Single-Stage Yard Machines Snowblower Makes a Good Backup

Not everyone is blessed to have a backup snowblower. Besides having to pay a few hundred smackers on top of whatever you paid for your everyday wintertime mainstay, you need room in your shed or garage to fit a second unit. You also need the justification: a few bad experiences that leave you no other choice.

I certainly had those—corroded shear pins (before I began keeping extras on hand), a snapped drive cable, and a broken pullcord—invariably after bad snowstorms. Electric start was already common in snowblowers 10 years ago, when I bought my two-stage, 24-inch Yard Machines unit, but the feature was not universal. So, when the pullcord wore out, I was out of business…at least for the duration of the snowstorm. Hello, shovel. Hello again, back trouble.

That’s how I ended up at Walmart, late last winter, to buy the one remaining single-stage snowblower in the store. Given the situation, I couldn’t exactly be choosy. Nevertheless, the 21-inch, single-stage Yard Machines 31A-2M1E752, $350, came through for me last week. I needed it after the auger housing of my two-stage Yard Machines 31A-62EE729 failed over an errant phone wire that snarled the auger, leaving the engine running fine so long as I didn’t try to clear any more snow.

The smaller Yard Machines performed as well as I’d expect from a single-stage snowblower. Granted, a two-stage model is beefier, clears much more snow per hour, and is easier to manage because of its transmission. Unless, of course, that transmission has become good only for taking the machine out of the shed to visit the snow. Repairs would have cost more than a new machine. We’ve since replaced that model with its modern-day counterpart, the 24-inch Craftsman 88173, a two-stage blower with a 208cc overhead-valve (OHV) engine and electric start.

With the backup snowblower, I needed to take it slower with deep or moist snow. If a single-stage takes in too much snow in one gulp, it gags—and stalls. This model was no different. And unless you reach over yourself to rotate the chute or angle its opening up or down, there’s no chute control. But in moderate snow no deeper than eight inches, the 21-inch 31A-2M1E752 performed like a champ. Like any single-stage snowblower, it cleans closer to the surface than the typical two-stager. And its 123cc, OHV engine should last for many years.

For regions like this, a short drive from New England’s southern environs, a single-stage model shouldn’t be your only snowblower. But as a stand-in to a more capable model, the Yard Machines 21-inch 31A-2M1E752 is well-qualified for the role.

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Tough Starting? Look Twice Where You Fill Up

gas cap with warning
The fuel cap on the Craftsman 37441 mower: E0-E10 Yes, E15-E85 No

Spring is the time to fuel up your outdoor power equipment—at least the products that run on gasoline. But even if you protected your gear last season by running out the fuel or mixing in fuel stabilizer, you could face trouble with what you add this season. It’s possible you’ll bring home the wrong gas.

That’s among the findings from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), the trade group for manufacturers of small engines and equipment, which commissions a study each year through The Harris Poll. The bottom line: Americans on average know even less than they used to about what fuel at the pump is appropriate for their gear.

Time was, pretty much any gasoline you saw at your local gas station would do fine in your lawn mower, generator, pressure washer, or handheld power tool. For background, that gas was a mix of ordinary fuel with roughly 10 percent ethanol (called E10), an alcohol made from corn. But starting in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed gasoline with higher percentages of ethanol (with 15 percent, E15, or higher) to be sold through the same gas pumps. It’s meant for newer cars…nothing smaller.

Gas-powered outdoor gear can do acceptably well with E10 fuel. But if you add fuel with higher percentages of ethanol, engines get funky. They run hotter. The ethanol draws in moisture, which can build up and separate in the tank, a process called phase separation, which lead to starting problems for many products. And they cause plastic and rubber parts (including fuel lines) to stiffen and clog.

You perhaps see the point of fueling up with only E10—or even E0, gas with no ethanol, which some states still allow. (You can also buy ethanol-free gas at home centers.) The trouble is that a rising percentage of respondents do not know the difference among the many variations at the pump.

When it comes to ethanol in gas, the cheapest fuel is typically the one with the most ethanol. That one is the absolute worst for your equipment, and the lower price is a prime reason for misfueling.

Sure, they can tell apart regular, premium and ultra; the higher the octane, the higher the cost. But when it comes to ethanol in gas, the cheapest fuel is typically the one with the most ethanol. That one is the absolute worst for your equipment, and the lower price is a prime reason for misfueling. Two-thirds of respondents, in fact, say they buy the cheapest gas whenever possible.

Food for Thought
Of the 2,000 adult respondents to OPEI’s poll, 11 percent use the wrong fuel in their power gear. That might not sound like many, but the 11 percent means 220 adults using the wrong fuel in perhaps several products they own—thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. The 11 percent also seems discouraging when you consider that in the poll for 2015, only 7 percent used the wrong fuel.

The study found, too, that Americans are more likely now than in past years to believe that any ethanol blend in gasoline whatsoever is safe for any gasoline-powered engine. A whopping 38 percent believe any blend will do, a gradual rise from 30 percent in 2015.

More findings:

  • Only a fifth of respondents say they notice pump markings indicating ethanol content when they buy gas, compared to 25 percent last year. Perhaps part of the reason: The EPA sticker warning that blends above E10 cannot legally go into lawn equipment and could cause damage is a fraction of the size of the myriad ads on the pump and the screen above. You can see it below.
  • Just over 40 percent admit they don’t look for any warnings at all when they’re fueling their car.
  • Maybe most troubling of all, more than half of those polled (51 percent) fill up their portable gas can with the same fuel they use to fill their vehicle.

The good news for a responsive federal government to heed: Consumers are taking notice. Roughly two-thirds of those polled believe ethanol-free gas should be more widely available at filling stations.

“What goes in your car or truck may not be safe to put in your lawn mower, and consumers are not paying attention and making unintended mistakes,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “Yet pump labeling and consumer education are inadequate. As ethanol continues to be subsidized [by the government], more stations sell it. We’re concerned about consumer safety and choice.”

Fortunately for the alert, the fuel pump isn’t the only source for warnings about what to use in your power gear. Everything from the smallest gas-powered handhelds to the largest lawn tractors carry multiple warnings upon purchase. Even if you throw away the owner’s manual and all the tags, you’ll see one indication that doesn’t go away: a notice on the gas cap to use no blend higher than E10.

Ignore it at your equipment’s peril.

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