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Factors to Consider Before You Buy a Street Sweeper

Mark Blosser by Mark Blosser, P.E. Water Resources Engineer, City of Olympia, WA

The following guiding principles should be considered prior to any new sweeper purchase.

  • Get the right tool for the right job.
  • Buy the best you can afford.
  • Purchase a sweeper with a proven track record.
  • Recognize that the best technology is of little use if the sweeper is always in the shop.

With these principles in mind, along with any others you may wish to add, here are the questions to get answered before you actually start looking at the sweepers themselves:

  1. What are you going to do with the sweeper? What are your community's primary needs? Make a list, and estimate how often the sweeper will have to perform specific tasks, and how critical each one is.

Here are some examples: Leaves, wet and dry; after-storm pickup of branches and other debris; springtime heavy sand cleanup; large-sized road debris like mufflers, tire shreds, trash; fine particulate pollutants to reduce air and stormwater pollution; gross particulate pollutants to maintain aesthetics and minimize runoff volume into waterways.

  1. How often will you use the sweeper? Is it all day every day, or a few hours once in a while? Will (or should) you be sharing the sweeper with another agency or municipality? Will the machine have dedicated drivers or are they drawn from a pool of maintenance staff?
  2. Who will maintain the sweeper? Are the mechanics able to maintain all types of sweepers? Is there an inventory of sweeper parts on hand that needs to be used? Can they be returned to the manufacturer?
  3. How much money is available for the purchase? Does the budget include enough money for ongoing operation, maintenance, and replacement costs for each sweeper type or model being considered? If so, how much will be available and when?
  4. What other sweeper factors do you and your staff expect or desire?

You should consider facilitating a process to brainstorm and prioritize these factors. It's best to draw ideas from a cross-section of the individuals who will be using (or otherwise involved) with the machine(s) to be purchased. That way, you'll have a better opportunity to uncover and highlight any 'fatal flaws.'

Here are some examples of factors:

  • Drives well: good steering, responsive, adequate top speeds.
  • Efficient: picks up target dirt and debris well, has few or no limitations with respect to cleaning surfaces or weather conditions, large hopper capacity, large water tank capacity, the hopper is easy to unload.
  • Safety: the sweeper has good visibility and maneuverability.
  • Operator comfort and control: seat/driving position, adjustable tilt wheel, heat, A/C, dust filter, positive pressure, stereo/radio, quiet, easy in/out, clear control panel, in/out lighting, cup holders, storage space, warning lights.
  • Ease of maintenance: all areas of machine accessible, parts readily available, clear understandable maintenance handbook, good training and technical support/user assistance from company, maintenance less complicated than average.
  • Low maintenance: breakdowns are less frequent than average and easy to correct, wear and wearable components have longer than average lifetime.
  • Operator training: low-cost, detailed thorough curriculum offered regularly in convenient location.
  • Operator troubleshooting: what can go wrong in the field and how difficult is it for the operator to fix it - e.g., plugged chutes and filters, and stuck/broken brooms.
  • Costs: factor-in downtime, maintenance parts and labor, replacement value and cost, and contingency.
  • References: has the sweeper proven reliable, effective for assigned tasks based on observation and research, any serious drawbacks or 'Achilles heels,' would you buy again.
  • Community/regulatory acceptance: noisy, smoky, dusty, satisfies community and regulatory priorities for aesthetics, air and water quality.

You might consider making your list, then going back through it and assigning weightings to each factor. These weightings could involve a sorting into three groups. One way to do this would be to list a small group called 'must have' or 'fatal flaws,' and larger groups labeled 'should or should not have' and 'would like or would prefer to avoid.' Make the factors as objective and specific as possible. For example, if 'picks up wet leaves' is a 'must have,' verify with the manufacturer, and with references, that the sweeper is effective at this task.

Mark Blosser has been involved in stormwater management for 15 years. For the last 5 he has looked at sweeping as a way to reduce stormwater pollution.

Mark Blosser may be reached by calling (360) 753-8320, or by sending email to mblosser@ci.olympia.wa.us.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 7 Number 2.

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