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What size snow blower do you need?

Match the machine to the amount of snow you typically get

Published: December 16, 2014 08:00 AM

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Predicting the weather is an iffy proposition at best. This winter two leading sources, The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have starkly different forecasts. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a “teeth-chatteringly cold winter,” while NOAA says that for much of New England and the Southwest, warmer temperatures should prevail. The rest of the country stands a roughly equal chance of being tolerable vs. intolerable. Having a snow blower definitely makes winter more tolerable. Here are some suggestions from the experts at Consumer Reports based on the amount of snow you typically get.

For up to 4 inches of snow

Get a shovel. Using a snow blower on minimal accumulations is an exercise in frustration.

For up to 12 inches of snow

Single-stage gas snow blowers cost almost as much as some two-stage units, which tend to be more capable. But the Toro Power Clear 721E, $570, has raised the bar for this category with impressive speed and power for plow piles; it falls short only in throwing distance. Single-stage models also are easier to store in a garage. For a bit less money, the Toro Power Clear 621 38451, $500, offers almost as much oomph for plow piles. Our preliminary repair-history data indicate this brand is relatively reliable.

Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q

For up to 18 inches of snow

Lighter-duty two-stage models have the same impeller and auger as larger models, and they’re a bit easier to store—though the going is slower. The Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490 31AH54Q, $1,100, costs more than most others but has the same second impeller as larger units and was as effective against plow piles. Its freewheel steering makes handling excellent.

For hundreds less, the Craftsman 88173, $680, sacri„fices some throwing distance and helpful features such as single-hand controls and single-lever chute adjustment; also, our preliminary data show this brand to be more repair-prone than others. You get both the single-hand and single lever features from the more expensive Toro Power Max 724 OE 37770, $800.

For up to 24 inches of snow

The two-stage models in our tests combine an auger for scooping up snow with an impeller that hurls it out of the discharge chute. The 30-inch Cub Cadet 31AH57S, $1,500, and the 28-inch Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, $1,300, come with a second impeller in front that helps power through dense plow piles, along with easy control and heated handgrips.

Also worth a look is the Ariens 921032, $1,300, a 30-inch machine at $200 less than the Cub Cadet. Do your neighbors complain about your noisy snow clearing? The 26-inch Craftsman 88694, $900, was noticeably quiet without sacri„cing performance. Note, though, that our preliminary data show this brand to be more repair prone than others.

Got more snow?

If you typically get more than two-feet of snow at a time, consider hiring a plow guy. But first do the math. We did in "Should you buy a snow blower or hire a plow guy?"

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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