Know your plows

Features - 2012 Snow & Ice Report

All the information you need about the tool that you just can’t operate your business without.

November 1, 2012
Lawn & Landscape

To snow contractors, a plow is so much more than just a straight or v-blade. It turns out they’re pretty particular when it comes to what they like, the technology they prefer, how they purchase and why they make the decisions they make to battle winter’s worst.

During the first quarter of 2012, we asked snow contractors across the U.S. and Canada about their plows via SurveyMonkey, an online survey site. Nearly 700 contractors took the time to respond to our poll. We collated and crunched all of that data and found some interesting results. Furthermore, for additional insight into contractors’ plow preferences we broke down some of that data between snow fighters doing less than $500,000 in winter snow removal, and those contractors doing more than $500,000 in winter snow removal.

Overall, the average contractor has a arsenal composed primarily of straight-blade plows, but it, on some scale, will also include box plows, v-blades and sectional plows. Due to their attractive price tag, the occurrence, on average, of straight-blade plows compared to other types is greatest with smaller-scale contractors (less than $500,000). Likewise, the frequency of box plows and v-blades are greater with larger-sized contractors, reflective of a more operationally aggressive and efficiency-minded operation.

More than three quarters of contractors who use subs for winter snow removal work expect those subs to have their own plows. Overall, less than 10 percent provide their subcontractors with plows.

Around a third or more of snow and ice management contractors prefer to buy their plows when they purchase their trucks, as well as when repairs become too costly, according to the research data. In addition, the majority of snow contractors prefer to purchase “new” plows over used items. However, around 15 percent of contractors state they have “no preference” when it comes to choosing either new or used plows, according to the research.

Interestingly enough, around 13 percent of contractors get every last ounce of work out of their plows, saying they only replace their units when they’ve rusted away to nothing. Very few contractors (1 percent or less), according to the research, purchase plows after the end of a winter plowing season. While only a small fraction, more contractors (around 10 percent) purchase their plows on a 5-year cycle, than on a 3-year cycle.

According to the survey, nearly three quarters of contractors are “loyal” to a particular plow brand or plow manufacturer. So what generates that level of intense loyalty? Contractors’ top criteria in a plow is reliability, durability and ease of mounting, with a low emphasis on a plow’s ancillary bells and whistles, according to the data.

Likewise, when making a plow purchasing decision, contractors are most influenced by their past experiences with a particular brand or model, followed by the recommendations made to them by their industry colleagues and local equipment dealer. So what do contractors like in their plows? On average, more than half of contractors indicated they like their plows to have handheld, joystick-style controls. Less than a third indicated they had no preferences when it came to their plow controls and switches.


Nearly half of contractors (48 percent) indicated they prefer standard-sized hydraulic fittings over over-sized fittings (11 percent). However, for around 40 percent of contractors, hydraulic fitting size wasn’t an issue.

Contractors like mild-steel moldboards on their plows over any other type of material. Likewise, steel is nearly their only preference (88 percent) when it comes to cutting edges. On average, the majority of snow fighters (64 percent) prefer to hook their plows up to 1-ton pickup trucks. But trucks aren’t the only thing they hook plows up to. Two-thirds hook them up to skid-steers for snow removal work, and a third employ plows attached to wheel loaders.

Likewise, a quarter or more of contractors indicated they utilize tractors with plows attached to push snow. Box plows were the top choice as a plow attachment (around 60 percent) with contractors, followed by straight-blade plows (around 40 percent).