Here’s What to Do When Your Snow Blower Won’t Start
When you can't get your snow blower up and running, the problem is usually a simple fix. Do these things before paying someone to service your machine.
Q: After the first snow of the season, I took the snow blower out of the shed but it wouldn’t start. It ran fine the last time I used it, about nine months ago. Do you have any troubleshooting tips that’ll help get my snow blower running again, or do I need to take it in for service?
A: Like all outdoor equipment with a motor, snow blowers require periodic maintenance in order to operate efficiently. Because yours ran without a problem when you last used it, the problem you’re experiencing now is probably something minor that you can fix yourself.
Before trying the troubleshooting tips below to fix a snow blower that won’t start, have the snow blower owner’s manual handy. While virtually all snow blowers feature the same components—valves, filters, gas tanks, carburetors, fuel lines, and switches—their configurations vary by brand, so the manual will help you locate and identify them. If you don’t already have them on hand, any tools you might need to make these adjustments can be found in any auto-supply store.
Make sure all switches and valves are in the correct starting position.
Today’s snow blowers have many switches, buttons, and valves that must all be in the correct position for the machine to start. Your manual may call for the throttle to be in the “High” position, the fuel shut-off valve in the “Open” position, the choke in the “Full” position, and the run switch set to “On.” Some snow blowers even use images instead of words. Check to make sure all of switches and valves are set according to the manufacturer’s specifications, or else your snow blower won’t start.
Drain and replace old gas in the tank.
Since your snow blower has been idle for months, it could very well be that the gas inside has developed gummy residue, which can make starting the machine difficult. Siphon out the old stuff with a small siphon pump, and follow the proper protocol for disposing of gasoline. Then, fill the tank with fresh gas and try starting it again.
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Add fuel stabilizer to the gas tank.
Even if you’ve drained and refilled the gas tank, residue from the old gas could be clogging the carburetor. To dissolve it, try adding a fuel stabilizer, a gasoline treatment product that helps liquefy residue.
Add fuel stabilizer to the snow blower’s gas tank at the rate specified on the container, and then try to start the machine. Even if it doesn’t immediately start, keep cranking—by pulling the starter cord repeatedly—to help work fresh fuel and stabilizer through the carburetor.
If the snow blower won’t start up, wait an hour or two to allow the fuel stabilizer more time to dissolve residue, and then try again.
Prime the engine to force fuel into the carburetor.
Gas engines are often slower to start in cold weather (precisely when you need your blower!), so your next move is to give it a little boost of fuel.
First, prime the engine by pressing the flexible primer bulb, a small rubber or silicone bulb located on your snow blower near the carburetor, three to five times. This will force a small amount of fuel into the carburetor where it can more easily ignite.
Immediately after priming, try to start the blower. Since it hasn’t been operated for months, it could take three or our attempts before it kicks on.
Clean or replace the spark plugs.
Three things must be present in order for your snow blower to run correctly: fresh fuel, the proper amount of compression in the engine, and a spark to ignite the fuel. To satisfy the third requirement, your lawn mower’s spark plugs must be in working order. If your machine refuses to start up properly, cleaning or, if necessary, replacing its spark plugs could do the trick.
- Use a socket wrench and a spark plug socket to remove the plugs.
- Clean any built-up carbon deposits from the electrodes, located on the threaded end of the spark plugs. To do so, use carburetor cleaner and a wire brush.
- Dry the plugs and reinsert them.
If the snow blower won’t start even now, the spark plugs may be beyond repair. Inspect the porcelain sleeves for cracks. If you find a crack, replace the spark plug with a new one.
Examine the fuel line for damage.
The fuel line, which runs from the gas tank to the carburetor, should be flexible and pliable. Over time, fuel lines can harden, and a brittle line is prone to leaking fuel, either from a crack or around the connections where it meets the gas tank and the carburetor. A leak can prevent fuel from reaching the carburetor and keep the snow blower from starting. If the line is hard, cracked, or kinked, replace it with a new one.
Clean the carburetor.
If none of the above steps have gotten your snow blower going, you may need to clean the carburetor more aggressively to dissolve gunk and residue. A carburetor’s purpose is to combine air and fuel in a precise ratio for efficient combustion, so if it’s clogged with residue, it can’t do its job.
Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to access the carburetor, located beneath the air filter. After removing the air filter cover and the air filter, you’ll be looking at the carburetor (a metal case with a cylindrical opening).
Carb cleaner is a solvent that comes in an aerosol can with a straw that fits on the nozzle to deliver a forceful shot of gunk-dissolving spray directly into the carburetor.
Where the air filter was connected to the carburetor, you’ll see an open cylindrical valve. This is the air-intake valve. Spray the carb cleaner inside the air-intake valve (instructions on the can will specify how much to use).
Replace the air filter and filter cover and then try to start the snow blower.
Call a service technician.
No luck? Troubleshooting beyond this point may require taking the machine apart. If your snow blower is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer or the store where you bought it for instructions on how to proceed.
If yours is an older machine, take it to a small engine repair shop. Alternatively, stores that sell lawn mowers, snow blowers, rototillers, and other small equipment often also offer repair and maintenance services. Having a service technician repair your snow blower could cost between $75 and $300, depending on the extent of the problem. This is about as much as it would cost to replace the snow blower with a budget-friendly pick.
If repair estimates wind up on the higher end of that range and your machine has quite a few years on it, now might be the time to upgrade. Those looking for a budget-priced replacement should consult our researched guide to the best cheap snow blowers for key considerations when selecting the outdoor tool, as well as our top-of-the-line recommendations.