Avoiding Surprise Snowplow Breakdowns
There’s no better way to avoid untimely snow plow breakdowns than to properly prepare in the pre-season. No matter what the breakdown is, when it happens, it only means one thing: you’re dead in the water. Following these tips will help you preventatively avoid surprise breakdowns and keep your truck moving snow through the next big storm.
Whether you’re working with a team or you’re the “lone wolf” plow, the last thing you need is a surprise. The best way to avoid surprises going into a new season is to properly train and prepare in the pre-season. The best maintenance is simply using the plow the right way because many problems stem from improper or hasty plow use. Spending a little bit of time in the pre-season each year training and working with your equipment will help build good, long-lasting plow habits. Coupling basic plow training with these preventative maintenance tips will help you or your crew easily transition into the snow removal season.
When training with and preparing your plow in the pre-season, we recommend going through your route and marking any landscaping objects or large immovable objects with driveway markers. This will not only help make sure you see your clients drive way lines clearly in deep snow, but will also help prevent any surprises buried in the snow from damaging your plow.
One of the most important preventative tasks you can perform in the pre-season is greasing all of your electrical connections with non-conductive dielectric grease. This process helps seal the electrical connections from moisture. If moisture makes its way into the electrical connections for your plow, it’s likely to corrode these connections and can cause serious damage to your plow’s electrical system. Many common electrical problems with plows can be prevented by greasing these connections well in the pre-season. Performing this simple step can help you save big on costly electrical repairs mid-season.
When metal is in contact with water, the water begins to oxidize the metal or rust it. In combination with the water from the snow and ice being removed is the corrosive effect of salt. The salt we use to de-ice our roads, driveways and parking lots acts as a catalyst to the oxidation process. When the salty water makes contact with raw metal, it oxidizes or rusts it much faster. The powder coating on your plow’s metal components is designed to act as a barrier between the raw metal of your plow’s parts and this salty water. Any nicks or scratches in this barrier that expose the metal the parts are milled from are liable to start rusting. Inspecting your plow’s powder coated parts and cleaning, preparing, and painting any exposed metal will help protect essential parts from rusting.
If your chrome lift rods begin to rust, they can begin to flake. When this happens, these flakes can potentially make their way into your plow’s lift cylinder and cause costly damage to your cylinder and hydraulic system. We recommend being proactive about this issue by collapsing your lift cylinders fully and lubricating the chrome rods. This will help prevent your chrome lift rods from rusting, as well as helping to prevent any rust or other contaminants from entering your hydraulic system.
Moisture or condensation builds up inside your plow’s pump over time. It’s important to drain your hydraulic fluid before your pump is stored to avoid damaging it. As you use your pump the condensation that collects inside begins to build up. By allowing this condensation to build up you create a situation where moisture in your pump reservoir can begin to oxidize the metal components inside, essentially rusting it from the inside out.
Snow plows are very susceptible to being worn down over time. The plows cutting edge is usually in contact with concrete or asphalt while the plow mountings and frame are under the constant stress of the weight of your plow, the pump and the pressure created from pushing and pulling snow. Over time, all of these parts start to wear down and will begin to show signs of damage. A good preventative measure to take when working with equipment that is very susceptible to wear and tear is a good thorough inspection of your plow’s iron components. Look over the plow closely, looking for signs of wear, metal fatigue, or cracks in the metal. Check all of your plow’s welds and re-torque nuts and bolts.
It’s important to maintain a solid plow. If your plow’s parts start to work themselves loose, they can negatively affect the performance of the plow as well as create a dangerous operating condition for your plow. Having loose parts or components in your plow could also lead to one part wearing out another.
As with any piece of equipment, the amount of use will determine how often you’ll want to inspect your plow. During an average snow season, a good visual inspection should be performed daily, if you’re experiencing a slower snow season and aren’t plowing as frequently you can reduce the frequency that you inspect your plow. Conversely, if you are experiencing a heavier than normal snow season, you may need to check your plow several times a day in between clients.
The best way to avoid costly breakdowns and repairs is to couple pre-season preparation with continual maintenance. One of the first things on your list of regular maintenance should be checking your pump’s oil level. With the lift piston fully retracted, remove the filler cap and dip the straw into the fluid reservoir. Your fluid should be about 1-1/2” below the filler hole. If your fluid is lower than this or looks dirty, refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on filling or changing your pump’s hydraulic fluid.
Closely monitor the condition of your pump’s hydraulic hoses and couplers. Any bubbles or cuts in your hose can lead to a leak in your hydraulic system. A rusty or leaky coupler will do the same thing. These issues will cause a loss in oil pressure and will result in power angling failure. Inspect your angling rams for any signs of rust or leaks. If either signs are present, your angling ram may be allowing water into your hydraulic system. Allowing water into your hydraulic system can have two negative effects, the first is that your pumps reservoir will be likely to begin to rust and corrode from the inside as previously discussed. The second issue with water getting into your hydraulic system is that it reduces your hydraulic fluids ability to perform in below freezing temperatures and leads to pumps freezing-up. Essentially the hydraulic fluid turns into a slushy inside of your pump.
Monitoring your plow hydraulic system is important but just as important is maintaining the vehicle that operates your plow. For best results, the vehicle that is operating your plow must have an electrical system with at least a 70-amp/hr battery and a 60-amp alternator. Making sure that your battery terminals are clear of corrosion will help ensure that you’re receiving the full amperage from your battery.
Just like we discussed with your plow pump, a great way to prevent corrosion on your battery terminals or in other places throughout your automobile electrical system is to apply dielectric grease to them. It’s a good idea to check the electrical connections in your vehicle’s electrical system often to make sure none are corroded and that all are tight and properly connected. While checking your electrical connections, you should also look to make sure your vehicles wires are clear of any hot or moving engine parts. Also check to make sure that your wires are clear of any sharp sheet metal parts, you’re pretty much looking for anything that can damage the protective shield covering your wires. Anything that can cause a breach in this can cause your electrical system to malfunction. Keeping your vehicle’s battery, alternator and regulator in top condition is essential to maintaining the maximum electrical output for your vehicle.
Following these tips will help you get your plow ready for a long snow season. As well as help you keep it in top operating condition throughout the snow removal season. Avoid surprise break downs with proper preventative maintenance!