Sticky snow-blower cable

I’ve had growing problems the last couple years with one of the control cables on my Sears snowblower.  One of those cables like a bicycle brake cable, with the inextensible inner wire, and the incompressible outer sheath.  I’m sure there’s a technical name for cables like that, but I don’t know what it is.  (Update: They’re called Bowden cables.)

It’s the cable that directs the discharge chute up or down.  It became very sticky, so that I could pull the lever to lower the chute, but when I pushed the lever to raise the chute, it wouldn’t go back up by itself.

In previous years, I had tried to lubricate the cable with some 3-in-1 oil, but the effect didn’t last.

This year, I did some research and found a couple approaches that people have used to lubricate cables for other machines:

  • You can buy a cable lubrication kit at motorcycle shops.  It comes with a pressurized can of lubricant, and a little adapter that fits over the end of the cable sheath.  Apparently you don’t have to remove the cable from the sheath, the adapter seals around it somehow.  Just install the adapter, connect the pressurized can, and spray the lubricant through the cable.
  • I also found a mention somewhere of a clever trick from the snow-mobile world: lubricate your cables with automatic transmission fluid.  Unlike 3-in-1 oil, it doesn’t thicken up at low temperatures.  And it’s got a lot of detergents and cleaners in it to keep the cable clean.

I happened to have a mostly-unused quart bottle of transmission fluid, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I removed the cable from the snow-blower and brought it into the house.  Before adding the ATF, I wanted to try to clean out the cable as well as I could.  I used WD-40 for that.  I hung the cable up from a ceiling joist.  I squirted WD-40 into the top end and worked the cable for a few seconds.  And repeat.  Many, many times I repeated.  Eventually, black gunk started coming out the bottom end of the cable.  I continued repeating small injections of WD-40 for what seemed like an eternity, but eventually, the gunk coming out the bottom of the cable started to run clear.

At that point, I started injecting ATF in the top.  I used a syringe, because the gap between the cable and the sheath is so small.  When the gunk coming out the bottom had the same clear red colour as the ATF going in the top, I figured the cable was finally well cleaned and full of ATF.

I put the cable back onto the snow-blower, and I’m happy to say it’s been working great since then, through a few pretty heavy snow-falls.  In fact, I had to tighten up the friction on the control lever, because the chute was tending to creep up all by itself.  It’s fabulous now.

17 Responses to “Sticky snow-blower cable”

  • I don’t suppose the cable was generic enough to just go buy a new $2 bike gear/brake cable at Canadian Tire? 🙂

  • It has weird-shaped metal knobs molded on the ends of the wire. The wire isn’t just clamped like on a bike.

  • My first car had a cable like that for the clutch that got a little high friction. I just filled it with oil like you did, but never bothered trying to get the gunk out.
    For a snowblower, its probably more worth while. Those snowblowers can last a very long time. My parents have a long driveway, and the 25 year old blower still works.

  • My snowblower runs and moves when I pull that cable. I notice the sheath moves up and down over that cable fine. Doesn’t throw snow because my chute cable is also sticky and btw it is also a Sears.
    When I pull that cable the sheath doesn’t move like the other one.
    Can I fix this without taking it apart – I’m not the most mehanically inclined human on the planet. Other than WD-40 or the motorcyle kit described above…any other ideas for freeing this up without taking it all apart?

  • I fixed my snowblower problem at last…. I moved to Florida…

  • There is a great lubricant called Fluid Film. It has lanolin in it and will not freeze up even in very cold and moist conditions. It is used by the US Navy to combat rust. I have used it on a troublesome snow blower chute cable and have not had a problem since (during the summer I disassembled and cleaned the cable before applying the Fluid Film).

  • Just curious – did this work out well, or did it end up sticking again that winter? I’m about to clean and lubricate the ones on my snowblower and I’m trying to decide whether I should use transmission fluid or go with something thicker that will stay in there longer.



  • Thanks for this! My cable broke, and I just got the replacement, so I’m looking around for precautions I might take to prevent the sticking/breaking issue from repeating itself. My father-in-law just replaced his cable on a very similar Sears machine, only to have the new one snap within a week!

    Someone told him to try soaking the new cable in anti-freeze first, but I think the ATF might be a better option.

    I don’t think we’re the only ones with this problem, either. This has been a doozy of a winter in Canada, and the cable part was back-ordered at more than 600 customers when I called about three weeks ago. I actually had to get the whole assembly just to get a replacement cable.

    • And buying the whole cable unit isn’t cheap on a Husqvarna, $50,00 plus.
      We caught a couple of warnh days recently and my deflector cable unfroze by itself. I was not about to spend that amount of money for a piece of wire. I bought single strand electric wire and gerryrigged it to the handle. Cost $0.OO as I was fortunate to have the wire hanging in my garage.
      Another suggestion.
      For seven or so dollars you can buy light flexible hose that is used in physical therapy. You can either put the whole cable through and use tiedowns at both ends to prevent moisture from draining into the cable, Or cut a piece of that flexible hose to use on each end and use tiedowns.

  • I did the same thing and it works well
    However I used some Mobil 1 oil that I already have instead of the ATF.
    I injected about 9 cm3

    • I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to inject anything into the cable sheath. It seems to be blocked somehow and all the lubricant simply puddles on my garage floor. What am I doing wrong??


    What I found out is Ariens improved the cable so the actual metal cable is coated with nylon now to improve/resist against rust. This worked for me in 2 nh snow storms now and took 5 mintues to replace.

  • in canada sub zero weather….. fluid film freezes like crazy….i heard it worked but it dosnt…..transmission fluid is great….but add 50% atf fluid and acetone mix….now you have a nice lube

  • Michel Duhaime

    I believe that the problem isn’t Dirt in the cable unless there is dirt from the cable running inside plastic cable. The problem is moisture collecting inside cable and freezing. is free on a warm day but won’t work in the cold.

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