An Unbiased Look at the Pros and Cons
by Dale Oberg, Regional Sales Manager
The debate rages – what’s better and more efficient for snow removal, plowing with a pickup or a skid steer?
There are strong feelings on both sides. Some are skid steer devotees who wouldn’t plow with anything else. Others like their trucks and would rather be buried in 6 feet of snow than climb into a skid steer cab. Still others like and use both.
So who’s right? All of the above, but it all depends.
Full disclosure: I work for SnowWolf, so you might think I have a strong bias toward skid steers. However, I also spent many years working as a parts and services manager with a company that sells snowplows for trucks, so I like to think I’m fairly neutral and able to give you an impartial assessment.
All Above/All Depends
There are a bunch of variables that will dictate whether you’ll be better off using a truck or a skid steer to move snow.How tight are the areas you’re plowing?
- How tight are the areas you’re plowing?
- How far apart are your jobs?
- Do you do a lot of backdragging, and if so, do you need more down pressure than what you get from the weight of the attachment?
- How far do you have to push the snow you clear?
- Do you have to stack snow?
Let’s see how the answers affect the outcome of the truck vs. skid steer competition.
Where the Skid Steer Wins
Maneuverability & Dual-Direction Plowing
Wherever you’re constantly going back and forth and turning, a skid steer is faster than a truck.
Skid steers are short, designed to turn on a dime and incredibly nimble, so turning them around at the end of a row is really fast and easy. That means you can plow in both directions when you’re clearing a small or mid-sized lot. Angle in one direction, get to the end, spin the skid steer around, angle the blade the other way and head back, plowing at full capacity down the line.
With a truck, you have two choices when you get to the end of the row. Either you back up all the way to where you started to take another pass, or you turn your truck around for a pass in the other direction. Problem is, compared to skid steers, trucks are difficult to maneuver and it takes way more time to turn around.
Backing up is wasted time, and it can be a safety issue, too. You have to crane your neck to look backward and obstructions are a lot harder to see.
Some will say, well, a truck’s faster so I can finish the job faster. But the fact is, if you’re plowing safely you’re not moving any faster than a skid steer, anyway. Today’s two-speed skid steers move at a pretty good clip, up to around 12 mph. And with what you gain in maneuverability there’s really no comparison. Generally speaking, in a small to mid-size lot, the skid steer is going to have at 2 to 1 advantage.
Maneuverability is also a big deal when you get into short driveways or driveways with lots of garage doors like you’ll find with homeowner associations, condominiums and mini storage facilities.
Big-Time Down Pressure
Skid steers provide a tremendous amount of down pressure for scraping ice and hard pack both when plowing forward and backdragging.
With a truck, you’re depending on the weight of the plow to provide enough pressure to scape material. Take a scenario where you have a steel cutting edge and you’re trying to scrape ice. With a truck, all you have is the 400-500 pounds of the plow pushing down, and that might not be enough.
With a skid steer, the attachment plate is on hydraulic cylinders so you can push the attachment down. In addition to the snowplow’s weight, you get all the weight of the front of the machine bearing down on the scrape, as well. I’ve seen guys apply so much down pressure that the front tires came six inches off the ground. They got an incredibly clean scrape, then away they went to make another pass.
Stack It Up
It’s common for contracts to say you can stack snow only in specific areas and space is often limited. This is especially true for homeowner’s associations, gas stations and mini storage facilities. In those cases, how high you can pile the snow is key. Skid steers will stack higher than trucks because they have boom arms that rise way up. Trucks, on the other hand, are limited to how high the snowplow can be raised.
Where the Truck Wins
When we talk truck plows, one of the biggest things people think of is travel time between jobs. If you have a lot of jobs and you’re travelling between them, a truck plow is the quickest and most efficient way to get the jobs done. Simply pick up the plow, merge into traffic and move along.
You can drive a skid steer to jobs that are close together, but if they’re far apart you’ll need a trailer. That means unchaining, unloading, plowing, loading, chaining, moving to the next job…. That takes time.
Even if you have dedicated machines at multiple sites, there’s still a tradeoff. Each of your skid steers is going to be cold when you arrive, and you’re going to want to inspect the machine and attachment to make sure the tires aren’t too worn, they have good pressure, the cutting edge isn’t worn too far, etc. We’re only talking a few minutes at each site, but, well, it’s still a few extra minutes at each site.
With a snowplow on a truck, you’re only going to do that inspection one or two times a night. Once it’s done, you’re off and running for the remainder of the shift.
Really Long Lots
Let’s say you’re plowing a really, really long lot – and I’m talking a quarter of a mile or more one way – then it makes more sense to use a truck, even though it takes extra time to turn around on each end. The reason is the 30-40 mph you can plow compared to 12 mph with a skid steer.
Enjoy the Ride
Last, but certainly not least, is truck cabs are a gazillion times more comfortable than skid steer cabs. Skid steer cabs get nicer every year, but truck seats are still more comfortable, there’s more space and, most importantly, you have heat. And while some skid steers have radios, nearly every truck has one.
Two More Things
There are a couple of more things you should think about: traction and warranties.
With skid steers and plowing snow, a lot of people complain about lack of traction. That’s probably because they’re using standard skid steer tires that are going to slip on ice or hard pack – wide, heavy bar, hard tires or tires with a construction track and thicker rubber.
Solution: WolfPaws®. They’re narrow (less surface contact), and have special tread patterns designed specifically for icy, slippery surfaces. You’ll be fully grounded with a set on your skid steer.
Skids steers are bruisers, with big boom arms built to handle really heavy attachments. On some job sites they’re even used as fork lifts for heavy components. Since skid steers are made for heavy applications in the first place, the vast majority of manufacturers don’t have any issue with putting a snowplow on their machines.
That’s not always so with trucks, which really aren’t made for carrying plows. I’ve seen situations where a truck owner who was having problems with his truck’s frame headed into the dealership only to learn that, since he had a snowplow on the front, the frame was no longer covered by the warranty. This isn’t always the case, but make sure you know what your warranty states.
Which brings us to the finish line. If we were talking about a true truck vs. skid steer race… well, that wouldn’t be much of a contest at all. But when it comes to efficiency and productivity in snow removal, there’s much more to the chase.