Snowblower Won’t Start? Try This

A snowblower that won't start is almost always due to a fuel problem. Often, a quick carburetor cleaning is all...

November 6, 2018

I can attest to how frustrating it is when your snowblower won’t start. A few years ago on Thanksgiving day, while my family was gathered in the dining room imbibing spirits and making merry, I was in the shed tearing apart a snowblower carburetor. Here’s what to do when your snowblower won’t start…and how to ensure you don’t have to do it again next year.

Clean the carburetor

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

A snowblower that won’t start is almost always due to a fuel problem due to neglect.

Over time, like the six months your snowblower spent hanging out in the garage doing nothing, gasoline breaks down and forms varnish and gums that can clog the tiny passages or stick the float in the carburetor. Varnish prevents gasoline from reaching the combustion chamber, meaning the snowblower won’t start no matter how many times you pull the starter cord or how much starter fluid you empty into the intake.

Remove the float bowl and spray carburetor cleaner into the carb. This simple procedure will often clean whatever is fouling the carburetor and restore fuel-flow.

Clean carburetor.

If that doesn’t work, remove the carburetor and disassemble it to give it a thorough cleaning. Take pictures on your phone to aid in reassembly. Note the number of revolutions it takes to remove any needle valves to ensure you reinstall them correctly.

Pro Tip: At the risk of making the understatement of the year, taking apart a carburetor is far easier than reassembling one. If you’re apprehensive, visit the dealer or a good mechanic.

Ensure your snowblower starts next fall

While cleaning a carburetor isn’t too difficult, not cleaning one is even better. Here’s how to maintain your snowblower so you won’t have to do it again.

Leave stabilized gas in the carburetor

Before storing your snowblower at the end of winter, some people recommend shutting off the fuel line and running the engine until the carburetor empties. This is supposed to help prevent varnish that plugs the fuel passages and prevents starting in the fall.

Wrong, at least in my experience. 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.

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. The treated fuel in the carburetor bowl provides protection and helps keep components clean.

Stabilize gas in snowblower.

Some people claim you should run the carburetor empty since the gas will evaporate anyway. Maybe, but evaporation takes time, and the stabilizer will protect the carburetor in the interim.

Gasoline stabilizer
Stabilize gas
Stabilize gas

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.

Phase separation

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 your $1,000 dollar machine run 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.

AMSOIL Quickshot

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.

AMSOIL Small Engine Oil 5W-30

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.

AMSOIL Engine Fogging oil

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.

Snowblower belt maintenance

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 to fix any problems.

Updated. Originally published: Dec. 23, 2016

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