Prepping your salt/sand spreader for next season

Photos Courtesy of Snowex.
Proper postseason spreader maintenance canensure your equipment is ready to go oncethe snow starts to fly and ice begins to form.

Another winter maintenance season has passed. Regardless of where you were located, if winter maintenance was part of your repertoire, it was likely a banner year, with your spreader slinging material as fast as it could receive it, catering to the inordinate amounts of snow and ice. Now that it’s over, it’s easy to turn your attention to the aerators, mowers, skid steers and other moneymakers of the current season. But, don’t leave your spreader out in the cold. Before getting too caught up in the spring tasks at hand, give that winter weather hero a bit of TLC by following these postseason maintenance tips.

Know your spreader

First things first, it’s important to understand that today there’s no cookie-cutter approach to maintaining a spreader. This is due to the fact that there are multiple varieties of spreaders on the market. From the materials being used to construct them (steel, stainless steel and polyethylene), to the power source (gas, hydraulic and electric), to the material delivery systems they utilize (gravity-fed, auger-fed or conveyor-fed—with and without chains, pulleys, etc.), all spreaders have their own unique variations that require a different maintenance approach.

Equipment manufacturers usually include a section in the owner’s manual addressing all suggested maintenance procedures. This includes more than just basic bullet points, but specific details, such as proper belt and chain tension settings and identifying common grease points. And, if the spreader is engine powered, there should be a separate manual from the engine manufacturer including maintenance details.

Water is all that is needed to properly clean the hopper and other components.If cleaning a poly hopper, be sure not to use any abrasive or alkaline-based cleaners.

Be sure to break the owner’s manual open and reference the wealth of material within. Manufacturers spend hours assembling this information with the purpose of keeping their spreaders working in prime condition from one season to the next, in turn keeping their customers satisfied with their equipment. It’s in their best interest to provide this information, and it’s definitely in the end user’s best interest to use it.

Keep it clean

Though the owner’s manual details maintenance activities specific to each spreader, there are some postseason practices that are universal. One of these is cleaning out the hopper and touching up any damage.

This step is most important with hoppers constructed of metal, since residual salt will corrode the surface, leading to rust. In fact, with the highly corrosive nature of many deicing materials, an owner of a spreader featuring a metal hopper should clean it out after each use. Even with corrosion-free polyethylene constructed hoppers, one should thoroughly clean the hopper at the end of each season to remove caked-on salt and reveal any damaged components that need to be addressed.

For the most part, water is all that is needed to properly clean the hopper and other components. Simply prop the spreader up on its side and hose it out, allowing the water to flow from the hopper carrying with it any dust, dirt and deicing material. One word of caution when cleaning poly-constructed hoppers: do not use abrasive or alkaline-based cleaners, such as those containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline or brake cleaner. These chemicals can damage poly and reduce its structural integrity.

Once the spreader is clean, touch up any areas where paint or other finish has been scratched or chipped off to expose the metal below. This will help eliminate rust and corrosion concerns. Furthermore, a good cleaning will help reveal any worn or damaged components that require repair or replacement.

Grease is the word

Beyond cleaning and the touch-ups that follow, another universal step for spreaders is greasing all necessary components. Though these components may differ from one unit to the next, all spreaders have moving parts and connectors that need to stay limber and receptive.

For electric-powered spreaders or those with electric connections for components, such as lights, all terminals should be applied with a coat of dielectric grease. This helps prevent corrosion and ensures easy reconnection. Though this is a necessary postseason maintenance step, one should apply dielectric grease to the terminals any time they are disconnected.

Furthermore, moving parts, such as bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers, augers and so on, should all be lubricated with a good quality multipurpose grease or oil. The same recommendation goes for any integrated grease fittings. Again, this requirement varies based on the type of spreader being maintained. Some models, such as those that are conveyor fed, require more lubrication based on a greater amount of moving parts. On the other hand, some of the auger-fed spreaders on the market operate with no chains, pulleys, conveyors, etc., and therefore only require a couple areas to be greased to facilitate auger articulation. Refer to the owner’s manual to identify necessary lubrication points and the amount of lubrication to use.

Avoid tension headaches

For any spreaders that utilize belts, chains or conveyors, the tension should be properly adjusted not only at the end of the season, but also throughout the service year to reduce slippage and performance problems. How belt and chain tension is adjusted and to what degree is unique to each spreader, and, again, the owner’s manual should be referenced before attempting any modifications, but some points are universal. First of all, be careful not to overtighten the drive belt or chain, as this could lead to damaging the motor or gearbox bearing. Furthermore, before adjusting conveyor belt tension, make sure that deicing material or sand is not trapped or frozen between the conveyor belt and the surface below.

For electric-powered spreaders, or those with electric connections, a coat of dielectric grease should be applied on all terminals.

Engines and hydraulics

For spreaders that are powered by engines or hydraulics, there are some standard postseason maintenance procedures that should be followed.

As with the entire spreader, make sure to clean the engine thoroughly. A simple spraying with water can remove residual salt and help protect metal engine components from corrosion. Next, drain the fuel tank or provide an additive to keep gas fresh during storage. Beyond these simple steps, the standard maintenance procedures for small engines—changing the oil and air filter, inspecting and cleaning spark plugs, etc.—should be conducted based on the engine manufacturer’s recommendations. Refer to the suggested service intervals highlighted in the engine manual.

With hydraulically powered spreaders, the first step is changing the hydraulic fluid. Make sure to use new hydraulic fluid of the proper type and viscosity as recommended by the pump manufacturer. Once this is completed, check the hoses and fittings for possible damage or leaks and repair/replace as necessary. Finally, cap hydraulic connectors to prevent system contamination during storage.

Put it to bed

Cleaned, touched up, lubricated and adjusted, the spreader is ready for storage, but even this simple step is not without manufacturer suggestions. First, pick a location that is dry and protected from the elements. A dry location is of particular importance when dealing with steel-hopper spreaders, because moisture can lead to corrosion/rust issues. Otherwise, keep the unit out of the sun as much as possible to reduce paint fading or damage to the polyethylene, though it is worth noting that most poly spreaders feature high-density, UV-stabilized polyethylene that resists sun damage.

With larger, V-box style spreaders, it’s typically recommended to store these tipped up on one end. This results in a smaller footprint for the unit, freeing up more space for other equipment, but also reducing the chance of service vehicles running into and damaging the spreader. When storing in this fashion, it’s a good idea to do so up against a wall or solid structure so the spreader can be secured using straps or bungee cables, avoiding potential damage from the unit tipping over. Additionally, some spreaders feature a removable spinner assembly. Basically the business end of the spreader, a removable spinner assembly mostly offers the benefit of providing access to the service vehicle’s trailer hitch for use during winter maintenance months. A secondary benefit of a removable spinner assembly is the ability to remove and store this more sensitive component in a protected location.

Proper spreader maintenance is far from sophisticated. However, it’s important to remember that a good spreader is no small investment, and proper TLC now will lead to exceptional ROI for years to come.

The author is director of marketing and sales for SnowEx.