How to Use a Snow Blower

Choose one of two paths to snow-clearing success

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

man using snowblower Getty Images

A snow blower is an amazing machine, capable of heaving snow up to 50 feet, depending upon the model. But you need to know how to handle one. Using a snow blower the wrong way can be infuriating and dangerous: You can easily heap snow onto a path you’ve already cleared, or fling a rock or other debris through a window or toward a bystander.

We asked Dave Trezza, who oversees all snow blower testing for Consumer Reports, to show us how to use a snow blower safely and efficiently. Here’s his advice, including his strategy for clearing a path through the snow.

Before You Start

Prep Your Snow Blower
Assuming you stored your gas-powered machine in the off-season with the fuel tank empty, as we recommend, all you need to do is fill it up with gasoline that you have mixed with fuel stabilizer (available at most hardware stores and some gas stations), to protect the fuel system from oxidization that can form between uses.

If fuel from last year is still in the tank, use a siphon to remove it before adding new fuel. Inspect and fill the tires (unless your snow blower has airless wheels or tracks) and check the engine oil.

More on Winter Weather

Prep Your Driveway
Take a minute to scan your driveway for branches, newspapers, and other detritus that could clog and damage the machine. Make sure kids and pets are safely indoors: Snow blowers can hurl debris such as small stones—at high speeds—30 feet or farther.

If you’re in for a big storm, plan on making several passes rather than one sweep. Single-stage snow blowers typically max out at a depth of 6 to 9 inches, and even the strongest machines will struggle when snow is more than 16 inches deep.

Pick a Spot to Throw the Snow

If you want to deposit the snow on both sides of the driveway (see illustration below, at left), start by cutting a single swath down the center, then work your way out toward the edges.

If you want all the snow to end up along one edge of the driveway, as in the illustration below, at right, start on the opposite edge and work your way toward the side where you want snow to land. That way, you’ll clear any snow that falls short of its intended resting place as you work your way across. Each time you turn around at one end of the driveway, adjust the discharge chute 180 degrees to keep the snow flying in the right direction.

Different efficient snow blower paths

Chris Philpot Chris Philpot

Removing the Plow Pile

Now, what about the huge drift the town plow left at the end of the drive?

Tackle that mess right away, before it melts, refreezes, and becomes a rock-hard glacier.

“Turn your snow blower to the slowest possible speed and work very slowly,” Trezza says. “As you approach the pile, lift up on the handles, forcing the nose of your machine down into the snow, so the auger can dig into the mass rather than just skimming over the top.”

Clear a couple of feet by blowing it into your yard, move over, and repeat until you have an open path.

Repeat each time the plow returns, blocking you in yet again.

Best Single-Stage, Two-Stage, and Three-Stage Snow Blowers

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the November 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Paul Hope

As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer, I've always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I'm not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test, often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I'm restoring in my free time.