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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When Bad Things Happen to Good Snowblowers

Belts on snowblowers / Credit: SearsWhen at their best, snowblowers can be impressive beasts. Yours can save you hours of backbreaking work and, if you’re out of shape, could keep you out of the emergency room. But sometimes things go wrong. Even for a well-maintained machine that starts up fine, parts wear out and weather takes its toll. Here are five problems you might face, with often quick fixes:

Auger doesn’t turn at all
On any snowblower, the auger is the spinning assembly up front that draws in the snow. After you’ve started the engine, the auger isn’t supposed to turn right away. It’s a safety feature that you need to press the auger control, at the other end of the machine, for that. But what if the auger doesn’t spin when you press the lever? You have one of two problems—one of which takes minutes to fix.

First, check the cable that leads downward from the control lever. If it’s loose, it needs retightening; your owner’s manual will tell you how if it isn’t obvious. But if there’s no slack whatsoever in this cable, your auger belt has likely snapped or slipped off. That same manual should list the part number for the belt if it needs replacing. (A video below shows how to change this and the drive belt.) If the belt didn’t break but slipped off, consider having a service shop check the pulleys’ alignment.

Auger turns on just one side
Two-stage snowblowers differ from single-stage machines in that they add a fan-like impeller for greater throwing distance of the snow the auger scoops up. Snowblowers shear pins / Credit: Lowe'sThese larger machines, though, can work so hard that their transmissions can burn out. To protect against this, these models’ augers have little bolt-like pins in the axle. They’re brittle and designed to break when overtaxed. And when they do, one side of the auger tends to stop turning. Trust us—you’ll know when it does.

Shear pins are specific to a model or at least a brand, and with some foresight you bought some extras in advance. (Avoid the temptation to substitute any other bolts you have lying around.) You’ll need to shut down the snowblower and disconnect the spark-plug cap for safety. A few minutes with a hammer, pliers and perhaps a wrench, and you’ll be back in business.

No response to drive control
On a running two-stage snowblower, pressing the drive lever engages the transmission for turning the wheels forward or back. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. If it doesn’t, check the cable leading downward from the lever; again, it should have no slack. When the cable is tight but pressing the drive lever still doesn’t have any effect, your drive belt has probably snapped or slipped off.

Below is a video on how to change it and also the auger belt. The process should be similar for Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, Yard Machines and Craftsman machines, all of which have the same manufacturer, but check your owner’s manual for more precise instructions.

Snowblower is harder to push
Being fairly lightweight, single-stage snowblowers are easy to push around. Their auger’s action, closer to the surface than that of two-stage models, also helps to propel these machines a bit. But two-stage models are another story. Since they have transmissions, they should do most of the work. Still, if the machine seems to have little traction, veers to one side or leaves a line of uncleared snow on one side, check the tire pressure the same way you would on your car. The owner’s manual, again, should specify the right pounds per square inch, or psi.

A two-stager becomes single-speed
Snowblowers speed controlTwo-stage snowblowers have multiple speeds forward plus at least one reverse speed. But if you notice no change in speed no matter how you set the speed control, one more quick cable check will quickly fix the problem. The photo (right) shows where the speed-control cable connects on one common model. The usual fix is to loosen a bolt you’ll see, pull the cable taut and retighten the bolt.

Having another annoying problem with your snowblower? If your manual provides no answers, an online search might tell you that your model has a specific malady, perhaps one that prompted a recall.

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