By Mike Holihan
If one of the products on your winter wish list is a new snow pusher, it may seem that there isn’t much to consider. Although these units appear fairly basic, there is more engineering that goes into snow pushers than meets the eye.
When comparing snow pushers, most contractors are on the right track when they want a unit that is strong enough to handle the stress of pushing thousands of pounds of snow. What they get wrong, however, is understanding which factors make a snow pusher durable.
The first thing that many contractors look for is weight, and they often assume that the heaviest pusher available must also be the heaviest duty. Likewise, they often gravitate toward equipment that uses the thickest steel in the moldboard and side plates.
Contrary to popular belief, weight is not a good indicator of a snow pusher’s durability. In fact, some of the heaviest units on the market are not as long-lasting as lighter ones that have the same width. Additionally, heavy pushers can’t move snow as far as lighter ones, since capacity decreases as the weight of a snow pusher increases.
Equally unimportant is the gauge of steel used in the moldboard and side plates, as even the thickest steel will wear quickly if it’s not supported properly. Therefore, the best way to determine the strength of a snow pusher is the channeling, rather than the weight or thickness of its steel.
With this in mind, contractors should ask what type of support is used to strengthen a unit. A combination of horizontal and vertical channeling is understood to be the best method of support. This is especially true when the channeling is constructed of thick steel, rather than the use of horizontal I-beams or thin vertical ribs, which provide less support.
Special attention should be paid to the lower inside corner of the side plate, where the front of the wear shoe and the side plate meet. This is the point that undergoes the most stress during a typical impact. Again, all pushers incorporate some sort of support between the front moldboard and the side plates, but the quality varies. For example, some snow pushers are equipped with a post that is welded between the moldboard and a side plate. However, a square or tubular post transfers all of the pressure to the single point on the moldboard where it is welded. A triangular gusset, on the other hand, distributes the pressure throughout more surface area, therefore lowering the impact. Furthermore, it is important to ensure the post or gusset is connected to the back channeling. If there is no support behind the post or gusset, it could actually be pushed through the moldboard.
The last consideration to be made when examining the strength of a snow pusher is the quality of the welding. The most durable units are fully welded because the gaps found in spot-welded snow pushers are weak and susceptible to failure. Additionally, moisture can get into these gaps and eventually cause rusting.
Go big or go home?
Another natural tendency of many contractors is to buy the largest snow pusher that their equipment can handle. Although this seems to be a logical way to increase productivity, a better idea is to analyze the lots where the snow pusher will be used. Will there be heavy traffic in the lots when they are serviced? How wide are the aisles?
Before purchasing a unit, contractors should determine how narrow a snow pusher must be to maneuver around car traffic and other obstacles in the lots that will be serviced. Unless a contractor operates in wide-open lots, the biggest snow pusher might not be the best decision after all.
For more atypical needs, specialized units are available to accommodate them. If a contractor constantly travels down the road from jobsite to jobsite, a fold-out model may work best to comply with traffic laws. Furthermore, pull-back models can be purchased for skid-steers, allowing snow to be pulled back in a reverse direction.
The next choice a contractor must make is whether to purchase a snow pusher with a rubber edge, steel trip edge, or both, which is a decision largely left up to snow type. Rubber edges are the best option for wet, slushy snow, while steel trip edges are typically reserved for icy snow and hard pack. Some snow pushers have both types of edges positioned on either end of the moldboard to adapt to changing conditions.
Rubber edges work best in wet, slushy snow because they act as a squeegee to clean the surface better than steel edges. They are also better suited for clearing snow from concrete and gravel, since steel edges will scratch concrete and displace loose gravel. Many contractors enjoy rubber edges because they require little maintenance, and they are more forgiving than steel edges. If an inexperienced operator does not run a snow pusher level with the ground, a rubber edge will not leave as much snow behind as an uneven steel edge, and a steel edge is more likely to cause damage.
If looking for a rubber-edged snow pusher, one should be conscious of the type of rubber installed. The most durable edges are extruded rubber, which is made from virgin rubber, so it has a high tensile strength (resistance to tearing). Molded rubber generally has half the tensile strength of extruded rubber, since it is made from recycled rubber pieces, so it is more prone to tearing.
Because of their scraping abilities, steel trip edges are ideal when dealing with icy snow and hard pack, and there are several varieties within the steel edge category. These include sectional pushers, which are designed to accommodate surfaces that are not level due to their floating sectional moldboards. Next, some snow pushers use horizontal or vertical tension-type springs, which have been used on truck plows for years. Other units use a urethane spring, rather than a mechanical one, to snap in and out of place as obstructions are hit.
There are plenty of advocates who will swear by one type of steel trip edge or another, but all types will generally perform well when scraping snow. More important factors to consider include lower edge support, ease of use, and number of moving parts. An unsupported and complex trip edge system is much more likely to malfunction than a reinforced edge with fewer moving parts. Also, keep in mind the cost and availability of replacement parts associated with some steel trip edges.
For more serious contractors, there are reversible snow pushers available with both rubber and steel cutting edges, located on opposite ends of the moldboard. To use these pushers, the operator simply flips the unit to the desired edge. Since contractors are likely to deal with all types of snow throughout the winter, this type of snow pusher provides maximum versatility, as it adapts to changing weather and jobsite conditions.
No matter what type of edge is desired, the most effective snow pushers are manufactured with the edge angled toward the ground, rather than positioned straight up and down. Although snow pushers don’t appear to be highly engineered, experienced manufacturers have undergone much research and development to determine the optimum angle for rubber edges to effectively squeegee the surface. Likewise, steel edges work best when they are installed to attack hard pack at an angle.
Above the cutting edge, the moldboard angle also plays an important roll. If it is angled correctly, the moldboard will roll the snow forward and create momentum for pushing longer distances. If angled too much, however, the moldboard will just roll snow back into the pusher. The snow will also push hard if the moldboard and cutting edge are not angled at all and are made perpendicular to the ground.
Keep maintenance in mind
Besides cutting edges, another item to consider is maintenance. As mentioned, it is often a good idea to look for products with few moving parts, due to their minimal maintenance requirements. Beyond this, touching up the paint is one of the most time-consuming fixes on any snow and ice equipment.
Although many contractors assume powder coating to be the best option for all their equipment, the main consideration is to ensure the paint used on a snow pusher has been salt tested. This means the paint has been proven to withstand rock salt and other elements for more than two seasons. Additionally, contractors must realize that all paint will chip, so it’s important to look for a paint that is cheap and easy to touch up. In fact, many have switched away from powder-coated finishes due to the difficulty and cost of repainting powder coats.
Get more than you bargained for
As with any purchase, one should also keep in mind the companies behind the products. Even when a manufacturer offers a long warranty, a contractor must realize that service and replacement parts are hard to find when there is no strong dealer support. And a company that doesn’t exist in five years won’t be able to honor its warranty. On the other hand, a company that has already proven itself in the industry may be a safer bet when the success of a contractor’s season rests on the dependability of his equipment.
Overall, the value of a snow pusher is not determined by one factor alone. In fact, several items must be considered from durability and maintenance to the manufacturer itself and how readily available its products are when they’re needed most. And even though the purchase of a snow pusher requires more thought than one would imagine, by choosing the right unit, you’re bound to get more than your money’s worth.
Mike Holihan is director of marketing at Pro-Tech, inventor of the original Sno Pusher and a leader in commercial-duty containment plows.