Carefully match your trucks to the right blade attachments to ensure success in a side business that can keep your crew happy during the offseason.
Winter can put a damper on construction. Onsite installers who have a suitable vehicle and time on their hands during the slow season might want to consider adding a snowplow to their toolkit. But contractors need to decide the depth of commitment they want to make to the snow removal business — there’s a big difference between plowing driveways and commercial parking lots.
Eddie Quast and his father, Garry, are co-owners of GE Quast Excavating in Manotick, Ontario, Canada. The company specializes in septic tank installation and repair, excavation, and snow removal in a region known for heavy snowfalls. They’ve fitted quick-connect plow mounts to six trucks ranging from a 3/4-ton pickup to loaders and dump trucks.
“Snow removal is not for the faint of heart,” says Eddie Quast. “The hours can be endless and you sometimes work so hard you think you can’t work another hour — but you have to.”
The company works commercial contracts, including large parking lots and private condominium roads. These jobs require the company to sign performance contracts, which include possible penalties. The company must carry liability insurance for snow removal, with an additional rider to perform salting, sanding and ice management.
“You have to schedule your work to maximize the value of every moment or you can bankrupt yourself,” says Quast. “If you’re installing a septic tank and a piece of equipment breaks down, a delay might be acceptable. If a plow breaks down at 3 a.m., you have to repair it or call someone to help you immediately. You can’t tell a customer that the mall won’t be opening on time.”
MATCH TRUCK AND PLOW
Contractors looking to get into snow removal should match the vehicle to the right plow for their purposes, says Mark Klossner, vice president of marketing at Boss Snowplow. The company specializes in plow blades 10 feet wide and under for medium-duty trucks.
“The first thing I recommend is to check the front gross axle weight rating of your vehicle,” he says. “You can’t exceed this rating when adding a plow to
He says a 1/2-ton pickup, utility task vehicle or all-terrain vehicle outfitted with a blade 7 feet 6 inches wide and smaller will do the trick for yard service or to clear a few driveways.
“If you’re going to do this to earn money on 20 or more driveways or commercial contracts, you’ll need at least a 3/4-ton truck with a FGAWR that can handle the larger plows,” says Klossner. “Some people make the mistake of going out to buy a 3/4-ton dually diesel and want to put the biggest plow ever made on it. The truck may have options — extended cab and a big diesel engine that weighs hundreds of pounds more than a comparable gas engine — so you reduce the ability of that truck to carry additional weight. It’s counterintuitive, but you might only be able to carry a smaller plow on that truck than a comparable gasoline-engine truck.”
One of the challenges of manufacturing plows is ensuring that engineers keep on top of truck designs to ensure that undercarriage mounting kits will work with any vehicle. Even a hydrovac can be outfitted to support a plow. While the kits are generally bolted on, mounting a plow for the first time requires knowledge of the vehicle’s headlight and electrical system to attach controllers, wiring harnesses and power grounds. Klossner says that even a dealer will require up to five hours to install a connect system.
“Once this is in place, it will only take a minute or so to attach a plow when you need it,” he says.
Manufacturers offer a multitude of blade configurations, including V-plows, straight-blade plows, box plows, UTV plows, ATV plows and skid-steer plows. Klossner offers some general tips for blade selection.
“For commercial and institutional work, you likely won’t satisfy those contracts with one truck and one blade,” he says. “You’ll probably need two or three working simultaneously to keep them happy.”
Klossner notes that plows with expandable straight blades are becoming popular in the midsized truck market.
“Our expandable model is the EXT plow,” he says. “When you’re driving down the road it’s 8 feet wide, but you can hit the controllers to expand the wings to 10 feet when you get to the job site to improve productivity.”
Rectangular-design box plows can be outfitted on loaders, backhoes and skid-steers. “They offer blunt force to move massive amounts of snow in a straight line for large jobs such as mall parking lots,” he says.
The configurations of V-plows can be adjusted, making them a versatile choice for contractors who use their equipment for other purposes in the summer. With the open part of the V forward, the blade becomes a snow scooper, allowing the operator to stack the snow at the end of the run. Heavy, wet fresh snow can best be attacked with the V in an arrow shape.
“That presents less surface area and allows the plow to break up snow on the first pass,” says Klossner. “Then you can put the plow in straight configuration and angle it, making passes back and forth until you get all the snow off the parking lot. V blades are also good for breaking up old crusty snow, which is more difficult for straight blades.”
Commercial snowplow contractors will almost always require a sander or salt spreader to keep the pavement black and wet to the client’s specifications.
Safety is paramount for snowplow operators, because visibility is reduced due to snow heaps, plows, hoppers and spreaders. Buyers can look for heated LED lighting on plow attachments to increase visibility.
CONSIDER THE SKID-STEER
“When operating a plow truck, you rely on mirrors and you always have to assume there’s somebody right behind you,” Klossner says. “You’re off-road, but obey the rules of the road — no speeding, texting or cellphone use.”
While many snow removal contractors choose trucks, Klossner says they shouldn’t underestimate the power of a skid-steer.
“It offers a lot of visibility, is very maneuverable in tight spaces and has a lot of power,” he says. “If you gave me a choice on a parking lot, I would rather clear with a skid-steer than a truck.”