Before You Put Away Your Snowblower for the Season

Yard Machines snowblower mid-stormSpring is coming, with birds singing and crocuses thrusting from the soil as soon as they drum up the nerve. With all this spring-like activity, the last thing you feel like doing is something winter-related. Especially if it means going out to your shed to see the snowblower you hoped not to have to see again till maybe November. But you have to stow it properly. You’ll be proud next winter when the first snows blow, and your machine fires right up.

Your task isn’t hard, and it could even be fun. Put on some music and take a mug of coffee or hot chocolate out with you. However you choose to make it an event, here’s what to do:

Empty the gas tank
If you do only one task of the bunch, this is the most decisive for next winter. Routinely add a stabilizer to your fuel, and you might be okay leaving the fuel in the tank for a few months. But once summer comes and the snowblower is sitting in the hot shed or garage, you can’t be absolutely sure. Our advice: siphon as much out as possible, and run the engine dry. Even better insurance is to add a few ounces of ethanol-free fuel, sold in home centers and some outdoor-gear dealers, and run it dry again. That helps clear the carburetor and fuel lines.

Drain the oil
Changing the oil once a year won’t make the difference in starting, but it will help prolong engine life. What’s more, draining the oil immediately after running the fuel dry ensures that the oil will be hot enough to flow out easily. Your owner’s manual will show you the location of the snowblower’s drain plug, and you need to position an oil-drain pan or similar container beneath it before you loosen the bolt and tip the machine back. If you’re unsure what grade of oil to put back in once you’ve reattached the bolt, the manual will tell you. The video below, for Toro single-stage models (but generally applicable to all gas snowblowers), can also help if you’d like still more guidance.

Hose it down
During the winter, your snowblower gets a healthy coating of dirt on and around the auger and, on two-stage models, the impeller. Also present is salt, both from what you might have spread on your driveway and from your town’s coating on the roads—and your driveway, from the plows. With temperatures well above freezing, disconnect the spark-plug cap and give the machine a good hosing down. (The engine should not be running.) Next, to keep the water itself from promoting rust, wipe down the snowblower. Your leaf blower can help to dry parts that are harder to access.

A few more checks
These remaining tasks could also be done in late fall, but if you think you might forget, it’s better to do them now. Start with the spark plug. Screw it out, at least inspect it and clean off the crud with a wire brush. (Coat the plug’s threads with anti-seize compound for easier removal next time.) If you don’t remember when you last replaced it, though, consider doing so now.

Next, for a two-stage model, look at the auger for the shear pins, which protect the transmission from excessive wear. Perhaps none broke over the winter, but they do corrode enough that they’re ready to snap. Even if they look secure, you still want to be sure you have spares.

And check the linkages, the little cables that run from your drive and auger controls to the machine itself. All should be taut; if not, consult the manual for how to tighten them.

For electrics, mind the batteries
Few people in snow-prone regions have cordless-electric snowblowers. If you own one and can get away without a lot of shoveling what the machine can’t handle, you don’t have to bother with the gas and oil. You do, however, need to bring the battery indoors for charging. Your manual should tell you if you can merely leave it on the charger, for trickle charging, till you need it again.

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Easy Winter? No Excuse to Diss the Generator

Champion generator / Credit: WalmartEl Niño technically means unpredictable weather, but in some parts of the country, it has meant a welcome two-winter respite from the layer upon layer of snow we get some years. But if you haven’t checked on your portable generator in ages and now think you’re in the clear, don’t relax too much. Late winter and early spring, with hard rains and the lingering potential of a crippling glaze of sleet, still can pack a punch to the utility power we so take for granted.

Take a few minutes, then, to fill up a thermos with coffee or hot chocolate, and head out to wherever you keep that generator. Your objective: to ensure it will start when you need it. How difficult that’ll be depends on how much attention you’ve been giving the machine, represented below by two alternate states of readiness:

You do regular startups
In this scenario, you know your generator will start up without trying because you’ve powered it up every month or so on a schedule. You wheel it out far away from the house, check the oil, turn off any fuel shutoff, set the choke, and then on press the “on” switch. If you have electric start and have kept that function’s battery charged, you’re good to go. The generator fires right up. If your generator doesn’t have e-start, you give the recoil a few pulls. Same results.

You haven’t run it in months
Here, your mission is more complicated. You do everything as with above, but your e-start battery needs charging, which means you’re pulling the cord. Which doesn’t necessary improve matters. Ask yourself at this point when you last added fresh, stabilized gas. If you hadn’t started the generator since last winter, whatever fuel remains in the tank isn’t doing a thing for you.

Have a standby generator?
These are professionally installed outdoors, have weatherproof casing and run on natural gas or propane. They turn themselves on when your power blows but also switch on to diagnose themselves—and flash any service messages on a visible panel. This keeps you from having to remember when you last changed or added oil, as with a portable, but you do typically need to check the panel.

At this point, siphon out everything you can (here’s one way) and add fresh gas, but not before mixing in fuel stabilizer to help your odds. Check the oil and spark plug, too. If repeated cord pulls don’t bring your generator to life, you still have time to call your local repair shop. Many will pick up your generator, clean out (or rebuild) the carburetor and bring it back to readiness.

The first alternative, of course, is the one that works for you and your family. Keep the generator fueled with stabilized gas, start it up regularly and check the oil each time (and change it annually). That way, you should be ready when the power goes. Since power outages often strike during periods of rain or snow—when you can’t safely run the machine—consider also a weather-resistant canopy like the one we’ve just reviewed.

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