Mark Holman, Director and General Manager of WolfDesign
Angle plow vs. snow pusher. There’s a long-standing debate among experienced plowmen about which is best, especially when it comes to plowing large, open lots. Snow pushers contain more but can’t angle or backdrag, and typically you only plow in one direction – toward the pile. Angle plows have limited containment, and, like snow pushers, leave windrows when they overload.
Let’s look at some pros and cons of each in the context of efficiency and reliability.
Snow Pusher Pros
- Containment: Let’s look at the example of a mini storage facility with buildings on both sides of the area to be cleared, and all the snow has to be moved. There’s no substitute for containment in this situation. You just want the maximum cubic yards of snow per push, and nothing can do that like a snow pusher.
- Simplicity: Let’s face it. It’s a harsh environment we work in, so the more moving parts there are, the more likely you are to be hit with mechanical, hydraulic or electrical failure at some point. Of course that usually happens at 2 a.m. when nobody but other snow pros are at work! Traditional rubber-edged snow pushers cut down that potential; since there are no moving parts, there’s not much to go wrong.
Snow Pusher Cons
- Scraping: The rubber edge on traditional snow pushers is a plus (no moving parts), but it’s also a minus. Frankly, trying to scrape with a rubber edge is like shoveling with a squeegee. It won’t scrape the plowing surface properly, so you often need to scrape the lot twice or use a lot of extra salt. Steel-edged pushers don’t have this weakness, and they’re gaining popularity for that very reason.
- Cutting Edge “Up Time”: If you’ve used a snow pusher before, you’ll relate immediately to what I’m about to say. Because a snow pusher cannot angle, you generally only can plow in one direction – toward the pile. Say you’re in a large commercial parking lot. Typically, you start at the storefront and push the snow to a pile on the opposite side of the lot. This means you spend somewhere up to half of your time going in reverse. That’s time, productivity and, ultimately, profitability lost. From an efficiency perspective, you want to maximize cutting edge “down-time”; if your cutting edge isn’t on the ground, you’re not moving snow. We did a head-to-head comparison with an angle plow to demonstrate this. Check it out.
- Windrows: Because a snow pusher can’t angle, it often overfills and loses containment. This forces you to go back and clean up windrows which, again, equates to lost time, productivity and profitability.
- Limited Backdragging Ability: Backdragging is somewhere between inefficient and impossible with a snow pusher because of their fixed sideplates. Unless you purchase a pull-back accessory, you really can’t get close enough to a building or garage door to be effective.
- Limited Stacking: Snow pushers are very close to the machine compared to angle plows, especially on skid steers, and that limits your ability to stack snow.
- Visibility: Again, especially on skid steers, the closer the pusher is to the machine, the more difficult it is to see the ends of your pusher.
- No Oscillation: Traditional rubber-edged snow pushers are rigid, so they don’t follow the contours of the ground to create a clean scrape on uneven terrain.
Choose a snow pusher when…
- You have areas where it’s impossible to windrow the snow to the sides.
- You need maximum containment to move snow from between buildings.
- You want the simplicity of no moving parts.
- You don’t need to backdrag.
- Your budget is limited and you’re looking for the least expensive up-front cost.
- You’re paid hourly, and you want less efficiency not more. (Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that….)
Angle Plow Pros
- Cutting Edge “Down Time”: The single greatest efficiency advantage of an angle plow is that you are able to keep your cutting edge on the ground moving snow nearly all the time. Let’s take the same scenario we used above, in the large commercial parking lot. You start at the storefront and angle the snow all the way to the pile at the opposite side of the lot. Now, here’s the magic. Because you’re angling the snow, you can turn your machine and and take another full pass pushing toward the storefront. Why can’t you do this with a snow pusher? You could, but you’d be creating a pile of snow in front of the store. Again, the head-to-head comparison video provides a great visual representation.
- Fewer Windrows: Angle plows reduce or eliminate windrows because you’re angling the snow. Fewer windrows means fewer passes. You also can improve this efficiency by up to 30 percent by adding wings.
- Steel Cutting Edge: All angle plows come standard with steel cutting edges and have integrated trip-edge or full-trip systems to protect the operator from unseen objects. The major cost-saving advantage of a steel cutting edge is that you will scrape to the pavement in one pass; no more need to scrape the lot twice or add extra salt.
- Excellent Backdragging: An angle plow is usually the preferred equipment for backdragging because you can get very close to curbs, garages or other structures. In addition, the steel cutting edge provides excellent scraping. If a property manager requests a non-metallic cutting edge, you can use a polymer or urethane edge instead.
- Stack Snow High: As I already mentioned, the attachment is farther away from the cab with an angle plow, especially on skid steers. That means that you will be able to stack snow higher in comparison to a snow pusher.
- Visibility: Again, because the blade is farther from the cab, it’s easier to see the corners of an angle plow than it is to see the edges of a snow pusher.
- Integrated Oscillation: Many angle plows have integrated oscillation, which allows the plow to scrape the contours of the surface clean on the first pass.
Angle Plow Cons
- Containment: Unless you add wings or a quick-release snow pusher, angle plows don’t contain much snow in a straight push situation.
- Complexity: Although they’re still very simple when compared to many attachments, angle plows have more moving parts than snow pushers so more maintenance ultimately will be required.
Choose an angle plow when…
- You’re in a wide-open space where you can plow in both directions, such as a commercial parking lot.
- Containment is less important than angle plowing.
- Backdragging is important.
- Scraping to the pavement is important.
- You want to stack snow higher.
- You want a better view of the corners of your attachment.
Challenge the Status Quo
Angle plows have obvious advantages over snow pushers when you look at the efficiency of the two products side by side. Even so, many contractors opt for a snow pusher in situations where an angle plow would be superior.
In many or most cases, skid steer, backhoe or wheel loader operators with angle plows will majorly outperform snow pushers efficiency-wise. In many years of studying this market, we’ve found contractors often hold the misperception that snow pushers are more efficient because they push large “piles” of snow. Often overlooked, however, is the amount of time operators waste going in reverse or cleaning up windrows. And that’s not even to mention the poor scraping ability that forces operators to take multiple passes to clean the same area.
“We’ve always done it that way”
It’s often said that these are the six most expensive words in the English language. So next time you’re selecting a snow removal tool, make sure you question the status quo, consider the pros and cons and think hard about how well your machines are paying you back. With constant downward pressure on contract pricing, taking some extra time to consider the ROI of your snow removal tools could add handsomely to your bottom line.