Troubleshooters: Preseason Steps

Advice and reminders on getting ready for the witner.

As the leaves turn into their fall colors, winter maintenance  contractors should also change their thinking toward winter. For all of us in the snow removal industry, fall is the time to consider whether you are truly ready for the upcoming season, and to prepare for the challenges of winter.

EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE AND CALIBRATION. Properly care and calibration of deicing equipment is critical to successfully meeting winter’s challenges. This list of equipment checkpoints can save you time and money during winter operations.

Mechanical: All equipment should be checked for such things as loose bolts, missing nuts or retainers, proper lubricant levels in gearboxes, loose or worn belts and drive chains, proper hydraulic fluid levels, etc. A little time spent here can save a lot of down time as winter storms hit.

Tanks on liquid application equipment should be flushed and cleaned to eliminate rust and grit. Pumps and lines should be checked for function and replaced as necessary. Filters and/or screens need to be checked, cleaned or replaced.

If you have new spreaders or trucks, be sure that they fit with each other and can be mounted in a reasonable amount of time. A storm is not the place to learn that new equipment is incompatible.


    Cover the following winter driving reminders during your pre-winter prep.

  • Be able to see and be seen. Keep windshields, windows, mirrors, lights and reflectors clear of snow and ice. Ensure your vehicle is equipped with good wiper blades.
  • Check your tires. Tires with good, deep treads are essential for good cornering and handling on slippery roads. Check the air pressure frequently to maintain the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
  • Get the feel of the road. Occasionally try your brakes or gently depress your accelerator while driving. Rising temperatures greatly increase the slipperiness of ice and snow, so adjust your speed accordingly.
  • Stretch your “following” distance. Winter surfaces increase stopping distances up to 12 times the normal distance. Heavy trucks require a longer stopping distance on slippery roads than passenger cars.
  • Pump your brakes. A rapid pumping of brakes will provide short intervals of braking and of rolling wheels alternately and will enable you to maintain steering control while stopping on slippery surfaces.
  • Use proper lights. Never drive with parking lights instead of headlights in winter’s early dusk and poor visibility. Parking lights can cause an on-coming driver to think you are farther away than you are. Keep headlights clean, as dirty ones can greatly reduce your ability to see at night.

    Source: CNA Commercial Insurance

Electrical. All electrical connections should be inspected for corrosion, cleaned and sealed. Silicone caulk works well for this purpose. Check all controls and relays to see if they function properly. All safety and warning lights should be tested and replaced as necessary. When testing lights, do not puncture wires or seals with a probe, as this will expose the system to corrosion. If testing for the presence of power is necessary, check the ends, not the middle. If testing in the middle is required, cutting the wire and then making a weather resistant splice is recommended and normally saves time and money in the long run.

Calibration. Once the mechanical and electrical systems are checked, calibrate the spreading equipment to assure that you are really applying the correct amount. Calibrate spreading units with variable application rates on at least two rates, preferably at the upper and lower limits of your normal application rates. Record the settings and place a laminated card in the vehicle with the settings and date of calibration. Proper calibration ensures correct application rates.

STOCKPILES AND STORAGE. Fall also is the best time to take inventory of your stockpiles of materials and prepare them for use on approaching storms.

Stockpiles. Stockpiles should be frost-proofed if necessary and the sites cleaned up and access roads repaired as needed to allow for  easy access when needed. Check all environmental safeguards and repair if needed. This includes drainage sumps, erosion checks, and any permanent seepage barriers. If premixed materials (e.g., sand/salt) are needed, it may be desirable to mix in advance and cover awaiting use.

Liquid Storage. Tanks, if empty, should be flushed and cleaned out. Here again, check, clean or replace all filters or screens as needed. Pumps and lines should be checked to ensure that they are functioning properly and should be replaced if necessary. Loading areas should be clear of obstructions. Have environmental safeguards in place and functional if required or used. 


    Preparing your plow for winter is key. Use this plow prep checklist as a guideline, but always consult the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper care.


  • Adjust disc shoes to attain a ¼- to ½-inch air gap between road surface and cutting edge.
  • Inspect cutting edge and tighten carriage bolts. If material is unevenly worn, remove carriage bolts and reverse cutting edge end for end.
  • Tighten trip springs until the coil just begins to separate. Do not overtighten.
  • Detach the shock absorber at the blade and manually extend and collapse the shock assembly. If the shock easily collapses, replace the assembly.
  • Inspect all welds and material for cracks and yielding. Reweld if necessary.

  • Inspect the pivot bolt at the A-frame-to-quadrant connection. The bolt should be tight, but allow components to swing freely.
  • Ensure that angle stops on quadrant are making contact when the plow is fully angled in both directions. If not, rebuild angle stops with extra material.
  • Lubricate all pivot points to reduce wear and extend life of components.
  • Check lift chain bolt on A-frame for tightness. Replace bolt if bent or cracked, and lift chain if worn.
  • Thoroughly check all fasteners for tightness and wear.
  • Inspect all welds and materials for cracks and yielding. Repair as needed.

  • Drain, flush and add new oil in the hydraulic system.
  • Check lift ram and angle ram packing nut for tightness. Adjust packing nuts to ¼-turn beyond hand tight. Lubricate chrome rod plunger on lift ram and angle rams with oil. Inspect electrical motor for brush wear and corrosion. Clean or replace brushes as necessary. If corrosion is apparent, disassemble and clean with electrical cleaner, wire brush and compressed air.
  • Inspect hydraulic hoses for leaks, chafing and cracked or worn surfaces.


  • Inspect, clean and tighten and apply dielectric grease to all electrical connections. Pay special attention to: motor connections, light relay terminals, park/turn bullet connectors, coil/cartridge terminals, 9 and 12 pin grille connectors, cable accessory connectors, inspect all headlights for proper functioning (low-high beams, park/turn signals).

  • Inspect and test battery; recharge or replace if needed.
  • Check windshield wipers and fluid, heater/defroster operation, radiator coolant, vehicle headlights and appropriate fuses feeding plow accessories.
  • Locate and prepare ballast. Secure ballast behind rear wheels once the snow season begins. See your distributor for proper ballast requirements.
  • Source: Western Snowplows

PERSONNEL. Your winter roster may include permanent employees, or temporary or contract personnel. They need to be fully aware of your expectations or goals and be trained to use your equipment and methods. If there are any special considerations or concerns in some areas, be sure that this information is disseminated.

Equipment Operation. The personnel need to be familiar with the operation of most, if not all of the equipment. Your full-time workers will be able to refresh their knowledge along with training the new and/or temporary employees. This task can be accomplished in conjunction with the calibration and inspection activities.

Safety. Safety meetings outlining the known hazards in operating winter maintenance equipment are necessary. All planning for winter should include safety discussions.

Training. Proper techniques for plowing, spreading and removing snow and/or ice should be reveiwed. Also a review of how chemicals work and the processes of anti-icing (if used) and deicing should be covered. A brief summary of recommended application rates for each of the materials under different conditions should be presented to employees.

Expectations. Each employee needs to understand exactly what you expect in terms of on-the-road results (sometimes called level of service or LOS). Employees also need to be aware of their customers’ expectations and how you plan to meet them. Any political or environmental issues regarding winter operations should be clearly understood.

Scheduling. Work schedules for all employees should be developed and posted. The schedules should be discussed with the crews along with the call out procedures. Any labor contract requirements concerning shifts, call outs, overtime, standby etc. should also be reviewed with the appropriate people (personnel, shop stewards, etc.) and reviewed with the employees.

The author is president, Ice & Snow Technologies, LLC. He can be reahced at

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