qual­ity, firm, multi-ad­justable and, if you have had a good cover on it, the Cat seats are just like new, even at the 10 year mark – fan­tas­tic.

As with all Cat gear, it doesn’t mess up the dash­board with too many bells and whis­tles (well, not in this model). It’s easy to iden­tify, easy to read and laid out to the right-hand side of the con­trol panel and fac­ing the op­er­a­tor – per­fect. Ig­ni­tion switch, AC, travel speed, wipers, lights and throt­tle are all within a wrist ac­tion from the op­er­a­tor’s seat but you will have to turn your head and look down to ad­just or op­er­ate some of the switches due to the po­si­tion­ing of the arm rest.

For­ward/re­verse con­trols are in the nor­mal po­si­tion but foot con­trols for bucket tilt or hy­draulic flow are lo­cated each side of the travel levers. How­ever, this ma­chine comes with a blade and the con­trol blade is to the right and in front of the con­trol panel. (This blade can be floated to tidy up those lit­tle er­rors we may have in­ad­ver­tently cre­ated.) All the glass is spot­lessly clean and in place, and the fresh smell of Ar­mor All ‘whiffs up’ the nos­trils upon clos­ing the door.


Cat is run­ning the turbo-charged 3064T, four­cylin­der en­gine push­ing out about 80hp (60kW) and 260ci or 4.3-litre. En­trance to the en­gine bay is via the top lift en­gine cover, where you find the ac­cess to the en­gine suit­able enough for daily main­te­nance but can be a bit of a pain if you drop a span­ner in the hole. In­verted oil fil­ter, fuel fil­ter, dip stick, belts for ten­sion­ing, ra­di­a­tor and en­gine cover are all easily ac­ces­si­ble from the point.

Hy­draulics are well po­si­tioned at ground level off the side and to the rear, with the hy­draulic sys­tem re­lief pres­sure set at about at 5000psi. The fuel tank lim­its your day to about 18 hours (in our demo). Twin hoist rams, the longer dip­per arm and the blade cap off a well-bal­anced 12-tonne dig­ger.


This is the part I have been wait­ing for! The owner had the lit­tle Cat head­ing off to a tree- and veg­e­ta­tion-clear­ing job in the lo­cal area, so when it ar­rived at our test­ing grounds it was fit­ted with an Oz Buck­ets rock grab fit­ted to a Jaws quick hitch.

Once on the job it was again back to re­al­ity and the hard yakka as­so­ci­ated with tree clear­ing us­ing a rel­a­tively small ma­chine (12-tonne).

Care­ful plan­ning on one’s ap­proach to drop­ping trees while get­ting good pro­duc­tion and not dam­ag­ing the lit­tle Cat was al­ways a pri­or­ity and it’s easy to see how a ma­chine of this size can get dam­aged. Rocks abound in ev­ery direc­tion and a sys­tem­atic plan of at­tack was re­quired as we set out to fall the thick tree and lan­tana-lined hill­side and sep­a­rate the thou­sands of rocks which lay be­neath the veg­e­ta­tion.

In this re­gion, the rocks pro­trude from a me­tre above to a me­tre be­low ground level. Mul­ti­ple changes from rock grab to bucket to rip­per and

back again surely make for an in­ter­est­ing day at the of­fice but, once the rou­tine is set, it is re­ally sit back, tune in to your favourite ra­dio sta­tion and look for­ward to the big pic­ture fin­ish at the end.

The se­cret in this type of ex­ca­va­tion/veg­e­ta­tion clear­ing is to keep your job clean. Sep­a­ra­tion of top­soil, veg­e­ta­tion and rocks is only part – but an in­te­gral part – of a suc­cess­ful out­come be­cause you have to cre­ate your stock­pile ar­eas ei­ther for removal, re-use or burn off be­fore you get bogged down. This be­comes a chal­lenge in it­self as you bat­tle with your own mind to keep the move­ments of all the ex­cess ma­te­ri­als to a min­i­mum yet ex­act max­i­mum pro­duc­tion for the day.

If I have said it once I have said it a hun­dred times ... the blade on this ex­ca­va­tor is about as good as you will get. It’s built with very ro­bust H-frame box arms to house the blade and to han­dle the bloody rough rocky con­di­tions, is de­signed for­ward of the track frame for the op­er­a­tor to get great vi­sion to both cor­ner tips, and is strong enough to give you that ex­tra lift height re­quired to place those rocks or logs just that bit higher. What Cat achieved on this model some 10 years ago, in my opin­ion, has not been fol­lowed through with at least one of its newer and much larger mod­els. Some­times it gets some­thing wrong but, with this old model – the 311cu ex­ca­va­tor – Cat got it right. I viewed with great in­ter­est the new Cat 15-tonne F-Se­ries ex­ca­va­tor at Diesel, Dirt and Turf a cou­ple of weeks ago and was very im­pressed with the new tech­nol­ogy adapted into to­day’s ma­chines and am hop­ing for an in­vite to demo one in the fu­ture.


Hav­ing re­viewed this ma­chine be­fore and be­ing left suit­ably im­pressed, I was more than keen to see how it fared in the tough work­ing en­vi­ron­ment once a cou­ple of thou­sand hours had been added to the clock. Speak­ing to the owner, she said she would be lost with­out the right-hand lo­cal man, Mitch Wag­ner, who had taken on full ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance of the lit­tle Cat since we last spoke.

This ma­chine was over­all bet­ter pre­sented than last time, all hy­draulic leaks fixed (in­clud­ing the nasty one up in­side the slew mo­tor), bucket pins re­placed, and all the gear clearly ser­viced and main­te­nance re­ports com­pleted on ev­ery­thing as­so­ci­ated with the ma­chine. This ma­chine has mul­ti­ple at­tach­ments that com­prise hy­draulic rock breaker, spreader bar, five buck­ets in­clud­ing hy­draulic tilt, rip­per and log grab, which en­sures the Cat can take on sev­eral projects and be per­fectly suited and pur­pose-built for the re­gion.

As for the ques­tion in the open­ing para­graph … I’ve of­ten said that if you can’t make money with an ex­ca­va­tor you bet­ter go back to your of­fice job! The owner of this lit­tle Cat says care­ful plan­ning, good main­te­nance pro­gramme, skilled op­er­a­tor and choos­ing your clients well means you will be well on the way to mak­ing plenty.

Cat – not only ‘built to be re­built’ but, in this case, build­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for those in in­dus­try.

I’ve of­ten said that if you can’t make money with an ex­ca­va­tor you bet­ter go back to your of­fice job!

3. Drive sprock­ets are still go­ing strong 4. Cater­pil­lar proven diesel en­gine 3


3. The Blade has per­fect op­er­a­tor vi­sion 4. Su­san, the owner of the Cat 311cu 6


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