CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s going to snow, eventually. And if you want a cheap way to clear your driveway, but don’t want to tire yourself out shoveling, fixing a broken snowblower might be your best bet.
Or it may work out terribly. That’s the chance you take when buying and fixing broken tools and machines. I bought a broken snowblower for $20, which is cheaper than a sturdy snow shovel. After some legwork and trial and error — it seems to be working.
Is it worth buying and fixing used machines, like lawn mowers or washing machines? It can be, but it’s more of a gamble than an investment.
Why did I buy a broken snowblower?
Whether you should buy used machines and fix them depends on your situation. Here’s the context around mine.
I moved into a new home last summer, and I bought the lawn mower and weed whacker from the last homeowners. But the snowblower didn’t stick around. With a 100-foot-long driveway I wanted one, but I couldn’t justify the price tag.
A cheaper electric machine didn’t make sense in my situation, at least not without a very long, weatherproof extension cord. Even a smaller, gasoline-powered snowblower cost $500 or more. The name-brand machines I gravitated toward cost even more.
I have been keeping my eye on Facebook Marketplace, and I saw a listing that made sense.
It was $20. It started on the first or second pull and the “throttle cable needed adjusted.” When I looked for used machines during the winter months, even the worst ones were $100 or more. This snowblower was cheap, a short drive away and a brand I recognized, so parts would be easy to find.
The machine was more broken than advertised; but let me be clear: If you buy a snowblower for $20, or if someone gives you a free machine, that comes with the territory.
On this machine the “cable” runs from the handle to a pulley system that moves the snowblower’s paddles. Without it, the blower doesn’t work. But, it had snapped.
I didn’t know it when I started unscrewing panels and disconnecting things. Fixing it wasn’t hard work, just time-consuming. And frustrating.
Essentially, I took the machine apart, found something that looked broken, ordered a new part and replaced it. When that didn’t work, I adjusted it and tried again. When it still didn’t work, I replaced another part. When I broke something else while trying to fix it, I improvised.
All said and done, I spent $22 on parts and portions of two afternoons fixing the snowblower. I can’t test it on snow at the moment. But it does throw grass clippings.
I should specify that I know very little about mechanical endeavors. I have never taken a shop class and I break more things than I fix. But with trial and error — and YouTube — you can put most things together.
So, you want to fix something? Here are some tips:
I don’t know how to fix most things. But I know how to learn how. Here’s a novice’s tips on fixing whatever it is you broke (or bought broken).
• Take Photos – If you take something apart, you better know how to put it back together. And you’ll probably forget what it used to look like. Taking photos gives you a reference point.
• Stay Organized — Make sure every screw, spring and doohickey you take off a machine is put somewhere where you won’t lose it.
• Find the model number — Most items, whether it’s a lawn mower or TV, have a model number or serial number. It’s usually on a sticker, metal plate or etched into a place where you normally don’t see it. It’s incredibly useful information. A model number helps you find the product on a manufacturer’s website. That way you can find parts made for your machine, whether it’s directly from the manufacturer or another seller, like Amazon.
• Find a video - Someone, somewhere has the same machine as you. And the same problem. Odds are someone has fixed it and filmed themselves doing it. Model numbers, here, are crucial. Odds are also good that this person is not a professional how-to video maker. But sitting through an excruciatingly boring how-to video is better than five hours of figuring it out yourself.
• Will it turn on? - If it doesn’t turn on, I avoid it. It’s much easier to fix something if you can turn it on, let it run and see what’s broken. If there’s no power, it becomes harder. At least for me.
• Lean on experts - The people selling parts are usually helpful and willing to hear your questions.
• Don’t rush to buy something – You may see a great deal on Facebook Marketplace or even in a store that’s getting rid of old merchandise. But don’t have fear of missing out. Other deals will come. The second I bought this broken snowblower and got it home, Facebook Marketplace started showing me better ones for similar prices.
• Don’t drive far – Don’t go out of your way for a free or cheap item. You’re already taking a risk. Don’t do that and drive for an hour.
• Buy a good socket wrench set – The truth is fixing cheap or free machines often means having expensive tools. That being said, a good socket wrench set and a multi-bit screwdriver are a godsends.
• Realize things will go wrong - No one is good at something the first time they try. Be prepared for less-than-stellar results.
Should you fix a broken machine? And is it practical?
Whether you should fix something really comes down to how long you think it will last. The best analogy for this is a vehicle.
Let’s say you need a major repair and it’s $2,000. But buying a new vehicle has a $300 monthly payment.
If your vehicle runs for longer than another seven months, the repair saved you money — without factoring in trade-in value. If it’s your car, it’s relatively new and everything is in good shape that seems like a great bet.
But it’s a clunker on Facebook Marketplace — and yes, people do try to sell vehicles with known problems — there are too many unknowns. You should probably pass.
The same math applies to snowblowers, lawn mowers and even cell phones. The only difference is that you may be providing the labor.
For example. When I first moved to Cuyahoga Falls I was lucky to get a free washing machine from a co-worker (If you’re reading this, Doug, thanks again.) Only problem is the agitator needed to be replaced.
The plastic fins on the agitator were known to break on this model of washer, it was explained to me. A new agitator at the time was about $50 and I think had a six-month warranty.
Essentially, it was $50 for at least six months — or $8.50 a month. I could buy a new machine for $600. If it lasted five years, it would be $10 a month.
The washing machine ended up lasting 19 months. This was probably bad karma, but I sold it when I moved instead of gifting it to someone else. Far as I know, it worked well for the next owner, too.
Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to fix things. My furnace broke and needed a $1,400 repair but a new one was $3,600. I would (and did) buy a new furnace.
Using used machines can also be a hassle. And for another example, I’ll pick on my sister.
Her washer had broken, and my dad had picked up a used machine for a quick and cheap replacement.
The problem is this was a repeat process. I don’t remember how many times we took washing machines in and out of her basement. I texted her to ask and she said, “Too many.” She has since upgraded.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to buy a new one. Less than a year ago my parents’ washing machine broke. I looked at it, watched a few YouTube videos and “diagnosed” the problem. I even found the part it needed and ordered it.
“It’s probably an easy fix,” I told them. “And if you don’t want it, drop it off at my house and I’ll fix it.”
My dad called my bluff, bought a new one and dropped the old one off at my house. And that’s why a washing machine, with the needed parts sitting on it by the way, has sat untouched in my basement.
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