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Snow blowers that make easy work out of snow removal

Machines from Cub Cadet and Ariens are among Consumer Reports' top picks

Published: November 25, 2013 06:30 PM

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With a major snowstorm sweeping through much of the country, you might thinking about a new snow blower. Our current Ratings have a couple of dozen worthy models to consider. That includes the Cub Cadet 3X line, with its additional impeller to loosen tough snow and new Ariens two-stage models with a carlike differential that allows easy turning without levers. But for every model that passes muster in our tests, there are one or two that come up short. Here are details on winners to consider and losers to avoid.       

All snow blowers have at least one auger for loosening and throwing snow, usually out a chute. Two-stage models add a fanlike impeller to the auger that throws snow out the chute with more force, for greater distance. The 30-inch Cub Cadet 31AH57S,$1,500, and 26-inch Cub Cadet 31AH55T, $1,100, had some extra oomph thanks to the additional impeller in front. They didn’t throw our test's wet sawdust farther than others, but a higher percentage of what they threw went the maximum distance. The 26-inch Cub Cadet 31AH55T, in fact, ranked up with the 30-inch models for removal speed. (The photo above shows how we test snow blowers when there's no snow.)

The new stars in the Ariens lineup threw as far as other two-stage Ariens models we’ve tested. The auto-style differential on the 30-inch Ariens 921032, $1,300, and 28-inch Ariens AX254 921030, $1,000 at Home Depot, though, eliminates wheel-release triggers by letting the inside wheel spin more slowly during turns. This means a lot when you’re in a hurry to clear snow to get out of the driveway, as two-stage models typically weigh 180 to 300 pounds. These machines, as a result, turned more easily than any other large two-stage models we’ve seen.

For snow up to about 9 inches high, you might prefer to buy a single-stage model. Besides costing much less, these fit more easily into a tight garage and can also, with their rubber-tipped augers, clear snow from a deck. But the same Ariens that serves up such beefy, sturdy two-stage models also makes two 21-inch single-stage models that couldn’t cut it in our tests. The Ariens Pro Path 938033, $600, and Ariens Pro Path 938034 (shown above), $450 at Home Depot, both stalled repeatedly during use. The $600 model has a slightly larger engine and, when run with lots of care, stalled less often. But the two models were among the weakest at removing what municipal plows leave behind and had little throwing distance.

For about the same money, the 21-inch Toro Power Clear 621 38451, a CR Best Buy at $500, was impressive for quick clearing and chopping its way through plow piles. Still, not much more gets you a compact two-stage model such as the 24-inch Craftsman 88173, $680.

Before turning to our Ratings for snow blowers, check our buying guide and watch our testing video, below.

—Ed Perratore

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