It is Saturday morning after a huge snow storm. All the good people of Tahoe are out digging, shoveling, and snow blowing. The symphony of chugging snow blowers goes "budddddda" in my ears. A quick drive down any street will reveal that the majority of the instruments in this orchestra are made by Honda. In a previous post I mentioned that I once owned a Craftsman , but it wouldn't cut it for primary snow removing duties. Thus now I own a Honda.
Honda makes 3 two-stag snow blowers: the HS724, 928, and 1132. 7, 9, and 11 horsepower; and 24, 28, and 32 inch clearing path. Each model has the four variations: track drive or wheel drive; Electric start or pull start only. It is rare to find a wheel driven Honda snowblower. Though wheels are easier to steer, the traction provided by a tracks greatly aide in clearing power of the blower. The electric start, which sounds like a necessary luxury, is not. Typical starting of the blower is accomplished by the pull starter. The electric starter needs to be plugged into a 120 volt wall outlet for power, and is only used when the machine is having trouble starting. From my experience with Honda blowers, one pull is all that is ever needed to get it started. The electric starters are a useless feature, unless the engine is in bad condition.
There are other models of Honda snow blowers. I have seen a 5 and an 8 series, but those are no longer produced anymore. I ended up buying a 5 year old 928 track, with no electric start for $1500. I was looking for a 1132, but those are hard to find and expensive. The MSRP of the 928 is about $2750, but I have heard that dealers often charge more than the MSRP due to the high demand, delivery cost, and certain accessories that might be included. Even at 5 years of age, the 928 sold for more than half its original MSRP. These things hold their value well. I believe that when I eventually sell it I could still get $1500 for it.
The reason that Honda blowers are popular is because they can throw wet snow, guaranteed. Other blowers seem to have a hard time throwing wet snow any distance. This is a necessity with my 20 foot wide driveway. It isn't necessarily power that makes the machine throw the distance it does; since the previous Craftsman had the same HP rated motor (which actually seemed stronger). I think the distance is a result of auger speed. The engine on this machine runs like you would expect a Honda to run: Flawless. It starts every time with one pull of the start cord. No matter how cold or how long I have let it sit, it never fails to start right up.
The second feature that makes Honda work is the Hydrostatic Drive system, which has finite speed adjustments between 0 and max speed. The drive system is hydraulic, and allows the machine to drive forward as slow as you desire. This is important when chewing through a thick heavy berm. Go slow and allow the machine to work. Snow blowers with indexed speed controllers often do not go slow enough. I guess this could be modified by adjusting the amount of slack in the control cable (I just thought of that, and never tried it when I owned the Craftsman blower).
Other features that are unique to the Honda is the on the fly depth control. A foot pedal adjust the scraper to Low, Med and High. Typically I run the blower at Med. If I am trying to scrape up some snow which has been compacted I will use the low setting. High is reserved for driving the machine a long distance, where I do not want to scraper to catch on the pavement, when I want the machine to climb a snow pile, or if I am backing up and the auger housing is dragging a bunch of snow.
Recently I changed the oil on my snowblower. At first it is a little confusing. The case appears to be symmetrical right and left, and it is not exactly clear which is the drain and which the fill. What appears is that there are two drain plugs and two fill plugs. The draining and filling can be done by the holes on the left side of the machine. The picture on the right shows the fill hole (blue arrow), the drain plug (yellow arrow) sits above a small drain chute. Even with the drain chute, I had to fabricate a drain catch so that the used oil did not spill all over the snowblower's track and then onto the ground. On the right side of the machine, matching drain and fill plugs can be found (same blue and yellow arrow). Though both fill holes can be used to fill and check the oil level, the right side drain hole is not a drain hole. First there is not a drain catch, and second the plug/bolt is blocked by the chassis and not allowed to back out all the way. In one of the fill holes is a dip stick, in the other a plug. Checking the oil level from either fill holes yields the same results. The 928 take a tad more than a quart of oil to fill. I filled my machine with mobile1 synthetic, 5-30w.
While changing the oil, I performed some other maintenance. Checked the track tension. Adjusted the skidder height. Tried to clean out the air filter, only to find that there was none to clean. I guess snow environments do not have much dust to contaminate the carburetors.
This miracle of a machine does have its flaws. The handle bars are a little weak. Alot of torquing goes on when snow blowing. On many units I have seen tweaked handle bars. On one I have even seen a bar snapped off. The chute direction controller is known to freeze, and needs some persuasion to free, some grease in the track will hopefully prevent water from seeping in and freezing. All the controllers are cable actuated. Each cable has a bellowed seal at the end. These are critical for proper operation. If the cable/housing seal is compromised, water will enter between the cable and the housing. This will rust the cable and cause it to bind. Before the rust occurs, the water will most likely freeze and cause the control cables to bind. Finally a note on the shear pins. Unlike the craftsman, the shear pins on the Honda break very easily. Instead of an actual pin, the shear pin is a bolt and nut (10mm head). These appear to be special (weak) bolts. I have heard of people replacing the shear pin with a regular bolt in a pinch, and ruin the auger when they hit something solid. I am convinced that a grade 2 bolt (or slightly cut)would work, but have been reluctant to try after hearing such shear pin failure to fail stories.
Well there you go, a tale of two snowblower; and now I only have one!