Adventures in snowblowing -
Fun with a Honda snowblower and the uselessness of Home Depot.
So I decided to be a good, responsible person and buy a snowblower before the white stuff began to fly.
I went to Home Depot in December and checked out what they had, then went on the internet and did some homework, and I bought a Honda "Harmony" HS 520. 4-cycle engine so I didnít have to mix gasoline and oil for it; electronic start, the whole deal, for about $850. I try to buy good equipment so that I'm not dealing with breakdowns - it's usually worth the extra investment, to me at least.
Turns out that this - buying pricey equipment, even name brand equipment, from Home Depot - was also a mistake.
I set the snowblower in the carport to wait for snow.
But it didnít snow.
We got one snow, maybe 4 inches, in late January, and I set up the snowblower and ran it up and down the driveway, just to see that it worked. When the choke lever was pulled, it just kind of hung there, like it wasnít really attached to anything, and pulling it didnít seem to change any aspect of the engine. I began to wonder if I had gotten a lemon.
I hoped not - I could not find the sales receipt.
It was the middle of February when we really got some snow. The snowblower lasted for one complete pass of the driveway, and that was that. Sometime shortly afterward, I stopped into Home Depot to ask about the issue of no receipt, and was told that a long as I knew the date, they could find it in the computer.
It took me a while to dig out my credit card bill and figure out the date. I was slow, I know, but I figured that I wasnít looking for an exchange, but rather a warranty repair.
In the meantime, I pulled the engine cover off the snowblower - I figured that Iíd find a choke cable to attach. But there was no choke cable, just two parts of a broken plastic connector that didnít quite fit together. I couldnít find anything that might have held a cable. Time to let the experts have a look at it.
It was the middle of April by the time I got the snowblower to Home Depot.
Except that the "look the receipt up on the computer" thing I was told they could do only worked for 30 days, which means it wouldnít have worked if Iíd known the date during that first conversation!
But they were more than willing to send the snowblower off to their repair center. The repair center would decide what it needed, they said, and what was covered by warranty, and the center would call me so I could decide what to do.
And a month went by. Iím getting used to these sorts of things taking a while, so I wasnít too concerned, but I was wondering why they hadnít called.
The middle of May, I got the call, but it wasnít the repair center, it was Home Depot.
The basics: your snowblower is back, they didnít fix anything, you owe $47.50. No, I donít know anything more than that.
So I pay my Home Depot (in Amsterdam, upstate NY, USA) a visit on May 15th. And, yíknow, it doesnít make any more sense to them than it did to me. Eventually, this is the story:
There repair center, Altaquip, is in lower Connecticut. It went there, they contacted the Home Depot by fax with no response (while I sat there, the center sent three faxes that failed to make it through), and it was Home Depot, not this place, that was supposed to contact me.
This is what the slip says: "upon inspection, the equipment was found to have damage or missing parts that are not warrantable (sic). An estimate was generated and either declined or received no response. The unit is being returned unrepaired." Further down: "choke bracket broken, carb needs to be replaced." There was a $45 charge for labor time (45 minutes, which is also how long I sat at Home Depot trying to find this out). Home Depot was going to be nice enough to not pass the charge on to me.
So: there are pieces missing from the snowblower (these would be the pieces that were missing when I bought it), which somehow affects their ability to fix it. The carburetor apparently wasnít "warrantable." And if I wanted it fixed, it was going to cost $153.25.
I took the snowblower and left. Up the road was H&M equipment, which Honda (and the Honda snowmobile / motorcycle place up the road a bit further) assured me was a repair dealer for snowblowers. I figured that they might give me some idea of what the warranty issues were.
No, they donít handle snowblowers (neither did the other place) . Yes, the warranty should be at least a year. What do you mean, Home Depot didnít make good on this? Never buy equipment from box stores.
I described the problem. Oh, you need a new carburetor - I can order you one for $21, theyíre easy to replace, and the new one will have the choke assembly.
When we went to get the serial number from the snowblower, I noticed that a small cover on top of the engine cowl was missing. This was bad news - I had to return to Home Depot to have them send for it - and okay news - one glance, plus a poke-of-the-hand through the hole, and the H&M guy was sure that it was all a carburetor issue. In maybe 20 seconds he certainly duplicated Altaquipís "45 minute inspection."
Iíve got a carburetor coming in a couple of days, for about 30 bucks total, and weíll see how easily it goes on, but it was much more satisfying just to talk to someone who 1) knew what they were doing, and 2) were really willing to help. If I ever need a forklift, Iím going back to this place (they mostly handle industrial equipment).
Other than dealing with H&M, the only satisfaction Iím going to get out of this is posting a webpage on it. I know that Google really likes my other pages; I can only hope that this may extend to the whole domain, so anyone doing a search on Home Depot, Home Depot complaints, snowblowers, or Honda snowblowers, will get the page early in their search.
ONE WEEK LATER, I visited Home Depot again. No one there has ever heard of someone needing a missing snowblower part, and gee, there's nothing about it on my account page in the computer. This time, the person behind the counter says that the part will never be replaced, but if I can figure out the part number they will replace it, if it is covered by the warranty; otherwise, I'll have to buy one. Altaquip has no accountability at all (he says he wouldn't use them if they didn't have to, because Home Depot owns Altaquip). Once again I get information that conflicts with what I've been told before - instead of repairs having to go through Home Depot, he tells me that I should have used a local authorized repair shop.
Absolutely, totally clueless.
I've gotten the new carburetor;
update on that to follow. I believe that it will be easy to replace -
I just need to work up the nerve. Plus, I haven't learned, I'll
probably put it off until I have to do it.
UPDATE: Yes, I waited until we had a Nor'easter bearing down on us to try to fix the thing (it wasn't laziness, but fear that I wouldn't be able to do it right). I set up inside the house - there was no gas in it, so it didn't have smell or leakage issues. After setting up a sheet that I could put bolts and nuts on, with labels, I took off the snow shoot, the main cowl, the under-back cowl (disconnecting the color-coded ignition wires), and worked my way to the two long bolts that held in the carburetor. I only stopped three times when I decided it wasn't going to work, but eventually figured out what hadn't seemed workable. I had brought an exploded parts diagram from the dealer who gave me the carburetor (he ran it off special for me), and that really helped when more parts came free than I could keep quick track of. The gaskets were all fine (it was a new machine, after all), and the attached tubes and such were easy to disconnect and reconnect and once I realized that I needed to tilt the machine and work sort of down, then figured out (with my wife's help) the order of everything going back in, it went right together. (At one point, looked over at the removed cowl and I realized that the missing plastic door had been hanging inside it by a tether!) The choke handle easily fit into the non-broken plastic piece, and the rest of the internal parts and bottom cowl fit back on. I took it outside, checked the oil (it was fine), put a bit of gas in it, connected the extension cord, and...
It wouldn't start. Then I realized that I hadn't put in the ignition key. It started up and ran, and the choke worked and everything. I have to admit, I'm amazed.
Now we'll see how it handles in a real situation tomorrow...
SUCCESS! It all seems to be working fine - didn't blow up, leak gas, or turn and eat me. With the ability to actually control the choke (which I could have done, it turns out, by reaching through the "missing" door panel and flipping the doodad the choke attaches to), all was good. It was harder to control and push than the Toro I used to have, but that might have been the ice underlying the snow making the footing odd. If there are no further updates, all continues to be well.
ONE MORE THING: KEEP THE BLOWER TOASTY. On the next day, it started right up with the pull cord, but it took the thing maybe ten minutes of warm-up before it was ready to actually work. From now on, I'll keep it in the house when a storm is coming - it is remarkably unsmelly, even just after use.
AND TO BE FAIR, after several uses, I'm getting pretty impressed with the snowblower. I had done my Consumers' Reports homework before shopping, and they were mostly right - if the sucker actually is intact, it's not a bad machine. But the company should definitely be paying better attention to their approved repair centers.
ANOTHER UPDATE: another year, more snow. Somehow, the pin that held the articulation elbow of the chute is...gone. I've rigged the elbow with two long roofing nails, but I may need to find my heavy-gauge wire. Engine is running fine, though, just needed some oil. Tilting the machine so that the oil access is vertical does not spill gas, if you have one of these and want to know that (I know I was hesitant to do it).
2011 UPDATE: Not using the blower a lot (long driveway, getting plowed now), but I have used it a couple of times to clear the long driveway and it's fine. Didn't even need to be kept warm, and it started with the pull rope. The end of last season, the vibrations loosened the bolts and I lost them in the snow, but finding replacements wasn't that hard...at Lowe's.
Copyright 2007 - 2011, Michael McDarby.