When I look to the hills, I can see fresh snow at the tops of the ridges here in sunny Central Washington. That means it won't be long before the cold white stuff will be here on the valley floor. Depending on your disposition, this might be a happy occasion or a deep sense of dread building in your gut. No matter how you feel about the snow, it means that you should probably be thinking about your snow removal plan for the winter. With that plan in mind, it's even more important to make sure your equipment is ready for the challenge.
Regardless of whether you plow or use a snow thrower, there are some basic things you should be looking at immediately, not on the day of the first snow. If you are like me, it's easy to put off getting your equipment ready. After all, it ran just fine when you used it just a short 8 to 9 months ago. Not to mention, it might anger the snow gods if you start the machine too early. With that in mind, unless you are looking for a hard, cheap workout shoveling snow, you should probably take a look at a few things... like today.
The very first step, after you have convinced yourself to tempt the wrath of the snow gods, is to make sure your equipment starts. It is extremely common with today's fuel for gasoline to go bad after a few weeks, let alone months. If your equipment won't start and it's been sitting for a period of time, you need to get the old fuel out, including out of the carburetor, and add some fresh gas. If the fuel in the tank has gone to the dark side, it's also a good idea to let some clean fuel run through the system prior to starting, just to be sure you have gotten rid of the bad stuff. If it still won't start, check, or even better, replace the spark plug. If by now you are sweating, cussing, or maybe whimpering a little, it's a good time to stop and get it into the shop.
If you held your mouth correctly and said the proper incantations and your unit started, give a little prayer of thanks. Before you start doing your happy dance, however, take a moment to listen to the engine. At full throttle, is it running smoothly and evenly, or is it surging? Does it idle without the choke? If it is surging or not idling, you may need to have some carburetor work done, but that is a discussion for another day.
The next step is to take a look at the belt or belts, depending on what you have. Most snow throwers have a removable plastic cover over the belts. Typically, you will see two belts, one for the auger and one for the drive. They should both be fairly loose unless the control handles are depressed. But, make sure to check them carefully for cracks or fraying. The belts themselves are relatively inexpensive, but they are guaranteed to break right in the middle of use, and changing them on the fly is not an easy job. In addition to the belts, most snow throwers use a friction wheel system that consists of two metal wheels sitting perpendicular to each other. One of the wheels has a rubber strip around the rim that provides the friction. This rubber strip can also wear out, crack, etc., and should be inspected or replaced before the season starts.
If you are plowing with an ATV or a lawn tractor, there is a very good chance your machine also uses some sort of transmission drive belt. The same idea applies. Plowing is particularly hard on belts, and changing them in the middle of a snowstorm is a good way to ruin your day.
Last but not least, give the whole thing a once-over; how are the tires? the cables? anything external that seems unimportant? Often, it's the little silly things that turn into big problems at the worst time. Trying to fix something in the cold, snowy dark is just about one of the most miserable experiences there is; not to mention, you may not be able to get parts right away. I have found that the snow doesn't really seem to care that you are broke down. To make matters worse, the longer the evil white stuff sits, the harder it is to clear. If you wait too long, it starts turning into a mini-glacier, and you might need a front-end loader and some dynamite to move it.
A little bit of planning really does go a long way in preventing a not-so-fun task from turning into a nightmare. As always, we are here to help; just don't wait until you need it!