How to Choose the Right Vacuum Excavator for Your Application: Trailer, Vac Truck or Truck-Mounted?

Vacuum excavation has emerged as a game-changer in the construction and utility industries, offering a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional excavation methods. Whether you’re working on a horizontal directional drilling project, potholing, or any other application that requires precise and non-destructive digging, choosing the right vacuum excavator is crucial.

When faced with the task of excavation, especially in areas congested with underground utilities or in environmentally sensitive locations, traditional excavation methods can be risky and inefficient. Enter vacuum excavation, a modern solution that combines precision, safety, and efficiency.

Vermeer Vacuum Excavator at Work

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what vacuum excavation is, how it works, the benefits of using vacuum technology, and how to choose between different types of vacuum excavators for your specific application and tasks.

What is Vacuum Excavation?

Vacuum excavation is a non-destructive digging technique that uses high-powered vacuum systems to safely expose underground utilities, pipelines, and other buried infrastructure.

What Is Vacuum Air Excavation

Unlike traditional excavation methods that rely on heavy machinery and manual labor, vacuum excavation employs a combination of air and water to loosen and remove soil, debris, and other materials from the excavation site.

What is Vacuum Excavation?

This technique is particularly useful for uncovering underground utilities, performing maintenance work, and digging in tight or sensitive areas without causing damage to existing infrastructure.

How Does Vacuum Excavation Work?

Vacuum excavation operates on a simple yet effective principle. It involves two main components: high-pressure air or water jets (hydro excavation) to loosen the soil and a powerful vacuum system to suck up the loosened material into a debris tank.

Vermeer Mega Vac Vacuum Excavator at Work

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the process:

  1. Preparation / Setup: The area to be excavated is marked and prepared, ensuring that all necessary safety protocols are followed. The vacuum excavator is positioned near the excavation site, and hoses are extended to the targeted area.
  2. Loosening the Soil: A high-pressure water jet or air wand is used to loosen the soil and break it up into a slurry.
  3. Vacuum Extraction: A powerful vacuum system is then used to suction the slurry, safely removing it from the excavation site and depositing it into a debris tank or spoil containment system.
  4. Utility Exposure: As the soil is removed, buried utilities, pipelines, or other infrastructure are carefully exposed, allowing for inspection, maintenance, or repair work to be performed.

The collected material can later be transported to a disposal site or used as backfill if suitable.

Why Use a Vacuum Excavator? The Benefits of Vacuum Technology

Vacuum excavation offers numerous advantages over traditional excavation methods, making it an attractive choice for a wide range of applications:

  • Safety: By eliminating the need for heavy machinery and manual digging, vacuum excavation significantly reduces the risk of damaging underground utilities, ensuring worker safety, and minimizing potential service disruptions.
  • Precision: The controlled and targeted nature of vacuum excavation allows for precise and accurate digging, making it ideal for working in congested areas or around sensitive infrastructure.
  • Environmental Friendliness: Vacuum excavation is a low-impact process that minimizes soil disturbance, reduces noise and air pollution, and facilitates easy site restoration.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: By reducing the risk of utility strikes and associated fines, as well as minimizing the need for extensive site restoration, vacuum excavation can save time and money in the long run.

Types of Vacuum Excavators

Vacuum excavators come in various configurations to suit different applications and job site requirements. Choosing the right vacuum excavator depends on the specific needs of your project. There are several types of vacuum excavators to consider:

Trailer Vacuum Excavators

Ditch Witch Trailer Vacuum Excavator

These compact and maneuverable units are mounted on a trailer, making them ideal for smaller projects or tight spaces. They are often used for potholing, utility locating, and other applications that require mobility and accessibility.

Vacuum Trucks (Vac Trucks)

Vacuum Truck (Vac Truck)

Larger and more powerful than trailer units, vac trucks are self-propelled vehicles equipped with a vacuum system, debris tank, and water tank. They are commonly used for larger-scale projects, such as pipeline installations, utility repairs, and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) operations.

Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators

Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavator

Similar to vac trucks, these units are mounted on a truck chassis, providing a versatile and mobile solution for a wide range of applications, from utility work to environmental remediation.

Vac Trucks vs Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators

Among the tools used for vacuum excavation are vac trucks and truck-mounted vacuum excavators. While they may seem similar at first glance, they serve distinct purposes and have different features. Understanding their differences can help you choose the right equipment for your specific needs.

What Are Vac Trucks?

Vac trucks (short for vacuum trucks) are versatile vehicles equipped with a powerful vacuum system designed primarily for transporting and disposing of liquid and solid waste.

Ramvac Tempest Vacuum Truck

They are commonly used in industries such as environmental cleanup, sewer and septic maintenance, and industrial waste management.

  • Key Features of Vac Trucks: High-powered vacuum pumps capable of sucking up a variety of materials, including liquids, sludge, and solids. Large tanks to store collected waste, with capacities varying based on the truck’s size and application. Suitable for a wide range of applications, from cleaning septic tanks to industrial waste management. Equipped with mechanisms for easy disposal of collected waste at appropriate facilities.
  • Common Uses of Vac Trucks: sewer and septic tank cleaning; environmental spill cleanup; industrial waste removal; oil and gas industry operations; municipal services for street and storm drain cleaning.

What Are Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators?

Truck-mounted vacuum excavators are specialized vehicles designed specifically for excavation tasks using vacuum technology.

Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavator

They combine the mobility of a truck with the precision and safety of vacuum excavation, making them ideal for digging in areas with underground utilities.

  • Key Features of Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators: Equipped with tools like high-pressure air or water jets (hydro excavation) to break up soil before vacuuming it up. Designed for non-destructive digging, especially in utility locations where avoiding damage to underground infrastructure is crucial. Mounted on trucks for easy transport to various job sites, offering flexibility and convenience. Effective at removing soil and debris quickly while minimizing the risk of damage to surrounding structures and utilities.
  • Common Uses of Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators: utility locating and exposing underground utilities; pipeline and cable trenching; potholing for utility verification; construction site cleanup; environmental remediation projects; landscaping and tree planting.

Here is the comparison table for Vac Trucks and Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators:

Criteria Vac Trucks Truck-Mounted Vacuum Excavators
Purpose and Application Primarily used for waste collection, transport, and disposal. They handle liquid and solid waste from various industries and municipal services. Specifically designed for excavation tasks, focusing on non-destructive digging and safe exposure of underground utilities.
Vacuum System Equipped with powerful vacuum systems to handle a wide range of materials, including liquids and solids. Use vacuum systems in conjunction with high-pressure air or water jets for breaking up soil and precise excavation.
Tank Capacity Generally have larger tanks to accommodate significant volumes of waste, tailored to the needs of industrial and municipal services. Tank sizes vary but are typically designed to handle the debris generated from excavation activities.
Mobility and Access Designed for flexibility in waste collection and disposal, often moving between various locations to perform their tasks. Provide mobility to reach excavation sites easily and perform precise digging operations, often in confined or sensitive areas.
Efficiency and Safety Focus on the efficient collection and transport of waste materials, ensuring safe disposal and environmental compliance. Emphasize safety and precision in excavation, reducing the risk of damaging underground utilities and enhancing overall project efficiency.
Industry Use Widely used across various industries, including environmental services, oil and gas, and municipal maintenance. Predominantly used in construction, utility maintenance, and landscaping, where precise excavation is critical.

Both vac trucks and truck-mounted vacuum excavators play vital roles in their respective fields. Understanding their distinct features and applications is crucial for selecting the right equipment for your specific needs. Vac trucks excel in waste collection and disposal, offering versatility across various industries.

In contrast, truck-mounted vacuum excavators provide precision and safety in excavation tasks, making them indispensable for utility maintenance and construction projects. By considering the unique requirements of your project, you can make an informed decision on which type of equipment will deliver the best results.

Pros and Cons of a Vacuum Excavator

Like any excavation method, vacuum excavation has its advantages and disadvantages.

What Is Hydro Excavation?

Understanding these pros and cons can help you make an informed decision when selecting the right vacuum excavator for your project.

Vacuum Excavator Pros

  • Non-Destructive: Reduces the risk of damaging underground utilities.
  • Safety: Minimizes hazards for workers and the environment.
  • Versatility: Can be used in a variety of settings and for multiple purposes.
  • Efficiency: Faster and often more cost-effective than traditional methods.
  • Environmental Protection: Less intrusive and environmentally friendly.

Vacuum Excavator Cons

  • Initial Cost: Higher upfront investment compared to traditional excavation equipment.
  • Training: Operators require training to use vacuum excavators effectively and safely.
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance is needed to keep the equipment in good working condition.
  • Limited by Capacity: The size of the debris tank limits the volume of material that can be excavated before needing to be emptied.

Choosing the Right Vacuum Excavator for Your Application

When it comes to selecting the right vacuum excavator for your application, there are several factors to consider:

  1. Project Size and Scope: Evaluate the size and complexity of your project. Smaller projects or those requiring frequent relocation may benefit from the mobility and maneuverability of a trailer vacuum excavator, while larger-scale operations may necessitate the increased capacity and power of a vac truck.
  2. Jobsite Accessibility: Consider the accessibility of your jobsite. Trailer units can navigate tight spaces and urban environments more easily, while vac trucks may require more room for maneuvering and setup.
  3. Digging Depth and Volume Requirements: Assess the depth and volume of material you need to excavate. Vac trucks typically offer greater suction power and larger debris tanks, making them better suited for deeper excavations or projects with higher volume requirements.
  4. Mobility and Transportation Needs: If your projects require frequent relocation or long-distance travel, a trailer vacuum excavator may be more convenient and cost-effective for transportation.
  5. Jobsite Versatility: Consider the versatility of the vacuum excavator. Some models, like those designed for HDD operations, offer specialized features and capabilities tailored to specific applications.
  6. Budget and Cost Considerations: While trailer vacuum excavators generally have a lower initial investment, vac trucks may offer greater long-term cost savings for larger projects due to their increased productivity and efficiency.
  7. Operator Experience and Training: Ensure that your team has the necessary training and experience to operate the chosen vacuum excavator safely and effectively.

By carefully evaluating these factors and weighing the pros and cons, you can make an informed decision and select the vacuum excavator that best suits your application, whether it’s a trailer unit or a powerful vac truck.

Top Vacuum Excavator Manufacturers

Top 7 vacuum excavator manufacturers in the United States:


Vermeer Corporation is a leading manufacturer of industrial and agricultural equipment. They offer a range of vacuum excavators known for their innovative design and durability.

Vermeer Vacuum Excavator

Products: Vermeer’s vacuum excavators include trailer-mounted, skid-mounted, and truck-mounted units designed for various applications such as utility locating, potholing, and environmental cleanup. High suction power, compact design, easy maneuverability, and robust build quality.

Ditch Witch

Ditch Witch, a subsidiary of The Toro Company, specializes in underground construction equipment. They provide a comprehensive range of vacuum excavators known for their reliability and efficiency.

Ditch Witch Vacuum Excavator

Products: The product lineup includes trailer-mounted, truck-mounted, and hydro excavators suitable for utility installation, maintenance, and landscaping.

Ditch Witch Vac Truck

Advanced filtration systems, powerful vacuum performance, and versatile applications.


VAC-CON is a prominent manufacturer of sewer cleaning trucks and hydro excavation units. They are known for their robust and efficient vacuum excavation equipment.

VAC-CON Vacuum Excavator

Products: VAC-CON’s vacuum excavators include truck-mounted units specifically designed for non-destructive digging and utility locating. Powerful hydro excavation capabilities, large debris tanks, and customizable options to meet specific job requirements.


Ring-O-Matic is a well-established manufacturer of vacuum excavation and sewer cleaning equipment. They are recognized for their innovative designs and durable machinery.

Ring-O-Matic Crawler-Mounted Vacuum Excavator

Products: The company offers a range of vacuum excavators including trailer-mounted, truck-mounted, and crawler-mounted vacs, suited for various applications from utility installation to construction site cleanup. High-efficiency vacuum systems, user-friendly designs, and versatile applications.

TRUVAC Equipment

TRUVAC, part of the Vactor Manufacturing family, specializes in vacuum excavation systems designed to safely and efficiently expose underground utilities and perform other excavation tasks.

TRUVAC Vacuum Excavator

Products: TRUVAC offers a variety of truck-mounted vacuum excavators, designed for precision and efficiency in the utility, oil and gas, and construction industries. Advanced technology for safety and performance, customizable configurations, and robust construction for tough job sites.

RAMVAC (by Sewer Equipment)

RAMVAC, a division of Sewer Equipment, manufactures high-performance vacuum excavation trucks and trailers known for their reliability and innovative design.

RAMVAC Vacuum Excavator

Products: RAMVAC’s lineup includes both trailer-mounted and truck-mounted vacuum excavators, designed for applications such as utility work, municipal maintenance, and industrial cleaning. High-capacity debris tanks, powerful vacuum systems, and user-friendly operation with advanced safety features.

Vac-Tron Equipment (is Now Vermeer Corp)

Vac-Tron Equipment, now part of Vermeer Corporation, is known for its extensive line of industrial vacuum excavators used in a variety of applications, from municipal work to industrial cleanup.

Vac-Tron Vacuum Excavation Trailer

Products: Vac-Tron offers trailer-mounted and truck-mounted vacuum excavators, featuring both air and hydro excavation capabilities. High debris tank capacity, powerful vacuum systems, and operator-friendly controls.

Choosing the right vacuum excavator for your application requires a careful assessment of your project needs, site conditions, budget, and long-term goals. Both trailer vacuum excavators and vacuum trucks have their unique advantages and limitations. By understanding these factors and the specific demands of your project, you can make an informed decision that maximizes efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness. Whether you opt for a versatile trailer unit or a robust vacuum truck, vacuum excavation technology stands as a superior solution for precise, safe, and efficient excavation.

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