You’re in the midst of enjoying the long, lazy days of summer — watching fireflies, relaxing pool side, and enjoying backyard BBQs. Bitter cold and snow are a distant thought.
But Old Man Winter will soon rear his head, and like or not, you’ll be pulling out your boots and mittens, and then your trusty snow thrower.
Your snow thrower is probably sitting — long forgotten — in a dusty corner in the garage. You’d rather not think about the daunting task ahead. But as the first snowfall approaches, you'll want your snow thrower ready for action, and it’s just not enough to cross your fingers and hope it starts.
Snow throwers are important tools in places where heavy snowfall is common, and doing a little prep work now will go a long way when it comes to keeping it in top working order this winter. Snow throwers work hard, in all sorts of extreme environments, and they take lots of abuse from normal operation. Just like any power equipment, they have motors, belts, lubricants, controls, etc.
Proper maintenance is critical to standing up to a harsh winter, and if done right, will nip potential issues in the bud, not to mention requiring less time and money than emergency repairs and/or unexpected equipment replacements.
Following are recommended tasks to get your snow thrower ready for the season, keep it in top working order all season long, and protect against premature failure or extensive wear and tear:
- Change Oil – Changing the oil in a snow thrower is usually as simple as unscrewing or unplugging the drain pipe, tipping the machine, and draining oil into an oil pan or can. Then, just add fresh oil (only fill to the “full” mark on dipstick, since overfilling can cause damage to engine). Always check your user manual for recommended oil weight for optimal engine performance, and be sure to dispose of used oil in an environmentally acceptable way (many automotive oil change facilities will recycle it – sometimes for a small fee – or you can take it to a household waste recycling facility).
- Drain and Replace Fuel – Engines don’t run as efficiently with gas that’s been left in the tank for several months, so it’s always best to drain old fuel and start the season with fresh gas. Some snow throwers have a drain valve on the bottom of the gas tank. Others may require removing the rubber gas line on the bottom of tank. Drain fuel into a tightly sealed, heavy-duty container for future disposal. Use caution! Gas will drain fast.
- Check Spark Plug – Spark plugs should be changed from time to time – typically every 100 hours, or once per season. Inspect the spark plug for damage and wear at the start of each season. If there’s no corrosion, cracks, or other visible damage, you can probably continue to use the plug, but will need to clean it with a wire brush and check the gap with a gap tool before reinstalling (don’t over-tighten). If you do discover damage or corrosion, replace the spark plug.
- Inspect Belts and Replace if Necessary – Any significant wear on a belt requires replacement, so if they’re cracked or frayed, replace with new ones. Two-stage snow throwers have two belts (one turns wheels and one drives the auger that throws snow). They may wear out quickly when blowing deep, heavy snow, so it’s always a good idea to keep backups handy.
- Lubricate Working Parts – As with any motorized equipment, lubrication is critical for keeping it running efficiently and safely. You’ll want to make sure all drive and chassis parts are well lubricated and moving smoothly. Check the auger assembly as well. If it’s a sealed assembly, no lubrication is necessary. Otherwise, it needs to be lubricated. Check your owner’s manual for recommended oil type, and instructions on lubricating necessary parts.
- Various Inspections – Tighten any screws, nuts, and bolts that may be loose. Check the starter cord for any fraying, and replace if necessary.
- Check Tires – Since snow throwers are often stored for long periods of time, tires can deflate, or even go flat. Make sure they’re properly inflated. If tires are damaged or worn, replace them. If applicable, inspect chains for damage or wear. Some snow throwers have treads instead of tires. If that’s the case with your equipment, make sure the tracks are aligned and move freely.
After you've prepared your snow thrower for winter, start it up and let it run for a few minutes in a well-ventilated area, just to be certain it’s running properly, and there are no surprises with the first burst of winter weather.
You can save some steps next year by properly storing your snow thrower at the end of the snowy season. It helps to clear off snow after every use. Then, when the snow season ends, if you think it can be put away for the season, drain the fuel entirely (after draining fuel, run the snow thrower for a while until it’s completely out). Clean it with a damp rag, check it over carefully to make sure everything is in proper working order, then disconnect the spark plug.
It’s never too early to make sure your winter power equipment is in top working order. By following these friendly tips, you’ll be ready to tackle Jack Frost as soon as he comes calling! Then you can get back to roasting chestnuts and sipping hot cocoa by the fire.