There’s snow falling from the mountains in California, over the plains states and moving towards the East Coast. The weather channel is calling it a BLIZZARD. Those who live in the snow belt know what this means… it’s time to shovel the drive. But there is an easier way.
That’s with an ATV. We can hear some people saying, “What about a lawn tractor?” We usually come back with something like, “How much suspension travel does your Cub Cadet have?” Or “What’s its top speed?” That usually quiets the critics. Even small skid loader fans can’t argue with an ATV’s versatility or affordability.
We compiled a few tips and tricks for ATV owners who plan to use their quad for plowing snow. From choosing the right size and style of snow plow blade to lifting choices to other parts and accessories, we’ll help you move more snow.
It’s pretty obvious in the snow, where traction is a necessity, four-wheel drive is an important feature for plowing. However, even some 4×4s struggle with stock tires (more on that later). And we’ve heard from some owners that in light, fluffy snow conditions their 2WD ute has performed flawlessly. However, in most cases a 4×4 quad is the best choice. Some of these models now have a locking front differential that can improve traction, too. And some manufacturers have released models with power steering, which they claim will drastically lighten the steering effort of a 4×4 quad when plowing snow. That’s especially important when you factor in the extra weight that’s added by bolting on a snow plow kit.
For the snow belt, moving snow with an ATV is a big deal. First of all, it replaces shoveling. Secondly, it proves to your spouse the ATV was a sensible and useful purchase.
ATV snow plow blades come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From 42-inch blades to 60-inch DOT-style designs to V-shape configurations, it can be confusing selecting the correct plow for your ATV or UTV. Yeah, that’s right, some plow manufacturers are even producing snow blades for side-by-side utility machines.
Our rule of thumb is, for any 4×4 less than 500cc displacement, select a plow that’s smaller than 50 inches. For quads with engines larger than 500cc, you can go with a 60-inch blade or larger. The largest big-bore utility quads should be able to handle 72-inch blades as well. Keep in mind, most quads are roughly 48 inches wide and to plow a path equal to the width of the ATV, you’ll need at least a 50-inch blade. The smallest blades, those 42 to 48 inches wide, when angled, will make paths smaller than 48 inches wide.
Most blades are steel and powder coated in a variety of colors. Depending on the size and design, obviously, some are heavier than others. One of the lightest snow plows is the heavy-duty aluminum SnowSport by Agri-Cover, which has been anodized and hardened. It’s different than most blades because its lighter and does not need to be lifted off the ground.
Blades can be used to cut straight paths or angled to push the snow to the side of the ATV, much like a DOT dump truck does on the highway. Some of the heavier plows will require you to tune your quad’s front suspension (read: up the preload). The additional weight of a winch, plow, plow tubes and more will make the front end squat when the blade is attached and especially when lifted in the air. If the stock shocks don’t offer enough preload adjustment, though most should, you can explore purchasing aftermarket shocks. A few preload devices exist for machines with struts up front, too. These bolt-on suspensions will help during plowing and while enjoying trails. It’s a win-win.
When it comes to lifting the plow, you basically have three choices: Hand, winch, electronic actuator or similar device. The manual lift is the most affordable design, but it’s also the most cumbersome to operate and difficult to lift. The winch-assisted lifting is ideal for many ATV owners, because they already have a winch installed for other reasons.
Finally, the most expensive method is the electronic actuator. It actually has an auxiliary motor and does all the plow lifting and lowering via a toggle switch. Snow plow enthusiasts love it because it saves their winch cable and simplifies the operating process.
Parts & Accessories
For plowing snow, some people want every accessory they can get. This includes parts such as blade markers or those yellow or orange sticks marking the edge of the plow blade. This helps to avoid hidden landscape blocks, because the operator can always see the edge of the blade. Foot skids are sort of like anti-scalping devices for snow plows. They prevent the plow from digging too deep and keep it floating across the surface. Wear bars add strength to the plow blades and are designed to cut a better path. They come in both steel and plastic.
End shields reduce the amount of snow from escaping from the plow blade and produce more efficient plowing. Those rubber flaps on the top of some snow plows are good because they prevent flying snow from hitting the operator or allowing snow and ice to pass over the plow and coat the radiator.
As we said before, traction is important for plowing snow. Some underpowered ATVs or 2WD quads will require the addition of tire chains. These will give the rear wheels more traction and prevent them from slipping on the slick snow and ice. For super slippery spots or driveways with hills, you can even add tire studs. We found it best to add the small, sharpened sheet metal screws to an old set of stock tires for winter use. Be aware, both of these methods could do damage to your driveway, depending on the conditions and the type of surface it is.
A few ATV owners we know with large driveways use a pull-behind broadcast spreader filled with salt or ice melt to keep ice from forming once they’ve plowed. This is especially important if the surrounding snow piles melt back on to your sidewalk or driveway.
One way to determine you are plowing your driveway correctly is to watch someone who has experience doing it. Of course, you could learn by the seat of your pants, but watching someone else do it could pay off. Watching snow plowing could mean watching that diesel truck push snow across the bank parking lot, or it could mean watching your neighbor use his ATV. The goal is to learn what not to do.
Don’t plow fast! This can be dangerous because the blade could catch on an edge or rock or curb and force the ATV to a jarring halt. Typically, you’ll want to drive at a pace that both pushes snow effectively, yet is not so fast it damages the blade or any of its parts. Practice makes perfect. Plus, your quad’s speed will be determined by the amount of traction it’s getting and the type of snow you are trying to move.
Don’t tear up your lawn. A smart move is to push the snow further than to the edge of your driveway, if possible. That way, when the temperature warms up, the snow won’t melt on your driveway and form patchy ice. The theory is, if you push it far enough away from your driveway, it will melt into the ground and not on the driveway.
Don’t push all the snow in your driveway to the end of the drive, especially if it’s a wet, sticky snow. All this will do is create one large, firmly packed wall of white stuff. Your ATV is not powerful enough to move it and that means you’ll have to bust out a shovel.
We’ve tried several methods over the years and a down and back method seems to work for us. It creates less snow build up or deep spots. We’ve also pushed one direction to the edge of a driveway and then stopped, reversed the quad and created a new path in the same direction. However, you must lift the blade off the ground before you back up, unless the manufacturer says it’s not necessary.
Some professional snow plow operators have learned the skill of lifting the plow blade as they approach the pile. This has a couple advantages. The first is it lifts the snow to new heights and helps you push it farther off your driveway or open lot. The second is it prevents you from smashing into the wall of snow and possibly damaging the blade or its parts.
This is far easier to learn and accomplish with either a winch-operated plow or with an electric lift device. You only have to master the toggle switch. While you are doing this, carefully inspect the winch or lift cable for any ice/snow dams or pinching.
Don’t assume your plow will always work perfectly. Regardless of which system you select, you must examine it before, during and after each usage. Look at it before you plow for loose parts or winch cable damage, for example. Inspect it while you plow to prevent ice build up, which can make pushing snow more difficult. Finally, examine after you plow so you know it will be ready to go the next time you need it. Plus, if you find any damage, you may have time to order new parts before the next massive snow storm hits.
Despite being called snow plows, the majority of ATV owners find other uses for the blades. From working on the farm to cleaning stables to pushing dirt, sand and rock around a landscape site, ATV plow blades are extremely versatile.