Selecting a plow for your pickup truck can be a big decision, especially for smaller companies involved in snow and ice removal. Ultimately, there is no such thing as the perfect plow. Snow professionals own such a diverse array of vehicles and plow in so many different environments, that finding one perfect plow is impossible. That’s why so many plow manufacturers offer a wide array of models to choose from. Each plow has its unique set of features and, of course, in most cases, the more features on a plow, the more expensive it is. Most plow manufacturers and dealers are more than happy to help you match a plow blade to your truck. The most important thing is to get a plow that suits your needs. Here’s a step-by-step plan to get you started:
1. CHECK THE WEIGHT
Check the weight of the blade you are considering and make sure it works with your vehicle. Weight is a major factor when considering a plow. Most plow manufacturers offer an extensive line of snowplows for a variety of vehicles. Plows start at widths of 6½ feet for Jeeps and small pickups and go up to 9- and 10-foot-wide plows for dump trucks.
Most standard pickup trucks are best suited to 6½- and 7½-foot plows, half-ton trucks use 7 or 7½-foot blades and ¾- and 1-ton trucks typically use 7½-foot and 8-foot blades. The heavier the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck, the wider the plow blade the truck can handle.
Overloading the front of a vehicle with a plow that is too heavy can stress the front axle and suspension and diminish braking effectiveness.
2. CONSIDER THE MATERIAL
Once you’ve determined how heavy and large a plow you can mount on your vehicle, select the material. Plows are most commonly constructed of steel, but many manufacturers now offer polyethylene plows.
Steel plows are often considered the mainstay of the industry, known for their durability and wide range of uses. However, polyethylene plows have become more widespread in recent years, known for how quickly snow rolls off the blade, which increases snow removal efficiency. Further, the moldboard of a polyethylene plow will not rust, corrode or require painting the way a steel plow might.
Some plows and plow materials seem to stand up to abuse better than others. However, unless you plan to plow like an animal, any of the products from mainstream manufacturers should hold up fine.
Remember, even the heaviest duty plows will not hold up to abuse. Plows are designed to push snow, not to be bulldozer blades. When a plow encounters an immovable object, something has to give. This is why plows have a "trip" feature. When the moldboard itself hits an immovable object, it will bend, or a part of the framework will bend. The worst-case scenario would be if the truck frame itself bent as a result of the plow striking an object.
3. PLOW TYPE, OPTIONS
Plow manufacturers have been very creative in recent years, designing a variety of plow types for various applications. For example, snow removal professionals can now incorporate side- and rear-mounted plows onto their service vehicles. Plows are also available that reverse to provide both a push and pull action. Additionally, "V" plows, which are made up of two wings that can be independently adjusted, are an option. V-plows are generally more efficient than straight-blade plows, but they are also more expensive and take a little practice to operate well.
Snow plows are available with a range of options, such as different mounts and various mechanisms for plow control. All of these options come with their unique advantages and costs. Ultimately, the best strategy is to investigate the options by talking with a variety of dealers and/or manufacturers and then selecting the plow and options that best fit your truck.
Finally, bear in mind that this article was written with the pickup truck in mind. However, a whole host of heavy-duty plows, such as box plows (sometimes called pusher plows) are available for use with heavy equipment, such as skid-steer loaders. Oftentimes these larger plows can be more efficient at removing snow and are a great option for large properties.
4. HYDRAULIC OPTIONS
Consider the hydraulic system on your new plow as well. Most hydraulic systems fall into two types. One is a self-contained, 12-volt unit, the other being a hydraulic pump under the hood driven by a belt and powered by the vehicle’s engine.
The 12-volt design uses an electric motor to turn a hydraulic pump. The motor and pump are typically mounted on the lift cylinder as one large assembly. The control valves are part of this unit, too. There are toggle switch controls in the cab, touch pads or mini joysticks to move the plow up and down and left to right. Most new plow models are completely removable from the vehicle when the plow is not in use. The headgear, plow lights and plow pump all come off the vehicle by removing pins.
The engine-driven systems are mounted on the vehicle’s engine, which drives the pump. The hydraulic fluid flows through hoses and lines to the lift and angle cylinders. A drawback to this unit is that it is pumping all the time, whether you are plowing or not. Some of these pumps have an electro-magnetic clutch that engages the pump. This helps some, but the shaft is still turning and wearing. Many owners remove the drive belt for the pump every spring and put it back on every fall.
5. CONSIDER THE DEALER
The next most important factor when choosing a plow is considering the dealer you buy from. Dealer service is very important when choosing a plow.
Keep in mind that no matter how heavy duty the plow is, sooner or later it will break and need parts. Most of the time you will need the parts and/or repair in a hurry, as Murphy’s Law dictates that the plow will break in the middle of a huge snowfall. As a result, some dealers remain open 24 hours a day during storms.
Parts availability is a major issue. Just because a dealership sells a particular plow brand doesn’t mean it can get parts as fast as you need, when you need them most. Make sure the dealer has a solid understanding of the plow you are purchasing.
When selecting a plow, you are also selecting a dealer, so make sure you determine how far that dealer is willing to go for you. Does the dealership extend its hours during snowfalls? Does it keep extra mechanics on duty?
The author is snow manager, Green Earth Landscaping and Design, Hackensack, N.J. He is author of The Snowplowing Handbook. For more information, visit: www.snowplowing-contractors.com.
Plow Dos and Don’ts
Once you have that shiny new plow, don’t overlook maintenance. Here are some tips on keeping your plow as like new as possible:
• Inspect your plow often, looking for cracks in the moldboard, cracked hoses,
leaky fittings, etc.
• Check your hydraulic fluid often and change it after every season
• Rinse the salt off your blade and truck as often as possible
• Check the adjustment on your trip springs often
• Change the cutting edge when it is worn
• Paint your plow when it needs it (in the case of a steel plow)
• Abuse your plow or plow anything other than snow
• Wrap a tow chain or tow strap around your blade
• Mix hydraulic fluid types
• Let cracks in metal go unattended; repair and/or weld them immediately
• Plow with missing trip springs or other parts
• Plow at speeds of more than 20 mph
• Transport your blade at speeds faster than 45 mph