Take care of your snow blower so it works next year

Maintenance tasks you neglect now can be next winter’s nightmare

Published: March 10, 2014 01:15 PM

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It may not seem like it but it'll soon be safe to put away your snow blower. But if you just shove it in the shed and forget about it, you might be sorry next winter. Spend a little more time with your snow blower now and next season you'll be blowing through the white stuff while your neighbors inch their way through it with shovels. Here are the steps to take.

Run the engine dry. The single-most important task to guarantee starting next winter is how you deal with remaining fuel now. Some experts say that you can leave fuel in the tank as long as you’ve added stabilizer, especially one designed to withstand the troublesome effects of ethanol in the gasoline. But a dry engine offers the best odds against the effects of oxidized gas and ethanol.

Siphon out as much of the gas as you can. (You can add it to your car’s fuel tank.) Then start the snow blower and run it dry. Since a bit of gas remains in the fuel lines, consider adding a few ounces of ethanol-free fuel, sold in Sears, home centers, and some outdoor-gear dealers. Then run it dry again. After the engine cools, drain the carburetor bowl. And when you fuel up next winter, use only fresh gas to which you’ve added stabilizer.

Change the oil. Today’s snow blowers have a separate oil reservoir like those in cars, and larger models have a bolt you loosen. Tip the machine back, and you can easily drain the old oil into a container. Once you’re done and you reattach the bolt, refill to the desired level. Your owner’s manual will list the proper type and grade of oil to use.

Swap out the spark plug. This is what ignites the fuel so the engine can start and run properly. If you didn’t replace it before winter, do it now. (Your owner’s manual may recommend a more specific frequency.) Coat the plug’s threads with anti-seize compound, and the plug should be easier to remove next year.

Stock up on spare parts. Two-stage snow blowers have shear pins that protect the engine and transmission by breaking if the auger hits something too hard. Keep extras on hand and resist the urge to swap in an ordinary bolt and nut. Also keep extra drive belts; you’ll typically need one for single-stage machines and two for two-stage models. This is also a good time to check for fraying in your pull cord.

Tighten fasteners. Check and tighten any loose nuts and bolts, especially on control linkages, which tend to loosen from the snow blower’s vibration. And on two-stage models, adjust the auger's scraper and skid shoes so the metal auger housing comes close to the surface without contacting it.

Check the tires. Snow blowers get the best traction with the right amount of air in their tires; owner’s manuals typically recommend 15 to 20 pounds per square inch (psi). Your owner’s manual will have the precise specs for your machine; it’s also on the side of the tire. Be sure to check tire pressures even on a fairly new snow blower, since many are shipped with over-inflated tires to reduce the chance of damage on the way to the store.

Take care with batteries. If you have a cordless-electric model, follow manufacturer recommendations (check the owner’s manual) to be sure they’ll last as long as possible. Recharging batteries, for instance, should be avoided in freezing temperatures.

While dealing with old fuel and picking up spare parts are “now” things with gas models, the timing of other tasks can be left to next fall. Do yourself a favor and keep a log to remind you of anything you didn’t do before stowing the machine.

Should you want to buy a new snow blower now, anything still in stores should be bargain priced. But don’t settle for a model that wouldn’t sell when the snow was falling; wait till next fall, before snow is predicted. See our buying guide for tips, and view our Ratings for which models get the job done.

—Ed Perratore

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