You don't need snow to test snow blowers

Consumer Reports uses sawdust—and snow—in its tests

Published: November 12, 2014 04:00 PM

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To test snow blowers, you need to use snow, right? That works if you're in the upper Midwest and are trying out a brand-new machine following the major storm that just hit. But at Consumer Reports we use a different material, wet sawdust, to guarantee precise results when you need them. For one, the specially sized and screened particles we use absorb four times their weight in water, behaving like the wettest, heaviest snow. Here are two other good reasons:

Snowfall isn’t reliable. Just as we test lawn mowers and tractors in Florida during the winter, we have to test snow blowers months before winter. If we waited until December, you wouldn’t see results until at least March. Using wet sawdust to simulate snow lets us test during the summer. Once snow actually arrives, we take the models up to a snowy, 30-foot-wide airstrip in upstate New York for a check-test, to ensure that our latest results with the sawdust jibe with what we get using real snow.

Snow tends to melt. During a day of testing, the colder temperatures of the morning compared to the afternoon make the snow vary in consistency, with hour-to-hour fluctuations common. This can make fair comparisons difficult. Sawdust, however, behaves the same whatever the hour in our tests of clearing speed, throwing distance, and other criteria.

If you need a new snow blower, better get out there now before the good models are gone. Which are those? Our snow blower Ratings of more than 110 gas and electric models will tell you; among top picks in gas-powered machines are the dual-stage Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, $1,300, and the single-stage Toro Power Clear 721E, $570. Check out our snow blower buying guide if you’re not sure how much muscle you need or what features most matter.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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