How to Get Your Snow Blower Ready for Winter - Consumer Reports

How to Get Your Snow Blower Ready for Winter

The experts at CR help you avoid getting snowed in by a flat tire, empty gas tank, or other maintenance snafu

Even if first big snowstorm of the season might be weeks away where you live, now is the time to get your snow blower ready for winter.

For one thing, if there’s a major issue with your machine you’ll need time to get the repair done. Engine starting trouble and damaged augers are the most common breakages, based on Consumer Reports' latest brand reliability report for snow blowers. For another, you don’t want to be fiddling with shear pins or making other spot fixes in frigid weather, with snow piling up on the driveway.

That’s why CR encourages you to spend an hour or so now to get your snow blower ready for winter. "Dig the snow blower out from the back of the garage now and start it up to make sure you;ll be able to dig yourself out of the first snow storm," says John Galeotafiore, who oversees Consumer Reports' tests of outdoor power equipment.

Our outdoor power equipment pros have boiled down the process to a few essential steps:

Step 1: Fill 'Er Up

Ideally, you either drained the tank of your gas snow blower or filled it with stabilized fuel when you retired the machine for the season last spring. If you didn't, here's hoping your snow blower will forgive you by starting up now.

If it does, you’ll have dodged a pretty big bullet since old, unstable fuel can gum up the carburetor and fuel passages.

Don’t push your luck any further. Instead, drain the old fuel using a siphon or turkey baster. Then fill the tank with gas and top it off with a fuel stabilizer, available at home centers and gas stations.

This step obviously doesn’t apply to you if you own an electric snow blower.

Step 2: Check the Oil

With older snow blowers, you used to have to mix the oil in with the gasoline on many single-stage snow blowers. With today’s models, there’s a separate oil reservoir and dipstick, just like you see on a car. Start by checking the oil. If it’s dark and dirty—which it probably will be if you haven’t replaced it in a year—it’s time for a change.

Most reservoirs have a bolt that you unscrew; then you tilt the machine back and drain the old oil into a container. Screw the bolt back in place and refill the reservoir with clean oil, referring to your owner’s manual for the proper type and grade.

Step 3: Kick the Tires

We’re starting to see multistage snow blowers with airless tires. Troy-Bilt's leading the way.

But unless you have one of these newer machines, your snow blower has pneumatic tires, and there’s a good chance they’re low on air. "Most of the larger snow blowers use pneumatic tires that will need to be topped up before the season," Galeotafiore says. "Underinflated tires can make handling the machine more difficult, especially when turning."

Check the tire wall or your user’s manual for the recommended tire pressure; most manufacturers recommend between 15 and 20 pounds per square inch (psi). A  bike pump will do the job, if it has a built-in gauge. Otherwise, you should use a separate tire pressure gauge to make sure you get the pressure just right. Too much air and the tires could pop; too little and the handling will be compromised.

Step 4: Inspect the Shear Pins

This step applies only to multistage snow blowers. Shear pins are small bolts that are there to protect the transmission in case the auger jams, say, after it scoops up a large stone or chunk of ice. If the pins show signs of corrosion or wear and tear, replace them with new ones. (Many snow blowers come with extras, or buy them online or at a home center). The pins slide in place and tighten with a bolt. Never use bolts without shear pins, since bolts won’t break under pressure, increasing the risk of a damaged transmission.

As a final measure, tighten all nuts and bolts, especially around the control, since they tend to loosen as a snow blower vibrates. And lubricate all cables and moving parts as identified in the owner's manual.

How We Test Snow Blowers

To test snow blowers every year in time for you to buy one before it snows, Consumer Reports gets creative. 

Because we don’t get enough snow early enough in the season at our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., we use hundreds of pounds of sawdust that has been soaked in water to mimic deep, heavy snow. This approach allows us to manipulate the mixture, creating deep piles and snow banks for our rigorous battery of tests for removal speed, throwing distance, and surface cleaning. 

And unlike snow, sawdust doesn’t melt or change consistency with the weather, which makes for fair comparisons.

To identify the top performers in the marketplace, we test models from a wide swath of brands, including Ariens, Briggs & Stratton, Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Ego, Honda, Husqvarna, Poulan, SnowJoe, Toro, Troy-Bilt, and, Worx. We rate one-, two-, and three-stage blowers, and there are more than 70 models in our snow blower ratings. If you’re not sure which type you should consider, check CR’s snow blower buying guide.

Read on for CR’s ratings and reviews of the best models from our tests.

Best 3-Stage Snow Blowers

For clearing up to 18 inches or more

Cub Cadet 3X 30” PRO H
Price: $2,400
Overall score: 92
Ranking: 1 of 6
CR’s take: No snow blower clears faster, or more thoroughly, than this Cub Cadet. Period. It throws snow far out of your path and is built with nice features like electric start, built-in headlights, and heated hand grips.

Cub Cadet 3X 30” HD
Price: $1,650
Overall score: 91
Ranking: 2
CR’s take: This premium Cub Cadet model, sold exclusively at Home Depot, performs almost as well as our top-rated snow blower but costs a whopping $750 less. It still plows through a 30-inch-wide path in a single pass and clears like few other tools.

Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890
Price: $1,200
Overall score: 90
Ranking: 3
CR’s take: For half the price of the top-scoring blower, this model clears almost as well and in a slightly narrower profile—it’s 28 inches wide as opposed to 30. It still has nice features like headlights and heated hand grips, and unlike the two models above, you can access and adjust all the controls using one hand.

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