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Pre-season snow and ice preparations

October 30, 2013  By  Mike Jiggens

By James Truan

Imagine a teacher walking into the classroom on the first day of school in the fall, having not touched a textbook or lesson plan since the spring. Or a professional athlete on opening day who hasn’t picked up a ball or hit the gym since the final play of the previous season. Chances are that these individuals are not ready to perform as expected.

Whether they realize it or not, winter maintenance contractors may have salt or sand spreaders in a similar unprepared situation as they get ready for another season of snow and ice control. Nothing good can come from sending a spreader into battle at less than 100 per cent. That’s why it’s a beneficial practice to run your spreader through a pre-season maintenance checklist to ensure it’s in good working order before the snow flies and another winter season begins.

Different needs for different spreaders


No single article could adequately address everything there is to know about spreader maintenance, simply because there are so many equipment variations and options available. Clearly a spreader built with polyethylene will require a different maintenance approach than one constructed of steel or stainless steel. Procedures will vary based on whether the spreader is powered by a gas engine, hydraulics or electricity. The unit’s material delivery system—whether gravity-fed, auger-fed or conveyor-fed—will also impact maintenance needs.

With so many differences in spreaders, the best solution is to follow the suggested procedures outlined in the maintenance section of the owner’s manual. A good manual will include specific details such as proper belt and chain tension settings. It will also identify common grease points. Engine-powered spreaders should also have an individual manual from the engine manufacturer providing maintenance details for the engine itself.


It’s in spreader manufacturers’ best interest to keep customers satisfied with equipment performance. That’s why they take the time to provide a manual to help end users keep their spreaders in optimal condition from one season to the next. And with plenty of dollars to be made with a smooth-operating machine, it only makes sense—and cents—for contractors to take advantage of this maintenance information.

Clean it up

While every spreader will have its own set of maintenance activities, there are some universal practices that any spreader should go through to prepare for an upcoming season. One of these is a good, old-fashioned cleaning.
A thorough cleaning is particularly important for spreaders with metal hoppers because residual salt will corrode the surface and eventually lead to rust. And since so many de-icing materials are corrosive in nature, metal hoppers should actually be cleaned out after every use. Even if the spreader was cleaned before storage, it’s still a good idea to clean it again as a new season approaches to ensure that any caked on salt was completely removed from the surface.

Water is generally all that’s needed to clean the hopper and other spreader components. Just prop the spreader up on its side and hose it out. The water will carry any dust, dirt or de-icing material with it as it flows from the hopper. Some like to use chemicals during the cleaning process, but it’s worth noting that alkaline-based cleaners like those containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline or brake cleaner should not be used when cleaning hoppers made of polyethylene. These chemicals can damage poly and hurt its structural integrity.

Cleaning also presents an opportunity to check the spreader over for areas where paint or finish may have been scratched or chipped off to expose metal below. These areas should be touched up to reduce the possibility of corrosion and rust. Components can also be looked over during this time to see if any are in need of replacement or repair.

Don’t forget grease

After cleaning and perhaps a few touchups or fixes, the next step for all spreaders is to grease all necessary parts. Components will vary from one spreader to the next, but every unit will have at least some moving parts and connectors that require lubrication.

For spreaders powered by electricity or other units featuring electrical connections for components, such as lights, a coat of dielectric grease should be applied to all terminals to prevent corrosion and ensure easy reconnection. In actuality, dielectric grease should be applied anytime these terminals are disconnected.

Moving parts like bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers and augers should all be lubricated with a good-quality, multi-purpose grease or oil. The same applies for integrated grease fittings. How much time, effort and grease are needed will differ depending on the type of spreader. Conveyor-fed units and some other models have more moving parts and therefore require more lubrication. Conversely, some auger-fed spreaders operate without pulleys, chains and conveyors and only need grease in a few areas to facilitate auger articulation. Check your owner’s manual to determine where and how much lubrication is necessary.

Feeling tension

Contractors using spreaders with belts, chains or conveyors should be sure to adjust the tension before the season starts. This should also be done throughout the winter to reduce the chances of slippage or other performance issues. How tension is adjusted will vary, depending on the spreader, so consult the owner’s manual before making modifications.

Some aspects of tension adjustment are universal, however. For example, the drive belt or chain should never be overtightened, as it could damage the motor or gearbox bearing. Additionally, before attempting to adjust conveyor belt tension, check to make sure that no sand or de-icing material is trapped underneath the belt.
Engine and hydraulic checks

Engine and hydraulic-powered spreaders will need to undergo some additional pre-season maintenance.

An engine, like the spreader itself, should be cleaned before returning to work, especially since users may not get around to it once the season begins. This can be done simply by spraying with water to remove any residual salt to guard against corrosion of metal engine components. After that, keep track of the service intervals for oil and air filter changes, spark plug inspections and other maintenance checks suggested by the engine manufacturer in the manual.

For hydraulically powered spreaders, be sure to change the hydraulic fluid, unless of course it was already changed prior to being stored for the off-season. Use a new hydraulic fluid of the type and viscosity recommended by the pump manufacturer. Then inspect all hoses and fittings for any signs of damage or leaks and take care of any problems you come across.

Ready to go

Contractors are usually far more focused on the jobs and profits aspect of getting into a new snow and ice control season. But work will go much more smoothly if proper time and attention is dedicated to a little preseason preparation. When the brunt of winter hits, the snow won’t be slowing down. Make sure your spreader doesn’t either.

James Truan is vice-president, sales and marketing, for SnowEx. http://www.snowexproducts.com

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