Equipment maintenance

Features - Equipment

The key to a profitable snow season. 6 tips to reduce common equipment breakdown.

February 20, 2012

Keeping the right equipment on hand can make the difference for a damaged vehicle in an event.

The saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This applies to many situations, including the snow removal business, which is very equipment-intensive. Equipment is put to the test and run very hard (often for 24 hours continuously, during big storms) and because of this, breakdowns in the snow and ice management business are inevitable. We need to try and counter with practices like: aggressive preventative maintenance, maintaining a complete spare parts inventory and possibly even adding in-field mechanics to your staff. When a truck breaks down, it greatly changes the dynamics of the event. These things happen unexpectedly, and we must adapt to them quickly to overcome the shortcoming and remain productive. In light of this, it is important to be as well prepared as possible, and provide all of the equipment with the necessary preventative maintenance. This helps us notice possible problems and correct them prior to having your truck sitting on the sideline like an injured star in a football game. Unlike a football game (where a benched player can instantly run out to replace an injured one) we cannot have a truck drive out from behind the building to help finish the job. This can cost us money in lost time, parts replacement and – if the problem is severe enough – it may even cost us customers by failing to provide them with a timely service. It is important that you recognize the most common equipment breakdown items and know what to look for prior to an event to help you identify these. The first step in this process is to be aware of strategies to reduce equipment breakdown.

1. Cleaning your vehicles.
Cleaning your vehicles and equipment as quickly as possible after an event will help to identify possible problems. Salt is very corrosive to equipment. Cleaning it thoroughly will help preserve its life, as well as, help make any potential problems more noticeable. Items such as loose belts or bolts, cracked welds or leaks in hydraulic lines will be easier to identify if they are not covered in salt.

Salt wears down most equipment very quickly, especially if left alone between events. Make certain to clean vehicles completely after each event to protect it from corrosion. Cleaning also provides the opportunity to check for other problems that should be fixed before the next event.

2. Protect your transmission.
Transmission problems and breakdowns are among the most common issues that cause snow plow equipment to breakdown. Ways to help protect your transmission include: planning the plowing of each site so you are driving forward as much as possible, coming to a complete stop prior to putting your vehicle in reverse, accelerating slowly without spinning your tires, putting the vehicle in motion prior to dropping the blade when starting a pass, plowing with only ½ of a hopper of salt or less. After plowing, let your vehicle idle for a few minutes to allow the transmission cooler time to cool off the transmission fluid.

3. Pre-event inspection of your equipment.
How often do you just get into a vehicle (typically when it is dark), look at a route sheet and drive to your first property assignment? Prior to a piece of equipment going out into the field, it is crucial to do a pre-event inspection. Have a simple checklist created to look the vehicle over thoroughly for possible “red flags” that may cause your equipment to fail or not perform to its potential. Items that should be included in this inspection are: checking hydraulic hoses for fluid leaks, checking tires and hubs for damage, checking all plow bolts to make sure they are tight, looking for cracked welds and checking all of the vehicles fluid levels (oil, transmission, brake, radiator coolant, windshield washer and battery) and checking all the lights to make sure they are operational.

4. Lubricate all moving parts.
Grease is inexpensive. Greasing pivot points on plows and protecting all electrical connections with a dielectric grease will help prevent corrosion, which could help lead to equipment seizing and failure to operate.

On top of a post-event cleaning, a pre-event inspection of parts that could be a “red flag” will save time by preventing a damaged vehicle in the middle of an event.

5. Carry a fire extinguisher.
Often times when fan belts break, sparks are emitted and can cause fires around the engine area. Having a fire extinguisher that is operable and tested regularly will allow you to put this fire out quickly to avoid further electrical damage or even the possibility of an engine or complete truck going up in flames.

6. Reduce weight amount when plowing.
Plow with only enough weight to provide ample traction during an event. Filling your salt spreaders completely while plowing adds additional unnecessary wear and tear to your vehicle’s springs, suspension and transmission.

In the event of a breakdown, you should be prepared with a “snow emergency” kit in your vehicles and the tools needed to make simple repairs should a problem occur. Finding parts in the middle of the night (if you don’t have them stocked in your shop) could be an issue. Things you should include in this kit should be: extra hydraulic fluid, spare hydraulic hoses, a pump solenoid, extra cutting edge bolts, a trip spring and jumper cables. This may sound like a lot, but the $500 or so in insurance parts will be worth their weight in gold if they are needed in the middle of the night to get you back up and running to finish a site before your client or their tenants arrive to an unplowed lot. Keep in mind their travel times have already been increased, and this will elevate their need to call and complain. In the event the repairs are a little more complex, a mobile repair service, either in-house or outsourced will help tremendously.

Preventative maintenance of our equipment is crucial in the snow plow business. We often put our equipment to the true test of survival with numerous continuous hours of operation. Sometimes we lose sight of simple pre-event inspections of our valuable equipment asset due to timing of snowfalls (including back-to-back events), demanding customers or something as simple as being tired. Often we are in a time crunch to get a site finished, and forget simple things like accelerating slowly and sliding the gear shifter back into drive while the vehicle is still moving. Be safe and think about the piece of equipment you are driving as if it was your own. Be sure to carry a “snow emergency” kit with you in your vehicle in the event of a blown hydraulic hose or a bolt that breaks. Having items like these in your vehicle in the event they are needed will save you time and money in the long run.


Jim Plona is senior vice president of business development for Snow Plus, Westmont, Ill.

Photos courtesy of Jim Plona.