10 Snow-Blower Features That Matter

The right add-ons will make for faster, easier, and safer snow clearing this winter

A person operating a snow blower in deep snow

A snow blower’s job is pretty simple: Clear blankets of snow from your driveway, sidewalk, and walkways.

Yet shopping for one of these machines can feel as complicated as buying a new car because of the emergence of so many new snow-blower features, from power steering to LED headlights.

"A machine's ability to move snow fast and leave a clear path is still the most important consideration, but useful features can be the tiebreaker between comparable models," says Dave Trezza, who oversees snow blower testing for Consumer Reports.

More on Snow Blowers

This is especially true if you have specific needs. Live in snow country? A three-stage blower with an accelerator is a must, because it's best at tackling a deep pile. Have a giant driveway? Spring for the heated handgrips, since you're likely to be out blowing snow for an extended period. 

Start with our snow blower buying guide to get a lay of the land, or plow into our ratings of 65 models to start comparing individual models.

Here, we've curated our list of the 10 snow blower features that CR’s outdoor power-equipment experts consider to be worth the money. Even if you decide you can do without the airless tires or an extra-wide impeller, being fluent with these terms will show the salesperson that you mean business.

It also helps to know the difference between the various types of snow blowers:
• Single-stage machines rely solely on a high-speed auger to collect snow and send it out the chute.
• Two-stage snow blowers add a fanlike impeller behind the auger to help throw snow out the chute.
• Three-stage snow blowers add an accelerator for even faster snow clearing.

Read on for our 10 favorite features. CR members can also read ratings and reviews of three standout models from our ratings that clear snow efficiently and also pack in a lot of these features.

Snow-blower features illustration.
Two features not shown in illustration: 1) airless tires and 2) wide impeller
Illustration: Chris Philpot

10 Snow Blower Features That Matter

1. Multiple Speeds
Single-stage snow blowers and some inexpensive two-stage models have only one forward speed. Multiple speeds allow you to go faster when conditions allow, to finish in less time, or slow down for tougher tasks, like chiseling away at a tall plow pile or during lighter snow removal. Changing speeds can also prevent the machine from clogging in deeper snow.

2. Single-Handed Operation
With most multistage snow blowers, a lever on one handlebar engages the wheels and a lever on the other engages the auger. Single-handed operation lets you hold down both levers with, yep, a single hand, freeing your other hand to adjust the chute.

3. Chute Controls
In recent years we’ve seen more joystick chute controls, which let you change the vertical and horizontal direction of the discharge chute with the push of a lever. That’s convenient, though the lever can be a little difficult to maneuver if you’re wearing thick gloves. We’re now seeing more easy-turn crank controls, which you operate by hand. That might be a better option in frigid climates, though you should test the crank in the store to make sure it’s conveniently located.

4. Headlight
Consider paying more for this feature if you do a lot of snow blowing at dawn or dusk, or in other low-light conditions (say, an overcast morning following a big winter blast). There’s a safety benefit, as well—the headlight will make you and your machine more visible to motorists or the snow plow at the end of the driveway.

5. Accelerator
The accelerator is the feature that separates three-stage snow blowers from two-stage machines—and it’s a must if you need to move a lot of snow in a hurry. Picture a corkscrew perpendicular to the auger that spears snow and rapidly draws it into the chute. As the name implies, the accelerator speeds up snow clearing by taking snow from the collection auger and forcing it up into the discharge impeller. Also referred to as multistage snow blowers, they’re some of the top picks in our current snow blower ratings.

6. Electric Start
Yanking a snow blower’s pull cord in subzero temperatures is miserable, which is why many gas-powered models now offer plug-in electric starting for use near an outlet. The feature also prolongs the life of the pull cord, which you’ll still need to use to restart the machine when you’re away from the garage or other power source.

7. Easy-Turn Capability
Also referred to as freewheel turning, this feature is essential on larger snow blowers (28 inches and wider) because it really helps with handling. And if you’re not built like a linebacker, you’ll appreciate it on smaller machines, too. Usually engaged by a set of triggers under each handlebar, it allows the outer wheel to turn faster than the inside wheel for sharp, easy turning.

8. Heated Handgrips
Sure, a good pair of winter gloves will provide warmth and protection, but if you live in an extreme climate and you’re often clearing large spaces, you’ll appreciate the added luxury of heated handgrips.

9. Airless Tires (not shown)
Troy-Bilt launched this smart new feature with its 2017 model line. It’s particularly helpful if you have an unpaved driveway with stones and other sharp objects that could cause a flat. Troy-Bilt blowers with standard pneumatic tires can be retrofitted with airless tires, as can certain models from Cub Cadet, MTD, and Yard Machines. And Ariens now offers new models with this feature.
10. Wide Impeller (not shown)
Most snow blowers have a 12-inch-wide impeller, and that’s fine for most conditions. But if speed is your top concern and you routinely see a foot of snow or more, upgrading to a 14-inch-wide impeller will make yours more useful. And it will be one of the fastest snow blowers on the block.

How We Test Snow Blowers

Consumer Reports doesn't get enough snow early enough in the season at our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., to test snow blowers, so we had to get creative. Instead of snow we use hundreds of pounds of sawdust that has been soaked in water to mimic deep, heavy snow. This approach allows us to manipulate the mixture, creating deep piles and snow banks for our rigorous battery of tests for removal speed, throwing distance, and surface cleaning. 

The other advantage is that sawdust doesn’t melt or change consistency with the weather, so it makes for fair comparisons.

To identify the top performers in the marketplace, we test models from a wide swath of brands, including Ariens, Briggs & Stratton, Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Ego, Honda, Husqvarna, Poulan, SnowJoe, Toro, Troy-Bilt, and, Worx. We rate one-, two-, and three-stage blowers, and there are more than 60 models in our ratings. If you’re not sure which type you should consider, check CR’s snow blower Buying Guide.

Read on for CR’s ratings and reviews of three stellar models with a generous set of features.

Snowblowers 101

Not sure what the difference is between a single-stage and 3-stage snow blower? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, CR expert Dave Trezza explains to show host Jack Rico everything consumers need to know about these snow-tossing machines.

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