If you’ve made the decision to go with a gas-powered snowblower you might think it’s then just a matter of deciding what type of bells and whistles are important to you and whether or not you need a self-propelled model. It’s not that simple, as there are actually two different types of engines commonly used in snowblowers. In less expensive models it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to use a 2-cycle design, while in most higher-end models you’ll find machines normally have 4-cycle engines. If that means absolutely nothing to you, that’s okay – we’ll explain the difference below.
Before we go too much further though, I’d like to point out that 2-cycle engines are not very common these days – even in less-expensive snowblowers. There are two main reasons for this – first of all, they do require a little more effort on your part; secondly, they tend to have shorter working lives. So while 4-cycle engines may be a little bit more expensive to produce, in the long run they’re likely a better choice.
Snowblowers with 2-Cycle Engines
My first experience with a 2-cycle engine was as a 12-year-old kid when my dad asked me to cut his lawn for the first time. I’d helped my friends cutting their parents lawn before, so it seemed pretty simple – all you had to do was put gas in the mower and it was ready to go. With this thought in mind I remember reaching for the gas can to add gas to my dad’s mower, and then watching the horrified look on his face as I started to pour. As it turns out, my dad’s mower was a 2-cycle engine lawnmower, which required a gas and oil mixture. Fortunately, I never quite got the gas spout into the mower and the crisis was averted.
The way a 2-cycle engine works is that the motor fires every time the piston reaches the top of its cycle – so essentially it’s firing on every second stroke, the upstroke. This is a very fuel-efficient model, but its design does not include oil for lubrication purposes. In order to lubricate the moving parts, oil has to be mixed in with the gasoline, which honestly is a bit of a pain to do. If you don’t get the mix just right you can do some damage to the engine, and as a rule these engines have a shorter shelf-life than their 4-cycle cousins anyway. They also have the annoying habit of creating a lot of smoke during the combustion process, which isn’t really the best for the environment.
A snowblower with a 2-cycle engine will require less gas to go the same distance as one with a 4-cycle engine, but it will also likely have a shorter shelf-life. Yes, you may save a little money in the short run, as snowblowers that use this model are less expensive. But if you factor in the greater wear and tear on an engine that’s constantly firing, you may actually save money in the long run by going with the 4-cycle engine model.
Snowblowers with 4-Cycle Engines
The most common type of snowblower engine these days is the 4-cycle engine. As we’ve already alluded to above, this type of engine is a more efficient design. The motor only fires every second time that the piston reaches the top, or more specifically on the fourth stroke. This design creates less wear-and-tear on the engine, but it does require more fuel overall. Manufacturers have overcome this drawback by improving other aspects of how the engine works in order to improve fuel economy.
I don’t pretend to be a mechanic, but there is also one other main reason that I believe a 4-cycle engine is superior to a 2-cycle engine; that’s the simple fact that with a 4-cycle engine you don’t have to mix the oil and gasoline together. Sure, if you have a measuring container it shouldn’t be that difficult to get the right mixture, but personally I’d rather avoid messing around with that type of thing. I guess it’s an individual choice.
The biggest drawback of a 4-cycle engine is that it will require a little more regular maintenance. You will have to perform yearly oil changes on this type of machine, either at the end of the winter or at the beginning before you use the machine again. If you don’t perform regular oil changes you will reduce the life of your engine.