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Will A Snowblower Start Without Oil? Warning, read this first!

By: Author John Cunningham. Published: 2021/06/15 at 7:54 pm

Oil, as you know, is super important to your snowblower’s engine. Without oil, your engine is at serious risk of catastrophic damage. You’ll often hear oil referred to as “an engine’s lifeblood”; it’s true.

I’ve been a mechanic for twenty-five years, and an engine that’s had regular oil maintenance is more reliable, produces more power, is more efficient, and works harder for longer.

Snowblowers that are fitted with a low oil cut-off switch will not start when the engine oil level is critically low. This is an engine protection feature. However, most snowblowers are not fitted with the cut-off switch and will start without oil.

In this post, you’ll learn why some snowblowers won’t start when the oil level is low. You’ll learn how to identify if your snowblower employs an oil cut-out switch. You’ll learn how to check the oil level and what type of oil to use.

I’ll also include a fast method for diagnosing why a snowblower won’t start, including links to relative articles.

Checking & adding Snowblower Engine Oil

Few snow blowers are fitted with an engine protection sensor, so assume yours isn’t. The low-level oil cut-out switch is a clever and simple system that won’t allow the engine to start or cut power to a running engine should the oil level reach a critically low level.

I advise my customers to check engine oil at least once per week during the snow season and whenever they fill the gas tank. These engines work hard, and they won’t run without oil.

To check the oil level follow these simple steps:

Cold engine

Check when engine cold – ensures oil is drained to the crankcase for a true read

Park snowblower on level ground – more accurate reading

Snowblower on level ground
Snow blower oil dip stick location

Locate dipstick – marked with oil symbol often in a contrasting color

Remove stick and clean

Oil dipstick check

Remove and read – the upper mark on the dipstick is full, the lower mark is low (below the lower level is critical) hatched area in between represents an acceptable oil level

When adding oil, add a little at a time and recheck. These engines are small and are easy to overfill. Overfilling will cause the engine to smoke and may cause spark plug fouling.

Snowblower Engine Oil Type & Quantity

Most snowblowers are happy to run 5W30 or 10W30. But oil type is important to snowblowers. Obviously, they are used in cold conditions, and using the wrong oil grade could cost you an engine. Oil, as you know, has a harder time flowing in colder temperatures.

Warm oil moves far more freely, and that’s partly why warming a snowblower up by idling it before putting it to work is advisable.

An engine needs protection at cold and warm temperatures. A thin oil is great for cold starts; the oil moves to where it’s needed quickly. But as the engine warms, the oil gets even thinner, which is not great for engine protection. A heavier grade oil is better for higher engine temperatures, and that’s why oil is blended.

Blended oil, also known as multi-grade oil, is used in all snowblowers. 5W30 or 10W30 are common types. The W means winter grade; the lower the number preceding the W, the thinner the oil. So, for example, 5W30 offers better cold start protection than 10W30, as 5W is thinner than 10W.

Oil type is mostly dependent on a couple of factors, the manufacturer’s recommendations and the typical ambient temperatures where the snowblower works.

How To Identify Low-Level Oil Cutout Switch

Low oil level sensor

As you know most snowblowers won’t have a low oil level cut-out switch. If your snowblower does, it will have a single wire sensor (typical) fitted towards the base of the oil pan.

Check your owner’s manual or check the spec on the manufacturer’s website.

If you have a sensor fitted and are concerned about its function check out this post for oil sensor troubleshooting (it’s a generator engine but sensors work in the same way) – “Oil change now won’t start.”

Mechanics Hack For Fast No-Start Diagnosis

Checking the oil level and topping up as necessary is obviously a great place to start your diagnosis.

An engine needs three things to start and run:

Small engine 4 stroke cycle
  • Fuel mix
  • Spark
  • Compression

In general, when an engine won’t start, it means there’s a problem with one of these systems. In my experience, it’s commonly a fuel or a spark issue.

In the workshop, where time is money, we’ll run the following test to check which system is at fault.

Gas shot

Remove the spark plug and dump a capful of gas into the cylinder and attempt to start the engine in the regular way.

Two outcomes are possible:

1 – The engine starts or attempts to start – the fuel system is at fault, commonly bad gas or dirty carburetor. Check out this post “Snowblower popping noise.” or check out the video here.

2 – The engine makes no attempt to start – likely a spark system fault. Fouled spark plug and faulty coils/armatures are common issues to look for. Check out this post “Snowblower won’t start no spark.” or check out the video here.