Snowblower Won’t Start? Try This

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

Buy 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.

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

Buy 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.

Buy Small-Engine Oil

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.

Fogging oil

Buy 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

Comments

  1. i’v been running premium gas in ALL my engines for over forty years plus a little stabilizer for winter storage… NEVER had a fuel or mechanical problem from bad fuel.. leave the regular gas for weed control and rodent repellent, with a properly tuned motor better mileage, cleaner burning engine, and $$$ savings only come from premium fuel (ethanol free) if you can get it…

  2. Great advice! I always add a touch of light oil to the gas (ie marvel) before final season run hoping it will coat and protect system components.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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