Snowblowers are a great convenience, especially if you have a big driveway or a lot of sidewalks to keep clean. Unlike a trusty snow shovel, which can be ready at a moment’s notice, a snowblower requires regular maintenance and, generally, a special fuel mix. After relying on a shovel the past three winters, I recently bought a used snowblower from a trusted neighbor. He offered some good advice:
1) Most snowblowers require a gas/oil mixture, and the precise proportions are often written on the snowblower. If not, go to the manufacturer’s web site. Without the correct fuel mix, you might not only have a stalled snowblower, you could end up with a permanently dead one.
2) Label a plastic gas container as “snowblower only,” so you don’t accidentally put this mix into your lawnmower.
3) At the end of each season, empty the fuel from the snowblower. The most convenient way to do this is to let it run dry. If that’s not possible, two people can tip it and empty the remaining fuel into the plastic gas container, using a funnel. Never empty extra fuel onto the grass or into the street/local sewer drain.
4) Have a knowledgeable person check the snowblower before you use it each year. It may need a new spark plug or other tune-up attention. (In my neighbor’s case, he could do this. In my case, I put a small ad in the community paper, and a kindly man checked it out for $20. You want to be sure the snowblower starts before you need to use it.)
To my neighbor’s advice, I would add:
5) Read the instructions! You will likely have to “prime” the engine (similar to a lawnmower, you gently punch a hollow, rubber-like ‘button,’ for lack of a better term). There may also be a choke to pull out. If these concepts are foreign to you, it’s all the more important that you read the instructions. If you don’t have them, check out the web site or ask to read a neighbor’s instructions. If it’s the same brand, instruction will be similar.
6) Get your muscles ready to pull the cord to start the snowblower. You may have one with an electronic ignition. That’s great, but sometimes when it’s really cold you’ll find the electronic start doesn’t work, and the muscles will come in handy.
There are a number of additional considerations. For example, a snowblower works best with dry, lightweight snow. Fortunately, that’s what we usually get in Iowa. When the temperature is close to freezing, snow can be heavy and wet, and it is likely to clog the snowblower. The shovel then comes back into vogue.
Think about where you want the snowblower to ‘throw’ the snow. There will be a crank (or some other mechanism) that permits you to rotate the direction in which the snow is thrown. When you are warm and dry, it is easy to remember that you don’t want to throw snow onto an area that you will later have to clear. Aim the snowblower ‘thrower’ so that the snow travels to a grassy area, if possible. Be careful about throwing it into the street. In some jurisdictions there is a fine for doing that. (But is there a fine for snowplows throwing snow onto your sidewalk? Nope. I have to clear most portions of the sidewalk three or four times because of snowplow enthusiasm.)
Now, here’s the rub. Unlike lawnmowing preparations, when you can see sticks or a soft drink can that must be picked up, you cannot see what is under the snow. Check the driveway for a child’s toy before it snows. If a lot of wind accompanied the snow, it might be worth walking part of the driveway to see if a medium-size branch has fallen, only to be covered with snow.
If you are REALLY smart, you will also check to see if there are jump ropes or animal leashes under the snow. You can check out the accompanying photo to see what happens when you don’t do this. You have no idea how hard it can be to unwrap two cloth or lightweight plastic leashes from a snowblower’s clutches. (Thank goodness these were not chain leashes. The snowblower could have been permanently out of commission.)
How to untangle the leashes? Very carefully. (OK, that’s obvious.) If you have an electronic ignition, make sure the snowblower is unplugged. Likely you will have to turn the snowblower on its side. (That may flood the engine, so don’t count on using it for an hour or so.) If either end of the leash has a metal fixture, the safest thing to do is cut it off. If it’s a cloth leash, you may be able to sew the two ends together. If not, a leash is less expensive than a snowblower.
The tools used for my producedure are in the photo. The scissors cut the cloth leash. The hacksaw worked to get through the plastic on the plastic-covered wire leash. I then alternated between that and the wire cutter section on the long-nosed pliers. With the screwdriver I gently prodded the leash to release it from the snowblower’s ‘jaws.’ Don’t use your finger to pry around — it’s not sharp like a lawnmower, but who needs a broken finger?
By this time, you may regret having bought this modern convenience. Your pants are wet from kneeling in the snow, your fingers are so cold it’s hard to move them, and your patience is shot. (Special note: make sure all devices that shoot are locked up. There is no point in shooting the snow blower, and if you live in town there’s probably a fine for discharging a weapon in the city limits.) This may be the time to go warm up and have a hot drink before completing the leash-release.
When your snowblower is finally in working order, it really can be your favorite winter tool. It’s easier on the back and a lot faster than a shovel. As mechanical devices go, it’s a fairly simple one, so it’s relatively easy to keep in good shape. You just need to remember to do it — and to pick up the leashes.