Chances are you don't own a Bobcat, boom-lift, or backhoe and don't need to. But you've probably needed a piece of burly, specialized equipment to keep your jobs on schedule or to complete them.

Luckily, you can rent almost anything from a 36-inch, walk-behind trencher to a 60,000-pound excavator. All you need is a driver's license and major credit card and you can get that lot cleared, road cut, or those holes augered without much prep work. However, when it comes to using manlifts and forklifts, you may need a certification class before the rental company will deliver equipment to your jobsite.

Going up. Contractors who rent aerial work platforms, including telescoping-boom forklifts, cherry pickers (boom lifts), and scissors lifts, often must take a safety certification class. You can usually find someone to teach it right at the rental company; classes take anywhere from four to eight hours and cost about $60.

Tipping is a real concern with aerial work platforms, so classes focus on maneuvering them, tilting, load points, operation on uneven ground, and checking the machine's blind spots.

Some rental companies may not require you or your operator to take the class. However, they should provide operators' manuals and additional printed safety and operational information. Furthermore, they should talk you though any machine you're inexperienced with. A good rental agent will tell you do's and don'ts for operating the machine effectively and safely.

Taking delivery. Before the machine shows up, have the local utility field rep mark your site to prevent piercing gas, electric, telephone, or cable lines. Next, designate one of your crew members as the equipment operator. Doing wheelies in a Bobcat is fun, but whether you're excavating a row house basement or hauling materials around a new construction jobsite, people and property can get wrecked fast by a careless crew.

Your operator should inspect the machine at delivery with the rental agent for damage before it even comes off the trailer. The operator should understand all the appropriate preventative maintenance (if any) and hold the keys until the work is done. It's your employee's job to use the proper fuel; drive with the bucket, forks, or arm as low as possible (especially on a hill); lock the machine at night; grease fittings; and/or wash the equipment down before it goes back. You and your operator should read and understand the operational instructions and the rental agreement.

Problems. Check your own insurance policy to be sure you're covered for using this kind of equipment on site. A damage waiver from the rental company can give you some protection, too. The damage waiver (which costs about 12 percent of the rental fee) covers accidental damage to the equipment while it's in your care. It doesn't, however, cover you from neglect. If you're using the machine improperly and you break it, you're out of luck.

Some problems, like a mechanical breakdown or flat tire, are unavoidable. If something like that happens, call your rental agent as soon as possible. If the problem is the company's fault, they should come out right away to fix it or deliver a new machine. Note when the machine went down and when they got it working again; ask the company to adjust your bill accordingly. If the breakdown is your fault, a company representative will come out, too. But this time you'll cover the trip and you won't save anything on downtime.

Mission accomplished. Once you've finished using the machine, call the rental shop right away to get it off your site. It's not making money for anybody if it sits there. If you can, wash it to avoid cleaning charges. Finally, remember to feel like a kid again with a new Tonka truck, at least for a minute.

What's Available

There's almost nothing a big shop won't rent you for hauling, lifting, or digging. Although the national chains like Sunbelt, United, and RSC use regional pricing, here are some ballpark figures for a weekly rental excluding delivery and pick-up charges:

Skid-steer loader (Bobcat)

$400
Backhoe/front-end loader $650
6,000-pound telescoping forklift $800
36-inch trencher $325

Mini excavator (9-foot arm depth)

$450
Single-axle, 5-yard dump truck $600
+ 25 cents/mile

45-foot cherry picker (boom lift)

$600
20-foot scissor lift $300
80-hp bulldozer $1,200

Sources of Supply

Sunbelt Rentals
888-334-7570
www.sunbeltrentals.com

United Rentals
800-877-3687
www.unitedrentals.com

Rental Service Corp. (RSC)
888-736-8772
www.rentrsc.com

Hertz
800-540-3444
www.hertzequip.com