For years, almost all gas snow blowers have included a handlebar lever that helps protect hands and fingers by stopping the snow-scooping auger when the lever is released. An exception: the Toro CCR Powerlite 38182, a small, $440 model that Toro has sold under different names since the 1980s. Although the 38182 and similar 38172 models were recently discontinued, approximately 4,000 units were available in the early fall of 2009 in stores and online, on Toro's Web site and elsewhere.
An auger that spins whenever the engine is running poses an added risk if a person carelessly reaches into the discharge chute to clear a clog; the Toro's chute is an easy reach from the operator's position. And even a rubber-tipped auger such as the Toro's poses a threat to inquisitive children who come too close if, say, you step away to rescue the morning paper.
Lack of a handlebar lever led us to judge the earlier CR20E version of this snow blower Not Acceptable in 1989 and the CCR Powerlite version Not Acceptable in 1997. The lever, also known as an operator-presence control, addresses a voluntary industry safety standard aimed at stopping the auger within 5 seconds after the user leaves the operator's position. Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported more than 6,000 injuries attributed to snow blowers, including finger injuries and amputations.
In the past, Toro maintained that an operator-presence control is not required to meet the voluntary standard because an extra handle that lets you lift the machine over steps and other obstacles puts it in the handheld category, which the standard doesn't cover. While that may be true, it's inconsistent with how consumers will probably use the snow blowers.
Toro's replacement for the CCR Powerlite 38182 and 38172 will include the handlebar lever you'll find on most other models, including those from Toro. (See the October 2009 Snow blower Ratings, available to subscribers.)
In the meantime, we believe the CCR Powerlite machines pose the same safety concerns as earlier versions and have given them our Don't Buy: Safety Risk judgment. We've also notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission and are asking for an investigation. If you already own the 38182, similar 38172, or earlier CR20E or CCR Powerlite, be sure to shut off the engine before clearing a clog. Use a tool or broom handle to clear any clogs, as you would with any snow blower.
Never step away while the machine is running. And keep children and pets far away while you're using it.