Snow Blower Buying Guide
Snow Blowers 101

Depending upon where you live, a snow blower is either a nice luxury or an absolute necessity. 

When deciding whether to buy one, consider how much snow you get in an average winter, and how big an area you need to clear around your home in order to get your car on the road safely.

If you have a short driveway and a garage attached to your house, you might be able to get away with a decent snow shovel. Or, if you live in an area that rarely gets pummeled by winter storms, you may be better off saving the money you'd spend on a snow blower and hiring a plow truck once or twice a winter to dig you out. 

But if you get three or more big snowstorms per year, or can't afford to get trapped in your house while you wait for a plow service, a snow blower is definitely for you. 

Choose the Right Snow Blower

The snow blowers in our ratings range from about $200 to over $3,000. Features and size dictate price, here's what you need to consider when zeroing in on the kind of snow blower that'll serve you best. 

Snow Blower Stages
All snow blowers use an auger to suck up snow from the ground and discharge it through a chute. On single-stage snow blowers, the corkscrew-shaped auger is the only device moving snow. Two-stage models have an auger but also use an impeller, which is a fan that helps force collected snow from the back of the auger, out through the discharge chute. The impeller helps two-stage models collect snow faster, and send it farther. Three-stage models have an auger and impeller but add something called an accelerator that helps force collected snow from the auger to the impeller. These machines can clear the fastest and throw the farthest. Single-stage machines tend to be the worst performers, and we only recommend a handful of models. 

Power Source
The vast majority of snow blowers use gasoline engines, and these models perform the best. You'll find some corded electric models, which can be used with an extension cord up to 100 feet from your home, but none perform well enough for us to recommend. A small but growing number of battery-powered electric models are also available, but most lack the power to clear heavy snow. 

Wheels vs. Tracks
The majority of snow blowers are wheeled, including all single-stage models and most two- and three-stage models. For single-stage models, the user pushes or pulls the snow blower. On two-stage and three-stage machines, the wheels are powered by the engine, making those tools better-suited for clearing large areas, where you'd get tired of pushing and pulling. Some two- and three-stage snow blowers have tracks, like those on a tank, in place of wheels. They're better for hills and steep driveways because they dramatically boost traction, but they tend to be  harder to turn on level terrain.

Types of Snow Blowers

 

A green, single-stage electric snow blower.

Single-Stage Electric

Single-stage electric snow blowers are best for short, level driveways, decks, and walkways with snow levels less than 6 inches. About the size of a small walk-behind lawnmower, single-stage electrics are the lightest, quietest, and easiest models to use.

The technology is basic: A plastic auger pulls in the snow and throws it out the chute in one step. But the auger can also pick up and throw gravel, so keep people and pets a safe distance away.

An electric motor frees you from fueling and engine maintenance, but a power cord can limit range and maneuverability. Working in swaths under 20 inches can mean clearing requires multiple passes. And their modest power is no match for steep slopes.

A red, single-stage gas snow blower.

Single-Stage Battery-Powered

Like plug-in electric snow blowers, single-stage battery-powered snow blowers trade performance for convenience. They start instantly and eliminate the need for gas, oil, or engine maintenance, but they just don't pack enough power for most circumstances. Some can clear 9-inch-deep snow, but most are better suited for a light dusting of the variety you'd easily tackle with a good snow shovel.  

Because of their limited power, save these tools for light dustings on decks and walkways. 

A bright yellow, two-stage gas snow blower.

Single-Stage Gas

Single-stage gas snow blowers are a good choice for level, mid-sized, paved driveways and walkways with typical or expected snow levels of up to 9 inches.

These models free you from the limitations of a cord and tend to cost far less than large two-stage and three-stage machines. They're fairly light and easy to handle and take up about as much storage space as a mower. They also clear a large swath (20 to 22 inches) and offer electric starting on some models.

Their gas engines are also four-cycle, requiring only straight gasoline and no oil. But like electrics, they're a poor choice for gravel driveways. Their auger provides only modest pulling power, and they tend to veer sideways on steep slopes.

Three-stage gas snow blower

Two- and Three-Stage Gas

Two-stage and three-stage gas models are best for long, wide driveways with snow levels of up to 16 inches. Some models clear a swath up to 30 inches wide, and their driven wheels can handle steeper inclines—most of these models are three-stage. 

Like smaller models, two-stage gas snow blowers use an auger to pick up and throw snow, but they add a fan-like impeller behind the auger to help throw snow out the chute and are propelled by engine-driven wheels.

Two-stage snow blowers are best for clearing snow on gravel, since the auger doesn't touch the ground. But the machines are relatively heavy and expensive compared to smaller models, and they can take up as much space as a lawn tractor, though compact 24-inch-wide models can help with storage. 

Three-stage gas models are the latest breed of snow blower, aimed at homeowners who have to contend with 18 inches or more of wet, heavy snow.

The accelerator is the feature that separates these power blowers from conventional two-stage machines. As its name implies, this feature speeds up snow clearing by taking snow from the collection augers and forcing it up into the discharge impeller.

Like their two-stage counterparts, three-stage blowers can clear a 30-inch-wide swath of snow, or more in some cases. The machines are on the expensive side, they're heavy, and they take up a lot of storage space in a garage or shed; consider a compact, 24-inch-wide three-stage blower if space is tight.         

Snow-Blower Features

Check out the must-have features below.

Interactive Video Buying Guide

In the interactive video below you can skip to chapters on machine basics, job size, troubleshooting, and other must-know topics. 

What You Need to Keep Your Blower Running

Even a well-maintained snow blower can have problems. Keep these extra items handy to ensure your machine is operational when you need it most:
• Belts. You’ll need one drive belt for single-stage machines and two for two-stage models.
• Shear pins.
On two-stage models, they protect the engine and transmission by breaking if the auger hits something too hard. Keep extras on hand.
• Fuel stabilizer. If you’re running your snow blower every week, you won’t need it until you stow the unit in the spring. But when the machine sits idle, gasoline in the tank, fuel lines, and carburetor breaks down and thickens. Adding stabilizer to your fuel can slow down this process.

Features to Consider

A good snow blower blends competent clearing ability with smooth, single-lever chute control that sends snow any direction you want it to go. Retailers typically have floor samples you can check out. Be sure you're comfortable with the height of the handle and with the chute adjustment controls, which you'll be using frequently. Here are other important features to keep in mind. 

Brands

Ariens snow blowers are available at outdoor power equipment dealers and Home Depot. It's a leading marketer whose model line consists of single- and two-stage gas models with available electric start and snow clearing widths of 21 to 30 inches.
Craftsman is made for and sold by Sears, and can be purchased online and in Sears and Kmart retail stores. Also a leader in snow-blower sales, Craftsman markets single-, two, and three-stage gas models with snow clearing widths of 20 to 30-plus inches and available electric start. The Craftsman Professional line features models with snow clearing widths up to 45 inches.
The first brand to introduce a three-stage snow blower and still one of the largest manufacturers of machines of that type. Cub Cadet also makes two-stage snow blowers many of which are available at home centers and local deals.
Another market leader in snow-blower sales, Toro sells a variety of electric models in addition to single- and two-stage gas models at outdoor power equipment dealers and Home Depot. It markets the electric models under the Power Curve and Power Shovel line names and the gas models under Power Shift, Power Max, Power Clear, and Snow Master. Electric models have snow-clearing widths of 12 to 18 inches, gas models 16 to 28 inches, and available electric start.
Troy-Bilt is the MTD-made brand sold in Lowes. Gas-powered snow blowers feature single-, two and three-stage four-cycle engines, a mix of electric and recoil starters, and snow-clearing widths of 21 to 45 inches.
Yard Machines snow blowers are made by MTD and sold at Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, and hardware stores. Its gas-powered snow blowers feature single- and two-stage four-cycle engines, a mix of electric and recoil starters, and snow-clearing widths of 21 to 30 inches. Yard Machines markets a low-cost electric model with a snow clearing width of 15 inches.
Additional snow blower brands to look at include: MTD, Briggs & Stratton, Murray, Honda, John Deere, and Steiner.

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