Few things will derail business faster than down equipment. When equipment is working 24/7 in rough conditions it takes a beating. In the snow industry, problems are a given. Equipment breakdowns can be expected and accidents may occur in the midst of a snowstorm. Having a contingency plan in place for these situations is important to limiting downtime. But there are things companies can do on the maintenance side to help ensure equipment stays up and running. Even in a tough winter, regular and ongoing maintenance can help prevent problems and keep operations running smoothly.

Preseason maintenance

Equipment preparation and maintenance can go a long way in preventing problems once the snow begins to fall. Use the time leading up to the snowy winter season to perform inspections and begin prepping equipment. The offseason is a great time to change filters and fluids, perform touch-up paint jobs, inspect hoses and hardware and execute any repair work that may be needed, says Mike Zimprich, service and warranty manager for Hiniker Company based in Mankato, Minnesota.

“It’s always nicer to work on repairs when days are warmer as opposed to when the snow is starting to blow and the temperature drops below freezing,” Zimprich adds.

It’s beneficial to check on plows’ paint jobs to lessen their wear before sending them out. Jered Shuknecht, marketing director of Pro-Tech in Rochester, New York, says that even though the company uses high quality primers and paints on all of its Sno Pusher products, paint will eventually wear and require touching up. Before the beginning of the season, make sure that any wear or rust spots are sanded down, primed and painted, Shuknecht says. Not doing so could result in the spread of rust and deterioration, and that kind of corrosion can lead to malfunctions and costly repairs.

 PHOTO: HINIKER

PHOTO: HINIKER

During a preseason inspection, Lou Orazem, technical service and training manager for Meyer Products in upstate New York, advises going over all of the bolts to ensure they are tight and not bent. Contractors should also make sure there are no cracks in the steel and should check that the cutting edge is not worn significantly. All pivot points should also be greased and a complete hydraulic fluid flush should be done before adding new hydraulic fluid.

Ongoing maintenance

Preseason check-ups are just the beginning of a maintenance program that will help keep equipment going all season long. Regular, ongoing inspections and maintenance of equipment are critical. Snow equipment requires constant checks as even the smallest problems can lead to catastrophes down the line.

“As you get into your snow season, it’s critical that you continue with ongoing maintenance and regular checks in order to prevent problems,” says Orazem. “For instance, you should be continuously checking for leaks. Any time there is a fluid leak, you risk getting fluid inside the machine and causing it to freeze up. You also need to continually check cutting edge wear and check for cracks in the steel. Also, go over all bolts and grease all moving pivots and joints as often as needed. If you keep up with maintenance, you may be able to prevent downtime.”

PHOTO: HINIKER

Zimprich says contractors should look for damage before each and every use of the equipment, as well as every time it comes back to the yard. Putting damaged equipment on the road can lead to major headaches. For example, Zimprich says to make sure a hose hasn’t shifted out of place, which could cause damage and leaks. And key hardware should always be checked to make sure it is tight.

“Applying dielectric grease to all electrical connections is critical, too,” Zimprich adds. “So often, end user problems come down to poor connections on the electrical side of a plow – mostly grounding issues.”

During tough winters, Shuknecht says the wear shoes, cutting edges and connections points get the most wear and tear on containment plows and should be checked regularly.

“The wear shoes and edges take the brunt of wear because of their contact with the ground surface and snow piles,” Shuknecht explains. “And connection points receive an immense amount of force from the prime mover during normal operations.”

While Pro-Tech shoes are abrasion and impact-resistant, as well as hardened, when a shoe is at or below one-quarter inch it should be replaced. “Running your unit with wear shoes that are excessively worn can cause damage to the sideplate and even the plowing surface,” Shuknecht warns.

Orazem adds that the bolts are especially susceptible to damage in tough conditions. Specifically, if the king bolt and pivot bolts are not properly maintained, they can rust and snap. “Of course the cutting edge also needs a close eye,” he adds. “Since the cutting edge is in contact with the ground it can hit manholes and really take a beating.”

Common mistakes that contractors make can also lead to potential problems. Zimprich says that during harsh winters, when snow gets deep, operators tend to over stack the snow. This puts extra stress on the plow, by forcing it to try and lift beyond its normal range.

“Hitting obstructions, curbs and manhole covers can also cause damage to the plow and cutting edges,” adds Zimprich. “And brutally cold temperatures can affect the snow plow fluid.” He recommends contractors use special oil that is rated for low temperatures and has a drying agent to prevent ice build-up on the filters and valves.

PHOTO: HINIKER

Invest the time

While it can be time consuming, constant equipment checks are really important to prevent problems. Zimprich says that a full check—no breeze-throughs—should be performed regularly on all of the equipment. It may be tempting to skip this step when crews are arriving home in the wee hours of the morning. But putting unchecked equipment on the road is not only a breakdown risk – it’s a liability.

Zimprich advises keeping an eye on the oil level, potential leaks and the hoses and seals. Also inspect the cutting edges for wear and damage, and look for potential problems with the wiring. The plow light functions, high and low beams, and turn signals should also be routinely tested. This is for the safety of both the operators as well as other motorists.

“It’s very important to keep an eye on wear and tear,” adds Orazem. “A lot of larger problems can be prevented if they are caught early. That can equate to a huge savings in time and money.”

Zimprich agrees: “Fix minor issues before they turn into bigger problems that can shut the equipment down.” He adds that it is also important to remember that a properly trained operator will not only cause less damage to the truck and plow, but also less property damage when driving the plow.

“One of the best ways to keep your equipment in its best running condition is to have trained operators who treat the equipment like it was their own—with respect,” Zimprich says. “It’s not a bulldozer! If you put someone with no experience in a truck and tell them to, ‘Go plow snow,’ you’re going to end up with breakage and misused equipment. If you’re the one paying for the plow and its repair, you tend to respect the equipment more than if you’re just an operator.”

Investing time and energy into training can definitely help keep equipment running and hopefully prevent mistakes. Zimprich says doing site walk-throughs prior to a snow event can also be a simple and easy way to prevent problems.

“Before the season even begins, a walk-through of the plowed area will help you familiarize yourself with objects that will be hidden the first time it snows,” Zimprich says. “That includes curbs, manhole covers and shrubbery. Placing a marker near obstructions is a common practice that can help prevent damage—to the site and the equipment.”

All of these efforts take an investment of time and resources, but by taking these extra steps, contractors can avoid a lot of problems in the long run. As the season picks up, contractors who are executing regular inspections, performing ongoing maintenance and investing in well-trained employees will be much less likely to deal with downtime.