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Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary

Location: Long Island, NY
Joined: Nov 26, 2010
Points: 219

The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Original Message   Dec 19, 2011 8:40 am
I never realized that by explaining how the friction wheel drive on another thread would cause such feelings of inadequacy in one poster that he felt compelled to pretend I had personally attacked him, which was never my intention.† But now that this has come to be a subject worthy of discussion, let's explore the comparison.†† Most snowblowers of the two stage variety use the very simple, easy to understand friction wheel drive to propel them.† Here then is the system explained so we all can begin with a clean slate.†

† The snowblower engine drive shaft will have a pully on it to drive a Vee belt that is attached at the other end to a 'Drive Plate'.† So long as the engine is running, the plate is spinning thanks to that belt.†† The wheels or tracks of the snowblower are connected to the drive system through a rubber faced friction wheel that rides at right angle to that 'Drive Plate', and the shaft the 'rubber faced friction wheel' rides on is one the rubber wheel can slide along from one side to the other.† That sliding motion then positions the rubber tire like friction wheel on the 'Drive Plate' depending on where you place it.† This is done with the cable running from the notched speed change lever on the operators console of the machine.† When you, the operator, squeezes the handle that engages the drive you are lifting that engine driven 'Drive Plate' into contact with the rubber faced 'Friction Wheel' and if the rubber is in good condition, and properly adjusted , it makes contact with the drive plate and†the snowblower will begin to move.† How fast or whether you move forward or reverse is dependent upon that speed control that usually†has something like 6 forward speed noitches, and two reverse.† That cable running to the friction wheel will allow it to ride across the drive plate at the center, for low speed, closer to the edge for high speeds, and even on the other side of the drive plate's center to make the friction wheel spin the opposite direction.† This puts the machine in reverse.† This then is what plays the role of a transmission on all 'Friction Wheel Drive' snowblowers.

The problem is that if the drive belt slips, the machine will not move.† If the rubber tire like friction wheel becomes hard and glazed, it will not properly grip the flat metal Drive plate, and you again, won't move.† In fact if the plate surface is slick from wear, or the friction wheel rubber is worn down, like when the tire on your car becomes bald it will again not properly contact the drive plate and transfer the engines power to those tracks or tires. Usually before this occurs you get a period of use when the machine requires the operator, You, to push it when it encounters greater resistance.† So it may move forward until it has to push itself into that heavy salt laden "end of the Driveway" pile, and then the friction wheels reduced 'Friction' ability causes it to spin no longer as the drive plate becomes polished from rubbing against the immobile rubber surface.† Here you have two options, first is you shove the 200 pound machine into the snow, or second, you stop, take it back into the garage where you better have the new friction wheel rubber and the tools and know how to replace the worn one that has rendered your snowblower useless.† This happens to such machines as a result of normal use, and depending upon how much wear that friction wheel suffers from the normal use of the machine.† Thus a snowblower moving light powder all the time will go much longer than the same machine used to throw, and push itself into wet heavy snow which wears the friction wheel more, and thus wears it out much faster.† If you happen to live in a climate where the snow is often wet and heavy, rather trhan light and fluffy powder, you should evalutae your ability to deal with this maintenance item.† Your owners manual will supply the repair procedure for this in most cases, as well as a parts diagram so you can order, and have on hand the necessary new rubber tire for that friction wheel.†† The manufacturer supplys that information precisely because they recognize the fact that†your snowblower will, at some point, require this work be done.† I personally understand all this from about ten years owning an Ariens Snowblower, followed by 15 years with an MTD built Sears Craftsman snowblower, both with the same friction wheel drive mechanism.††† Where I live in southeastern New York State, wet heavy snow is the rule, light fluffy powder is the exception.† This resulted in having to change these friction wheel rubbers about every two years on average, so my next new snowblower choice eliminated the problem entirely, albeit at some considerable cost.

The alternative system employs an actual 'Transmission'.† My John Deere Lawn Tractor ( X-300R) has such a transmission, and it has been problem free for many years.† So I paid as much for a new Honda, hydrostatic Transmission Driven snowblower (HS 928 TAS) as I paid for that John Deere tractor.† The extra cost to me was worth it.†

Now I do not tell everyone to buy the same machine I did, or even to avoid the friction wheel drive system common to most other snowblowers.† I simply think that BEFORE you spend the money on that new snowblower you know what you are buying.† The manufacturers, store clerks, and even Consumer Reports magazine will NOT tell you, as I just did, the Reality of owning those simple less expensive drive systems.†† By reading this you now understand : A)- How the thing works, B)- What To expect, and WHY, and C) - You now can buy based on an Informed Choice without discovering the hard way what will happen from normal use to your snowblower.†

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" It is the use of power tools that separates man from animals"

Location: New Brunswick, Canada
Joined: Feb 11, 2011
Points: 284

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #51   Dec 23, 2011 6:25 pm
borat wrote:
The disk slipping problem became prominent about five or six years ago when manufacturers switched engine brands/type that they used on their machines.† Most previous domestic snow blowers used the venerable Tecumseh Snow King L-head engine. † When the rumblings of Tecumseh's demise began, manufacturers switched over to B&S overhead valve engines.† In their haste to do so, they failed to ensure the belt cover fit correctly up against the front surface of the new engine.† Accordingly, there was a fair size crack for water to melt on the hot engine and make it's way down the front of the engine onto the friction drive system.† All of the talk about other points of water entry into the engine chassis seems a bit unrealistic.† At least in the case of the Simplicity/Snapper/JD machines based on the same platform.† All I did was to seal the crack between engine and belt cover and have not experience any slipping since.† On the Simplicity,† any other small holes on the chassis are neither large enough nor in a location to have any effect to allow water into the chassis.

I had a bit of slippage on one or two occasion with my Simplicity but in each case, I was blowing snow so deep that it was falling over the top of the intake and falling onto the engine from the side and melting at a considerable rate.† Fortunately, the slipping only occurred briefly and the machine regained traction in a matter of seconds. †

†††† You are absolutely† correct.††† My neighbour has a (new 2010) John Deere snowblower and he had that problem early last year, the melting snow on his motor was getting on his drive plate.†

But he is an industrial electrician and had many types of rubber†insulation in his truck†††† He †found a suitable piece and cut it to size and†sealed the crack†in front of the engine†,. He had no more problems.

This message was modified Dec 23, 2011 by royster


Joined: Feb 12, 2014
Points: 4

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #52   Feb 12, 2014 11:16 am
New_Yorker wrote:
Yet many people do not and certainly†very few people†contemplating the purchase of their first two stage snowblower understand how they work.†The manufacturers don't seem to provide any such explanations.† They seldom even tell us how much the machine weighs, or what the Horsepower or Torque the engines provide.† It is also worth knowing how they work†because some brands made a friction wheel and drive plate larger, and thus more capable than others.†† If you were, for example, to call the tech line at Ariens they would provide you with that data, though they do not actually post it anywhere as a specification.†† I have not found that any other brands even provide the same data when asked.†† When you consider that the power from the engine cannot drive the machine except through these 'Friction Discs' and their rubber tires, then the width of that tire and diameter of the tire will be useful information, just as a truck wears a larger tire size than a car to be capable of more severe use.††† If you take the time to research this, you will discover the friction discs are not the same size for similar size engines.† If you were to order the replacement 'Tire' for the friction disc from two different brands of similar size snowblowers, you can prove this yourself.†† You would do well to then purchase the one with the larger friction tire capable of doing heavier work, and lasting longer when tasked with the heavy work of snowblowing.††

This is an old thread but worth reviving. I agree with NY'er 100%. Strangely enough whenever someone delves into any depth of technical detail such as this, they are usually attacked and ridiculed on net message boards. It has become a modern phenomenon in its own right. Friction drive is a pathetic drive system, that works in spite of itself. It's a cheap alternative to a transmission with gears, or array of pulleys for gears. A hydrostat is like a drive found in a BULLDOZER. So there you have it. Moving the drive cog on the friction drive disc gives clutching and gear reduction variation all in one. But it is an inherently weak drive system best suited to a kid's toy, rather than power equipment. At one time they made CARS that way in the early 1900's until planetary gear automatic transmissions were perfected. If you are buying a used or new snow blower, ask what type of drive it has, and get a direct belt/gear drive setup if you can afford it. The problem with the internet is, people have largely become dumbed down victims of corp. advertising, after being talked into buying a FRICTION DRIVE unit, they don't and won't admit to themselves it's inferior, because it's what they bought. Admitting it's inferior, would mean admitting a mistake, and admitting getting taken for money, for a crappy product. So they attack the person who knows better, who is trying to calmly discuss and inform. A bad scene, and egos and pride get in the way of sound engineering. It takes a man to admit friction drive is a POS excuse for a transmission, and go look for a hydrostatic or direct gear/pulley/belt drive machine.
This message was modified Feb 12, 2014 by greatwhite2014

Joined: Feb 12, 2014
Points: 4

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #53   Feb 12, 2014 11:22 am
they tried friction drive in cars....they had to downshift to drive over a cigarette butt. no comparison to a direct drive with gears/belts or hydrostat
This message was modified Feb 12, 2014 by greatwhite2014

Joined: Feb 12, 2014
Points: 4

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #54   Feb 12, 2014 11:24 am
Smooth going with friction drive David Traver Adolphus Mar 14th, 2013 The first time I had an inkling that friction drive might not have been an ideal solution was about seven years ago. I had just photographed Bill Sears assembling his 1910 Sears high-wheeler (HCC #36 ) and we were driving it around looking for photography locations. One possible location was across a lawn, so I had Bill drive overÖor try to: When he attempted to climb the two- or three-inch ridge from the road onto the grass, the Sears just couldnít make the grade. The engine was willing and the tall wheels would have rolled over it with no trouble, but in between was a friction drive. When the glazed-over disc was confronted with the need to transfer maximum torque (from a 10hp engine) from a standstill, it couldnít do it. Eventually, we made it with a running startĖthere was no question it needed its transmission resurfaced. But there was also no question that the weak link was its friction drive. 1907 Cartercar chassis 1907 Cartercar chassis The principle in a friction drive couldnít be simpler: At the end of the driveshaft is a large disc; to get power from there to the axle, you apply a second disc at right angles. Presto: youíve turned longitudinal rotation into lateral. Increasing or decreasing pressure of one disc against another allows slip, like a clutch; and moving the axle disc in or out from the center changed the ratio. Aside from direct drive, it was also just about the simplest system imaginable to manufacture. 1907 Lambert chassis 1907 Lambert chassis For drivers attempting to operate a car for the first time, it was ideal. One lever with a mechanical connection made it instantly operable and very difficult to stall. Inherent slip eliminated jerky starts, a particular problem with the eraís touchy cone clutches, and that also protected it from rough handling. You canít strip gears that donít exist. Lastly, itís a transmission that could theoretically incorporate a flywheel doing double duty. With only a handful of moving parts, it was potentially very inexpensive to manufacture. But on the other hand, there was essentially always slip in the transmission, increasing with load. More than being inefficient, that made heat and shortened the friction discís lifespan. They had to be surfaced with high-friction materials, usually a pressed board or fiber disc of some kind. Easily replaceable, yes, but not durable, especially under extreme conditions. And just think about what would happen if mud or oil got splashed onto the discs. 1907 Cartercar chassis 2 1907 Cartercar chassis. Disc and wheel friction drive helped a number of affordable Brass Era cars get a foothold in the market, especially runabouts, and some did well, including Brush, Cartercar, Metz, Lambert and Simplicity. Inventors continued to work on the idea for decades, and occasionally a car would turn up with a variation on the theme. By the Teens, it was actually the Model Tís planetary transmission that was the oddball of choice; and research turned to the development of true automatics, which started to look distinctly possible by the late Twenties. .- See more at:

Joined: Feb 12, 2014
Points: 4

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #55   Feb 12, 2014 11:42 am
royster wrote:
Thankyou for that long explanation of how the disc drive system works , although I think that most of us know how they work, if we have ever owned one.

ok you understand it...but now tell us which machines being sold new today, has friction drive or the better belt/gear, or hydrostat drive ? what the man states is true. he's obviously a smart guy. if someone buys a new machine for $500-$1000 and it has friction drive, they got ripped off whether you, they, or anyone else here realizes it or not, or cares....(the rude yawn remarks) that's what happened in that scenario and I'd wager you bought a...friction drive.

Joined: Nov 29, 2008
Points: 2434

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #56   Feb 12, 2014 1:49 pm
I've only had experience with hydrostatic drive.† It is nice to be able to shift for forward to reverse on the fly.† Also, the ability to have really slow crawl speed without slippage is nice for EOD applications.† However, I do not like the fact that I don't have the freewheeling capability of friction disc where the axle is decoupled from the transmission so that I can push or pull the snowblower.†† There's a little lever down by the tracks that decouples the transmission, but it is not designed to be easily accessible and to be operated frequently.

While hydrostatic transmission is a nice luxury, it can be costly to repair or replace if neglected/abused.† With friction disc, this is cheap and easily to repair/replace.

Go with what you like and your pocket book can afford.† There's very good reasons for friction discs to prevail these last 50 years.†

Location: northern NY
Joined: Jan 18, 2009
Points: 48

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #57   Feb 13, 2014 9:19 am
I think some of the new higher end snappers are advertising they have a gear drive no ffriction disk! ! The old Toro power shifts had a peerless transmission in them no slipping with them!!!!!!

Joined: Mar 12, 2007
Points: 452

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #58   Feb 13, 2014 11:09 am
I can only share my experience. My snowblowers have a friction wheel and have never slipped or lost traction. Literally can pull me up my sloped driveway. I have two walk behind 21" lawn mowers. One has a friction wheel and the other has a commercial gear box. Both work flawlessly but my preference is for the infitiely variable friction wheel model. Sometimes I just can't find the right speed with the one with the gear box. Obviously a hydro drive would allow for any speed but I foolishly passed up a chance to buy a $1,250 Honda walk behind commercial 21" mower for $300 because my wife told me that I didn't need another no experience to share on it.

Joined: Feb 1, 2014
Points: 2

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #59   Apr 27, 2014 1:05 pm
Well, since the thread was resurrected I wonder if a couple of misunderstandings of the friction drive might be up for discussion.†

I too have had no problems with the friction drive on my 1982 Toro 724.† I inherited it from my brother when he moved to AUS.† It's spent its whole working life in West Michigan near Muskegon.† I'd say we get snow in all varieties and have had some real doozies in addition, of course, to many sparse years in between.†† But it's the original rubber drive in there.† This clutch has been maintained well and inspected yearly and looks to me like it was easily intended to last the life of the machine.† My blower is in near-new condition and well past its likely intended lifespan. Clutch amazingly shows little signs of wear. † I've greased, oiled, inspected, replaced parts 95 percent of the time with off-shelf items from belt and bearing suppliers (not 2x to 3x more expensive OEM),† repainted and tig welded when needed.† It's still in such good shape that last fall I replaced the still fine but tiring 7hp Tecumseh with an 11hp OHV Techumseh for 150 dollars shipped to the door.

The clutch's† robustness and power to the wheels have always defied intuition for me.† A simple rubber wheel held against a smooth steel disc driving a heavy machine into the snow?† There must be more to this.† So I stared at it one evening when I was in there greasing all the shaft bushings.† Sorry if this is actually common knowledge but I saw no reference to the real mechanics of this described in the thread.

The spring, unlike as described here and generally understood, does not hold the rubber to the disc.† In fact it pulls in the other direction!† Hmm.† If the spring is too tight (not likely is using an OEM) it will only serve to make engaging the drive at the handle grip more difficult, but will have zero effect on the pressure/engagement of the rubber against the disc.† The spring in question only serves to DISengage the drive, not hold the rubber to the disc.† So what is holding the rubber to the disc?† Not just the handlebar grip since that would make it very difficult to hold such strong engagement by the hand alone and would be tiresome.† The answer is a pretty elegant camming action and obvious if you look closely.

My Toro rotates the rubber drive wheel against the disc.† Some other designs bring the steel drive disc against the rubber wheel.† Both work on a similar principle of jambing the faces together with a camming action.†

There must be better engineering terms to describe this.† Sorry I'm not an engineer.† The rubber clad wheel is cammed about its axis.† I'm not saying, of course, that the rubber clad wheel rotates eccentrically.... only secondarily about its axis. When that assembly is rotated toward the steel drive disc the rubber engages the disc at a point just above the centerline shortest distance between the disc face and the rubber clad wheels' eccentric axis. At this point what you are doing at the handlegrip is pulling against the clutch drive spring. The clutch drive spring is keeping the rubber wheel away from the disc, not against it.† Once you've overcome the spring resistance with the handlegrip to bring the rubber to touch the spinning drive disc it grabs the rubber wheel, and using the rubber wheels' resistance (since it's mechanically static and linked to the wheels)† it drives the clutching faces a few degrees beyond the shortest distance between them determined by the rubber wheels' axis. This† jambs the rubber wheel against the steel disc with pressure far greater than could be accomplished with a spring alone.† Once in this position the only way to unjamb the rubber drive from disc is to release the handlebar grip and allow the strong clutch spring to pull the rubber back and out of its jamb against the disc.†

Anyone noticed that when this spring breaks or goes waaay too weak it does not result in a no-drive or weak drive situation?† If the spring breaks the clutch will remain engaged in the gear it was in and you can't stop the beast.†† There is no longer any spring to pull the rubber wheel away from the drive disc.† Another indication that this jambing/camming action is at work is that reverse is significantly less powerful than the forward settings.† The jambing design is, in reverse, working opposite of its intended design.† In reverse the only pressure applied to clutching faces is what you provide with the handlegrip since the disc is now rotating up against the rubber instead of downward and no jambing takes place.† The handlegrip linkage itself is levered at a point only a degree or so before it would jamb (and then render the clutch return spring useless in pulling it back) so it provides sufficient ease on the hand when holding it in reverse for a short while.

If the spring has nothing to do with the pressure of the rubber clad wheel against the drive disc I wonder what else might be at play when some notice that the drive is slipping.† It's easy to see how grease might be a culprit if it's not applied carefully.† Once slippage is induced over a period of time glazing would occur.† Nothing to do but sand it smooth and try again with a clean setup.† I don't believe that the steel face can become "too smooth",† The smoother the better as long as it remains dry and oil free.† Smooth = less wear on the rubber.† In a well 'jambed' state a rough surface should provide no better friction.† Rubber formulation and local climate are probably the worst factors. living near a corrosive salty ocean or running the blower on heavily salted surfaces would affect the life of all components, metal or rubber.† A poorly forumulated OEM rubber would crack and break down much faster than a superior one.

What might be interesting (just a little) is the relative efficiency of the friction vs hydrostatic. No doubt the hydrostatic is higher, and (i think) usually incorporates some form of differential to the drive wheels which must be a very nice addition for ease of use.† All totalled I would personally opt for the friction drive again if given the choice between two identical models (just for sake of comparison.... i doubt that choice exists between two otherwise alike blowers).†† The friction drive has proven itself to me, and I'm confident enough of my mechanical skills to fix it cheaply if it fails for whatever reason (unlike hydrostatic which would likely be an expensive fix or total replacement),

Sorry about all that if it's confusing, or worse, foolishly overstating the obvious for most here.†† An engineer might have explained that in one paragraph.††
This message was modified Apr 27, 2014 by frascati

Joined: Nov 2, 2014
Points: 3

Re: The "Friction Wheel" versus The Hydrostatic Transmission drive debate
Reply #60   Nov 2, 2014 10:35 pm
My 2 cents. I happen to be in the market for a 2 stage snow blower and doing my online research. Glad I came across this forum. I am making comparisons with Ariens, Cub Cadet and Toro where I noticed the various names they called their drive systems. Ariens calls theirs Disc-O-Matic and the others simply said self-propelled. The engineer that I am got me curious so I googled the terms. I realized then that this is the same old technology used in some lawn tractors. It may be reliable but it IS antiquated. I am quite surprised that manufacturers have not retooled and just made hydrostatic a standard instead of asking a premium price for them. When I bought my JD lawn tractor years ago, my main criteria was to get a hydro drive to replace my gear driven Simplicity. Needless to say I never looked back. The fact the mfrs don't go in to too much detail about the disc drives tells me they are holding back very important information for a consumer to know. I was leaning towards an Ariens at first as I do have a 5hp paddle push type Ariens blower and have been happy with it. They do make a hydro blower but appears to be more than double the price of a disc drive. It looks like I need to do some in depth shopping to see what I can get out there that suits my budget without compromising.
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