Time to inspect your snow blower

After a near record amount of snowfall, it’s time to inspect your snow blower.

Whether you own a small single-stage machine or a large two or three-stage one, the inspection process is similar.

1) Check the spark plug(s) for pitted areas or excessive corrosion. As plugs are cheap, it’s good practice to replace them if they show any signs of wear. No gaping is required. This is also a good opportunity to recharge or replace the battery.

2) As the majority of gas powered blowers are belt driven, unbolt the protective cowling(s) and check the belt(s) for wear. Replace cracked or ragged ones.

3) Inspect the shear pin(s). Some machines will have pins placed between each loop of the auger, while others will have a single metal pin that connects the main drive pulley to the shaft that turns the impeller and/or auger. In this case, the auger may only have a single nylon shear pin. (Single-stage machines have an auger only.)  Replace bent pins or ones that are partly sheared. Always have a few spares on hand. While you’re at it, ensure that the impeller and/or auger are turning freely.

4) If gas is low, replace it with fresh fuel and add a stabilizer like Sea Foam to ensure easy starts and maximum fuel life. Replace the gas filter if needed.

5) Check the oil. If it is low, top it up with a matching blend. Dirty oil should be drained and  replaced along with the filter. Synthetic 0-30W oils are expensive but make engine cranking much easier in winter conditions.

6) Check that the chute is not blocked with snow or frozen in position by ice. Pour a small amount of methyl hydrate or windshield anti-freeze over the worm wheel or drive gear to loosen a frozen chute.

7) Check tire pressure to ensure it coincides with the manufacturer’s recommended pounds per inch.

8) Give any grease nipples a shot of the lubricant recommended for your blower.

9) If your machine’s tires are equipped with chains, inspect and retighten if necessary.

10) Inspect the underside of your machine for loose bolts, oil leaks or other signs of trouble.

Blowers attached to the front ends of lawn tractors have their own set of quirks. (I know because I own one.)

I inspect my two-stage 40-inch Bercomac blower and Husqvarna yard tractor before and after every outing.

The main problems are related to three V-belts that operate the ground drive, as well as deliver engine power via the electric clutch to the blower assembly.

The belts, which are all located under the tractor and poorly protected, are susceptible to abuse from ice, blocks of snow, small branches and you name it.

The number one offender is the belt that runs the blower. The V-part of the belt fits around a main drive pulley and twists so the V fits into two pulleys on opposite sides of the main one. The belt twists again to allow its flat side to run on top of a fixed pulley and a spring loaded tension pulley. If that’s not sufficient torture, the belt is again twisted so the V runs inside the groove of a totally exposed pulley, mounted directly under the tractor.  Let’s call it a really bad design, especially for a machine that is supposed to operate in freezing temperatures. If you come across a blower with this type of drive belt, run away, no matter how deep the snow. I’ve replaced the belt on my machine at least once a year since I’ve owned it at $50 a pop.

Another vexing problem is the tractor’s electric clutch. When blowing wet, heavy snow, the clutch overheats and cuts out. It takes about 15-minutes to cool off and restart—that’s 15-minutes too long for me.

Also, because the clutch is located under the tractor’s engine, its wiring is susceptible to being ripped out of the clutch by bits of debris on your driveway. The first time this occurred, I spent a fortune to purchase new wiring. I later found out that this is a common problem and can be solved by attaching O-shaped crimp connectors to the broken wires and then reconnecting  them to the clutch by drilling two 7/64-inch holes into the top of the plastic receptacle from which the wires were torn. Use #4 by ½-inch machine screws to fasten the O-connectors to the receptacle. This ingenious method works and will save you a lot of saw bucks.

Ignition switches are another source of grief because they tend to freeze up in winter conditions. After twisting keys with enough force to break them off inside the locks, I have learned to give the key and lock a shot of methyl hydrate to loosen the mechanism before attempting to start the tractor. Fortunately, ignition switches are quite inexpensive and easy to replace by unscrewing them from the dash.

Finally, lawn tractors are outfitted with starter motors which have a tiresome habit of plugging up with snow. This is due to an opening in the cowling on the underside of the starter. While the tractor is operating, fine particles of snow and ice build up inside the opening and freeze solid when the machine is turned off. The next time you attempt to start the tractor and the engine won’t turn over instead of checking the usual culprits like loose connections, the battery and so forth, spray a little methyl hydrate into the opening under the starter motor to loosen the ice and carefully remove it with the blade of a screwdriver.

Final word: If you are fortunate enough to own a heated shed or garage in which to store your tractor and attached snow blower, you can avoid many of these winter operating problems, but not all of them. Grit your teeth. Winter will be over by the end of March, hopefully.