Snow Plowing with an Automatic Transmission Truck?
September 23, 2006 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Can a truck with an automatic transmission run a front-mounted snow plow?

I am looking to buy a used truck, and eventually would like to add a snow plow to it in order to save a little money on the cost of plowing my rural (long) driveway. I have found a truck I like that has a 4.3L V6 engine and is a 4x4 and it has automatic transmission. How can I tell if attaching a plow to it will work?

If it helps, the truck I am looking at is a 2000 GMC Sonoma 4WD extended cab.
posted by terrapin to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: I don't think there is any reason an automatic transmission vehicle won't function as a snowplow, and various manufacturers make kits for small trucks, but the majority of the market is for full sized trucks, with larger engines and greater GVW ratings. The major issue with the small truck/auto tranmission package is that pushing a plow and heavy snow will place much greater strain on the drive train, resulting in greater heat and wear. But since the truck you're looking at is equipped as a 4x4, it may already have the transmission cooler and radiator from any factory tow package option, and that would be something to verify.

It really depends on how much snow you get, and how much/how often you'd be doing the job. This wouldn't be a good rig if you lived near Buffalo, NY where they get lots of heavy, wet, lake effect snow every winter, but Vermont? I dunno. I'd look for a full sized V8 truck if I was going to do much snowplow work in Vermont.
posted by paulsc at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks paulsc. I ask because I am seeing lots of smaller trucks with 4-cylinder engines (Toyotas, etc) equiped with plows, but they all seem to be manual transmission vehicles. I don't plan to plow anything other than my own driveway, and would always try to plow smaller amounts more often rather than wait until there is lots of snow on the ground.
posted by terrapin at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2006

It sort of depends on the weight of the vehicle and the frame. I wouldn't use my little Toyota, b/c it's a 4-cyl, and not very heavy, and I don't think it'd be very good for it. Likewise, I probably wouldn't use some of the larger, light-duty trucks, because many of them were built on C-channel frames, which could get pushed slightly out of wack from the abuse of plowing.

As long as you were using 4wD low, however, and you were gentle - ie: you went slow, rather than building up a bunch of speed and crashing into drifts, I don't think such work would hurt your auto trans as much as it might damage other components. paulc is right, though - check to make sure it has an auto-trans cooler, that'll definitely help.

This is the sort of thing I imagine companies build "heavy duty" models for.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:47 AM on September 23, 2006

One other point, from some friends of mine in Boston who do semi-commercial snowplow work. They don't generally see any need for 4WD in clearing drives and parking lots. They say that dropping the plow unloads the front wheels while plowing any way, and that the drive coming from the front wheels is most useful when the blade is raised, and they're backing up. They compensate this in 2WD trucks by throwing some weight in the bed, behind the rear wheels. They also say that 2WD traction control systems are generally as good for them as any 4WD.

Their point is that plowing is hard on a truck, and they'd rather trade cheaper trucks more often, than fix more expensive trucks as they get older.
posted by paulsc at 12:07 PM on September 23, 2006

I think the reason you'd tend to see the smaller trucks with manual transmissions is simply because a lot of them got sold that way, especially the Japanese ones. They're cheaper, both new and used, and most people that use small pickups may even prefer manuals.

For plowing, being able to manually select a gear at low speeds would likely help you to avoid spinning the wheels by starting in 2nd. You can easily do this with an automatic.

As far as tolerating the plow equipment, I would concentrate more on a truck with a suspension that's in good shape so it can handle the extra weight. A stiffer spring upgrade is probably not a bad idea either. But as far as transmission choice, I'd say it comes down to nothing more than personal preference (or whatever good deals you happen to come upon).
posted by ninjew at 1:20 PM on September 23, 2006

Best answer: I had a plow years ago on a full sized 4WD automatic transmission GMC truck, taking care of a half-mile driveway and a parking lot. Never a problem. Once the road crew plowed in the end of the driveway with an 8-foot heap of snow, and with a little battering-ram action, the truck got through it. Have fun.
posted by beagle at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2006

Best answer: A Google search of "snow plow automatic transmission" gives a number of results that suggest an automatic is preferable although not in all conditions and with all drivers. This makes sense, as automatics are definitely preferred for towing which would place similar strains on the drivetrain.
posted by TedW at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2006

Best answer: I called my mechanic and also asked this question on Car Talk's community help site. The general consensus seems to be that as long as I am not trying to do commercial plowing, adding a plow to the truck I mentioned above should be fine. Thanks for all the help.
posted by terrapin at 5:18 AM on September 24, 2006

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