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Snow Plow Truck - How To Make Money With Your Diesel

Part Three: Snow Plowing

Photography by Bobcat, Boss Snowplow, , Everblades, Meyer Products, Sno-Way, Snow Dragon

This is part three of our series on "How to Make Money with Your Diesel." Just in time for winter, we will show you how your truck can pay for itself plowing snow. One thing to remember is, whether or not we get as much snow as we used to, we are paving more parking lots and roads, which will need to be plowed as well.

Getting Started
Making a business plan is the first thing a serious snow plow operator needs to do. This is a map outlining your goals, and how to reach them in the market you're in. The first thing to find out is how much snowfall your area averages each winter. The next thing to consider is your customer base. Decide whether you are going to focus on residential driveways, commercial parking lots, or both. Finally, take a realistic look at your costs of operation including labor, equipment, fuel, repairs, permits, and insurance. According to Brian Birch, assistant executive director of the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA), "Some municipalities and city governments do require a permit to plow snow, but in general I believe the majority do not. It is always advised to check with local government before performing any type of service work. Insurance, however, is paramount, and definitely a must in the snow industry. Every contractor should have commercial liability insurance and insurance that covers their equipment, as well as the potential risk from slip and fall claims. Many facilities require insurance umbrellas of $1 million or more to ensure that a contractor is helping to offset potential exposure to litigation. Furthermore, contractors must make sure that their insurance coverage is specific in their policy to snow and ice; simply having insurance for landscape or lawn maintenance will not cut it, it must have a clause or language covering snow and ice services or a contractor is putting themselves and their clients at great risk."

Becoming a member of SIMA will help you get on track. The organization provides industry-specific information regarding contracts, bids, labor, and other business-related topics. It also provides technical information related to the snow removal industry regarding de-icers, spreaders, plowing techniques, how to train employees, and updates on new technology. Furthermore, it provides a path toward becoming a certified snow professional (CSP). Being CSP certified is kind of like being an SAE certified mechanic. Another valuable source of information is Letstalksnow.com. This online forum lets you talk with experienced and inexperienced snow removal professionals.

How much money will you make?
There are different pricing structures people in the industry use. Some charge a flat rate for the entire winter (usually includes a severe storm clause) while others charge for each service or by the amount of snow removed. Either way, the terms and conditions are written in a contract and signed by both parties. Oftentimes, snow removal operators keep their contracts to themselves since time, money, and energy were put into crafting them. Like in all types of businesses, making an accurate and realistic bid depends on changing market factors. Still, here are some examples of what people are charging. In Massachusetts, a 100-yard rural gravel driveway costs around $50 to plow. In Michigan, an operator with a subcontracted truck with a plow could get about $65-80 per hour before operation costs. In general, plowing a residential driveway will earn you at least $30, so it makes sense to get as many customers in as close an area as possible. If you're looking to hook a big fish, Federal Business Opportunities at FBO.gov is a source for government contracts, which includes snow removal opportunities. Craigslist.com is at the opposite end of the spectrum, but is still a valuable resource. Putting a decal on your truck offering snow plowing is cheap advertising too.

HOW TO PLOW:
Information Courtesy of Sima

Straight Plows
When you have a straight plow, angle the blade away from the building as you make your first pass. Subsequent passes should be made away from the building and toward the outer perimeter. The general rule is to never angle your blade toward a building. The goal is to get the snow as far away from the buildings as possible.

V-Plows
Use a V-position to make an initial breakthrough. This position is also effective for hard packed snow, ice, and deep drifts. Set the blade in the straight position or angled position for general, wide-path plowing, or stacking. Use the scoop position for clean-up and carrying with minimum spillage.

Pushers/Box/Containment Plows
When using a snow pusher, be sure it's attached according to the manufacturer's specifications. These specs are designed to provide the best performance, wear tolerance, and safety. A snow pusher on a loader, backhoe, skid-steer, or compact utility tractor can quickly and efficiently move large volumes of snow. Snow pushers contain snow and don't create as much of a windrow, which eliminates the need for repeated plowing of the same area to clean up spillage. By utilizing the loader's lifting capabilities, snow pushers can be used to stack huge piles of snow. And, by removing the snow pusher attachment, you're left with a loader capable of loading trucks in case the snow must be hauled away or put in a snowmelter.

Before The Storm
Preparing before the snow falls is extremely important. This means talking with the customer about where they want the snow pushed, and setting up markers designating areas that need to be cleared. A GPS is a good tool for getting to the job site, routing addresses, and augmenting plow speed. Having equipment in working order and de-icing materials on hand is also a preseason must. After a successful job, make sure to take pictures and get written statements from the happy client in order to build a reference portfolio.

The Plow Vehicle
Your plow truck should be in good mechanical condition, and have a sound electrical system. It needs clear visibility from the driver's seat and good snow tires. Turning radius and fuel economy are also serious considerations. Four-wheel-drive vehicles work the best, but a heavily loaded two-wheel drive could also be an option. A regular cab 3/4 or 1-ton platform is ideal. Removing the pickup's tailgate offers increased rear visibility. A quiet running diesel engine is important in residential areas, as to not wake up your customers while they sleep. Tall, skinny tires bite better than wide ones, and chains should be considered in mountainous terrain. Plowing is hard on a vehicle. The transmission gets quite a workout pushing snow, so add a transmission temperature gauge. The frame and suspension have extra stress because of the weight of the plow-not to mention the force applied to the snow, so make sure your springs aren't maxed out, and catch cracks in the frame before they spread. On newer vehicles it is important to check with the manufacturer to make sure your truck has the snow plow prep package, as to not void the warranty.

Snowplows
There are many types of plows, including V-plows, straight blades, expandable plows, rear-mounted plows, and pushers. The bigger the plow, the more snow you'll be able to push. So select the biggest plow your vehicle can handle, but keep in mind bigger plows are less maneuverable. Take a look at your vehicle's Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) paying close attention to the limit your front axle can handle. Plows range in length from 7 to 9 feet. They are also made from different materials, including steel, polyurethane, and stainless steel. With a new straight plow going for about $4,500, and a new V-plow selling for $5,300, buying used might be a more realistic option.

GENERAL GUIDELINES
1. Keep storm drains and fire hydrants clear in the winter.
2. Raise the blade at the end of the pass and make sure to come to a full stop before shifting. Then wait for the transmission to engage and continue.
3. Build snow banks far enough back to accommodate future snowfalls.
4. Pile snow on the opposite side of the property that the wind is blowing so snow doesn't drift back into the plowed area.
5. Push snow into the back of a parking area, away from the street.
6. Avoid stacking snow in the middle of a lot to prevent difficult removing later.

Diesel-Powered Snowmelter
The Snow Dragon is a diesel-powered snowmelter able to turn piles of snow into warm water. As a general rule, 10 inches of snow equal about 1 inch of water. Warm flowing water will not freeze as fast as warm stagnant water, so it is important to park the snowmelter by a drain. According to Snow Dragon, even in Russia, at -40 degrees F, the 90-degree water flows 150 yards before refreezing. Whatever water is left at the scene of melting evaporates thanks to sublimation (solid ice turns into water vapor) leaving the pavement dry.

There are different size snowmelters, the smallest one will run you about $215,000, although in some markets the going rate for billable hours is $900-1,400 per hour. These units are portable and can be towed by a pickup truck.

SNOW PLOWING TECHNIQUES AND TIPS
From SIMA and Kyle Hansen, CEO of Clean Sweep, Inc.

1. In most cases you'll want to open the lot entrances and exits first, and then clear the building entrance and sidewalks.
2. If you can pile snow at both ends of the lot, you can increase efficiency by pushing the snow in both directions.
3. With short runs, it's often more efficient to repeatedly back up and push forward, without turning around. With extra long runs, it usually makes sense to turn your truck around and drive back before making another pass.
4. If the snow you're pushing gets too big to handle, you may have to cut some away from the other side. If you have a straight blade, one technique for moving more snow is to keep it straight, not angled, and use the windrow as a wall to help keep the snow in the plow while moving forward. Or you may need to push snow in multiple intervals. Perhaps every other blade width as a pass. With this technique you may be covering the same area two or three times in order to move all the snow.
5. Another technique is to buck the snow pile by cutting a perpendicular swath across the pile. Be sure your blade is straight as you make contact with each pile. When bucking the pile, two trucks with straight plows can work as a team. One truck keeps bucking sections of the pile to create gaps, which lightens the load for the other plow.

[SNOW PLOW DIRECTORY]

Air-Flow Manufacturing (607)522-3574 www.air-flo.com
Boss Snowplow (800)286-4155 www.bossplow.com
Blizzard Snowplows www.blizzardplows.com
Buyers Products Company (440)974-8888 www.buyersproducts.com
Central Parts Warehouse (800)761-1700 www.centralparts.com
Fisher Snowplows www.fisherplows.com
Hiniker Co. (507)625-6621 www.hiniker.com
Meyer Products, LLC www.meyerproducts.com
Sno-Way International, Inc. (262)673-7200 www.snoway.com
Snowman Snowplow, Inc. (888)766-6267 www.snowmanplows.com
Superplow, LLC (888)839-7569 www.superplow.com
Western Snowplows www.westernplows.com

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