Help I'm from California and snow is scary

My manager in West Michigan (gets a lot of snow) has a truck. We’re debating between buying a plow to attach to his truck, or contracting it out.

Any thoughts? How tough is a plow to maintain? My manager is solid and fairly dependable.

I would go get some quotes first.

Also, get some idea how your insurance might be affected if your manager plows. And lastly, no matter how reliable your manager is, it still doesn’t mean he won’t run off with your plow at some point. Or say it got stolen.

What if the plow hits a car, or a fire hydrant, etc? Better make sure you’re insured. Even if he just buries a hydrant under snow and the FD can’t access it.

Unless he has a 3/4 ton 4X or larger there is no point in putting a plow on your managers truck. Also keep in mind you will be responsible for repairs, transmission etc. that are damaged through use.
Hire a qualified contractor that has full insurance coverage.

We’re in the same situation (new purchase in Michigan) except we bought the truck & plow with the park. Since we have a full-time maintenance person, he will be on call to do the job this winter and we’ll see how it goes. So what if he hits a car? So what if he hits a fire hydrant? A plow requires practically no maintenance although it may take some teamwork to get it on and off the truck (seasonally). Of course the truck requires maintenance but I have it and it’s better than no-truck. Let me point out the truck is not insured – and not authorized to be driven off property.

I’d rather have my guy doing it to my own satisfaction than a professional looking to make a quick buck and get it done whenever and over with and out of there. The wear-and-tear on the roads (and pads) alone is probably worth the price of paying someone you can trust doing it. If you can keep up with the snowfall (and know how much to expect) I can’t imagine it’s so difficult. You just push it into piles. Right? I saw a park in the UP of Michigan that had huge gouge marks in the asphalt roads – from the construction equipment used to maneuver the snow. You want to keep those to a minimum.

The, the worst offenders for your roads are going to be heavy vehicles – the garbage truck, the school bus, fire engines, and they have to be able to safely maneuver around your park without sliding into things or getting stuck in corners.

I am an amateur at this – it’s my first winter as an owner. But speaking as someone who grew up in the midwest I think it is probably more important to have a snow removal plan (versus a “push it where-ever” plan). The larger the acreage of your park, the more snow you will have to move a longer distance (or to a staging area). So I will think about this and we will see how it goes this winter. If it’s terrible, I’ll have learned my lesson and get a professional next winter. But remember it snows on everyone at the same time and the demand is instantaneously busy. The professional plowers have to do every large job in town and your park may not get the attention it needs to keep you out of trouble. Your employee can ensure that priority is given appropriately to respond to what’s needed when it’s needed.

It would do us all well to also remember that in 10 years (or 20, or whatever) the winters may not be like they are now, wherever you are. Nor the summers, seasons, storms, the flooding, etc.

I would be interested to hear Kurt’s take on keeping it in-house versus hiring a professional. The same reasoning might to trimming trees, building fences, excavating sewers, repairing anything, etc. Well, so far we have outsourced the tree trimming, kept the fence-building in-house, and split the sewer issues. I guess it all depends on what you’re comfortable supervising. Or, stated another way, do you feel like the guy driving the plow should be the expert on how to move snow around on your property, or the guy who owns the property? Everyone has their skills and weaknesses. Do we need a professional fence-builder, roofer, or mason, etc? I will make the calls as I see fit. That’s management.


Just make sure you have adequate insurance in case he plows over a kid.
Let us know how it works out this winter.

There are lot of positives to hiring out your snow plowing. Most of the snow plow operators in Wisconsin (where I have lived all my life) run landscaping companies in the summer which means they are hard workers, work long hours, and are mechanically inclined. They will have much higher quality equipment than most park owners have, or could afford. The one problem may be where your park is located on their route. Which means it may be late in the day before they can get to your property.

If you go the route of having your own employee do the plowing you should probably have a truck and plow for him. Or else you’ll be fixing everything on his truck as long as he owns it because he’ll claim the damage or mechanical problems were from plowing. The benefit of having your manager plow, especially if he lives in the park, is he can have the roads cleared before tenants get up for work.

I have 2 parks in the Midwest that owned trucks with plows when I purchased them.

Owning that equipment and having maintenance slow plow was a disaster. Does your manager have experience plowing?

The cost of insurance (really high) upkeep, wages, gas was way higher than hiring a sevice.

In the Midwest ther are a lot guys with plows. Try to get recommendations and get 3 quotes.

Keep all 3 numbers handy in case you first choice doesn’t work out.

I agree, in the end it’ll be more expensive to own, insure, repair and operate the truck. Better off selling it and putting that towards the plowing contract.

@Noel_S , as per your question:
“Buying a plow or contracting it out”

My advice would be:
“Contract it out”

One of my nicknames is
"A Southern Yankee"

I was born in the South, moved to Michigan in my teens and college years and then moved back South.

Personally, I would have serious concerns over the potential lawsuits that could arise if your Manager runs into a child, adult, mobile home, car, fire hydrant, or anything else.

People love to sue.

I lived in Michigan (on both the West side and the East side).

Michigan gets lots and lots and lots of snow, which can then cause snow drifts.

Snow drifts make it impossible to see what is under the actual drift.

The snow drift could contain a child in their new snow castle or a car or family pet or anything.

Even though your manager is solid and fairly dependable everyone makes mistakes.

However, your manager’s mistake could cause you serious financial issues.

We wish you the very best!

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I’m in a snow state. The numbers aren’t compelling to do it yourself.
$1000/yr - purchase old truck for $10,000 that last 10yrs
$1500 - fuel and maintenance.
$1500 - insurance if you can get that cheap
$1000 - drivers labor. Manager isn’t going to get up at 4am and plow for 4 hrs so tenants can get to work.
Cost $5000. No savings over a contractor.
Other factor: hydraulics on plows break and the repairs cost. When your truck is down, who is going to plow? Contractors take care of their regular customers first. If you hire a contractor for the season, if his truck goes down, he probably has another or an arrangement for another contractor to cover for him. Contractor trucks have a sander if needed.

So, about the same cost and less headache to use a contractor.

Thanks for the responses everyone.

When you hire a contractor, what snow depth do you set for him to come out and plow? Anytime you get 3-4 inches of snow?

I didn’t know they measured snow in Michigan in inches - I always thought they measured it in feet! :wink:

Since we’re on the topic, what’s a good amount to budget for a park in, say, north/north central Ohio?

So I have been thinking about my attitude re snowplowing ever since I posted. So far we have had one small snowfall and no issues that I know of. I continue to question whether I will regret this decision later this winter.

I generally agree with the posters who said, “contract it out.” That would be my advice to a third party as well. But, I will have to be dealing with the complaints from tenants whether or not I contract it out, and I already have on-site the equipment to deal with the issue. The park is larger than 100 spaces, if that matters, and I already have to have staff on hand for my “turnaround” plan. And no (sub-)contractor is going to really like my supervising their work (“micromanaging” lets say if you do not want to be charitable.)

So I have the choice, as everyone does at all times, to hire a professional or do it in house, “myself” The so-called “pro versus the schmo problem.” If my management cannot handle the snow removal, I’ll get a professional. When to make that call is the owner’s responsibility in any case, and it applies to snow removal, and it applies to {legal advice, tax, accounting, and the “trades” and “professions” generally.}

I don’t put snow removal in the category of trade or professional, though. So whether to subcontract it or do it in house is a matter of who I think does it better at what price, and I have no experience either way. So I’ll try it one way and see, and I can try it another way later if I want to see that.

Same with lawnmowing and landscaping, same with everything. That’s management. Sometimes you just have to find out by trying something.


I agree. Sam Walton had a saying “do it, try it, fix it” which meant to give any decent idea a chance, scientifically monitor its effectiveness, and then adjust if it failed. One time he had an employee say “Mr. Walton, why do we paint the walls that ugly gray color?” and he answered “if you think another color would work better, then you paint the walls, and if the sales for the store go up, then we’ll leave them that color. If the grey sold better, then you have to paint them back”. That spirit of experimentation is what made Walmart great, and applies for mobile home parks, as well.

If ten people tell you from experience that hiring a contractor is the way to do it you may chose to try it yourself but the likely hood is that you will probably only have about 1 chance in 10 that swimming against the current will be successful. Possibly little financial harm in trying so give it a shot if you don’t get much snow but if you get a lot of snow changing plans in mid season may not be a option.

If you don’t like how the contractor you hired does it, you’re in the same boat. Mid-season. I’m just saying.

Michigander here so I have direct experience with Michigan winters.
Short answer is hire it out. Long answer follows.
Plows are very hard on trucks, the front end will require more maintenance (who pays for that?)
The truck requirements are significant (4x4, 3/4 ton, solid truck that starts everytime you need it)
If the operator hits something and destroys it, who’s insurance covers it?
Does your manager know how to plow snow? Don’t laugh, it’s important to know where to pile up all that snow to manage the melt in the spring, some cities have regulations you need to follow and if your park is over on the west side of the state, planning those piles of snow and where to put them is very important because once that pile is started, it’s not moving until it thaws out.
Will your manager be up at zero dark thirty to plow and stay on top of it?
Is your manager in shape enough to shovel by hand if required or will he have a heart attack?

Hiring this job out to a reputable firm manages most if not all of the issues.

Your fear can lead to poor decisions, we live with snow every year so its no big deal to us locals it shouldn’t’ be a big deal to you either.

my 2 cents.

Now that’s a valuable thread. Here’s a few notes on risk management/ insurance related to snow plowing:

  1. As long as your snow plow never hits a public road, and has the tags pulled, you don’t need to have commercial auto insurance on the truck (probably saves $1,500 or so per year) and your park general liability will cover any damage your driver does to someone else’s property (or body). But if your driver damages your own property, that property will have to also be insured on your property schedule (and subject to a deductible) to be covered;

  2. Caveat on the above - and you know no one calls me when everything goes well - sooner or later, Chuck or Larry are gonna take that snow plow chuck down the road to get a burger, supplies, gas, etc, so you may be better off having auto liability insurance on it anyway; and

  3. Your Park Workers Compensation insurance will cover your employees for all kinds of park related maintenance if they are hurt on the job, snow plowing included. That said, unless you do a larger job like snowplowing involving big machinery and lots of weight regularlyor, leave those jobs for the pro contractors. Insurance companies arleady hate writing Workers Compensation insurance for park owners and you don’t want to risk an unnecessary loss and give them a reason to cancel you just to save a few bucks. (Tree trimming, electrical work, excavation, road building - all jobs we recommend you leave to the pros).

Overall, we rarely have insurance claims relating to snow plowing in parks.