Help! My snow blower won't start!

A quick and dirty guide for the snowbound

Published: January 24, 2014 01:30 PM

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Even when snowstorms are predicted, like those that swept across the country this week, homeowners can be caught short. For every person who runs out to buy a snow blower after the snow is already on the ground, there are several more caught out in the cold yanking on a starter cord with no results. Cursing the manufacturer won't help but even if you failed to put your machine away properly after the last storm, there are a few steps you can take before resorting to buying a replacement.

Fact is, taking care of outdoor power equipment can be a hassle. Too few of us pay attention to the manual's exhortations about using only fresh gas, adding stabilizer, changing oil, and keeping spare parts on hand, among other maintenance measures. Here's what to do if your snow blower won't start.

• Chances are, you left gas in the machine for too long. Pouring in new gas over the old won't solve your problem. Siphon out the old first—a siphon tube, hand or battery-powered, costs less than $20. With a lighter, single-stage snow blower, turn it upside down if you have to, but get as much of that old fuel out as you can before refueling. (Gas stations accept used gas, but you can even put fuel from any four-stroke engine into your car's gas tank.) Before filling up with fresh gas, mix in fuel stabilizer.

• Take out your spark plug. If it's only a year or so old, give its electrode a good cleaning with a wire brush and screw it back in. If you don't recall when you last replaced it, do so now; be sure it's properly gapped. (Your manual will explain how, though plugs today often come gapped.)

• If your snow blower starts but runs very roughly even after you've adjusted the choke, you might need to spray in some carburetor cleaner. And if it starts but the auger won't turn, a belt has snapped. In a two-stage model, only one of two augers turning means that a shear pin has snapped—which they do when stressed to protect the transmission. A bag of these, enough for a few seasons, costs about $10.

• While you're at it, check the oil level. Even if you don't change the oil now, ensure that there's enough to protect the engine. Run the machine with too little oil, and ironically you might  feel sorry you got it started. A seized-up engine generally means you need a new snow blower.

Unfortunately, if you left unstabilized fuel in the engine since last winter these tips may not get the machine moving. At the very least, you might get away with needing only a carburetor rebuild, which costs far less than a new snow blower. But if you're ready for a new model, check out our buying guide for snow blowers before viewing our Ratings of almost 100 models. Winter's not over yet.

—Ed Perratore

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