Review: Caterpillar 966H wheel loader

By: Tim Dittmer, Photography by: Tim Dittmer

Presented by
  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

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Two Cat 966H wheel loaders are being used at the tip face at a New Zealand landfill to handle the incoming fill.

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Top features of the Cat loaders are: Smooth, fast hydraulics; a quiet, comfortable cab with good visibility; easy access to engine bay; built-in lift points; and clear and simple-to-use controls. 

C and D Landfill takes cleanfill, concrete and demolition waste and also sells hardfill. When the time came to upgrade its loaders, owner John Morgan chose two Cat 966H wheel loaders. Both are predominately used at the tip face to handle the incoming fill from a constant stream of trucks and are operated by John's daughters: Paige, Alana, Janita and Simone.

The major differences between the two loaders is that one is fitted with a standard bucket and conventional steering, while the other features a rock bucket and Command Control Steering. The standard bucket has more capacity than the rock bucket and is also more suited to loading trucks with the hardfill from the site. The rock bucket copes better with the larger pieces of concrete.

C and D Landfill keeps the 966Hs registered and road legal so they can be driven to work sites.



Power comes from an 11.1L Caterpillar C11 ACERT engine, giving the 966H loader 286 horsepower. An electronic planetary powershift transmission with four speeds forward and reverse allow a top speed of 37.4km/h while a maximum of 305 litres a minute are available from the load-sensing hydraulic pump, which delivers the required amount of oil to the loader functions.

John is pleased with the tyres fitted to the Cats. "Although the loaders are working among demolition waste, etc, between the three machines on site there would be on average only one to two punctures per year," he says.



All the daily check points can be accessed and viewed from the ground through opening panels. A mechanical ram with manual back-up tilts the whole rear hood for easy access to the engine bay; it also features built-in lift points to aid the full removal if needed.

Caterpillar has made it possible to remove the cab in about 45 minutes; all the pipes and wires are fitted with quick disconnects so nothing has to be cut.

It has also grouped the service points around the machine and made them easy to get at and work on. The large rear grill swings out, followed by the coolers, to allow easy cleaning of the cooler cores. A bank of oil sampling valves is located on the right side by the centre pivot and allows quick oil samples to be regularly collected from the engine, transmission and hydraulic systems. The oil samples are analysed to detect abnormal wear of components, which helps keep minor repairs from turning into major failures.

Greasing is taken care of by an auto greasing system that regularly emits a small amount of grease to all the pins.



Climbing up into the spacious 966H cab is easy with plenty of steps and large handrails. The steering wheel and controls are fully adjustable and the air suspension seat gives great comfort. Air vents around the cab help to keep the large windows clear.

Both loaders have the same cabs and controls; the only difference is with the steering wheels. One is fitted with a conventional steering wheel; direction is selected by a lever under the wheel and twisting the same lever changes the gears. The dash is fitted with easy to read gauges while a main console mounted on the top right cab pillar houses all the switches and controls. A right-hand joystick operates the loader functions, and a trigger-operated transmission kick-down button and horn are also incorporated into it. There are detents on the joystick that are programmable to assist with loader operations.

The other loader is fitted with Command Control Steering - an ergonomic looking wheel that allows the 966H to be fully turned one way with just a 70-degree movement of the steering wheel. Incorporated into a hand piece mounted on the wheel is a forward/neutral/reverse switch and thumb-operated upshift/downshift rocker switch. All the machine drive controls are at the operator's fingertips so they don't need to let go of the wheel.



I drive the conventional steering loader first. The Cat easily pushes through a truckload of dirt. Once the bucket is full, lifting it a little gives the loader more traction for the climb up the face, where it is tipped out. The noise level inside the cab is relatively low, even when working at full power.

The joystick control for the arm and bucket combines the two actions and allows smooth movements. Having the transmission kick-down button on the joystick is great. The loader can be driven around in a higher gear and when the operator approaches the pile of dirt a gear can be dropped without having to let go of the steering wheel. The gear changes are smooth even while under load.

The detent on the bucket control is very handy when pushing up the fill as it allowed me to look over my shoulder while backing up for another push and the bucket automatically returns to be parallel with the ground. As soon as I'm ready to go forward the bucket is exactly where I want it.

The 966H has plenty of power and hydraulic speed; it easily tackles anything asked of it, and considering it weighs over 23 tonnes the big Cat feels quite nimble.

The Command Control Steering probably wouldn't suit every application or operator, but definitely makes operating it a breeze. Having all the controls mounted on the wheel means I can steer while thumbing up through the gears without having to let go of the steering wheel. The Command Control Steering gives very fast manoeuvring while remaining smooth and precise.


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