How Do Snow Plows Work?

by Kelly Schaub
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11-05-07 © Elena Elisseeva


Anyone who has ever struggled with a snow shovel knows that the more snow you push, the more strength you need to do it. Unlike snow blowers and plows built for people to maneuver down sidewalks, plows designed to be mounted on a vehicle range from 6 feet to 9 feet wide. Larger vehicles can push larger snowplow blades, and move more snow, than smaller trucks. Mid-size and compact trucks will need to use blades 7.5 feet wide or less. A three-quarter ton truck or larger can handle the wider blades.

Blade Shapes

Snow plow blades have two main shapes: straight blade and v-shaped blade. Straight blades can be used parallel to the front of the vehicle to push snow straight ahead or turned at an angle to move snow off to one side. Most straight blades can be adjusted to leave the snow piled either to the left or right of the vehicle. V-shaped blades push snow to both sides of the vehicle at once. Both straight and v-shaped blades can be used to back-drag snow. Back-dragging is lowering the blade to the desired level then backing up, pulling the snow flat. Some v-shaped blades can be turned "inside out" to create a scoop that can lift and move snow.

Blade Materials

Blades are usually steel, often painted or powder-coated to protect the metal. The bottom edge offers an angled scoop. The rest of the blade, or moldboard, is often slightly curved to "roll" the snow, but some can be curved in a tighter c-shape. You can find lighter blades of clear plastic. Snow slides off the plastic better than it does off steel blades, and you can see through plastic, however the reinforcement needed to protect the plastic blade may not give you a weight savings for wear on your vehicle.


Newer plows allow you to mount the plow and light assembly on a frame that you permanently attach to your truck. When you are done with the plow, you simply unhook the electrical and remove a few pins to remove the plow, lift pump, headlights and all. On older models, drivers were required to remove the bumper of their truck to mount the plow and leave the lift pump and light assembly on the vehicle year-round.

Blade Control

Control of the blade angle can be accomplished one of two ways: hydraulic or electric cable reel. Hydraulic systems can be powered either directly off the engine's power with an engine-mounted belt, or electric/hydraulic, where the hydraulics are powered by a pump run with the truck's electrical system. Electric cable reel systems are far less expensive and far more simple; the cable reel moves the blade up and gravity moves it down. With the electric cable reel type, you may need to manually adjust the blade angle.


The snowplow blade physically blocks the vehicle's headlights and indicator lights. To use a snowplow on roads, or at night, you need to mount lights on the plow. Most come with a light assembly that restores the necessary indicator lights. For vehicles with daytime running lights, check with the manufacturer of plow and vehicle for proper wiring guidance.


Many accessories are available to make your vehicle's plowing experience better. You can buy auxiliary cooling ducts to help radiator airflow, snow blower attachments, dollies designed for lifting and lowering the plow from its vehicle mounting, replacement parts for every portion of your plow and rubber edges for the blade.

When to Buy

Experts recommend home users purchase snowplows in spring and summer. Snow plow equipment and accessories are often on sale in the off-season.

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