As warmer weather thaws your service area, it’s likely freezing the use of your snow equipment. This lull in activity creates an important time to perform maintenance on your fleet so that it’s in perfect condition for the next snowfall.
“The better preventative maintenance post-season plan you have in place, the better off you are for the next season,” says Chris Marino, owner of Xtreme Snow Pros in New Jersey.
Likened to bringing a vehicle in for its 27-point safety inspection, Marino says Xtreme Snow Pros has it’s own inspection program in place to ensure their equipment is back up and running as efficiently as possible.
“Right now, we are systematically going through each of our pieces of equipment from headlights to fluid changes. The rust is what is going to kill you on any snow equipment, so we also have a huge preventative program we do after every winter event. We power wash and apply a product called Salt-Away to everything from the undercarriage to the inside of the truck. Then, we apply Fluid Film to prevent rust,” he says.
Similarly, Don Nelson, owner of Glacier Snow in Minnesota, stays ahead of salt damage by routinely cleaning his equipment with Neutro-Wash and uses the off season for more extensive maintenance.
“We park a piece in the main bay and it doesn’t leave until its completely done and ready to roll for next year. We do a ‘final final’ detail with the loaders and the salt trucks where all the panels are opened up, we pull the mats out of the cabs, we wash every nook and cranny to make sure it is all clean of salt and debris, and then we polish up with a coat of wax. We also do oil changes and check filters, belts and any common wear items,” Nelson says.
In addition to mechanical upkeep, Nelson brings any of his equipment that needs a fresh paint job to get sandblasted and powder coated to look brand new.
“How we keep our appearance there reflects the work we do on the lots. If (clients) see that we take care of our stuff, they know that we take it seriously and that we pay attention to detail and are going to take care of their lot.”
Another aspect to an off-season maintenance routine should involve quick monthly check-ins with each vehicle to move them and let the engines run, Marino says.
“The worst thing is everything sitting around idle for however many months before the next season. When I was a smaller company and didn’t have mechanics, September comes around and I’d have all these brake problems and rotor problems,” he says.
For companies that also perform lawn care and landscaping in the summer months, finding time for snow equipment maintenance can become a balancing act, says Andrew Stachowiak, owner of Seasons Change Services in Michigan.
“We might work on a lawn mower one day and the next day we work on a snow plow. We try to fix anything we can at the end of the season so that in case we get a little behind the eight ball next year and we get an early snow, we know we can get that equipment out with minimal issues, if any,” Stachowiak says.
Keeping a record.
On the wall of Glacier Snow’s facility, a large marker board lists all 35 pieces of equipment in big square boxes. Throughout the season, if a driver notices any issues from bald tires to burned-out headlights, they write it on the board, Nelson says.
“The cleaning, waxing, oil changes, all of the maintenance is marked on there. We want that box with nothing in it by the time mid-summer rolls around,” he says.
With larger fleets like that of Xtreme Snow Pros, digital tracking has become an essential way to manage maintenance as well as simply locate their 150 pieces of equipment. Last season, Marino began using an app called Asset Panda that assigns a number and barcode to each piece of equipment. When the company drops off a vehicle or loans out a tool, they move that item to the jobsite on the app. Users can also scan in work and take photos to add to a running report by hour and mileage for each piece of equipment.
“I realized I needed (the app) when I forgot about our $150,000 loader on a site. We were at the point where we need to track not only where our assets are, but the maintenance of the assets as well. It’s a great way to easily see where everything is sitting,” he says.
“We might work on a lawn mower one day and the next day we work on a snow plow.” — Andrew Stachowiak, Seasons Change Service
The seasonal transition is also a good time to weigh the options when it comes to adding new equipment or selling and replacing old pieces. Xtreme Snow Pros analyzes data they’ve collected after every winter event or storm and looks for any equipment that has given them trouble, Marino says.
“We have to minimize downtime, so if that piece has broken down too many times during an event, then it’s time to upgrade,” he says.
The salt problem.
For contractors, there is a battle between the need for safe driving surfaces and the damage caused by the materials necessary to provide them. Landscaping companies see the harmful effects of de-icing products like salt not only in the rust damage to their equipment, but on their sites when they have flaking concrete and strips of dead vegetation along sidewalks come spring, Nelson says.
“I like to get on my ‘salt box’ because there are so many people in the industry that do not understand how salts work,” he says. They don’t even know what they are putting on. They know that they are paid by the ton or the yard, so there is no incentive to use less. Even though I’m a company that sells salt, I’m also a person that sees that we need to migrate away from so much salt usage.”
Two years ago, Glacier Snow switched to non-chlorides for de-icing sidewalks. In addition to protecting his brooms and pushers, the product is not harmful to the landscaping or concrete and also prevents tracking issues on carpet or tile in buildings, Nelson says.
“For landscapers, I wouldn’t use anything but non-chlorides on the sidewalk. You can sell the client on the idea that you don’t have to come back later to fix the strips of grass or shrubs. The product costs a little more, but you’ll save in the long run,” he says.