It may seem obvious that most people know how to start a snow blower safely but the truth is a lot of people search for this very exact term every month because people like you probably just purchased your first snow blower and you want to ensure you start it properly. I applaud you for taking the time to educate yourself
Snow is one of those things that can be both wonderful and incredibly annoying depending on the circumstances. For example, it is a wonderful thing to have tons of snow at the ski resort. But when you wake up in the morning and there’s 2 feet of snow piled up all the way from your doorstep to the end of the driveway? Yeah, that sight isn’t very pretty. Thankfully, we have snowblowers to deal with this menace (unless you’re one of those masochists who prefers to use a shovel).
How to Start Snow Blower
But I assume there are many among you reading this article who have just purchased a snowblower for the first time and don’t really know how to use it. Yeah, it sucks up snow and spits it out but how do you get the thing moving? This isn’t a phone or a computer; you can’t learn the basics of operating a snowblower through trial and error. An error with a snowblower could mean an amputated arm or some missing fingers.
VIDEO | How to Start A Snow Blower
Well, I’ve constructed the perfect guide for any homeowner who wants to learn how to start a snow blower. It isn’t that different from starting a chainsaw or lawnmower. But a snowblower is used very differently from a chainsaw/ lawn mower. It usually spends the better part of a year sitting in some basement or garage, and when you finally pull it out for some work the machine might stubbornly refuse to start.
That’s one of the big issues with gas engines, especially the small ones (like what you find in chainsaws, lawnmowers, snowblowers, etc.). Gasoline has a shelf life of around 3 months, and that’s for the pure stuff. Ethanol blends have a lifespan of just under 30 days. At home, you must store gas in a sealed-off container. This will limit its exposure to oxygen in the air. If fuel is left sitting in the tank for a long time, it will gum up the fuel lines and carburetor. This is where electric snowblowers show their biggest advantage- they start up with the press of a button every single time, no matter the temperature outside or how long you’ve left them sitting in storage.
Pre-Start Configuration (And Preparation)
The first thing you’ll need to do is get your snowblower assembled, according to the instructions in the owner’s manual. Most small single-stage snowblowers (particularly the electric models) come preassembled in the box, so you won’t have to do much. But for gas-powered models you might have to screw in parts like the discharge chute, handlebars, etc. by hand.
Once you’ve got your snowblower assembled, I suggest you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with its controls. Find out where everything is- choke, throttle, primer bulb, ignition, start/ shutoff switch, lights, etc. No need to fuel the blower or charge its battery at this stage, just inspect the machine and get to know it. This will save you a lot of hassle in the future. Even if you’ve used a snowblower before, remember that the same controls/ functions could be located in completely different spots depending on brand and model. Look up a Youtube video of your specific model, there are plenty of really helpful guides out there.
Next, you’ll need to fuel your snowblower. Use fresh fuel (zero-ethanol unleaded gasoline is the best), preferably with stabilizers if you only take the snowblower out for work occasionally. You’ll need to add engine oil as well (for 4 stroke engines). Once again, check the manual to see what type of engine oil is recommended by the manufacturer. Most of them provide a small bottle of oil in the box, so use that.
Note: Don’t put the engine oil in the same tank as the gas, you’ll ruin your snowblower. That is only for 2-stroke engines, 4-strokes have separate inlets for oil and fuel.
Be careful, you don’t want the fuel or oil to overflow. Fill the gas tank up to 90 or 95 percent, leave some room for expansion so it won’t spill out. Check and make sure oil levels are looking good, use a dipstick to measure that.
Your snowblower should be ready to start now. Take it outside, don’t start a snowblower indoors. A lot of things can go wrong, and one of those is the augers chewing up your floorboards. If your snowblower has different gear speeds along with forward/ reverse functionality, make sure the gear is on “NEUTRAL”. If you have a push blower, that is not something to be concerned with, since your body will provide the propulsion.
Keep the ignition key at hand, and read up on the controls I have listed in the next section. Finally, angle the discharge chute away from you and in a safe direction. It shouldn’t be pointing at people, doors, windows, etc. Even on an underpowered snowblower, the discharge chute generates enough force to hurt someone if it flings out a rock or twig.
Important: No matter what, never ever put your hands inside the discharge chute if you care at all about your arm staying in one piece. Always keep a clearing tool at hand, for when something clogs up the discharge chute. If you don’t want to purchase a dedicated clearing tool, just improvise. Use a 2x4. But don’t put the tool in while the blower is running. Always make sure the auger is disengaged before shoving a tool down the chute.
Functions/ Controls To Familiarize Yourself With-
- Choke: Simply a valve designed to control the air to fuel ratio within the cylinder of your snowblower engine. It is part of the carburetor, and is essential for cold starts. In cold temperatures the fuel won’t be vaporized as well within the engine, so it has to be enriched. Meaning, the amount of fuel with respect to air has to be way higher for the mixture to light up and get the engine running. Usually, the choke lever is somewhere near the engine and it should have at least two positions- ON (no airflow) and OFF (full airflow).
- Fuel Shutoff: It cuts off fuel lines and prevents gunk from forming within the carburetor. It also prevents fuel from trickling into the engine during transportation. If you’re preparing to store your snowblower, this shutoff valve has to be engaged.
- Ignition Key: Many snow blowers will have an ignition key as a safety mechanism to prevent accidental startups. It is just like the key in your car, completing or breaking the starter circuit that supplies power to the spark plug.
- Electric Starter: There are snowblowers with electric starters which makes the startup process more convenient (or convoluted, depending on the type of electric starter). Most electric starters require you to supply external power via an extension cord connected to a 120V AC outlet. Then there are snowblowers with onboard batteries for their electric starters, but these are commercial/ prosumer models which cost a lot.
- Recoil Starter: The traditional method of starting up your snowblower engine, you vigorously pull a cord connected to the starter flywheel which turns the crank and cycles the engine. Physically demanding, but reliable. Not for those with back injuries (or senior citizens).
- Throttle: Controls the amount of fuel going into the engine, which in turn determines power output. More throttle equals higher auger speeds. Self-propelled snowblowers also have multiple gears in additional to the throttle so you can control the rate at which the blower’s wheels move independently of the auger speed.
- Primer: Injects fresh fuel into the carburetor for cold starts (it primes the carburetor), used in combination with the choke. Press the primer bulb 2 to 3 times before cold starting your snowblower.
Attention: Some snowblowers will ship with the spark plug wire disconnected for shipping purposes. You need to reconnect the spark plug wire before starting, otherwise your snowblower won’t work.
Starting Your Snow Blower | A Step-by-Step Process
Step 1: Take a walk around the blower to make sure everything is in order. Make sure it’s fueled and oiled, plus there shouldn’t be any rocks or branches near the auger. Make sure the discharge chute is pointing in a safe direction and away from you.
Step 2: If you’re starting your blower up cold (it hasn’t been running previously), you’ll need to set the choke to “run”. Cold starts require maximum choke, which is a near complete shutoff of air going into the carburetor. This is different if you have a heated garage with good insulation, because then you won’t need to set the choke and can start normally (since the interior air is warm).
Step 3: If your snowblower has a fuel shutoff valve, make sure that it is set to run (disengaged) so the engine gets fuel from the tank.
Step 4: If your snowblower has a 120V AC electric starter, now is the time to plug it in. Try to plug the cord directly into the outlet within your garage instead of going through an extension. Remember, the longer your extension the more resistance it will have and the thicker its gauge will have to be in order to supply the adequate amperage to the starter motor. Too little amperage will damage the starter. Look at the owner’s manual to get an idea of the gauge vs length for your specific snowblower. Not to worry, most manufacturers include a cord with their blower. Oh, and always plug the cord into your snowblower first, before you plug the other end into an outlet.
Step 5: Make sure the throttle is set to the middle position, never start your engine at full throttle because it will wear down the internals over time.
Step 6: If you have a self propelled model, ensure that the gear is on neutral.
Step 7: The ignition key should be in (if your snowblower has one), and it should be set to the RUN position. Some blowers have an engine START/ STOP switch to control ignition, make sure that is engaged to START.
Step 8: Your snowblower should have a primer bulb. Press it 2 or 3 times to help the starting procedure. Only needed for cold starts. Don’t overprime, or else you will flood the engine.
Step 9: Now you finally start the engine, press the switch if it’s an electric starter. Or pull the cord for a recoil starter. Recoil starters are easier to pull when the engine is warm, cold starts are almost always better with electric starters. For the recoil starter, pull gently until you feel the resistance spike, at which point you need to give it a swift and hard tug.
Step 10: Once you’ve started the blower engine, wait around 10 to 20 seconds (for cold starts) before taking off the choke. Once you have done that, you can go ahead and push the throttle to its maximum position while blowing snow. It is recommended that you blow snow with max throttle.
Helpful Tip: Try to run your engine for a couple minutes before stopping (after you’ve cleared all the snow) to prevent moisture buildup and keep the engine dry. This will also protect the starter from freezing (if your snowblower has an electric starter motor).
Troubleshooting Tips For When Your Snowblower Refuses To Start
There are many reasons why a snowblower wouldn’t start. One of the biggest reasons is stale fuel that has jammed up the carburetor and fuel lines. Use carburetor cleaning spray for a quick solution, if that doesn’t work you might have to take the whole thing apart and give it a thorough clean. Sometimes, the reason can be really simple. Like a bad spark plug (or maybe a spark plug wire that isn’t connected). In that case, just replace the spark plug (refer to your owner’s manual). Bad spark plugs have burnt out ends with lots of carbon deposits and generate a weak spark.
Another culprit is the lack of compression in the engine. Remove the spark plug, place your thumb against the cylinder hole and pull the starter to hand crank the engine. If you feel no pressure (or very little pressure) it means the cylinder internals or piston rings are damaged. Sometimes the electric starter itself is damaged, in which case you can resort to manual starts.
Filters are sometimes the issue. There is a little fuel filter on the fuel line coming out of the tank, make sure this device isn’t clogged (it is easy to replace). Next, you can check the engine air filter. Finally, you can check the auger blades to make sure they aren’t locked up.
For most homeowners, performing engine repairs is out of the question. The best you can do is drain the tank and add fresh fuel, alongside a spark plug change. So it’s important to follow the proper steps while storing your blower so you never have to go through the hassle of engine/ carburetor repairs. Always protect your blower with a waterproof cover when it’s outside. This will ensure the engine, starter, and auger blades don’t freeze over. Fully drain the tank and fuel lines before long term storage, and engage the fuel shutoff valve.
How Ethanol-Blended Gasoline Kills Small Engines
Like milk, gasoline will tend to “go bad”. It undergoes chemical degradation and some of the volatile compounds that help it go bang inside the cylinder will evaporate, lowering the potency of old fuel. Not only that, but ethanol fuel mixes tend to be hygroscopic (ethanol attracts moisture from air).
The EPA loves ethanol because it is clean burning, and so do small engine repair shops (because it keeps bringing them business). By nature, ethanol-blended fuel holds 0.5% water in suspension. But when it keeps getting exposed to moisture, this percentage will increase to a point where the water can no longer be held in suspension. Then the water-ethanol mixture which is heavier than the gasoline will sink to the bottom. Most tanks have the fuel pickup line at the bottom. So this water ethanol mix gets in first whenever you start then engine. And because this is a corrosive mixture, it will dissolve old gummed up fuel and varnish layers from the fuel lines. This gunk gets into the tiny orifices of carburetors, killing your snow blower/ lawn mower until you clean or completely rebuild the carburetor.
How to remedy this problem? You can try using ethanol- free fuels for your small engines. It is mainly an issue for small, carbureted engines. Bigger engines like those in cars don’t have as much trouble with ethanol blends. Plus you drive your car around daily, so it gets fresh fuel in the tank on a somewhat regular basis.
Even if you use ethanol-blended fuel in your snowblower/ lawnmower, you can always drain the tank and fuel lines before stowing away your snowblower when winter ends. Always use fuel stabilizer if you leave gas in the tank for long periods of time, stabilizers contain anti-oxidants that prevent gasoline from gumming up. Look for fuel stabilizers with vapor technology, which means they also affect the air floating above the gasoline in the tank. STA-BIL is one of the most popular and effective brands of fuel stabilizer.
TIP: If you’ve just brought a bottle of fuel stabilizer and there’s old gas sitting in the tank of your small engine, you need to run the engine for a few minutes first. This will ensure that treated fuel is drawn through the gas lines, all the way from the gas tank to the intake valves.