Snow and Ice Management Guide for Spreader Trucks (Plow Trucks)

Learn what is the best ice melt composition, how to choose the right spreader truck, and when to spread bulk salt and sand!

Plow Trucks / Spreader Trucks
A spreader truck is simply a snow plow truck that can spread salt, sand and chemicals that melt ice wherever snow and ice management is needed. It may seem fairly simple, but contractors have used spreader trucks to prepare roads and other surfaces for a very long time, and snow and ice management has only grown more sophisticated as the technology advances. Fortunately, by the end of this guide you will know if you need a tailgate spreader or a hopper spreader – and what to fill it with!

The Basics of Snow and Ice Management: Choosing Ice Melt

The majority of commercial plow trucks spread a product called ice melt, a blend of seven chemicals that melt ice and snow:
  • Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate
  • Potassium Acetate
  • Blended Calcium
  • Organic and non-organic filler liquids
Ice melt comes in a wide variety of chemical blends, so you have to apply a bit of chemistry to your surroundings before you can choose the best ice melt for the job. Basically, you want to choose ice melt with an appropriate “melting temperature” (the lowest temperature that the ice can be melted).

Since choosing the wrong ice melt means that snow and ice will still be able to form, this is one of the most important decisions you’ll be making.

Sodium chloride (rock salt), for example, is very popular for snow and ice management because it’s cheap and can melt ice that’s as cold as 5° F, which is enough for most jobs. For extremely cold weather, blends with high sodium chloride levels can melt ice that’s as cold as -25° F.

Ice melt also comes in different-sized particles. Municipal spreader trucks typically use large-particle-ice-melt because they can sink into deep snow all the way to the ground surface. Ice melt containing small particles is more refined and can be spread farther, which is certainly beneficial, but it is more expensive and does not penetrate snow as deeply as large-particle blends.

What Type of Ice Melt is Safe For Concrete?

Calcium Chloride ice melt does not damage concrete (or brick for that matter). If you are worried about corroding the rebar inside of the concrete panels of a parking garage, then most contractors use Magnesium Chloride.

What is the Best Ice Melt for the Environment?

Certain chemicals in ice melt can get into the groundwater and cause environmental problems. Fortunately, the best ice melt brands for commercial outdoor use have been extensively ranked and rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (view the full list). In general, Magnesium Chloride is less harsh on grass than bulk rock salt.

When Should Spreader Trucks Use Sand?

Sand does not melt snow at all. However, some regions will spread sand on the road to help give vehicles more traction. As such, it is often considered acceptable to mix sand and salt together.

Choosing the Right Snow Plow Spreader Truck

The right spreader truck depends on what you are spreading and the size of the job. A large spreader truck can carry as much as 8,000 pounds of spreading materials, which means it can keep going a long time before needing a refill. However, that same spreader truck wastes a lot of fuel and becomes harder to control on smaller jobs with tight corners, so going with the biggest spreader truck available is not automatically the best decision.

With these pros and cons in mind, the two main types of spreader trucks are:
  • Hopper Spreader Trucks – A hopper spreader has the greatest capacity and can sometimes resemble a dump truck. Its design gives precise control over how much material is distributed.
Hopper Spreader TruckWorking in a residential area? Use a hopper spreader with a quiet electric motor.
  • Tailgate Spreader – A tailgate spreader ejects its contents using gravity (offering less distribution control) and is generally better-suited for residential applications where a large spreader truck would be harder to maneuver. Consequently, its smaller size means that it can’t spread coarse materials very effectively.
Truck Tailgate SpreaderA tailgate spreader has less control than a hopper spreader, but also less parts, so it’s easier to maintain.

Snow Plow Truck Feeding Systems - Auger or Pintle Chain

Large snow plow trucks need to use a conveyor feeding system to eject its contents. These feeding systems can either be auger or pintle.

Auger Feeding SystemThe auger feeding system pushes materials out with a spiraling motion.
  • Auger – Auger spreader trucks have an industrial vibrator to help move the product. They tend to offer the smoothest material distribution rates and work especially well with salt. On the other hand, materials that get wet easily (like sand) tend to clump up with an auger snow plow.
Pintle Feeding SystemA pintle feeding system has a chain that essentially operates the same way as a conveyor belt.
  • Pintle – Pintle spreaders drag the product along using a powerful chain. This chain is especially good for catching wet materials that clump together. However, the chain’s jerky pulling motions does not distribute the product in even amounts; it also tends to corrode when using salt.

Find Spreader (Snow Plow) Trucks for Sale with My Little Salesman

Now that you know how to properly melt ice and snow using the appropriate spreader and materials, it’s time to put your deep snow plowing skills to task. My Little Salesman is an online marketplace where you can find snow plows, salt spreaders for trucks, or a snow plow truck for sale that can spread the right kind of materials for your next job. Whether you have a commercial snow removal company or just need to clear a property and get back to work, My Little Salesman is your connection for snow and ice management!
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About Kyler Richman
Kyler is a reporter and staff writer at My Little Salesman.
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