Following winter's last hurrah, long after the snow diminishes from the forecast and the snowdrifts melt away, the last thing most people want to think about is more white stuff. Snow and ice contractors, however, are not "most people. "These professionals eat, breathe and live snow, and as a result, aren't necessarily happy to see winter come to an end. But, most do look forward to giving their pushers a well - deserved break come spring. Before parking the winter workhorse, a post-season maintenance program should be performed.
Although pushers are designed to be as close to maintenance-free as possible, common wear-and-tear items are bound to need attention at some point - depending on the level of usage and application for which the pusher is utilized. A snow pusher is a major investment. Simple maintenance is the easiest, most inexpensive way to protect that investment and ensure years of reliable use. But perhaps more significantly, post-season maintenance is the key to being productive and poised for action when the first flakes fly. Proactively addressing maintenance immediately after the season ends, ensures valuable training and safety discussions won't get pushed aside in order to prepare the equipment in the fall.
Though the maintenance is essential, it's also minimal. The checklist requires a few simple steps and a small amount of time.
Cleaning It Up
Universally recognized as the end to the snow season, April 15 this the target date for initiating the post-maintenance program. The first, and perhaps simplest, step in a solid post-season maintenance plan is giving the pusher a good cleaning. A thorough power wash removes salt and debris, preventing corrosion and rusting. After cleaning, allow the pusher to dry for a few hours, and then apply a standard penetrant to pivot points, fasteners, nuts and bolts. Each pusher features a unique design and likewise requires specific attention to key components. In pushers that feature moving and forgiving parts as part of the design, extra lubricant should be applied to those areas such as springs, joints and edges to prevent paint chipping and rusting.
Once the pusher is cleaned, a detailed inspection can alert the operator of any issues. Again, because each type of pusher is built differently, the full inspection should be tailored to suit the equipment. While there is no "one-size-fits-all" maintenance plan, there are basics for most standard pushers.
Inspect, Repair and Replace
Proper and timely maintenance is essential in order to optimize performance and avoid accelerated wear. In general terms, pushers are designed to be fairly easy to care for and service. In the event a repair or full replacement is needed, most steps are relatively quick and easy to perform. In fact, most servicing can be completed in less than 30 minutes.
Every pusher has a cutting edge, either rubber or steel, that should be inspected and replaced if necessary. Rubber edges tend to have a life only 1/5 that of steel, thus requiring more frequent maintenance and replacement. Regardless of the edge type though, replacement does come at a cost. The size of the edge and the time required for replacement can cause costs to add up in a hurry. Some plows that feature sectional moldboard designs minimize time and expense by allowing individual sections to be replaced as needed.
These sectional designs typically feature 32-inch independent moldboard sections, each mounted on the pusher's mainframe with a mounting block. Those blocks should receive a quick post-season inspection and replacement if they show cracks or damage. A critical element to the safety of the plow, the property and the operator, the mounting blocks are designed to handle a lot of pressure and impact with little damage and may last in excess of five years. However, if signs of stress or damage occur, it is important to replace damaged blocks to ensure safe and proper operation. Also, check to be sure bolts are tight and the blocks are firmly secured to the pusher.
All pushers have wear shoes that should be inspected at the season's end, and replaced if severely worn. Wear can occur quickly and unevenly with standard hitch designs requiring precise placement by the operator. Understandably, when it's 3:00 a.m. and there is a lot to be cleared, time is of the essence and operators may not take time for the necessary adjustments. New to the market, "drop-and-go" hitch designs remove operator error by self-adjusting to the pavement and ensuring even wear on both shoes for longer life and fewer replacements. These designs also permit the shoes to "float" rather than drag during operation, further extending life. Regardless of the type of hitch design, a quick check is in order to make sure the wear shoes are in proper working order.
Having successfully checked and completed the major components, there are still several smaller parts that impact the overall performance of the pusher. Constant movement of the center and outer springs can lead to breaks or stress points. Carefully inspect those areas. If any part of the spring or pin is broken or appears to be rusted to the point of weakness, a replacement spring should be installed. Finally, check to be sure all cotter pins, nuts and bolts are intact and tighten any that may be loose.
To perform a thorough inspection, be sure to read the owner's manual for specific maintenance on specific makes and models of pushers. In addition, this post-season inspection is a great opportunity to take inventory and order any parts that may be needed for the next season. Just as taking care of maintenance and repairs now will ensure the pusher is ready to go next season, being proactive with inventory management will ensure unforeseen issues that arise next season won't develop frozen profits.
Most people lack shop or garage space large enough to store pushers during the off-season, but it's perfectly fine to keep them outside during these months. One key thing to consider is the effects of mother nature. Protect against rust and moisture damage by spraying penetrating oil onto rust-prone areas.
Keep in mind that one solid evaluation at the end of a season doesn't equate to an adequate preventative maintenance program.Snow pushers require - and deserve - TLC throughout the season. Besides protecting the investment and increasing the longevity of the pusher, preventative maintenance throughout the year is among the best ways to reduce off-season work.
Most manuals outline maintenance intervals based on mileage, fuel consumption, service hours or calendar time. But just as snow is completely unpredictable, maintenance intervals need to be flexible to accommodate each unique event and season. For example, standard guidelines may specify replacement intervals for parts as monthly. However, if it has been an unusually brutal month with day after day of consecutive use, this interval may shorten considerably. The best rule of thumb is always to use common sense when scheduling inspections, and simply replace when the part appears worn .
While simple maintenance will go a long way in extending the life of a pusher, proper operation also has a significant impact. Never shake the pusher or hit it on the pavement to remove snow. Though this may be the natural reaction, that violent jarring can result in added stress on joint and components - especially in frigid weather.
It's also crucial to remember a pusher should never be treated as a bulldozer when stacking snow. Proper stacking requires that the pusher be lifted as the machine engages the snow pile. Plows are designed to stack snow endlessly but must be used properly.
Lastly, proper positioning is pivotal to the pusher's longevity, so avoid too much forward or down pressure. Mentioned earlier, certain manufacturers offer special "drop-and-go" hitch designs to aid in positioning. They're designed to take the guesswork out by automatically adjusting to the pavement grade.
Post-season maintenance is the best way to extend the life of a snow pusher and guarantee years of reliable performance. Owners should find it encouraging to know that yearly maintenance, depending on usage, can cost operators as little as $5 for a can of penetrant. Best of all, taking care of maintenance and repairs now will ensure the pusher is ready at the first sight of white next year. The flurries can come at any time, so be ready to push through Old Man Winter's first arrival.