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Snowblower Starts But Won’t Move – Fix it now

By: Author John Cunningham. Published: 2021/06/24 at 5:51 am

Moving snow is tough work, but pushing a snowblower is an unimaginable hardship. No, we’ll have to fix it, and you’re in the right place; I’m a mechanic, and I see this problem a ton.

The top five most common reasons a snowblower won’t move include:

  1. Drive belt loose/ broken
  2. Broken drive bolt
  3. Drive cable loose/ broken
  4. Friction wheel worn
  5. Drive plate contamination

In this post, you’ll learn how your snowblower drive system works, how to diagnose a drive system fault, and how to fix it.

How Snowblower Drive System Works

Most snowblower drive systems are wonderfully simple, easy to access and repair. The basic drive system employs pulleys and a belt to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. It’s this type of system we’ll diagnose in this post.

Some higher-end snowblowers may employ a more sophisticated hydraulic system. It’s known as hydrostatic transmission, and while pulleys and a belt still transmit power, the similarities end there.

We won’t cover the hydrostatic system here for a couple of reasons, it’s far less common, and internal parts for the transmission are not easily available.

Components of the basic snowblower drive system:

  • Drive pulleys
  • Drive belt
  • Drive cable
  • Gear selector assembly includes: Hex shaft, gear lever, sliding gear selector, bearings, and bushings
  • Friction wheel
  • Drive axle assembly includes: Drive axle, gear, gear pin, bearings, bushings, and wheels

And here’s an outline of what each of these components does:

Drive pulleys

A pulley attached to the engine transfers power to an integrated pulley on the drive plate.

Drive belt tensioner

In addition, a third pulley (known as an idler) attached to a spring-loaded arm (known as the tensioner) is employed to keep the drive belt tension between the two main pulleys.

Drive belt

Drive belts

The drive belt makes movement possible. It stretches between the engine pulley and the drive plate pulley. The tensioner, as you know, keeps the idler pulley pushed tightly against the belt.

Drive cable

The drive cable is a braided cable shielded by a plastic outer. It reaches from the drive control lever on the handlebars to the drive plate.

When the drive lever is activated, the cable pulls the drive plate, causing it to pivot into contact with the friction wheel.

Gear selector assembly

The gear selector is a beautifully simple solution to gears. Shifting the gear lever slides the selector (with a friction wheel attached) across the spinning drive plate.

Friction disc

The friction wheel (with rubber tire-like material) is attached to the hex axle and is controlled by the gear selector. The farther the friction wheel is moved from the center of the drive plate, the faster the snowblower moves.

Moving the friction wheel across to the opposite side of the drive plate causes the snowblower to move backways. Love that simplicity!

Friction wheel

The friction wheel has a very important job. It’s fixed to the Hex axle and transmits power from the spinning drive plate to the final drive.

In addition, it works in combination with the gear selector to change the gear ratio. The friction wheel employs a rubber material to aid traction.

Drive axle assembly

Snowblower Drive system components

The power finally meets the pavement in the final drive or drive axle.

A gear on the Hex shaft drives the drive axle, some snow blowers use a gear coupling, and some may use a chain coupling. The gear is fixed to the axle by way of a bolt or pin. The final components are, of course, the wheels.

Diagnosing Snowblower Drive System Fault

Successful diagnosis means systematically checking over the system and looking for clues as to what’s going on. I have listed the most common failures first, so your problem is likely one of the first in the list.

I deal with all the likely causes below, each with its own diagnostic check. However, you can shortcut the process by doing a little detective work first:

Is the drive lever loose? – If so, suspect a broken belt or drive cable or drive cable adjustment
Does the drive lever feel normal (normal tension)? – If so, suspect possible drive plate contamination, broken axle gear pin, or worn friction wheel
Does the snowblower attempt to move a little? If so, suspect drive plate contamination, cable adjustment, worn friction wheel, worn drive belt, or drive belt tension adjustment
Does the snowblower smell of burning rubber and smoke and not move either forward or back? – suspect belt failure

1 Drive Belt Loose/Broken

Drive belts have a tough job and, for that reason, are a common drive system failure point. Belts can last years, but a poorly-tensioned belt may burn out prematurely.

Common belt faults and their symptoms include:

  • Loose – lacks drive or slips under load
  • Worn – slips under load
  • Breaking – no drive
  • Burning – the smell of rubber and possibly smoke
  • Glazing – slipping drive when hot
  • Contamination – constant slip


Remove belt cover – To check and diagnose a belt issue, we’ll need to remove the belt cover. The process is as follows:

Remove spark plug

Remove the plug wire (pull & twist) for safety. You may need to remove some plastic covers to access the plug.

Remove the belt cover (located between the  engine and auger housing)

Snow blower belt cover
Drive belts

Locate the belt – The drive belt is located closest to the engine. It’s the smaller of the two belts.

Check the belt is in place; if not, see fitting new belt below.

Check the belt is tensioned correctly; if not, adjust the idler. See below

Belt tension

Drive belts need to be taught between the pulleys. In order to keep the belt in tension at all times, a spring-loaded arm, known as a tensioner, is employed.

The tensioner is fitted with a pulley that applies all that tension to the belt. A tensioner pulley is known as an idler.

A loose belt causes a slip, and slips cause a lack of drive at the wheels. But slip also causes heat to build in the belt. Excessive heat can cause the belt to smoke and flat spot, but even a little slip can cause a belt to wear out prematurely.

It should be noted most drive belts are not adjustable. In most cases, the spring-loaded tensioner takes up belt slack automatically.

A worn-out or weak tensioner spring, however, can allow a drive belt to slip. In addition, as the belt ages, it gets longer; this, in effect, causes further slip. If in doubt about your belt, replace it. It’s all covered below.

Replacing Drive Belt

Drive belts work hard and eventually wear out. Most belts give you the heads-up long before they actually break. Symptoms include smoke, vibrations, strange noises, slower than normal pace, etc. Yep, they all mean your belt is done, and you’ll need to replace it.

Belt fitting is more awkward than difficult, but sure, you can do it. The correct belt size is crucial to success. An incorrect belt may cause further drive issues. I like to check the belt part number with the manufacturer’s specs as opposed to replacing it with the match of the old belt. The old belt may not be correct.

Remove drive belt as follows:

Plug tool

Remove the plug wire and spark plug.

Place the plastic sheet over the gas tank neck and refit the gas cap

Cover gas tank with plastic
Snow blower belt cover

Remove the belt cover (between the engine & auger)

Remove belt keeper

Belt keeper
Belt off pulley

Remove the auger belt (belt closest to the auger) from the engine pulley (roll the belt across the pulley and crank the engine by hand)

Removing the spark plug makes this a ton easier.

Set the auger belt to the side

Remove the drive idler arm spring and pull the drive belt tensioner back

Drive belt tensioner
Snow blower on bin

Tilt blower onto the bin

Remove belly pan

Belly pan off
Drive belt

Locate the drive belt and remove it from the drive plate pulley

Reach around and remove the drive belt from the engine pulley and feed it towards the belly pan area

Drive belt
Remove belt

Maneuver the belt so that it sits under the friction wheel and force it under the weel by both pulling the belt and turning the friction wheel simultaneously.

Fit drive belt as follows:

The refit process is just the reverse of the removal process.

Fit new belt

Feed new belt under the friction wheel

Feed belt excess belt topside, then reach around and place the belt around the engines crankshaft pulley

Drive belt
Turn pulley to fit belt

Belly pan side again – now fit the belt to the drive plate pulley and rotate the drive plate to seat the belt all the way around

Fit the belly pan

Belly pan
Drive belt idler spring

Check the belt is seated correctly in the lower, upper, and idler pulley, then fit the idler arm spring

Now fit the auger belt by forcing the belt to ride on the edge of the pulley while cranking the engine slowly.

Fitting drive belt

Go ahead now and fit the upper belt keeper and plastic belt cover, refit the spark plug and wire, turn the gas on, and remove the plastic sheet from the gas tank. I think you are ready to play!

2 Broken Drive Axle Bolt

The final drive is driven by the Hex shaft. A gear on the Hex shaft drives a gear on the final drive (axle), causing the snowblower to propel.

The gear on the axle is fixed using a bolt or pin, and they commonly break. The diagnosis and fix are easy – access the axle, verify the fault, and replace the bolt.

The diagnosis process is as follows:

Remove plug wire
Place the plastic sheet over the gas tank neck and refit the gas cap
Tilt blower onto the bin
Remove belly pan


Locate the drive axle and gear

Examine the axle gear fastener

Axle key

Replace the axle gear fastener as follows:

  • Remove any fastener remnants
  • Size both the length and diameter bolt required
  • Use grade five or eight bolt
  • Align the gear hole with the axle hole and fit the new fastener

3 Drive Cable Loose/broken

Drive cables stretch over time, and they’ll need a little adjustment. The most common symptom of a loose cable is a lack of resistance when pulled and of course poor drive or no drive at all. A little adjustment will fix this; see below.

If, on the other hand, the cable has broken, which is common also. The symptoms of a broken cable are more exaggerated. Meaning the drive handle will offer no resistance at all and obviously no drive. This, as you have guessed, means you need a new cable. We cover that below too.

Diagnose loose drive cable as follows:

Snowblower in gear

Place snowblower in gear (engine off)

While pushing the machine forward, progressively apply the drive control on the handlebar.

When the drive cable is adjusted correctly, the wheels begin to lock when the lever to handlebar distance is approx. 20cm.

If not, adjust the cable; see below.

Drive handle adjuster

Adjust drive cable as follows:

Drive cable adjuster

Locate the drive cable adjuster nut

Open the lock nut and adjust the cable length (ad lever to handlebar distance) by turning the adjuster to either shorten or lengthen the cable as lever adjustment dictates.

Tighten the lock nut when finished.

Drive cable lock nut
Friction wheel to plate gap

With the drive lever at rest, the snowblower wheels should be free. If not, I suspect you’ve over-adjusted back off the adjuster until the wheels move freely.

Alternatively, remove the belly pan and check that there’s at min 1 mm between the friction wheel and the drive plate.

Replace The Drive Cable

Replacing the cable isn’t very challenging, but we will need to tilt the blower up onto its bin.

The belt replacing process is as follows:

Turn the gas off and place a plastic sheet around the gas tank

Snow blower on bin

Tilt the snowblower forward onto the bin.

Best to use OEM parts

New snow blower drive cable
Belly pan off

Remove belly pan

Remove the drive plate cable end.

Remove drive plate cable
Drive cable guide

Loosen guide

Remove the handlebar cable end.

Handlebar drive cable fitting

Fitting is the reverse of removal, but you may need to adjust after fitting.

4 Worn Friction Wheel

Friction wheels work super hard. The traction you get at the wheels depends on how well the friction wheel performs. They wear out, crack and disintegrate with wear and age. I replace a ton of them.

Diagnosis is visual, and to access the friction wheel, we’ll need to tilt the blower onto the bin and remove the belly pan.

The diagnosis process is as follows:

Place the plastic sheet over the gas tank neck and refit the gas cap
Tilt the snowblower forward onto the bin

Friction disc

Remove the belly pan, locate the friction wheel, and examine.

Finding cracks, stripped, perished, or worn down material means you’ll need to replace it.

Replacing process is as follows:

Remove wheels

Remove wheels

Remove Hex shaft bolts

Hex shaft bolts
Carrier bearing

Remove the carrier bearing

Take a photograph before sliding the shaft out. Be mindful of loose washers.

Pinion gear

Remove the friction wheel from the shift fork and remove the washer and pinion gear.

Pull the Hex shaft outward to release the friction wheel.

Remove the friction wheel and move to a workbench and remove the fasteners to remove the old rubber friction material.

Snow blower friction wheel material

Replacing the friction material is the reverse of removal. On reassembly, add low-temperature grease to the Hex shaft. Remember to connect the gear selector rod before tightening the Hex axle fasteners.

5 Drive Plate Contamination

The drive plate supplies the power, so it is super important it’s free from oil and grease. Dirt on the plate will obviously cause the friction wheel to slip.

Contamination is a pretty common problem. It often occurs because excess lubricate or incorrect lube was used on the gears or Hex shaft. Engine oil is another source of possible oil contamination.

Inspect and clean the drive plate as follows:

Place the plastic sheet over the gas tank neck and refit the gas cap.
Tilt the snowblower forward onto the bin.
Remove the belly pan

Clean friction plate

Locate the drive plate. Check for grease or oil contamination.

Using rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth, clean the drive plate. Clean the friction wheel rubber material also.

Check out the snowblower drive system overview here.

Check for the source of contamination. An engine oil leak will need to be fixed. A drive belt will sling oil onto surfaces, and this problem will reoccur. If the problem was excessive grease on gears or axles, clean off the excess and use a small amount of low-temperature grease (00) instead.