Snow removal is a great excuse for buying a new ATV, but what size should it be for plowing snow? I set to find out. Let’s have a look at why size matters when it comes to plowing snow.
What size ATV do you need for plowing snow? Any mid to upper size utility ATV will plow snow just fine. It’s recommended staying in the 400-800cc range, not because of engine power but because of weight. The bike should weigh from 400 to 700 lbs or more.
So it’s the weight you are looking for, not engine power. If you use a machine below the recommended range you may run into traction issues, and anything bigger will not give you any added benefits, just the added cost. Riders who buy the bigger machines generally have other uses in mind than snow plowing only.
Engine size for snow plowing
There is no such thing as too much power, right?
Well, engine displacement and horsepower (hp) are not as important as you may think for the sole purpose of snow plowing.
Almost any engine size will work just fine, although I would recommend getting something like a 400cc or bigger.
Even smaller machines than this would probably have enough power to get the job done, but these are not recommended for reasons I’ll go more into later in the article.
When plowing you don’t need either speed or acceleration, at least not more than any 400cc should handle just fine. And you will be amazed by the amount of snow you are able to push, even with a moderately sized machine.
Depending on the locations you will be plowing, the bigger cc machines may actually to some degree be a disadvantage. Plowing in tight spaces, around objects and getting close to buildings requires a lot of maneuverability.
The overall dimensions on a 1000cc ATV will generally be a lot bigger than on a more moderate 500cc bike. The nimbleness of the smaller sized machines may be just what you need in these situations.
For the purpose of plowing snow, the power difference between the 700-800cc classes and up is marginal and will be of little to no practical importance. All of these engine sizes have pretty amazing power at disposal.
If you only plan on using the ATV for snow plowing in winter, there is really no need to buy an 800cc plus machine. A 500cc will be more than adequate.
But if you’re anything like most other ATV buyers, you have more uses in mind.
If some of these uses include heavy towing or the thrill of speedy trail riding, fulfilling these needs may end up being the deciding factor of what engine you buy and not how much power you actually need for the snow plowing.
Also, if cost is of importance to your decision, not only will the purchase price of a larger machine be higher, you may also want to take into consideration the higher fuel consumption a bigger engine will require.
The only reason why buying a bigger cc machine may make sense is because a bigger engine usually means more weight.
So we have established that almost any ATV have enough power for snow plowing.
What is actually much more important to the snow pushing capabilities of any ATV is how heavy it is. More weight will give you better traction and momentum.
The extra weight of the bigger ATVs also has the effect that it helps with keeping the bike stable. It will take that much more of an impact to knock it to either side.
You will find that you run out of traction because of low weight long before you run out of engine power.
It is not the only factor, but more weight will always give you better traction between your tires and the surface, in turn, allows you to push more snow.
This is also why a 250cc machine would cause problems even though the engine power could be adequate. They simply don’t have the weight you need to plow properly.
For small amounts of light and dry snow, just about any ATV will work just fine. But as soon as you take on the heavier wet snow, try cutting through drift or compact snow banks on the side of the road you will need a bit of momentum to get through.
And as you may remember from physics class, momentum is the product of the mass (weight) and velocity (speed).
Ideally, the traction alone should be enough so you could just push anything with full control at low speeds like a bulldozer. But no ATV packs this kind of weight so you will need to add some speed to the equation to build up the needed momentum.
With bigger weight, you will need less speed to break through the same amount of snow. Just remember that with bigger momentum comes a bigger risk of bending or breaking things.
A good tip is to push the snow further at the beginning of the season so you have room for adding more behind this as the season continues. If the snow pile freeze hard, it will be almost impossible to move it with any weight ATV without a serious risk of breaking some things.
What can you do to improve traction?
This is the easiest step you can do to achieve better traction and momentum. It will also help with maneuverability, especially when backing up hills.
The most basic solution is to strap down a couple of sandbags on your rear cargo rack. Make sure you don’t exceed the rated capacity of the rack.
The reason why the weight needs to be added in the rear is to compensate and balance out the vehicle because of the added weight of the plow in the front.
Ideally, the weight should be behind the rear axle as this will take away some of the stress on the front axle.
So strap the bags as far back on the rack as you can, just make sure to remove them if you remove the plow itself.
If you have some welding skills you want to take it one step further, you can create a custom weight that can be fitted to the hitch mount. Make sure you don’t exceed the rated downward capacity of the hitch. If you do a google search you will find a lot of creative DIY solutions you can test out.
If you add to much weight to the rear you may end up unloading the front so much that you get problems steering. If you jack up the rear spring as stiff as they go you will be able to add more weight at the rear before you run into steering issues.
Having a good set of tires with relatively soft rubber, giving you a good grip is probably even more important than putting chains on the quad. Next-to adding weight, this should be your best bet for improving the traction of your machine.
One of the oldest tricks in the book for achieving better traction in the snow (or anywhere) is to deflate the tires. But at the same time, you will make it a lot harder to steer your AVT, so I do not recommend this for plowing purposes.
Even if you have power steering on your quad, deflated tires will result in more wear and tear on the steering components.
This is a solution with both some pros and cons you need to take into consideration.
- It will give you increased traction on snow and ice, allowing you to push a lot more snow with no spinning or slipping.
- They work great when plowing gravel roads because of the not so hard surface of the gravel or dirt.
- They will ruin any seal-coated or tiled surface you plow on.
- The increased traction will also increase the risk of breaking things in your plow or quad if you are not careful.
- On hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt, you have little traction because of the two hard surfaces of the steel chains and asphalt. Chains will also create scratches in the asphalt.
- When the chains wear and break, a loose piece of chain will ruin the plastic panels or anything else it’s hitting in no time. You need to keep an eye on the wear before each time you plow and make repairs when needed.
- You can not drive as fast with chains, and they will wear your tires abnormally.
Adding tire studs
Screw-in tire studs is a great alternative to tire chains. They do not bite as hard, but they are much more forgiving.
These are cheap and will work well on hard packed snow or ice. Be aware of the risk of scratching any hard surfaces.
Even tho no-one in their right mind would buy tracks just for the purpose of plowing snow, there is no denying that nothing can compete with tracks on an ATV when it comes to traction.
If you have them, you will be able to push snow like never before. Keep in mind they will reduce the maneuverability of the machine quite a bit, and you will also probably need a wider plow to keep it as wide as the machine itself.
Use a plow with optimal width
It’s important to use the “optimal” width of plow for your machine. A 400 – 450 should easily handle a 48″ plow. But to use a 60″ you may need something bigger. With a small machine on a too wide plow, you will just end up pushing more snow than the machine can handle.
Make sure you engage the 4×4 at all times when plowing. If your machine is equipped with a locking front diff, this will add further to your traction.
ATV plow down-force
Some will feel they need to add weight to the plow blade itself. Normally you should not need this as long as the blade angle is set correctly.
So make sure you check your settings before you start modifying or purchasing more gear.
If the blade is tilted too far back, it will not cut into the snow, just glide on top. If the blade is tilted too much forward will make the cut too aggressive, with the risk of digging into any bump with a brutal stop as a result.
If you do a lot of back blading snow away from building doors etc, some added weight to the blade may help to keep the blade down.
Keep in mind you need to make sure your winch is strong enough to handle the added weight.
As an alternative to adding weight to the blade, you can purchase a so-called „downforce kit“ for your blade. These kits basically consist of one or two hydraulic cylinders that keep a constant downward pressure on the blade. I have not tested this myself, but the idea seems simple and effective.
What size ATV winch do I need for plowing?
A winch with 2500lb pulling power is a good size for plowing with an ATV. Any winch in the 1500lb – 3500 lb range will work fine, but a 1500lb winch will be a bit weak for other winching operations.