Six ways to blizzard-proof your snow blower

Consumer Reports News: December 28, 2010 01:37 PM

This weekend's airport-crippling East Coast blizzard also prompted a blizzard of broken snow blowers—and frenzied calls to power-equipment dealers for help.

"At 6 a.m. we already had a dozen people lined up outside with their snow blowers, most of which had gummed-up carburetors from old gas" says Kenny Puff, vice-president of Westchester Tool Rentals in Elmsford, N.Y.—a snowball's throw from Consumer Reports' Yonkers, New York, headquarters. And our foot or two of snow didn't match the nearly three-foot wallop reported in Elizabeth, New Jersey (a stone's throw from Newark Liberty International Airport, which was among those the storm shut down).

Consumer Reports' latest snow-blower report includes top single-stage and bigger, two-stage machines from Ariens, Toro, and others priced as low as $450. Here are some simple tips from Puff and our in-house experts that will help ensure yours starts and works when you need it, wherever you live. We'll focus on gas-powered snow blowers, since those are the ones you'll need for heavier-duty clearing:

1. Check the gas. If your end-of-season maintenance didn't include adding a fuel stabilizer, this is a good time to drain the old fuel and put in stabilized, fresh gas, which can last up to a year. Also be sure to follow your manufacturers' recommendation for the proper fuel-oil mixture if your blower has a two-stroke engine.

2. Check the spark plug. Putting in a new one is another smart move if you didn't do that at the start of the snow season. Buy one that fits your snow blower's make and model, which you'll find on the machine. And remember that using too much oil in the fuel mix for a two-stroke engine can foul the spark plug and cause slow or no starts.

3. Try some starting fluid. Puff notes that a spritz or two can sometimes help start a stuck snow blower where old gas has gummed up the carburetor and fuel passages. But in most cases, the carburetor has to be removed, cleaned, and rebuilt.

4. Check the shear pins. Got a two-stage snow blower? Besides driven wheels, yours has a snow-scooping auger driven by a transmission. Shear pins are those small, sacrificial bolts that protect the transmission by breaking if the auger ingests something too big or hard. "By noon, folks were coming in to buy these after hitting rocks or ice," Puff said. If the auger freewheels, you have broken shear pins, which slide in and tighten down with a nut. Keep a few on hand just in case. And resist the temptation to use regular bolts, unless you're ready to pay hundreds to fix a broken transmission.

5. Buy a belt. Puff also reported a run on these, which transmit power from the engine to the auger on smaller, single-stage snow blowers. Typical causes: Worn, frayed, or dry-rotted belts break as the snow thrower digs in to heavy stuff. Glazed belts that have slipped under pressure also lose their grip. Removing a side cover is most of what it takes to replace the belt. Keep at least one extra belt on hand; again, check your snow blower make and model (and bring your broken belt) to get the right replacement.

6. Inspect the starter cord. Puff noted other homeowners were unable to start when their pull-start ropes broke or detached. These aren't easy to replace; check yours for fraying and other damage before you're left in the lurch.

—Gian Trotta

Less repair-prone blowers? Our free buying guide to snow blowers and the video above note features (like gas-powered models with electric starters that can plug into a wall outlet) that will avoid many of the pitfalls detailed above. We've also just updated our Ratings and Recommendations of top-performing snow blowers. And if you still haven't been able to fix your machine, see more expert advice on how to shovel snow safely and effectively.



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