Some Dos & Don'ts For The Newbie Plow Jockey
Do you live in the Snowbelt? Have you recently fitted your 4x4 with a snowplow?
If you have, good for you. You had a perfectly capable 4x4 anyway, and now you don’t have to pay someone to plow your property and/or you won’t throw your back out of whack while shoveling snow.
If you’re a newbie to moving snow, there are a few dos and don’ts you should know that will help ensure safe and effective plowing as well as long life of your 4x4. Plowing is similar to wheeling. Learning the basics will get you started and you’ll improve as you gain experience.
With that said, we’ve assembled a list of snow plowing do’s and don’ts, split into three categories: before, during, and after you plow. By applying these basics you should be on your way to effectively removing snow.
Before It Snows
Do check the area you’ll be plowing for obstructions and things that could be damaged and/or damage your plow or 4x4. In the city this could be stuff like an above-ground natural gas line, gas meter, telephone junction box, or electrical box. In a rural area it could be all of the above, plus things like a water well cap or septic tank vent pipes. If you have a septic tank, don’t plow large amounts of snow over it because if you have a septic system problem you may have to access the tank and the snow would make access difficult. And when the temperatures warm, large quantities of snow will become large quantities of water that can leak into and overwhelm the tank. The snow can also block and/or break the tank vent pipe. Don’t plow snow onto the septic system field lines either, because the melting snow can saturate the ground and cause problems. Don’t push snow over drains or up against building foundations. Do mark any area you need to avoid. Before the ground freezes we use push-in fiberglass markers with reflective tape (the reflective tape helps make the markers more visible when plowing at night). We also use these markers at the edges of our long driveway to serve as a guide for when the snow is deep.
Do give your plow and 4x4 a thorough inspection. Make sure the plow components operate correctly and are in good condition. You may also want to have basic plow repair items on hand like hydraulic hoses, hydraulic fluid, and a pump solenoid. Snow waits for no man, and downtime is annoying. Similar to off-roading, plowing puts stress on many of your 4x4’s components. Starting up front, do make sure your rigs cooling system is full and leak-free. It may be cold outside, but your rig’s engine will labor while pushing snow and the cooling system needs to be up to the task. Your transmission is next. This is a critical part of the equation because it will be asked to do things that are out of the ordinary compared to standard use. For automatics, in addition to the stress of pushing snow, frequent toggling between gears puts a strain on the transmission. Do make sure it’s full of fluid and the fluid is clean. Depending on how much you plow, you may need to change the fluid before and after a plow season to ensure your rig’s transmission has a long life. Don’t forget about transmission temperature. Transmission fluid service recommendations are based on factors including operating temperature, so if you get the fluid hot often you’ll need to change it more often. We installed a transmission temperature gauge in our Fiery Redhead ’92 F-150 project vehicle and found that the transmission fluid temperature occasionally surpassed 240 degrees when plowing heavy, wet snow continuously. When this happened we stopped plowing and let the engine idle or we took a break and drove the truck on the road until the transmission returned to the normal operating temperature. Do consider an auxiliary transmission cooler if you plow often. As a side note, we also installed a transfer case temperature gauge in our F-150 and found that the temperature didn’t even rise to 100 degrees during plowing, so T-case heat wasn’t a concern on our rig. If your rig has a manual transmission, do make sure the clutch is in good condition, because it will get a workout. Also, do make sure your rig’s driveshaft and axleshaft U-joints are in good shape. Nothing is more aggravating than having to lie on a wet, cold garage floor to change U-joints when snow needs to be moved. Finally, do consider installing some rear-facing lighting. You’ll be driving in Reverse often, and in the winter daylight is minimal, so it’s a no-brainer that you’ll be plowing in the dark often. We installed the IPF Back-Up Light Kit (www.arbusa.com) on a spare tire mount on our Jeep Wrangler TJ used for plowing and we used a pair of IPF Back-Up Light Kits mounted in the rear bumper on our F-150. The lighting can be wired up to illuminate when you place the transmission in Reverse, or the lighting can be manually activated. Lights mounted on the side of the vehicle are also helpful. Oh, one more thing, do make sure your windshield wipers are in good condition. It’s a seemingly small thing, but snow often blows onto your windshield when plowing, even when it’s not snowing, and it’s important to have a clear, unobstructed view.
First and foremost, do wear your seatbelt and be aware of people and things around you. Visibility may be low, so this can add to the challenges of plowing. Do make sure you’re aware of laws in your area that can affect how you plow. For example, in some areas it’s illegal to push snow across a public roadway. Do make sure the snow piles you create won’t block other driver’s visibility, too. Don’t plow without a plan. Know where you want to push the snow ahead of time. Planning for multiple snowfalls is important because if you run out of room mid-season you may not be able to push a giant pile of snow that is rock hard due to freeze/thaw cycles. The first pass through deep snow is often the most difficult. You can actually keep your plow blade several inches above the ground to shave off a section of deep snow and then return and plow the remainder of the snow with the plow blade on the ground. If you need to remove snow that is close to a building or some other immovable object you can “backdrag” it. Simply raise and straighten your plow blade, pull up close to the building or object, lower the plow blade, and reverse your vehicle. Back your vehicle two or three truck lengths and then either back or pull into the cleared area and push the snow where you want it. The plow blade won’t be as efficient, but for short backdrags it works fine in most cases. Don’t leave a job unfinished. If you leave wet snow half plowed, it may freeze solid overnight when the temperature drops and it can be very hard on equipment to push it the next day. Do plow forward as much as possible to decrease wear and tear on your rig’s transmission. Do make sure the vehicle is completely stopped before you toggle between gears.
Do inspect your plow frame and blade for any damage. Look for stuff like cracked welds, loose bolts, and blade/cutting-edge damage. If you aired down your tires for extra traction, air ’em back up. If you have to leave your blade on your 4x4, don’t travel over the plow manufacturers maximum recommended speed. Do angle the blade to the right to lessen the chance of catching a snow bank or curb, which could pull your vehicle into it. Do lower the blade when parking to take the stress off the hydraulic components and decrease weight on the front suspension.
Next Month: Snowplow Equipment
In the February issue of Four Wheeler we’ll take a look at some of the snowplows offered by various manufacturers. If you live in an area prone to snow and you use your 4x4 as a tool, you’ll be drooling over what’s available for 4x4s large and small.