V-box vs. Tailgate

Features - Salt & Deicing

There is no right or wrong answer, but there are some important issues to consider when deciding which spreader is right for your snow removal operation.

December 28, 2010

Tailgate vs. v-box.

What an interesting dilemma. Or is it?

This is generally a very interesting and sometimes controversial topic of discussion at snow and ice management seminars. You have one professional snow removal contractor who says, “Why would you ever consider a tailgate spreader?”

Then, you have a professional snow fighter who responds, “Why not?”
So what’s best? There really is no right or wrong answer in this debate. It simply comes down to what makes the most sense for you and your company.

However, before deciding what the right answer may be for you, there are some pros and cons surrounding both types of spreaders that you should consider before settling in on your choice.

Tailgate Spreaders

  • You must get out of your warm truck and load your hopper frequently. 
  • Does not hold as much material as a v-box spreader.
  • More labor is required to load bags over the side of the truck before beginning your route. That is, unless you utilize a swing-away gate option for your tailgate spreader. They are nice and very convenient.
  • Material cost are more than buying bulk salt. But remember, even though the initial cost may be higher for material the time saved having the product in the back of your truck and not having to spend time going to a supplier and getting in line to load bulk salt your material cost gets closer. This obviously depends on the volume of material you are spreading per event. 

Tailgate Spreaders

  • Easy off and on application. You can easily use your truck for something else. If it’s snowing today and you need to do other work tomorrow, your truck is not committed all season long. You can simply install or take off your spreader without any hassle. 
  • The cost of the equipment is generally less.
  • Less moving parts / things that can go wrong. I prefer a  manufacturer whose v-box spreaders have no chains, belts or gas motors – all the items that cost more to maintain and can break down in the middle of the night. Now, I’m not advocating a single product manufacturer over another, but it’s important to consider that less moving parts will mean less things to go wrong during a major snow event.
  • Bulk salt storage is not an issue. If you operate a small business and do not have anywhere to store your material it may be more profitable using bagged material even though the cost per ton is greater. If you don’t have to spend travel time going to get more material from a supplier and then getting in line to get loaded, then getting back to your accounts, the difference in material cost is easily made up in less down-time.  
  • You can mix different products in your hopper to help speed up the melting process such as mixing sodium chloride with magnesium chloride. Sodium is not always the right answer to melting snow and ice. If you use/try this method of deicing, be sure to load your sodium chloride first and then mix in the smaller pellet next.
  • It is easy to know exactly how much material has been applied. If you load your hopper at each stop, you know how much material to bill your client. This can be used as a nice selling tool when speaking to a potential client.

Now let’s take a look at the same comparison for a V-Box spreader.

V-Box Spreaders

  • The initial costs are higher.
  • Requires the ability to store and load your own material to be most cost effective. However, you can spend time driving to a supplier to be loaded. This generally creates additional down-time but not always.
  • More moving parts, such as chains, conveyors, belts, hoses and gas motors, will require maintenance and tend to break at the worst time possible – like at 3 a.m. Consider electric spreaders as an option. Even the larger electric spreaders offer many advantages over the traditional gasoline motor spreaders with all the moving parts.
  • Generally commits a truck for the winter with a large spreader. Even though the spinner assembly may fold up out of the way, many times the spreader stays in the truck.
  • Hard to track the actual amount of material applied on a specific job site. This is one of the biggest issues with v-box type spreaders. Some manufacturers’ spreaders have the ability to track the amount of material actually applied on a specific job site. This is a management tool that, up to now, was not an affordable option for most V-Box type spreaders. 

V-box Spreaders

  • You load your hopper less often.
  • Potentially stay out longer servicing your accounts due to your ability to carry more material. This gives you the opportunity to service more accounts faster.
  • Purchasing bulk material is generally less expensive than bagged material allowing you the opportunity to enjoy nice profit margins.
  • You can purchase pre-treated bulk material to speed up the meting process when sodium chloride alone will be less effective due to lower temperatures and conditions.
  • Looks better than a tailgate spreader. I had to put that in here just because that’s what I hear all the time. Contractors say it looks more professional. I use both and would have to disagree with that particular comment. They are both professional.  

As you review these comparisons please understand that both types – even at the manufacturer level – offer their unique variations, individual features as well as their own benefits and disadvantages.

In addition, there are several other considerations that must be made that are specific to your operation before deciding on which type of spreader will work best and be most profitable for you based on your company size, the number of trucks you are running, and the types of accounts you are servicing.

When all is said and done, maybe the best answer is “both.”

One thing in common for either type of spreader is that they allow you the opportunity to make a lot of money with your winter snow removal operations.

Wayne Volz is a Louisville, Ky.-based industry consultant and a frequent contributor to Snow Magazine.