Never Overlook This When Maintaining Your Snowblower

Originally posted Dec. 23, 2016

Thanksgiving day. While my family was gathered in my dining room, imbibing spirits and making merry, I was in the shed disassembling the carburetor on my snowblower, reeking of petroleum as rivers of gasoline flowed under my jacket cuffs and saturated me to the elbows.

Here’s what happened, and here’s how to avoid it.

Snowblower maintenance can be distilled to this Golden Rule: Maintain your fuel system.

I’ll say it again: Maintain your fuel system.

A snowblower that won’t start is almost always due to a fuel problem. And nothing raises your blood pressure like a dead snowblower following the season’s first snowstorm.

Preventing fuel-system problems starts in the spring prior to storage.

Leave the carburetor full of gas

This is where everything unraveled for me. One theory says that shutting off the fuel line and running the engine until the carburetor empties helps prevent varnish that plugs the jets and prevents starting.

Wrong, at least in my case. As I discovered, leaving the carburetor empty and exposed to air hastens oxidation and varnish. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity throughout the summer invite varnish, and it doesn’t take much to plug the tiny orifices in a carburetor. Snowblower won't start? Try this.Then, it’s just a matter of time before you’re stinking of gasoline on Thanksgiving day while blasting carb cleaner on everything within reach.

Instead, add fuel stabilizer at the end of the season, run the engine for a few minutes to distribute the treated gas throughout the system, then shut down the engine. Now you can shut off the fuel line for the summer. The treated fuel in the carburetor bowl provides protection and helps keep components clean.

Some people claim you should run the carburetor empty since the gas will evaporate anyway. That may be true, but evaporation takes time, and the carburetor will at least be protected in the intervening months.

Stabilize the gas

As mentioned, treat gas with stabilizer prior to storage. Stabilized fuel protects against oxidation and varnish throughout the summer.

Use ethanol-free gas

When water infiltrates your gas tank in the form of melted snow, it can cause phase separation, a phenomenon that occurs when the bond between ethanol (present in most gasoline sold today) and gasoline breaks. When this ethanol/water mixture enters the combustion chamber, it creates a lean-burn situation that can damage your engine.

For best performance, use 91-octane, non-oxygenated (ethanol-free) gas. Many gas stations offer non-oxygenated gas and advertise it for powersports and off-road use. It’s a little more expensive, but spending a few extra dollars a winter to help keep your $1,000 dollar machine running strong isn’t a factor, in my opinion. At the very least, use ethanol-free gas during storage to help ward off phase separation.

If you use ethanol-blended gas, consider continuous use of a fuel additive, such as AMSOIL Quickshot, formulated to address ethanol-related performance issues.

Change the oil in the spring

Used oil contains acids that can slowly corrode metal components. Prior to storage, change the oil to remove acidic byproducts and ensure maximum protection throughout the summer. After changing oil, I like to run the engine for a couple minutes to distribute oil throughout the lower end of the engine.

Fog the engine

Use fogging oil to protect the upper end (cylinder, piston, valves) from corrosion during storage. Remove the spark plug, which provides the perfect time to inspect its condition, and spray a little oil into the cylinder. Slowly pull the starter cord a few times to distribute the oil, then replace the plug.

Check the gear housing

Clean any debris from around the filler port on the auger gear housing, remove the plug and ensure the gear lube level is up to the top. If not, add the correct lubricant (check your owner’s manual for viscosity).

Inspect belt condition and linkages

Stressing a worn belt after it’s sat idle for months is a recipe for a breakdown. When a belt does break, it’s often while clearing the first big snowfall of the year. Spring is the prime time to check the condition of drive belts and linkages. It’s much easier and far more comfortable to crawl around your snowblower on a mild, spring day than in the winter.

One final word of advice: Keep an eye on the weather at the start of winter. When the forecast calls for the first snowstorm of the season, start your snowblower a few days early to ensure it’s ready to go.

That gives you plenty of time if your snowblower won’t start – like about two hours on Thanksgiving day – to fix any problems.

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Comments

  1. To Phil’s comment above , I have yet to see a snow thrower that runs that thin of oil specially for engine oil . The 2 i use are considerably older and if I was to run that thin oil in them they surely would blow up . General weight of oil for probably 99% of your snow throwers or even Riding mowers or push mowers is going to be 10w30 specially on ohv engines . But it is a good idea to run stabilizer in the fuel no matter the season . The problem with going to 15% ethanol is our good older equipment is not going to handle it and even stuff sold now is not going to run long with it and break down . Our autos are not going to like that either and then there is going to be large amounts of class action lawsuit over the higher ethanol percent doing damage to equipment and engines in our autos and farm equipment. I’ve already seen what 10% does to small engines and it’s not fun trying to reverse the damage and keep the repair cheap enough that the everyday person can afford .

    1. I know manufacturers don’t recommend oils that light but consider this; many modern car engines are using 0w-20, year round, and if these synthetic oils will do the job in the Arizona desert they will have no problem with anything a Briggs or Honda can throw at it below freezing.

  2. In season, off season, between seasons, none of my small engines start up without stabilizer in the fuel. Also, I never drain the fuel system or run the carb dry. Results are, I never have fuel problems. In the area I live, Marathon makes a Rec 90 for small engines. No alcohol. As for snow throwers, regardless of manufacturers recommendations, 0w-20 synthetic oil.

  3. Great Blog. Way South of you in New Mexico, all of this applies to chain saws and outboard 2 stroke boat engines. THANK GOD you can still buy ethanol free gas at this point. Thanks for writing such a complete paper on ALL of the items that should not be overlooked to insure that start up is just that. A start up and not a rebuilding project and at the WRONG time!

    1. Thanks for reading.

      You’re right – much of this applies to any small engine. The fuel system is almost always the problem when your chainsaw, lawnmower, string trimmer or other equipment won’t start.

    2. We have only 2 ethanol-free fueling stations that have an ehtanol-free pump to obtain it. They each are about an hour away which means two hours round trip (too far). How can we get these big name fueling stations to install at least one ethanol-free fuel pump at their stations so we still have that fuel available to us for small engines, motorcycles, collector cars, boats, etc..They aren’t used all year and they sit, which causes problems. I have talked to one already and they said that 10% ethanol is cheaper, and cleaner to use. They also said the fuel industries are talking about raising it to 15% now. I think if this is the case, then the whole industry making products that run on ethanol fuels should have to start making their engines and parts to 100% compatible with ethanol fuels, which will eliminate most problems. Then we won’t have all the issues and all the EXTRA COST that ethanol fuel causes.
      There is no cost savings when we have to keep buying new parts that get corroded, like plastic parts, rubber parts, and materials that swell. At times we cannot even get the fuel caps off and on. Then we have to buy new ones, plus the cost of additives which is an extra cost also. Also, do not forget the labor cost involved and the extra fuel used to keep taking them in for repairs and running for new parts which no one stocks today because of the high cost sitting on the shelves, not to mention the stocking of all the different types of parts. That requires a second trip to go back and pick it up at more cost. I will quit here but I could go on and on with just about everyone agreeing with me with these issues that we are all having at one time or another or continuously.
      It’s all about the money and not the environment and making gasoline cheaper.
      Its all about them and not the little guy because there are no savings on our end at all.
      On our end, it is extra cost, inconvenience, and for leaving only us to deal with the issues.

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