Compact Wheel Loaders Excel in Winter Weather
When the weather turns cold and the snow starts to fly, compact wheel loaders move from construction sites and landscape supply shops to snow-covered parking lots. These high-capacity, high-reach, high-visibility loaders have shown their great worth in snow removal applications. Traditionally, alongside trucks and snow throwers, skid steers equipped with snow buckets, blades, brooms and blowers were commonly used for snow removal jobs, but in reality, wheel loaders can be more productive, safer and easier on fuel and tire wear in similar winter applications.
“There are several features that make the smaller wheel loaders ideal for snow removal applications,” explains Brent Coffey, product manager for loaders at Wacker Neuson. “From an operation perspective, fitting on a 48-in. sidewalk and being able to utilize the attachments that would traditionally fit on a skid steer is a big advantage. With fuel savings of more than 30 percent and tire wear savings of more than 75 percent versus a traditional skid steer, it delivers financial advantages as well. From an operator’s perspective, comfort and visibility are superior compared to skid steers and plow trucks. With the operator sitting higher and looking down on the attachment and the areas surrounding the machine, they are able to more easily maneuver the machine and avoid possible obstructions.”
Compact wheel loaders have become popular for snow removal operations in areas like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. They work well in mall and shopping center parking lots because of the operator’s visibility and ability to get tight areas, as well as easily driven on the street from project to project. If an operator has three or four parking lots to clear along the same street, it’s very easy to clear those lots with a compact wheel loader and 12-ft blade, both of which can travel down the street to the next job. With a higher operator station, articulation or all-wheel drive and a quick-attach plate to utilize attachments, compact wheel loaders can go from loading dirt to plowing snow, placing pallets of cold brick to removing ice with a broom, spreading salt and brine to augering holes under the summer sun.
“Compact wheel loaders are popular with snow removal due to their maneuverability and productivity,” explains Tim Boulds, construction equipment product operations manager with Kubota. “Operators sit up higher and therefore have better visibility improving work site and operator safety.”
Like buying any machine, buyers will need to discuss the details with their dealer. What will be your year-around applications? How should your loader be outfitted for now? What are your snow attachment options? Are you operating in tight areas or big parking lots? Is turning radius and stability an issue? How about comfort and visibility? Discuss how loads, travel speed and terrain will affect the size and model that will meet your performance expectations. After you’ve narrowed down your selection, the bottom line is trying to get some seat-time through a demo, at a dealership or at a show.
When considering snow specifically, operator station, attachments and wintering your unit will be important. Since snow removal jobs are often “all-night operations,” operator comfort can easily equate to productivity. Wheel loaders can be outfitted with heated cabs, adjustable seats, ergonomic controls and satellite radios, which all contribute to a comfortable working environment allowing the operator to work for longer periods of time, increasing productivity. Of course, the safety is always more important.
“Safety is paramount,” says Tim Boulds, construction equipment product operations manager with Kubota. “Once the engine is shut down, the parking brake should automatically engaged. Our safety start system requires the operator to have the parking brake engaged and the electric shuttle shift in the neutral position before the machine will start, preventing any mishaps upon start up.”
Operator safety is another top concern as snow removal can occur in sloppy weather conditions. Features such as the machine’s side door allow an operator to enter and exit the unit easily and safely compared to skid steers which often require an operator to climb over the front bucket which may be slippery in the snow. Overall visibility in a compact wheel loader should be better as the operator sits high above the bucket.
“Quality panoramic lighting is also a necessity for snow removal because it is commonly done at night,” notes Coffey. “It not only allows you to see what is around you but also allows what is around you to see you.”
Some wheel loader manufacturers feature skid steer quick-attach plates that allow contractors and landscapers to use any skid steer attachments on their compact wheel loaders, and some simply use proprietary plates and unique implements. Certain wheel loader manufacturers also offer a full line of snow removal attachments including plows, blowers, booms and additional options like salt spreaders, studded tires and even tire chains. Snow blades are perhaps the most popular snow removal attachments. These blades, which are available in widths of 10 to 16 ft, clear covered areas by pushing the snow away and off to the side. Brooms are ideal for light snow removal applications where the depth of snow fall is less than 3 in. Buckets are often utilized to haul off snow piles so the area is clear for traffic, whether it be vehicles moving about or people walking to their destination.
“The snow push is also a great solution for clearing large areas where precise plowing may not be quite as important,” explains Coffey. “The most efficient way to use them is in combination with another hydraulic blade. This allows you to do detailed snow removal such as sidewalks and curbing by moving the snow further away from the area and then clean it all up with the snow push. We also offer blowers ranging from 48 up to 84 in. Snow blowers come in a wide range of sizes as well as costs. With the larger blowers, they will require more hydraulic flow but maximize performance. Two stage blowers are available and help minimize the attachment getting clogged.”
In addition to attachments, snow removal packages are available from certain manufacturers or aftermarket outfitters, which can include heated cabs, powerful lighting and speed and throttle control, which can allow attachments such as snow blowers, brooms and other implements that require full RPM but slow speed travel to be maximized. 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.
Along with these winter accoutrements, an all-seasons compact wheel loader will need a few extra maintenance procedures for the ice and snow seasons. Adjustments need to be made for the fluids in extreme operation conditions. For example, in cold weather, thinner grade oil may be required to properly lubricate engine and hydraulic systems. In extremely hot weather, conditions call for thicker oil. Temperature changes can also be harmful to the batteries, which should be checked periodically.
Any time compact wheel loaders are used for the application of deicing salts in cold climates or for hauling or spreading fertilizer, the loader is subject to a highly corrosive atmosphere. Under these conditions, preventing rust should be a top priority. Salt and fertilizer can eat away at metal parts of the wheel loader, causing premature corrosion. Rubber components like hoses and tires will experience a more rapid pace of deterioration. Application of an aggressive media protection, like a spray-on corrosion inhibitor, should be applied to all main metal components that are susceptible to rust, or one of the best and easiest ways to protect your asset is to wash the wheel loader every day when used in these applications. Just don’t forget about your attachments too.
“Cutting edges are the most common component for wear due to the fact that it is the contact point with the surface being plowed,” says Coffey. “Most times the surface is abrasive as well as uneven or may have obstructions such as manhole covers. We offer blades with a trip edge to help minimize damage from obstructions but wear is inevitable.”
Compact wheel loaders are extremely versatile machines because they can go from dirt work to snow removal as quickly as the snow can fall. For contractors and landscapers who face constant climate changes, wheel loaders are ideal for moving all types of material including snow. And while a compact wheel loader is more expensive than a skid steer (by 10 to 15 percent), that cost difference can be justified through the lower operating costs and its ability to outperform in operations like snow removal. Whether it’s the summer months or snow season, a compact wheel loader is a one-machine powerhouse able to adapt and handle projects despite the ever-changing elements.
Keith Gribbins is associate publisher of Compact Equipment, based in Brecksville, Ohio.