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As winter pounds down with record snowfalls, here are tips to make sure your snow blower is in top shape.

If you live in an area where it snows, cleaning up and digging out after a heavy snowfall is a simple fact of life. Sure, shoveling is the traditional way to get the job done, but your back, shoulders, and legs may be pleading for an easier alternative. Plus, with record snowfall pounding many cities this winter, a snow blower is starting to look like a pretty good item to have -- even to the most enthusiastic shovelers.

Snow blowers come in three varieties: electric, single-stage and two-stage.

snow thrower repair, snow blower troubleshootingPhoto: Troy-Bilt

Electric Throwers
Electric snow blowers are smaller and more compact than their gas-powered counterparts. Their design makes them easy to maneuver and ideal for clearing lighter snowfalls on smooth, paved surfaces, as well as small areas like walkways, patios and driveway aprons. When it snows a foot or more and you've got some serious real estate to clear, opt for single-stage and two-stage units.

Single-Stage Throwers
A single-stage unit is powered by a gasoline engine, but propelled by you. In other words, you push it into the snow; it throws the snow. They are particularly adept at clearing heavy, wet snow into tall piles. If you live in light-snow area, save money by buying a single-stage machine. It's smaller and lighter than two-stage units, which are more effective in heavy and packed snow.

Two-Stage Throwers
Two-stage units, like the Troy-Bilt Storm 2620, are the big dogs of winter. Their larger gasoline engines drive a bigger auger, eject more snow and drive the wheels in forward and reverse. They're heavier and take up more space when not in use. If you've got ground to cover, they've got the muscle to make it happen.

Even though we call on snow blowers to dig us out of trouble, they -- like any tool or machine -- can get thrown for a loop if things go wrong. Here's how to fix the common hiccups that occur with snow blowers:

Engine Fails to Start
If your snow blower won't start (and you've primed the motor), check to make sure the choke is in the proper position, the safety key is fully inserted, the tank has gasoline, and the spark plug isn't fouled. Nothing out of order? The problem may be that the fuel sitting in the tank has gone stale. Gas goes bad within a few months, so top the tank off with new gasoline. If the tank is full of gas, drain the tank and re-fill with fresh fuel.

The Engine Stops Running
So everything is going along swimmingly and you're trundling down the driveway throwing snow like a pro ... when the engine loses power. First, check that the spark plug wire is connected securely to the spark plug. If that doesn't solve the problem, check the gas cap. The gas cap is vented and if it's blocked by snow or ice the unit will lose power. Clear away anything that's there and give it another go.

snow blower troubleshootingIf your snow blower continues to jam or stutter, it's best to slow down so that the machine does not take on more snow than it can handle. Photo: Nugefishes, Flickr

Failure to Discharge Snow
There are several reasons that your snow thrower's discharge chute can clog up. One culprit can be the snow itself. Moving slushy snow through a snow thrower's auger is kind of like making a snow ball in your hands. Moving and compacting the snow turns it to ice, which in turn clogs the chute. To fix, use the tool's clean-out tool (if it doesn't have one, try a stick) to remove the obstruction from the chute. Make sure to shut the unit down and disconnect the spark plug before doing this. Lastly, there could be a foreign object lodged in the auger. Again, power the unit down and remove the obstruction.

Unit Stutters and Grabs in Operation
Snow throwers work most efficiently when the blade can ride across the ground and get under the snow. But sidewalks often are riddled with dimples, pockmarks and cracks. If the machine is moving too fast when it hits an irregularity, it can bounce up a little and trap snow under the blade. This action causes the machine to jerk or stutter. The cure is usually to slow down.

If the irregularity is big, like an uneven sidewalk slab, the blade simply jams into it and the machine can't move forward at all. Again, the key to forward progress is to slow down. The blade maintains contact with the ground, doesn't take on more snow than it can handle, and as a result efficiently captures and ejects the snow.

Even with a snow thrower in your possession, you shouldn't ditch your shovel just yet. You still need it to attack the steps and nooks that the muscled-up snow thrower can't go.

What to Do After a Blizzard
Snowpacalypse: Tips to Keep Your Home Safe [Apartment Therapy]


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