How to fire up a small engine that won’t start in winter

Published: February 24, 2021

looking forward to the engine and snow chute of an orange snow blower Photo by sockagphoto/Shutterstock

We’ve all been there. We get back to the cottage in the winter and find that we need to use a piece of gas-powered equipment, but the engine just won’t start. Properly draining and storing your machinery at the end of the season can prevent this inconvenience before it happens, but that task sometimes gets forgotten.

By far the most common cause of a no-start is the gasoline itself. Modern fuels, especially those containing ethanol, start degrading and losing combustibility after as little as 30 days. If the fuel in your non-starting engine is older than that—and you didn’t add fuel stabilizer—the first thing to do is completely drain the fuel system and refill with fresh juice.

 To do this, first empty the old fuel from the tank into a suitable container for disposal by tipping a small machine or using a siphon hose for large, heavy equipment. Once the tank is empty, drain any old fuel from the carburetor’s float bowl. Find the float bowl drain screw, located on the bottom of the carburetor assembly. Remove the screw and allow the bowl to empty, then simply replace the screw. If your gas tank has a fuel filter inside (most do), fish out the fuel line and filter through the fill opening with wire you’ve bent into a hook. Clean a dirty filter with a little compressed air or by scrubbing with a toothbrush—or just replace the filter. While you’re at it, replace your spark plug with a new one. Then refill the tank with fresh fuel. The initial start may take several pulls since the gas line and the carb will be dry, but in most cases that fresh fuel will have your motor running in no time.

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