Sunday, January 8, 2012

Snow Control Evolution and Light Duty Truck Use

The Evolution of Snow Control and
Why You Can’t Put Plows on Some Light Trucks these days!
By Steve Taylor

Until the early 1900’s some of our ancestors used horse drawn snow rollers to roll and compact the snow on the streets. 

I guess that the compacted snow worked pretty well for horse drawn sleighs but then the cars came along. I don’t think that packing the snow on top of the road worked so well for the rubber tired cars!

Later on someone decided to mount a plow to a big truck to make big road plows. Then in the late 1940’s a few enterprising men decided that there was another use for military style Jeeps putting them to work plowing driveways. These Jeeps were rugged but light and nimble and they were also 4 wheel drive. They could do quick work of removing snow from the driveway. Even big snow storms with several feet of snow, it would just take longer!

Even though there were ½ ton pickups back in the 1940’s, they were all 2 wheel drive and could not push a plow very far without getting stuck! Then in the 1960’s the “Big Three” started adding “4- wheel-drive” as an option to the pickups. These were the same rugged trucks that rode hard, steered hard, and were generally underpowered; but when they added 4wd they created a whole new industry as it allowed the snow plow manufacturers to mount plows to them.

The snow plows and equipment were a little rough and primitive. They were basically well thought out, but still empirical designs. If you put a light plow on a heavy truck, chances are it would bend or break! It wasn’t because of the horsepower as much as it was because of the weight of the truck and the need to use speed to ram into heavy snow banks. The answer to bending the blades and other structural components was to add more steel. Result: More steel and more weight on the front of the truck.

Somewhere in the 1980’s GM and Ford decided that the pickup trucks should ride better, be more comfortable, more stylish and have more horsepower. At about the same time new federal regulations required crash testing to assure occupant protection. Regulations were made about braking and fuel integrity during a crash as well. This started a change in the designs of the components that mount to trucks. Previously, Detroit engineers paid little attention to equipment mounted on trucks. But starting with this period there would be new scrutiny on the snowplow mounts and the staying within the law.

At first the law required that the front axle rating be sufficient to carry the weight of a raised plow blade. Then the regulations were changed to accommodate the snow removal industry. This meant that because the blade was not mounted on the truck and raised for a portion of the year, then the weight rating of the axle only had to accommodate the “permanently attached components” left mounted on the truck year round. It recognized that the raised blade would overload the axle, but that it was OK because the overload would only occur part-time!
Anyway, that decision was a relief for the truck and the snow plow manufacturers. This meant that ½ ton and under pickups and SUV style vehicles could have plows mounted and the truck could ride like a car. The manufacturers could sell lower priced pickup trucks or SUV’s for home driveway plowing.
But what was once considered acceptable was now considered marginal and risky.

Manufacturers decided that certain light models required modified product and installations to assure reliability and durability and also comply with the law. Blades and components were made lighter, but not necessarily weaker with higher strength steels. If you considered all the weight of a work ready truck, including a driver, full tank of fuel, other attached equipment and payload, etc. then the plow weight might have to be offset by a counterbalance weight in the pickup bed in the lighter rated trucks. Sounds OK in theory, but if you looked at mounted pickup snowplow units, you could not find many with counterbalanced loads in their beds, it’s just not practical as the bed is used for other payload.

So you can see that the point had been reached where the trucks were designed for ride while also designed to survive the forces incurred in normal plowing conditions.  But field testing would show that many storms require plowing heavy wet snow and ice and the resulting loads exceed the design of the truck. Yes you might get away with plowing 100 storms with no damage, but with the “perfect storm” and some aggressive plowing, the loads could cause damage to the truck, or to the plow or with a failure that could possibly cause injury.

 
If you read equipment comments on Plowsite.com like I often do, you will find many disparaging comments about the plow manufacturers making the products lighter and cheaper. You will find a multitude of comments on how they have used the old heavy equipment for years and never had a problem. Now the equipment bends too easy.

Maybe the truck and equipment industry has not done a good job of informing the buyer why construction changes have occurred and about the choices made to offer good, reliable product. Of course we are spoiled, because we think we need everything, all options; we want the ride, we want the comfort, we want the gizmos and we want to be safe, etc. and we want it at the lowest possible price; so therefore here is what we are faced with:

·         Ford is already not allowing plows on ½ ton F150’s. Someday, we might not be able to buy a plow to mount on any truck smaller than a ¾ ton pickup

·         We have to size our truck purchase with all our equipment needs and therefore weight additives:  snow plow, trailering, sand/salt spreading, payload (sand/salt), driver, passenger(s), tool boxes with tools, full fuel, etc. The dealer should help us in this process

·         We need to plan to take a close look at what we really need in a truck, what is essential to our needs. Many options add substantial weight, this will add up to heavier rated components. It also contributes to reduced fuel economy.               

·         If we own a fleet of snowplow trucks, we are handing over the keys to other operators who may not have the knowledge of or care about the truck or equipment and its limitations like we do. When it comes to removing lots of heavy wet snow, they may push the truck beyond the upper limits and cause wear or breakage.

But when you read or hear about weak products, remember that sometimes people leave out “small” details about what happened just before they first noticed the failure. I have had many years’ experience researching product failures and could give you many examples. Many times the failure could be related to something unusual, such as plowing at 30 miles per hour and hitting an unseen embedded (curb or railroad track) object. Or a failure could be related to lack of maintenance of the product or the truck. By all means, do pay attention to what users say, especially if you are hearing it from multiple sources and pay attention to what the manufacturers and truck dealers say as well. But don’t make a purchase decision without defining your needs and doing research before you buy.

By the way, the snow rollers worked in a time when there was little need to get out after a storm, people had stocked up and had canned the summer seasons vegetables and fruits, the wood was piled high and dry for the stove, there were few driveways, no cars to get out, the breadwinner may have been off working in a wood harvest operation or a railroad camp miles away. There were no daily commutes, less need to get out and go anywhere. The fuel for the horses was grown in the field! When you think about everything we now consider necessary to live 100 years later, could it be that we have regressed from being “self –sufficient” to “other- reliant”?
               

Guest post by Steve Taylor. Steve is a consultant in the Truck Equipment business with over 30 years in the snowplow and truck body manufacturing business. He specializes in the design and quality/reliability field and may be reached by email at steve@truckarchitect.com. You may visit his website at http://www.truckarchitect.com/.

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