An industry veteran before coming to Consumer Reports, Peter Sawchuk has tested outdoor power equipment and other products for us for 15 years. Still, with every new project he comes up with additional advice to pass along. We asked for some, and Sawchuk delivered.
 
Q. What mistakes have you seen homeowners make with their snow blowers?
A. Their biggest mistake is that they fail to siphon out or run dry last year’s fuel, so they have stale gas in the tank that, come summer, sits for months in a hot shed. This damages the fuel system and makes it hard if not impossible to start the machine when you need it. In season, add stabilizer to the gas before fueling up. The best practice is to add it while you’re at the pump. Store your fuel stabilizer right next to your gas can to remind you to take it with you when you go or, better yet, add the correct amount to the can first.

Another miscalculation is waiting until the first storm, rather than some time during the fall, to try to start the snow blower. When checking the machine, look for corrosion on the bolts. And be sure to stock up on extra shear pins (or bolts, depending on the model) in case they break in the middle of a job.

Homeowners often overlook if the tires are inflated properly. Single-stage models have hard-plastic wheels, but on two-stage models they’re pneumatic, like those on your car. Tires lose their air pressure when a snow blower sits over time, and in cold weather this can happen suddenly. Your tires may become soft or flat. Before the snow flies, check the recommended tire pressure; it’s usually 12-20 pounds per square inch, but it should be marked on the side of the tire. Add air and you’ll see better traction and handling. There’s no need to go to the gas station; all it takes is a bicycle hand pump.
 
Q. How do you care for your own snow blower?
A. I use ethanol-free fuel (such as TruFuel) throughout the season—it’s insurance that my machine’s fuel system will be fully operational, even if it doesn’t get much use during a light snow year.

Peter Sawchuk testing snow blowers at Consumer Reports.
Peter Sawchuk tests snow blowers using sawdust, which mimics heavy snow.

Q. Snow blowers can be expensive. Any advice for making one last?
A. Unlike a lawn mower, a snow blower you maintain as recommended can easily last 20 years. A lawn mower is used 30 to 40 hours a year, with an expected life of about 150 hours. Snow blowers average less than 10 hours of use a year, with an expected life of more than 200 hours. So paying more for the features and performance that make the machine easier to use is worth it, because you’ll have the machine a long, long time.
 
Q. Any features you thought were silly—but now like?
A. I discovered that heated hand grips aren’t wimpy. I used to think so when I first saw them on a Bolens machine 35 years ago. The advice I heard: “Just try it.” I did, on a loaner machine, and was sold. When you’re clearing snow and squeezing those control levers, you tend to lose blood flow in your hands. The heated grips are mostly found on the more expensive models, but we’ve seen them on machines costing as little as $650.
 
Q. Lastly, got any cool snow-clearing tips?
A. You bet. Here are a few:
• Have up to 3 inches of dry, dusty snow on a walk or small deck? Try your leaf blower instead for clearing to the surface.
• For moist, heavy snow, spraying silicone or WD-40 on the scoop of a shovel keeps snow from caking up. This also works for snow-blower chutes, particularly metal ones, to reduce friction and clogging. And you might get more throwing distance.
• To keep two-stage snow blowers from leaving too much snow behind, adjust the skid shoes. These keep the auger housing’s scraper at the right height. Too low and it scrapes the driveway; too high and it doesn’t clear everything away. To set the height of the skid shoes, loosen them and put a section of corrugated cardboard under the scraper. Rest the snowblower on the cardboard and there will be a very slight gap beneath the scraper. Then tighten the bolts.