Essential Tasks for Snowblower Prep

Man with snowblowerSome of us feel generally too stressed to do anything other than react to the crisis of the day. But in the coming months or even weeks, that crisis will be an approaching snowstorm. A few minutes spent now to check out your gas snowblower could keep you from having to whip out the shovel.

A look inside your machine’s owner’s manual will tell you maintenance tasks for your particular brand and model. The following tips should do the trick if your manual has gone to the land of stray socks:

Any gas-powered model
When a snowblower won’t start at the beginning of the season, the chief culprit is typically gasoline left in the tank over the summer. If this is the case, siphon out what you can (here’s one possible tool) or, with a lightweight machine, tip it over with the gas cap off and empty whatever you can into a spare gas can. Add fresh gasoline to which you’ve added fuel stabilizer.

Old oil won’t keep your snowblower from starting. But unless you changed it before putting it away for the summer—in which case you should merely check the level—you’ll help the engine last its longest by changing the oil now. The larger machines have a drain bolt you remove before tipping the snowblower back over a container; a funnel comes in handy.

Another item to check is your spark plug. It doesn’t need changing every season, but consider it a $5 insurance policy to do so anyway if it’s been a year or more since the last swap. Applying just a bit of anti-seize compound on the threads could make the plug easier to remove next time.

One more task: your pull cord. Even if you have electric start, you want the pull cord as a backup. Slowly draw out the cord; inspect it for fraying. Find any? Consider having a pro replace the cord—it’s a challenging job for a DIYer—before snow is in the forecast.

Single-stage gas models
The simplest snowblowers, single-stage machines have a plastic auger, often with rubber and sometimes metal reinforcement, that scoops up the snow and hurls it out in one step. Their belt transfers power from the engine to the auger but eventually wears or frays—and snaps when you least want it to. Sometimes they just slip off without breaking, but either way the machine is out of commission.

Unless, of course, you had an extra on hand and have a few minutes to remove the snowblower’s side cover. Should you need to buy one, autumn is a good time to pick up a spare. Check your machine’s brand and model first; you might need to jot down some engine specs for the store.

Two-stage gas models
The additional stage of a two-stage snowblower is a fan-like impeller, behind the auger, that catches what the auger pulls in and puts more muscle behind the throw for potentially greater distance. These machines have metal augers and also transmissions to drive the wheels. This complexity, however beneficial, means more that can go wrong.

Dual-stage machines have belts, too, and these also can go at the worst possible time. To make matters worse, it’s trickier to replace one. Having extras on hand, though, help your odds since you can’t count on your local repair shop to stock just what you need.

Shear pins are in place on your auger’s shaft, and they’re meant to break when you’re pushing so hard into, say, a partially frozen snow bank that your transmission is overworking. (Seeing just one half of your auger turning is a tip-off that a shear pin has snapped.) They look like bolts, often without threads, and they’re typically held in place by either nuts or clips. What’s most important is to replace broken ones with parts intended for your machine. If the shear pin doesn’t break when it needs to, you could overtax your snowblower.

Among other parts to check are cables and linkages that lead from your controls to the engine and transmission. They should have no slack. Inflate your tires to the proper pressure (noted on the side of the tire or in the manual) for easier maneuvering of the machine. And check that the auger scraper doesn’t actually scrape the ground while you’re moving the snowblower.

To preserve the auger scraper’s paint and avoid rust, adjust the slid shoes (bolted onto either side of the auger box) so that the scraper’s edge is slightly off the ground. Resting the edge on a piece of thick corrugated cardboard before you retighten the skid shoes can help you set the proper height.

Fire it up
Your last check, of course, is to start the machine. If it doesn’t start at all, think about what you didn’t do and double-check the manual. If it starts but is rumbling unevenly instead of humming (and you’ve adjusted the choke), you might need to spray in a carburetor cleaner meant for small engines, such as this one from Briggs & Stratton. If it repeatedly stalls after you emptied out old gas, however, your carburetor might need a rebuild at your repair shop.

The sound of the snowblower roaring to life can be music after all that work, and it’s great to feel prepared for whatever winter has in mind. Want the same feeling about your mower next spring? Take a little more time and stow your mower the right way.

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