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Paving, Compaction, and Milling Buyer's Guide

Paver History: The first concrete paver was dreamed up in 1903 when a concrete mixer was fitted on a frame. It mixed the concrete, emptied it onto the ground between wooden forms, was moved forward, mixed another batch and dumped it for leveling by hand. Before long, the rig became motorized and eventually moved along a highway pour site on tracks instead of steel wheels. By the middle of the 20th century, mobile asphalt pavers were developed. The concrete pavers began employing slipforms — that is, the forms defining a paved area became part of the paving machine itself. The industry advanced thanks to inventors named Blaw and Knox and Barber and Greene. Concrete pavers were developed to fashion curbs and gutters and sloping pavement. Eventually, the traditional method of guiding pavers using string was replaced by laser systems.

Compactor History: Early compacting machines were simple, horse-drawn rollers. Steam-powered self-propelled units followed in the mid-19th century with kerosene-fueled compactors following that and then diesel-powered units. The configuration of rollers evolved and rubber-tired and vibratory rollers came along. Today, compaction machines are produced in a variety of specialized models and sizes and some of them are quite sophisticated in their engineering, with operators able to monitor and respond to changes in the surface temperature of the asphalt and adjust the compaction psi of a roller.

Cold Planer History: Old pavement that needed replacement used to be broken up into chunks and dumped in a landfill or utilized as riprap. As the price of oil rose in the late 20th century, enthusiasm grew for recycling pavement materials. Planing machines were developed to strip the upper layer of asphalt pavement for reuse, with new asphalt then overlaid on the planed surface. Concrete milling machines also became commonplace. Today, concrete and asphalt milling typically produces more than 200 tons of recycled paving material each year.

If You Are Buying

Find Pavers, Compactors and Milling Machine Models and Specifications

Find specifications and charts for a host of Pavers, compactors and milling machine in our Equipment Specs and Charts section

Pavers, compactors and milling machines are specialized pieces of heavy equipment. In evaluating them, the primary consideration for a contractor should be matching a machine to his current and anticipated workload. Some criteria to consider:

1) Optimum size and configuration

Some pavement projects are small — think sidewalks — and some are miles-long freeway jobs. To efficiently serve this wide spectrum of applications, a range of models has been developed. Example: Small cold planers can remove a couple of inches of asphalt in a 20-inch-wide pass, whereas an 1,100-hp, 100,000-lb behemoth planer can rip up 14 inches of asphalt across a 13-foot span. Pavers and compactors vary almost as widely. So, before they invest in a new or used machine, buyers should know with some exactness the range of work they envision doing.

2) Auxiliary questions

Machine choices have rippling ramifications. For example: Larger equipment always comes with more baggage — i.e., investing in a 30-ton cold planer instead of a 10-ton machine will mean additional transportation headaches. A conveyor-fed paver generally requires more personnel than a smaller gravity-feed unit — that is. higher labor costs. Should I buy a smooth drum roller and a rubber-tired unit — or can I save money with a drum-tire combination model? A buyer needs a firm understanding of his business plan before he invests in a pavement machine.

If You’re Renting/Leasing

The large size of many of these machines — especially the pavers and milling machines — equates to large price tags. Therefore, renting them can make sense for a new company or an established one with an urgent but temporary need. The specialty machines are available from dealers and heavy equipment rental houses. Some pointers:

1) Still under warranty?

Nothing says “Good Condition” like a piece of rented equipment straight out of the factory. The next best assurance for a long-term renter is to be able to contract for a machine still under warranty. Therefore, dealerships and heavy equipment suppliers that maintain rental fleets of low-hour machinery should be first-choice rental destinations. Though these machines are durable — pavers will handle hot mixes and abrasive slurry and keep working for 20 years — having a warranty is a good for peace of mind.

2) Choices: Short-term, long-term, options to buy

It is worth remembering in rental that dealers and rental houses want to move a machine almost as much as you want to put one to work, especially these specialty machines. Consequently, several rental options are apt to be offered. Short-term rates can be negotiated, so ask. Longer-term deals can get pretty creative, including renting-to-own options that mitigate upfront costs, as well as flexible multi-year leases. In every case, the deal ultimately is not as important as how well the rented machine meets your need.

Tips On Inspecting Used Machines

Constructing and de-constructing pavement is stressful. Pavers deal with abrasive and hot mixes. Rollers repetitively roll across a hot mat of new pavement. Cold planers chew hard pavement into fine rubble. The machines are tested every workday. Though you can’t take a second-hand paver or planer out for a test run, there are other ways of determining condition.

1) Where the wear is worst

Principal operating components of any machine wear faster than structural ones. Some points of contact are especially vulnerable. The screed plate on asphalt pavers, for example, can wear out quickly, particularly when harder aggregate is part of the mix. The drums and carbide cutters in a cold planer bear the brunt of the machine’s violent deconstructive force. If scraper bars on drum rollers are ignored, they fail to keep the revolving drums clean and wet. Focus on critical wear points in your inspection.

2) Don’t overlook the little components

The spray heads on a compactor should be clean so the wetted roller won’t pick up asphalt from the mat, damaging the surface. Same for the cooling and dust-control spray heads on planers. Belts and chains are integral to successful performance of any of these pieces of heavy equipment. Worn-out heater units can lead to increased wear elsewhere in a paver. Auger bearings are out of sight; if they also are out of mind, they can stop a machine in its tracks. Have a tech support guy look at the small, critical parts.

3) Hallmarks of abuse

Denting and scraping of heavy machinery occurs under the best management. Minor accidents happen. However, careless use of construction equipment is another matter. If the drums on a compactor are scarred from flagrant travel over rock between paved areas, the surface will mar a new asphalt mat. Hopper wings on pavers are vulnerable to being bumped; a bent one means such bumps were frequent. Abusive treatment of the visible parts of a machine should make one wonder about the condition of unseen components.

What You Can Expect to Pay

Heavy street and highway paving equipment has enough manufacturers to make the market competitive. New and used models are widely available at widely ranging prices.


Prices for new models depend on brand, power and capacity, optional features and general market demand. Looking at prices from dealer to dealer or region to region is worth the trouble. Hereafter are some categories of pricing:

  • A four-track slipform concrete paver with intelligent controls and telescoping frame may cost $750,000
  • A 105-hp asphalt paver with a 15-foot paving width will cost in the neighborhood of $200,000
  • A 40-ton, 800-hp cold planer with a maximum cutting depth of 13 inches and a milling width of 88 inches could cost $700,000
  • A 12-ton single-drum vibratory roller with enclosed cab and a 114-hp engine might cost $170,000

  • Used

    For used machines, comparing value is more difficult because of additional variables including the year of manufacture, number of engine hours, and general condition. Hereafter are some pricing examples for conventionally outfitted second-hand pieces of paving equipment with fewer than 2,500 operating hours:

  • A 170-hp slipform concrete paver with a 24-ft-wide paving width will range from $300,000 to $400,000 in price.
  • A midsize asphalt paver with a nine-ton hopper and a poly-plad track will cost in the range of $90,000 to $110,000.
  • A midsize milling machine with a 500-hp engine and the capability of cutting 12 inches deep is priced at $300,000 to $400,000.
  • A 13-ton, tandem drum vibratory compactor with a Tier IV 150-hp engine could cost as much as $150,000.

  • Rented

    Prices are determined by size of machine, local demand and the volume of rental competition in an area. Two examples: (1) An online survey suggests the rental price for a cold planer with a 48-in-wide cut is $650 a day, $1,600 a week and $4,100 a month; (2) The going rental price for a .52-inch tandem drum compactor is $260 a day, $825 a week and $2,300 a month. Some rental companies give corporate and fleet customers a lower rate.

    Some Financing Options — Buying a piece of heavy equipment purchase usually involves financing the investment. Leasing a machine with an option to buy can lower upfront costs for customers wanting eventual ownership of an excavator. If owning a machine outright is your choice, companies have structured programs to make it happen.

    Specs and Features to Consider

    1) Right machine for an application

    To each his own — the maxim is applicable to selecting a piece of heavy equipment for a particular pavement situation. To just shop for, say, a paver is a fruitless quest. Refine your search. A slipform concrete paver is suitable for highway work but a triple-roller tube paver can work better in a confined space. Paving bridges? A bridge deck finisher is made for it. Want to plane some irregularities from an old roadway — or refurbish entire traffic lanes? Different machines. Laying concrete on the flat or on a slope? Some machines do, some don’t. How thick a mat needs rolling? The thicker it is, the heavier the weight — though too heavy a roller can over-compress a mat. Decisions, decisions.

    2) How the machine rolls

    Pavers long ago rid themselves of the original iron wheels, yet the requirement to be mobile remains. To allow modern asphalt pavers to creep along and lay uniform surfaces, manufacturers have opted for different solutions. Traditionally, wheeled pavers were the preferred option, but tracked machines are gaining popularity. If you are looking for a unit with tracks, will that be rubber or steel? Do you need a rubber-tired compactor or a steel drum model — or a combination tire-drum roller? The cold planer for which you shop, will that be one with a three-track of a four-track undercarriage system? Knowing the benefits of each mobility system will enhance the chance of getting the right one.

    3) How much hi-tech do you need?

    New technologies cannot be dismissed as bells and whistles. Nearly every technological advancement contributes to increased productivity. Slipform concrete paving contractors slowly are moving away from string lines set up by survey crews and toward 2D sensor systems to guide their progress. Three-dimensional systems are expensive but becoming more popular. Compactors vibrate-roll to induce maximum compression — now some rollers are being equipped with “intelligent compaction” electronics that constantly adjust vibratory rates. The latest advancements in these pieces of equipment come at a price, of course, but they can be cost-effective production add-ons.

    How much technology is enough? The question hints at Luddite thinking, inferring that progress in machinery systems and materials is optional and perhaps dangerous. In point of fact, breakthroughs in electronics and other engineering fields have ushered in greater production at the same time they have diminished physical and mental stress for paving industry operators. Highway and street construction machinery has benefited from such advancement.

    Concrete and asphalt paving equipment has been enhanced by sensors. For example, hot mix asphalt pavers for some time have been using thermal imaging from an infrared bar that measures the temperature of the finished mat behind the paver. The readings tell job superintendents how quickly a compactor needs to start rolling the new pavement. Those infrared bar readers now are being supplanted by infrared cameras and sensors that give more accurate data, improving the final product.

    Some concrete pavers still are guided by survey crew string lines, but two-dimensional sensor systems have gained favor. The 2D systems control grade and slope without the physical hassle of stakes and string. The latest system — 3D — gives another dimension, the width of a pour. Working from a computer model inserted into the paver’s electronic control system, the concrete is poured with exacting smoothness and depth. Result: a more pleasing driving surface with minimal investment in materials.

    Compactors have moved from simple heavy drums to carefully calibrated vibratory rollers that ensure uniform and long-lasting road surfaces. Onboard computer-generated “intelligence” systems on compactors now measure such exotic data as downward displacement (the force being delivered), frequency of rotations and speed of the moving machine. This and other data is read out in real time but also is saved for later quality evaluation. The numbers determine the “stiffness value” of a paved and compacted hot asphalt mix roadbed.

    Undoubtedly, the advancement in paving and compacting machinery will continue. The best, nearly always, is yet to come.

    4) Nitty-gritty: Maintenance and durability

    Big and heavy machines with many moving parts have ongoing support issues. They can do wondrous work, but only if they are maintained and looked after like, well, big babies. Some manufacturers make it easier for owners by incorporating efficiencies wherever they can. For example, in some planers, the drum studded with ripping carbide teeth can be quick-released for replacement. Field maintenance is made as easy as possible since the machines cannot be easily trundled to the shop. While fuel efficiency is not a hallmark of these machines, electronic systems are improving it. In short, ponderous pavement machinery is a big responsibility, but manufacturers are lending a hand..

    Some Milling, Paving, Compacting Brands

    Allen Engineering — This Arkansas firm started out in readi-mix concrete work in 1964 before moving into concrete-handling products. It introduced its oscillating bridge deck concrete finisher in 1981 and the triple-roller tube paver in 1989.

    Astec Industries — The Tennessee company dates from 1972 and is best known for its aggregate processing equipment. But it has incorporated into its family of businesses the Carlson paver product line and Roadtec cold planers and asphalt pavers.

    Bomag — This German equipment manufacturer company was formed in 1957 and rollers soon became its signature product. In 2013, it took over some Terex lines in the United States including CMI and Cedarapids. It offers several compactor, paver and planer models.

    Caterpillar — After Caterpillar was formed in 1925, it ended up in Peoria, Ill. In 1991, it purchased the pioneering paving equipment company, Barber-Greene. Today, Caterpillar manufactures tracked and wheeled asphalt pavers, milling machines and various rollers.

    Dynapac — A Swedish firm, Dynapac was formed in 1934. It introduced the first vibratory roller for asphalt compaction in 1953. It offers a complete line of rollers — single- and double drum vibratory models, pneumatic, steel drum and combination.

    Gomaco — Founded in 1965, Gomaco is an Iowa firm that manufactures a variety of concrete paving products such as nine slipform paving machines. One of its curb-and-gutter pavers can pour a curb with a tight two-foot radius turn.

    HEM Paving — An Iowa firm founded more than two decades ago, HEM produces a wide range of concrete paving machinery. Among its concrete paver products are slipform, form-riding, quad-tube, micro-overlay and slope-sided canal models.

    Leeboy — Dating back 56 years, the North Carolina firm builds a variety of construction products including asphalt pavers and rollers and includes the Rosco line of compactors. Acquired by a Singapore firm, ST Engineering, the company has global operations.

    Mauldin — Part of Calder Brothers, a family company headquartered in South Carolina, Mauldin manufactures several lines of construction equipment including four asphalt pavers — the largest a 16-ft-wide model — and several small-to-midsize drum compactors.

    Miller Formless — The Illinois company formed in 1970, principally as a concrete curb and gutter machinery company. Its slipform pavers include a large model, M-8800, which methodically pours concrete walls 9 ft. high or lays pavement 20 feet wide.

    Power Pavers — Founded in North Carolina 67 years ago as Power Curbers, the company originally focused on concrete curb-forming machines. It patented and built its first slipform paver in 1970 and today has a lineup of slipform pavers and form pavers.

    Volvo Construction — The Swedish company dates to 1832. Among its paving industry equipment are 13 rubber-tired or steel drum compactors and seven asphalt pavers. The company acquired pioneering paving companies Blaw-Knox and Ingersoll Rand.

    Wacker Neuson — A blacksmith in Germany founded this company in 1848. Today, it manufactures a range of construction equipment, including compact rollers. The largest asphalt compactor has 54-inch-wide vibrating drums and is powered by a 49-hp engine.

    Wirtgen — This German company dates to 1961. It introduced a line of cold milling machines in the 1980s and today its products include Hamm rollers and Vogele asphalt pavers. In 2017, the company was acquired by John Deere.

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