Common Cold Weather Snow Blower Problems

Snow blowers are made to work in cold weather, but when it’s REALLY cold outside, fun (or not so fun) things can develop. The same goes for a snow blower that is stored outside or in an enclosure where the temperature is at or near the same temperature as outside. If you have a heated garage, or a way to heat your garage or shed or wherever you keep your snow thrower, then you are well ahead of the game.
I don’t know what winter is like in other parts of the country, but here in the Northeast, when there’s a snowstorm, the temperature is usually around 20-30 degrees. But sometimes it snows when the temperature is in the single digits or close to zero and that’s when some new and not-so-nifty things start to happen to snowplows stored in the cold. The handles do not depress. The impellers do not engage. Engines that were running well won’t start. The belts begin to smoke and squeak when activated. Cables break and starters won’t catch. A lot of that has to do with storing a recently used “warm” snow blower without clearing the snow. Snow now melts and freezes in the strangest places. Let’s tackle most of these problems by assuming we have a two-stage wheel-driven snow best single stage snow blower blower. But first, a brief explanation of the types of snow plows that exist.
A two-stage snow blower has a large steel auger at the front that rotates at a fairly slow speed and collects snow. The second stage is the smallest and fastest spinning fan under the chute that actually throws the snow. A single stage snow blower has a fast turning impeller / auger that spins at a fast speed and collects and dumps snow. The wheel-powered single-stage snow blower is becoming rare as units with rubber blades have taken its place. They are lighter and less expensive to manufacture and throw snow as much or further.
1) Let’s take the smoking belt or the booster that won’t involve (usually related) scenarios first. You grab the auger activation handle and no snow comes out of the chute, but the belt starts to squeak or smoke. Let go of that handle RIGHT NOW and turn off your snow thrower. Lean it back on your handlebars if possible. If the gas tank is full, put some plastic wrap from a grocery bag under the filler cap to prevent gas from escaping through the cap vent. Back up to the second stage impeller. That’s the 3- or 4-blade fan that blows snow out of the chute on a 2-stage snow thrower. See if you can turn it by hand. If not, it is probably frozen to the bottom of the drum in which it is housed. There is usually a drain hole in the bottom of the drum to avoid this, but it is not always sufficient. From time to time, the impeller blade coasts to a stop with one of the blades down. This makes freezing easier.
2) How to repair it: Drag or drive your snow thrower to an area where you can turn on some heat to defrost the snow thrower. If you don’t have this luxury, use a hair dryer. I have also seen people tent a tarp over the snow blower and use a heater to defrost the unit. Be careful how close you place the heater and the direction in which you point it. A space heater can melt or set a plastic tarp on fire. You could just direct the space heater into the auger area and hope for the best. Usually it doesn’t take much to melt the ice. Using a propane torch is the least desirable and most unsafe option, as an open flame is dangerous near any outdoor electrical equipment. Just a little gas spilled nearby can be a potential disaster waiting to happen. You’ve read it in the newspaper, so don’t even go there or you’ll end up in the newspaper too. I can’t tell you how many times, back in business, we just dragged a bunch of frozen snow blowers into our warm workshop before entering the “triage unit” and that was all it took to fix the problem.
3) How to prevent it: Clean snow from the snow blower and the inside of the impeller / auger housing when you have finished blowing snow. Next, make sure none of the impeller blades are pointing straight down where melted snow can collect and freeze.
4) Auger or wheel drive handle will not snag – this usually occurs on models with cables rather than linkage. The cable enters moisture and freezes. If you don’t have cables, follow the link to a pivot point that is frozen. This may require removing an access cover. Thaw the cables or connections using the same method as the frozen impeller; heat applied safely.