Is Buying a Snowplow a Good Investment?

Have you ever had one of those winters? Here in Boston, it feels like it’s been snowing for days.

We got 22 inches earlier this week, and now another 6 inches are on the way. Schools in Boston were closed for three straight days, which seems crazy to me — buck up, people! But to be truthful, getting around on these treacherous streets has been dicey.

Driving is only an option after you’ve cleared the driveway, though. We have a long, narrow, inclined driveway that is absolutely punishing to clear of snow. After years of shoveling it, we finally allowed ourselves an unheard-of luxury last year: We hired a plow guy. It was amazing.

For a while, at least.

But during the peak of the storm earlier this week, our plow guy came by …  and got stuck. He couldn’t do our driveway, and worse, he created a 6-foot snowbank right in the middle of it, blocking our cars from the road.

About four hours and a sore back later, it’s just cleared enough to pull a car in and out, if you squeeze in through the window. Yay? But it got me thinking: Would it be worth it to buy my own plow setup, even if it’s just for a few snowstorms per year?

Have you ever considered it?

Shoveling the Numbers

My brother, who lives in a tony suburb west of the city (and gets more snow as a result), took this route a few years ago. He was tired of paying someone $75 a pass (I told you, it’s a ritzy town) to do a lousy job clearing his driveway, so he spent a summer looking for a used Jeep with a plow attachment.

Now, after a few years of being able to plow his own driveway, he’s a big fan of the independence it affords. But he questions whether it’s been a smart move financially.

Between the old Jeep and the old plow hydraulics, there’s a lot of repairs to pay for. “I bought a beater, so stuff breaks,” he says. “Every fall I take it in to get it ready for the season, and there’s always something that needs to be fixed. This year it cost like $2,300.”

He says if he bought a brand-new plow attachment, for as much as $5,000, he’d probably have no problems with it for five years or so. So if you already own a reliable four-wheel-drive truck for everyday use, that initial investment might not be such a reach.

Boston averages a bit more than 40 inches of snowfall per year. Assuming about six plowable snowstorms per winter, saving $75 a storm would amount to $450 a year. That’s hardly enough to warrant buying even a used four-wheel-drive vehicle and a plow setup.

But what if you turned that investment into something more — like a side business? After all, if Homer Simpson could do it, couldn’t you?

The Plowing Economy

It’s a bit easier for newcomers to tap into this business than it used to be. New app-based services such as Plowz and Mowz and Plow Me have taken the sharing-economy strategy behind Uber out into the blizzard. Users can request a one-time plow from a driver in their area, and plow drivers can accept and fulfill requests as they see fit.

Rates differ depending on availability and demand, but Plowz and Mowz co-founder William Mahoney told BetaBoston that the going rate averages about $49 per driveway, and drivers keep 70% of that fee. So a freelance snowplow driver could expect to earn about $34 per driveway, per storm. Of course, an established, independent driver with regular customers could potentially earn much more than that.

So what if you were able to plow 10 driveways per storm, and there were six storms per winter? Well, now things are getting closer to profitable:

  • 10 x $34 x 6 = $2,040/year

Factoring in the $450 he saves by not paying someone else to plow his own driveway, that would be just enough to cover the annual repairs on my brother’s old Jeep-and-plow combo — but not the car payments, gas, and other expenses.

However, assuming you grow your customer base season after season, it might not take long before your plow business turns profitable.

An independent driver charging $50 per driveway and plowing 25 customers per storm could make $7,500 a year:

  • 25 x $50 x 6 = $7,500/year

Now that’s a big pile of cash, and one I wouldn’t mind plowing down my driveway. Of course, you’d have to be comfortable being out in a blizzard while your family and everyone else in town is cozied up by the fire. And there are many unknown headaches to consider — irate customers, or a broken-down truck in the middle of a storm.

For now, I guess I’ll stick with the shovel, our wheezing snowblower, and the old familiar backache.

Jon Gorey

Contributing Editor

A former personal finance reporter at TheStreet and columnist for MarketWatch, Jason Notte’s work has appeared in many other outlets, including The Newark Star-Ledger, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and The Boston Globe. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S. and the layout editor for Boston Now, among other roles at various publications. Notte earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 1998.