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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review Of Snowjoe SJ620 Electric Snowblower

This is the long-delayed full review of the electric snowblower that I bought at the end of January of this year. Since then, I have been trying to write a review of it, but something or the other has always come up and prevented me from finishing up such a review. As it stands, this review may be a little late for this winter (at least in the northern hemisphere), but as they say, better late than never. Hopefully, the product will be available next winter also, and this review might come in handy at that time. You can also read this earlier post for a mini-review of the performance of this snowblower.

The SJ620 snowblower is manufactured by Snowjoe Incorporated, a New Jersey company. It is available from Amazon.com and other online retailers for around $200. I bought mine new from VM Innovations for under $200 (though they seem to be selling only a refurbished one right now). It came in about 2 days in an approximately 2-foot cubical box that weighed in at about 35 lbs. Unpacking the thing was quite simple. Once you get the snowblower out of the box, and rid it of its plastic coverings, you see that the thing is pretty much fully assembled.

Pretty much the only thing left for you to do is to straighten the handle (which is folded into 3), and tighten the bolts at the joints so that the handle stays straight. You also have to attach a slender rod as a handle for the chute that directs snow that is blown by the snowblower. That is pretty much it. The snowblower is now ready to use.

The assembled snowblower weighs about 31 lbs. It comes with three user manuals, one in English, one in French and one in Spanish. I threw away the ones in French and Spanish. The first part of the manual explains in detail how to assemble the snowblower (with lots of pictures). After that it explains how to hook up the electric cord, and what types of cord to use. To summarize this section, this snowblower requires 13 Amperes of current delivered to its motor. If you are going to use up to a 50-foot long extension cord, that cord can be 14-gauge. Anything between 50 and 100 feet requires 12-gauge wire. Using an inadequate gauge for the extension cord can lead to heating of the cord, overheating of the snowblower motor, poor performance because the motor does not operate at full capacity, or even fire.

The next few pages of the manual explain how to start and operate the snowblower and is filled with the usual precautions about making sure you don’t hit loose rocks and other debris. Then the manual explains how to replace the drive belt and other user-replaceable parts of the snowblower in case of failure or wear and tear. Apart from the drive belt, the rubber plates on the auger blades, and the scraper bar at the bottom of the snowblower are also user-replaceable.

Interior of SJ620 After Removing Side Panel Most parts of the snowblower are made of plastic. The auger blades are made of metal, but pretty much everything else is made of plastic, including the housing in which the auger operates. I opened up one of the side panels on this housing to see how the motor is linked to the auger blades, and found that the pulley over which the drive belt is wound is plastic also. You can see a picture of this plastic pulley in the picture to the left.

In preparation for the snowblower, I went to a local hardware store and got things that I know I need to use with the snowblower. Most important of these purchases was a 100-foot 12-gauge extension cord. I got a good low-temperature wire with a lighted end. The lighted end is not that important though it does come in handy by letting you know immediately if the plug end has fallen out of the wall outlet. Cords designed for use in low temperatures remain flexible at sub-freezing temperatures, making them easier to manipulate. This is particularly handy when you are dragging the wire back and forth across your driveway behind a snowblower. My extension cord cost me about $45, and you can also get cords like these online.

Secondly, I also bought an extension cord reel that will help me keep the wire wound up and out of the way when not in use. The reel is also useful in making sure that the wire does not get damaged because of people stomping on it all the time, or by being run over by your car in the garage, etc. I got my reel for under $10.

I also bought some spray cans of silicone lubricant. Jig-A-Loo and Liquid Wrench are the brands I bought, but any other silicone lubricants would probably work just as well. Once I finished assembling the snowblower, I sprayed a coat of silicone lubricant on the snowblower’s blades, the inside of the blade housing, the chute and the joint between the snowblower body and the chute. These are places that will come in contact with snow, and the silicone lubricant keeps the snow from sticking to these surfaces. This helps prevent clogs and freeze-ups.

Starting and operating the snowblower are are very easy. There is a large blue button on the right hand side of the handle near where the extension cord plugs in. You depress this button while pulling the trigger against the handle to start the snowblower. Let go of the trigger, and the snowblower shuts down. Once it shuts down, pulling on the trigger again will not restart it. You once again have to hold in the button while pulling on the trigger to restart the snowblower. I had no problems operating either the button or the trigger with heavily gloved hands.

The snowblower is not self-driven, so you have to push the snowblower to move it. I found that the snowblower was quite easy to push because of its light weight, but the light weight also means that you have to push down on it to make sure it cleans up snow all the way to the ground level. Otherwise, the lip will ride over a couple of inches of snow next to the ground, and end up leaving that layer of snow on the ground.

As mentioned in this post, I got a chance to use this snowblower almost as soon as I put it together. And the snowblower did an excellent job in my opinion. It did not have any problem blowing through 9 or 10 inches of snow even though that is slightly over the 8 inches the user manual mentions as the maximum height of snow this snowblower is supposed to be used on. The throwing distance was anything from 10 feet to 25 or 30 feet depending on the type of snow I was blowing. The throw distance also depended on the quantity being thrown, with the distance increasing with quantity up to a certain point and then decreasing after that. The optimal snow depth for maximal throwing distance seemed to be about 4 to 6 inches depending on the weight of the snow being thrown.

The snow blower did not have any problem with the heavy ice and water mixture left at the end of my driveway by streetplows either. The last 4 or so feet of my driveway usually take me about 45 minutes to clear with a snow shovel. Now, this snowblower clears that up in about 10 minutes. Add in about 15 to 20 minutes for the rest of the driveway, and my entire driveway is clear in about half an hour instead of the usual hour and a half to two hours I used to take, clearing the whole driveway with a snow shovel.

Popped Off Wheel SJ620The only problem with the snowblower was that one of the retaining clips holding the wheel on the axle broke off at some point, leaving the axle disconnected from the bracket that holds the axle to the snowblower body. This caused the wheel on the right hand side of the snowblower to drag along the floor instead of holding up the snowblower. But this was not a huge issue since the snowblower is very light, the wheels are tiny, and the snowblower moves along quite easily whether or not that wheel is actually in place. You can see the axle popped out of the bracket in the picture to the left.

I was somewhat upset when this happened, but it is purely a mechanical problem, so I set about figuring out how to repair it myself. That is the way my engineering mind works. I actually did not know what held the axle to the bracket. Looking at the other side of the axle, I could see a black ring around the axle on the outer side of the bracket, but I did not know what it was exactly. I decided to improvise, and devised my own solution using a paper clip, which I wrapped around the axle to keep the axle from popping off the bracket. The picture to the right shows this axle held up with the paper clip.Paper Clip Wheel Fix 2

Unfortunately, this fix lasted only a short time, and the paper clip popped off the axle during the stress and strain of pushing and pulling the snowblower across my driveway. I then went to the Snowjoe website and used their contact form to describe my problem and ask them for a solution. I waited for a couple of days, but never got a response to that submission.

So, I called up Snowjoe, and managed to get through to a live operator within 15 minutes. I explained my problem to the operator, who told me that the part that holds the bracket to the axle is called a retaining clip or circlip. He could not tell me what the diameter of the circlip needed is, but since the axle itself is exactly half an inch in diameter, and the circlip fits in a groove cut into the axle, a circlip just below half an inch in diameter (such as 3/8ths of inch or 7/16ths of an inch) would probably fit. You can find circlips of many different diameters in your local hardware store, so if this should happen when the snowblower is outside warranty, you can buy your own circlips (under 50 cents each) and fix the problem. In my case, since the snowblower was under warranty, Snowjoe arranged to send me a circlip by mail (I should have gotten it about 3 days after they mailed it, but the USPS lost that first mailing, and I had to call Snowjoe and ask them to send me a second one, so I actually got mine only about 20 days after I first called Snowjoe).

The verdict? I would rate this snowblower a solid four and a half out of 5 stars. It works as advertised, and is plenty powerful for the kinds of light snowfall it is rated for (obviously, if you live where you get 10 feet of snow every winter, you probably want, and have, something a lot bigger and more powerful). It is light and easy to operate, and held up well under pretty stressful conditions. The all-plastic construction is somewhat worrying, but that is what makes the machine light and easy to handle. The breaking of the circlip around the axle was upsetting, but Snowjoe’s customer service was very good (and that breakage gave me an opportunity to actually call and test their customer service). If your snowblowing needs are similar to mine (about 3 feet of snow a year, very seldom over 6 inches of snow at a time), you will probably not go wrong getting this snowblower.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I bought this snowblower last winter, and IMO it totally stinks. It did all right with snow of no more than four inches, but anything higher, even just five or six inches, was a disastrous experience. My machine struggled mightily with snowfall of six inches and became so hard to push that I was lunging into it with all my weight, red faced, heart pounding like a drum, panting, and exhausted. It might be easy for a man or a very strong woman to push, but it was a nightmare for me.

My SnowJoe also broke down after just a handful of uses. It made it through six weeks of a very long, cold, snowy winter. IMO, it is an awful product, and when I bought it, I wasted money I could ill afford to spend.

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