Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
October 2011 Tackling Trouble Areas

Putting On A Few Thousand Pounds

Make sure your truck can handle the stress of winter maintenance equipment.

October 19, 2012

So, you want to equip a truck for snow and ice management.

You take a half-ton truck, install an eight-foot plow, throw on the largest spreader that will fit in the truck bed and you’re ready to start doing snow and ice removal.

What else is there to consider?Image courtesy of SnowEx

Actually, you have quite a few factors to keep in mind when outfitting a truck with snow and ice removal equipment.

Unfortunately, many don’t put much thought into the process and, consequently, their trucks are taken to an early grave — or salvage yard.

Most people understand that it's simply the nature of the beast for winter maintenance trucks to experience a shorter lifespan than a typical work truck.

However, many don't realize that by adding too much weight, they accelerate the aging process of a vehicle and pose a safety hazard.

Just as the human body ages more quickly with stress, trucks will wear rapidly if not adequately rated for the thousands of pounds that this equipment can add.

But, by taking several factors into consideration, people can choose the proper equipment to extend the service life of their trucks, operate more safely and avoid giving the phrase "overhauling your truck" a different meaning.

Watching Your Weight

Imagine the weight that can be added to a vehicle through new equipment.

A 7-½-foot, steel-bladed plow, for instance, may add 850 pounds to the front end of a truck, which is already burdened by the weight of the engine.

Even more, a spreader with a capacity of just one cubic yard can weigh more than 1-½ tons when fully loaded.

Additionally, if a liquid deicing system is installed, an extra 10 pounds per gallon is added to the weight of the vehicle, meaning a 200-gallon tank filled with brine contributes another ton.

That doesn't even take into account the weight of the equipment itself.

Snow Plow On TruckBy looking at the numbers, it's easy to see why even the tough standards of today's trucks can't stand up to the abuse that some operators put them through.

However, some of the worst damage could be prevented if only the purchaser didn't overlook the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the truck.

This number represents the maximum weight that a vehicle's suspension can support — including the weight of fuel, passengers and the vehicle itself.

It is typically labeled in the doorframe or under the hood of a truck, as well as stated in the owner's manual.

Possibly the most important factor in fitting snow and ice equipment, the GVWR can literally make or break a truck.

Shedding Unnecessary Pounds

First, let's consider the snow and ice removal equipment.

People often gravitate toward the largest equipment available, assuming it will allow them to be the most efficient.

Not helping the cause, salesmen often encourage the sale of larger equipment with higher profit margins, especially if the product is already in their inventory.

By ignoring the specifications, it's possible for someone to exceed his or her truck's GVWR even before loading the hopper with salt.

Let’s take a simple example of a three-quarter-ton truck:

  • GVWR of truck: 8,600 pounds
  • Weight of truck including fuel: 6,000 pounds
  • Weight of operator: 200 pounds.

By subtracting the weight of the truck and operator from the GVWR, the remaining capacity equals 2,400 pounds — assuming there are no other accessories to factor in.

A large plow could subtract another 1,000 pounds from the GVWR, and after installing an 800-pound, two-cubic-yard spreader, there’s only 600 more pounds to work with — certainly not enough to fill the spreader with material or add a sprayer.

In recent years, plow and spreader manufacturers have helped reduce weight concerns by constructing their equipment with durable, lightweight materials.

For example, Lexan, a material originally used in the visors of space helmets, has become a popular material in plows.

Also, many people are buying spreaders made of polyethylene, which can reduce the empty weight of a spreader by as much as 40 percent when compared with similar units constructed of steel.

Supporting The Weight

While keeping the equipment in mind, it's time to consider the backbone of a winter maintenance vehicle — the truck.

Whether you're outfitting an older truck or planning to specify a new one, several steps can be taken to make sure this workhorse of the operation doesn't break down before the final furlong.

The first decision to make when looking for a truck is the size.Rock Salt Delivery

Will a half-ton pickup suffice or is a one-ton truck required; will the spreader fit in a short bed or does it need a long bed?

Ideally, a person should search for the smallest truck that has an adequate GVWR to handle all the equipment needed, as it provides the perfect balance of capability and efficiency.

After deciding truck size, there are options to toughen it up, including:

  • A snowplow preparation package
  • A diesel engine
  • A manual transmission
  • Four-wheel drive
  • Automatic locking hubs.

When a person isn't buying a new truck, but rather beefing up an existing one for winter maintenance, aftermarket parts are available to help it bear the burden.

For example, heavy-duty springs provide support to the truck's suspension, helping to prevent tie rod damage, alignment issues and other such problems.

Tires are another important upgrade since they have extra tonnage to support.

It's a good idea to change the tires while they're still within the legal tread limit in order to prevent costly blowouts on the job.

Additionally, some people will buy a battery with higher capacity to provide plenty of power to their electric plows and spreaders.

All Things Considered

After matching equipment to a truck, several more accessories can help it operate safely and efficiently.

First, ensure that the equipment is secured to the truck with proper hardware.

For example, spreaders should be bolted to the truck bed and then tied down with ratchet straps for added safety.

Those who fail to bolt a unit down literally risk losing their spreader off the back of the truck.

Next, the truck must be equipped with proper lighting.

A caution light on the truck is needed when going out on any job, and when spreading or spraying, work lights help the operator see the application for increased accuracy and safety.

This also helps save money by reducing material waste.

Image courtesy of BOSS ProductsTo help prevent property or equipment damage, end markers will allow an operator determine the edges of the plow blade.

Also, if the spreader is equipped with a detachable spinner, it should be removed when not in use to avoid damage from backing into objects.

All things considered, from a truck's transmission to its caution light, fitting a truck with winter maintenance equipment requires careful thought.

Although manufacturers have made technological advances in reducing the weight of plows, spreaders and other accessories, this equipment still places substantial strain on a truck.

The GVWR must be factored in to properly outfit a truck; even further consideration is needed to set it up for safe operation.

If people ignore the specifications, their winter maintenance trucks will experience shorter than normal service life.

But, if more thought is put into the outfitting process, the trucks will spend more time on the job and less time in the shop.