Outside of a few pounding snow storms, El Niño kept this winter from being a rerun of last year's. And with spring in the air, you may be tempted to wheel your snow blower to the back of the shed and forget about it. Not so fast. If you take a few minutes now to properly care for your machine, next winter you'll be glad you did. Here’s what to do:  

Spruce it Up

Take the snow blower out in the driveway on a day that’s in the 40s or warmer and hose it down. Dirt and road salt from the caked snow tends to coat the auger, impeller, and auger box, and promote corrosion if left on the machine. Wipe your snow blower down afterward; you can try drying it with your leaf blower.

Drain the Fuel

Once temperatures rise, any fuel you’ve left sitting in the snow blower becomes your machine’s worst enemy. Even if you’ve used fuel stabilizer, the odds of starting up your snow blower next winter are best if you’ve siphoned out or run down the gas from this winter. Consider adding a few ounces of ethanol-free fuel, sold in Sears, home centers, and some outdoor-gear dealers, and running it dry again. After the engine cools, drain the carburetor bowl.

Make Some Adjustments

Control linkages on a two-stage snow blower tend to loosen over the season from vibration. (You know your drive cable is too loose when changing gears results in no change in speed.) Retighten cables if needed and firm up any nuts and bolts that have gotten loose. Inspect your engine’s pull cord by gently pulling it out to check for fraying. And if you haven’t already, stock up on some extra shear pins, which protect a two-stage snow blower’s engine and transmission by breaking if the auger hits something solid. Inspecting and perhaps swapping out the shear pins now gives you one less thing to do next winter.

If you have a two-stage model, this is also a good time to adjust the skid shoes that keep the auger box’s lower edge from scraping against the pavement. (You can tell they need adjustment if there’s no space between the auger box and the ground.) A quick way to adjust them: Loosen the skid shoes on both sides (they’re the short plastic or metal rails on either side of the auger box), and place a piece of corrugated cardboard under the scraper. Set the shoes to ground level and tighten the bolts. 

The Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, a two-stage, gas-powered snow blower.
Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, $1,300

Check the Tires

If turning your snow blower was cumbersome this past winter, it could be from low tire pressure. When they’re underinflated, which can occur over time, you’ll work harder to maneuver the machine and notice less traction. And if just one tire is deflated, the snow blower may lean a bit to one side. More obvious, though, is the scraping of one bottom corner of the auger box on the side with the deflated tire. The manual will specify the proper pounds per square inch. (Since tires will lose pressure over the summer, you can inflate them to a full two pounds over the recommended level.)

Keep a Log

Other maintenance tasks don’t necessarily need doing now, but if you pass on them, they should be done before next winter. These include changing the oil, checking and perhaps changing the spark plug—all of which should be outlined in your manual. By keeping a maintenance log, you can keep track of what needs doing when—and what doesn't. It will also keep you from doing certain tasks both now and later. 

For Cordless Electrics

If you have a cordless-electric model, follow recommendations in the owner’s manual to ensure that it will last as long as possible. These guidelines include not recharging batteries in freezing temperatures. 

Need a Snow Blower?

Mowers, tractors, and grills have replaced snow blowers in most stores, but you can find a few models—at dealerships if not home centers—if you want to save on a new model. Among the best snow blowers we've tested are the two-stage, 28-inch Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q and 30-inch Ariens 921032, both $1,300; the 24-inch, two-stage Craftsman 88173, $680; and the single-stage 21-inch Toro Power Clear 721E, $570. Read our buying guide for snow blowers before you shop, and call ahead to check what’s available.