Snow removal is an excellent excuse for buying a new ATV, but what size should it be for plowing snow? I set out 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 to stay 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.
Essentially, it’s the weight you want, 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 typically do so for other reasons than plowing snow.
The Ideal Engine Size for Snow Plowing
There is no such thing as too much power, right? Well, engine displacement and horsepower (hp) are not as critical as you may think when plowing snow.
Almost any ATV engine size will work fine for plowing snow, although I recommend getting a 400cc or bigger.
Even the smallest machines typically have enough power to get the job done, but these are not recommended for reasons I’ll explore later in the article.
When plowing, you don’t need either speed or acceleration; at least not more than a 400cc engine should handle just fine. And you will be amazed by how much snow you can push, even with a moderately sized machine.
Depending on the locations you will be plowing, the bigger cc machines may be a disadvantage to some degree. 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.
To plow snow, the power difference between the 700-800cc classes and up is marginal and will have little to no practical significance. All of these engine sizes have pretty incredible power at their disposal.
If you only plan on using the ATV for snow plowing throughout the winter season, buying an 800cc plus machine is unnecessary. 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 fast trail riding, fulfilling these needs may be the deciding factor of what engine you buy and not how much power you need for the snow plowing.
Also, if the cost is vital to your decision, not only will the purchase price of a larger machine be higher, but you may also want to consider 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.
The Ideal ATV Weight for Plowing Snow
So we have established that almost any ATV has enough power for snow plowing.
What is much more critical to the snow-pushing capabilities of any ATV is how heavy it is. More weight will give you better traction and momentum.
The additional weight of larger ATVs helps stabilize the vehicle, making it harder for impacts to knock it out of its course.
More Weight Equals Better Traction
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, allowing you to push more snow.
This is also why a 250cc machine would cause problems even though the engine power could be adequate; they don’t have the weight you need to plow appropriately.
More Weight Increases the Momentum
Just about any ATV will work fine for small amounts of light and dry snow. But as soon as you take on the heavier wet snow, try cutting through drift or compact snowbanks 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 mass (weight) and velocity (speed).
Ideally, the traction alone should be enough to push anything with complete control at low speeds, like a bulldozer. But no ATV packs this kind of weight, so you must use some speed to the equation to build up the needed momentum.
With more weight, you will need less speed to break through the same amount of snow. Just remember that with higher momentum comes a more significant 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 freezes hard, moving it with any weight ATV without severe risk of breaking some things will be almost impossible.
How to Improve ATV Traction on Snow and Ice?
Add More Weight
Adding more weight is the easiest step 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 rack capacity.
The weight needs to be added in the rear to compensate and balance out the vehicle because of the added weight the plow adds to the front.
Ideally, the weight should be placed behind the rear axle, as this will reduce some of the front axle stress.
So strap the bags as far back on the rack as possible but remember to remove them if you unmount the plow.
If your welding skills are ok, and you want to take it one step further, you can create a custom weight that installs on the hitch mount. Make sure you don’t exceed the hitch weight capacity. If you do a Google search, you will find many creative DIY solutions you can test out.
If you add too 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 can add more weight at the rear before you run into steering issues.
Swap to Better Tires
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.
Install Tire Chains
This is a solution with some pros and cons you need to consider.
- It will increase traction on snow and ice, allowing you to push more snow without 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.
- You have little traction on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt 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 end of the chain will ruin the fenders or anything else it’s hitting in no time. Keep an eye on chain wear before each time you plow and make repairs when necessary.
- You can not drive as fast with chains, and they will wear your tires abnormally.
Screw-in tire studs are 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.
Use ATV Tracks
While no one in their right mind would buy tracks only to plow snow, there is no denying that nothing can compete with tracks on an ATV when it comes to traction.
With tracks, you will be able to push snow like never before. Be aware installing tracks reduces the machine’s maneuverability quite a bit, and you will also probably need a broader plow to ensure it is as wide as the ATV tracks.
Use a Plow With Optimal Width
Using the “optimal” plow blade width for your machine is essential. A 400cc – 450cc should easily handle a 48″ plow. But you may need something bigger to use a 60″. With a small machine on a too-wide plow, you will end up pushing more snow than the machine can handle.
Activate the Front Diff
Make sure you engage the 4×4 at all times when plowing. If your machine has a locking front diff, this will add further to your traction.
Increasing ATV Plow Blade Down-Force
Some will feel they need to add weight to the plow blade itself. You usually should not need this as long as the blade angle is set correctly. So check your blade settings before you start modifying or purchasing more gear.
If the blade is tilted too far back, it will not cut into the snow but 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, plowing snow away from building doors, etc., some added weight to the blade may help to keep the edge down.
Remember that you need to ensure 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 plow. These kits use one or two hydraulic cylinders to keep a constant downward pressure on the blade. I have not tested these systems, but the idea seems straightforward 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 1500 – 3500 lb range will work fine, but a 1500lb winch will be a bit weak for other winching operations.