Avoiding plow breakdowns

Avoiding plow breakdowns

Whether it’s a blown hose, fried electrical connection or any of a thousand possible problems there's only one outcome -- you're dead in the water. Five tips to avoid untimely plow breakdowns.

March 30, 2012

The winter’s worst storm has rolled in and you’ve been busily clearing snow for 12 hours. All is going smoothly until something breaks down. Whether it’s a blown hose, fried electrical connection or any one of a thousand possible problems ... could it have been avoided?

Randy Strait, president of Arctic Snow & Ice Control, believes training is paramount in sidestepping many issues.

“Proper, safe operation is key to avoiding all problems, not just from a required maintenance/repair standpoint,” Straight said. “Proper operation leads to better results, too. That’s why I always stress the importance of cognizant, proper operation.

“While the concepts are applied in-season, proper operation really begins with good pre-season training,” he added. “And not just for new team members, every operator should participate every year, whether novice or experienced. From there, it’s up to every operator to apply that training and knowledge every time he or she is out pushing snow.”

Patrick Dietz, manager of product marketing for Douglas Dynamics, agrees that the pre-season is critical to a successful season.

“The last thing you want going into a new season are surprises,” Dietz said. “Practicing preventative maintenance helps minimize, and even eliminate, potential surprises, saving money in the long-run and starting the next season off right.”

According to Dietz, by following these preventative tips and suggestions, operators not only prepare themselves for a smooth transition into the winter, but can potentially save thousands of dollars in costly repairs.

Tip 1: Grease all electrical connections to protect against corrosion.

“This is by far the most important post-season maintenance step to take,” he said.

Use a non-conductive dielectric grease to seal out moisture from the electrical connections, preventing corrosion that can destroy the electrical system.

“This small step can save a lot, both in time and money,” Dietz said. “You don’t want the surprise of electrical components being corroded when getting ready for the first snowfall of the year.”

Tip 2: Clean and paint all scratches and nicks in the powder coat to protect against rust.

“Any nicks or scratches that show exposed metal have the potential to rust,” he said. “These areas should be inspected, cleaned, prepped and painted to ensure that rust does not have the chance to set in.”

Tip 3: Fully collapse the lift cylinders and lubricate the chrome rods to protect the hydraulic system.

“Lubricating the chrome helps prevent rust and helps keep contaminants out of the hydraulic system,” Dietz said. “Rust on the chrome lift rods could potentially flake off and enter the hydraulic system, leading to costly repairs. Fully collapsing the lift cylinders and lubricating the chrome rods protects the hydraulics, nearly eliminating the risk of contamination.”

Tip 4: Drain the hydraulic fluid to eliminate moisture build up.

“Drain all of the hydraulic fluid prior to storage, to ensure that there is no moisture build-up that can lead to performance issues or rust,” he said. “Condensation that forms in the hydraulic fluid can build up. And with enough build-up, it’s possible for the reservoir to literally rust from the inside out.”

Tip 5: Perform a thorough inspection of the iron.

Do an in-depth check of the plow, looking for wear, metal fatigue, cracks or any other issues that may influence performance. Check all of the welds, re-torque the nuts and bolts and make sure everything is solid.

“In addition to these five tips, a little common sense can go a long way,” Dietz said. “By simply checking your plow on a regular basis and keeping up on simple maintenance, you can add years to the life of the plow and avoid headaches in the process.”

Even with all the pre-season preparation, there’s much to be done to deliver smooth operation once the snow starts flying.

“Proper and timely maintenance is key to ensuring top performance as well as avoid accelerating the wear of components,” Strait said. “This is true with any piece of equipment, and pushers are no different.

What is different, often, is the frequency maintenance checks are needed, he added. The maintenance schedule can be indicated by mileage, fuel consumption, service hours or calendar time.

“A good visual inspection should be done daily in average snow season,” Strait said. “If it’s a really slow snow season like we’ve had this year, you really don’t need to inspect it as often. Conversely, if it’s an above-average season like in previous years, inspections may be required twice a day, during a break or before heading out to the next client’s site.”

Pete Robison, vice president of marketing and business development at Meyer Products, offered a few helpful tips to make the snow-removal season go smoothly.

Check oil level
Use a standard drinking straw or popsicle stick to check fluid level. Remove the filler cap and dip the straw into the fluid reservoir. Always check fluid level with the lift piston fully retracted. The fluid level should be 1-1/2” below the filler hole. If your fluid is low or appears excessively dirty, refer to your owners manual for instructions on filling and changing your hydraulic fluid.

Monitor the condition of hoses, couplers and rams
Check all hoses for bubbles or cuts and couplers for rust or leaks. A failure in a hose or coupler will result in a loss in oil pressure and cause power angling failure. Check rams for rust and leaks, either of these problems can introduce water into the hydraulic system, which may cause freeze-ups. If any of these problems are found, replace the damaged parts.

Monitor the electrical system and battery terminal connections
For maximum efficiency, the vehicle supporting the plow must be properly serviced. The system should consist of at least a 70-amp/hr battery and a 60-amp alternator. Be sure to regularly check the battery terminals to assure they’re clean and free of corrosion, adding dielectric grease to all connections will help prevent corrosion from occurring. Also check the electrical connections to assure they’re tight and corrosion free. Make sure all wires are being held clear from moving or hot engine parts or from sharp sheet metal. For maximum efficiency, the battery, alternator and regulator must be in top operating condition to assure maximum electrical output.

Strait offered a six-point visual checklist of his own.

“When you’re inspecting the pusher, what you need to look for is anything that’s missing, loose, worn, cracked or damaged – basically anything that should be replaced to ensure best results,” he said.

The major areas to inspect are (with some being exclusive to the Arctic pusher because of its design):

  • Cutting Edges – If a section is damaged or worn, replace it;
  • Center and Outer Springs – Be sure they’re all still in tact and not loose;
  • Mounting blocks – Be sure none are cracked, chipped or damaged. Be sure the fasteners are there and secure;
  • Side Panel – Be sure the nuts and bolts are all still present and tight. Also check the locking cotter pins are there. And be sure the bushings aren’t worn;
  • Wear Shoes – Again, be sure all nuts and bolts are present and tight. Shoes should be replaced if worn. That’s likely something that you’ll notice at the end of one season or multiple seasons. The shoes should never get so worn in one day that they need to be replaced frequently; and
  • Slip-Hitch – Check the pins and lock bolts.

“In addition to regularly checking parts for damage, wear or loose connections, at the end of the season it’s a good idea to wash down the pusher and apply a lubricant to any areas prone to rusting,” Strait added.

Whether pre-season, in-season or wrapping up a season, a little due diligence goes a long way toward avoiding inconvenient and costly breakdowns.

Rob Thomas is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Snow Magazine.