Putting your snow blower through our preseason checklist is a wise first step in keeping your machine running through the winter. But as winter drags on, you'll want to keep an eye on a handful of parts to stay ahead of potentially expensive and time-consuming repairs.

CR's snow-blower experts put together a list of problems that can, when neglected, lead to poor performance or worse—a trip to the repair shop when it's at its busiest.

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“The good news is that if you’re handy and you have the right parts, most of these fixes take less than an hour to do,” says Dave Trezza, who heads up snow-blower testing for Consumer Reports.

Here, five of the most common problems you may experience with your snow blower this winter, and CR's expert advice on how to fix them.  

Snow-Blower Solutions

Problem: The engine stalls or won’t start.
Solution: Stabilize your fuel while at the gas pump.
Gas made with ethanol, which is nearly all gas sold at the pump, is often to blame for an engine’s starting troubles. As you may remember from the owner's manual, you need to add a fuel stabilizer to prevent corrosion, and the most efficient way to do that is to treat the entire container of fuel right at the pump. (You can find fuel stabilizer at an auto supply center or in the outdoor power equipment aisle of a home center.) That's because if you store untreated gas for too long, it will separate and form a layer of water that can damage you machine's engine. Doing this also means you won't have to add stabilizer each time you top off your snow blower's tank.

Problem: The chute clogs or won't throw snow.
Solution:
Lubricate moving parts.
The auger transmission turns the blades that feed snow up the chute. It's the metal box that sits at the T-intersection of the auger shaft and the drive shaft; you can't miss it in the middle of the auger. Most transmission housings have a bolt you need to remove to gauge the grease or oil level. Check the level, refer to your owner’s manual for the proper type of lubricant, and top it off. You also need to make sure the auger blades rotate freely around the shaft. Refer again to your manual for specific instructions on how to remove the shear pins. Now the auger should spin freely and have a little play side to side on the shaft; move it to one side and lubricate the exposed shaft, then repeat to lube the other end. Give it a spin to distribute the lubricant, then pop the shear pins back in place.

Problem: The snow blower is difficult to maneuver or lurches forward.
Solution:
Tighten cables for better handling.
Over time, the cables that send power to the wheels need to be adjusted to apply proper tension to the belt on two-stage snow blowers. If you squeeze the drive handle and the snow blower jerks forward, you’ll need to tighten the line. Unclip the cable from the handle and snug up the line’s threaded adjustment at the base of the machine, then reconnect the clip and test the handling. Adjust again as necessary until the lurching stops. After adjusting the cables, be sure to spray some lubricant at the pivot points of any moving parts.

Problem: The machine leaves too much snow behind.
Solution: Replace the scraper bar to gather more snow.
A flat metal bar on the underside of the machine chisels snow and ice off the ground and into the auger. Running over concrete, asphalt, and gravel can wear the metal down, leaving furrows of snow behind. Prop the snow blower up and remove the bolts that hold the bar to the housing, and replace it with a new one. (Check with the store where you bought the machine, or search by brand at snowblowersdirect.com to order one online.) Adjust the new bar to be about 1⁄8 inch above the ground. Caution: Keep in mind that you shouldn’t run a single-stage snow blower over gravel because it can pick up and throw the gravel with the snow, possibly damaging windows or injuring passersby.

Problem: The belt broke during use.
Solution: Check the belt between uses.
The friction required to engage the auger belt on a single-stage snow blower tends to wear a belt down faster than on two-stage machines. Between uses, remove the cover and check the belt for cracks. Replace a suspect belt by pulling the wheel off, then the belt, and adding the replacement part in reverse order. Changing a belt on a larger two-stage machine means dismantling the unit to gain access to the flywheel, a job best left to a service professional.

And if you want to avoid trekking to a store in a snowstorm, it's a good idea to always have a replacement belt (and extra shear pins) on hand throughout the season.