By Chris Crowell
Wheel loaders have become a go-to machine for snow removal because of their combination of size, agility, visibility and safety.
Moving snow: A range of attachments are available for wheel loaders, but when it comes to moving and hauling, you can’t beat a bucket.
Understand the application
As always, start by understanding the variety of applications you may encounter. Although we often think of wheel loaders moving snow in large, airport-runway-type applications, some manufacturers make units small enough to tackle sidewalks.
Using a wheel loader that can traverse a 48-in. sidewalk using the attachments that would traditionally fit on a skid steer is a big advantage for an operator financially and operationally.
To see these advantages though, the machine must be properly outfitted with the right package. According to Brent Coffey, product manager at Wacker Neuson, a machine operating on sidewalks will likely use a combination of buckets, plows and hydraulic attachments such as a snow blower. These machines should have narrow tires, premium lighting, high flow, 14-pin auxiliary hydraulic controls and manual speed/throttle controls.
“For sidewalks, you tend to see more V-blades, fixed blades, snow blowers, brooms and more,” Coffey says. “For heavier snows, the blades work great. However, when there are larger piles or drifts, the snow blower is the most efficient way to clear it. With lighter dustings where the snow is dry, many operators will use a sweeper to move the snow.”
A machine that is going to operate in a parking lot and only use a bucket and snow pusher will likely want severe-duty tires and premium lighting.
“Parking lots are going to mainly be blades, box pushers, buckets for stacking and other non-hydraulic attachments,” he says. “The main objective of this scenario is to move material.”
But it is likely you will have some combination of applications in which to navigate this winter - some sidewalks, some parking lots, maybe a mix of both. Wheel loaders are optimal for such a situation.
The all-around package
Comfort & Safety: operator ergonomics and comfort can increase productivity and promote safety for wheel loader operators.
Snow removal usually mean tough hours, requiring late nights or early mornings for an operator. Because of this, operator comfort is important, not just as a nice gesture but because of how it adds to the productivity and safety of a job.
Wheel loaders can be outfitted with heated cabs, adjustable seats, ergonomic controls and satellite radios, which create a comfortable working environment in which to complete tasks on a cold, dark day. Better comfort leads to fewer distractions and increased motivation and focus.
“Another consideration is visibility,” says Wayne Powell, senior manager, product support with Kawasaki-KCM wheel loaders. “Not just from a comfort standpoint, but a safety standpoint. While standard wheel loaders will do the job with snow removal attachments, consider the additional maintenance required, such as winter wiper blades, supplemental wipers and well-maintained defrosters.”
Since a lot of snow removal takes place overnight, there may be a need for supplemental lighting, not only for safety but to do a good job and avoid curbs, hydrants and other obstructions. New long-life LED lamps are widely available, which require very little energy, making it easy to add them to a lighting circuit. However, since the lens doesn’t get hot, snow and ice can cover the lens, reducing effectiveness.
Some manufacturers or aftermarket outfitters have specific snow removal packages that can include heated cabs, powerful lighting and speed and throttle control. That last piece is important because it allows attachments that require full rpm but slow travel speed (such as snow blowers, brooms and other implements) to maximize performance. These packages could also come with an engine preheater system to warm the engine fluids and hydraulic tanks before starting, ensuring proper and smooth flow throughout the machine.
Slip and falls are far more likely in winter conditions, so wheel loader features like entering and exiting the machine from a side door has a huge safety benefit. Plus, sitting up higher in a wheel loader (some are even available with floor to ceiling windows) allows for greater visibility.
Attachments: choose implements to match the task at hand. Brooms are ideal for light snow removal.
You don’t want to fully winterize a wheel loader and then send it out with attachments that don’t get the job done the right way. Consider the method of attachment and the attachment’s specialization in snow removal.
Certain wheel loader manufacturers offer a full line of snow removal attachments, including plows, blowers, brooms and additional options like salt spreaders, studded tires and even tire chains. Some wheel loader manufacturers feature skid steer quick-attach plates that allow you to use any skid steer attachments on your compact wheel loaders, and some simply use proprietary plates and unique implements.
Snow blades are the most popular snow removal attachment. Available in widths of 10 to 16 feet, blades are capable of clearing covered areas by pushing the snow away and off to the side. Brooms are more ideal for light snow removal (less than 3 in.), and buckets are handy for moving inconvenient snow piles out of the way. Snow blowers come in a wide range of sizes as well as costs, with larger blowers requiring more hydraulic flow but maximum performance. You’ll also want to consider the ways your attachments complement one another to more efficiently complete a job.
Once built, the ultimate winter wheel loader must be maintained as such. Some features hopefully were built in to help maintain performance, such as an engine preheater system to warm the engine fluids and hydraulic tanks before starting to ensure proper and smooth flow through the machine. But there are some maintenance items you’ll need to remember, such as using thinner grade oil to properly lubricate engine and hydraulic systems.
When replacing the hydraulic oil, it is important to bleed hydraulically actuated brake systems. The standard hydraulic oil, if it remains in the steel lines from the brake valve to the wheels, will stiffen up and restrict the oil going to the brakes and returning from the brakes. This oil does not circulate, so it never warms up. This is often overlooked and can result in slow brake application or dragging brakes and very expensive repairs.
Are you using the wheel loader for deicing? Salt is highly corrosive, rusting out a machine and deteriorating its rubber components much quicker than normal. Be sure to wash your wheel loader every day and also apply an aggressive media protection, like a spray-on corrosion inhibitor, to all main metal components that are susceptible to rust.
If given enough thought ahead of time, your current or next wheel loader could save you time and money when outfitted properly for snow removal tasks.
Chris Crowell is a contributing editor of Compact Equipment, a publication dedicated to small, tool-carrying construction equipment. This article, which has been edited for space, originally appeared in Compact Equipment. www.compactequip.com.