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Snow blower features you need to get through a storm.

10 Snow-Blower Features That Matter

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

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.

Although overall performance counts the most in our snow blower ratings, the presence of useful features could be the tiebreaker between comparable machines, especially if you have specific needs. Live in snow country? A three-stage blower with an accelerator is a must. Don’t want your fingers to freeze? Spring for the heated handgrips.

Here’s our list of snow blower features that CR’s outdoor power-equipment experts consider paramount. 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 at the home center 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.

Snow-blower features illustration.
Illustration: Chris Philpot

10 Features That Count

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, like on gentle inclines 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
You’re probably hearing the term three-stage snow blower more and more. The accelerator is the feature that separates these power blowers from two-stage machines—and it’s a must if you need to move a lot of snow in a hurry. 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.

More on Snow Removal

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. Troy-Bilt blowers with standard pneumatic tires can be retrofit with airless tires. Don’t be surprised if other brands start adopting the technology.
10. Extra-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

To test snow blowers every year in time for you to buy one before it snows, Consumer Reports gets creative. 

Because we don’t get enough snow early enough in the season at our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., 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. 

And unlike snow, sawdust doesn’t melt or change consistency with the weather, which 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 70 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 the best models from our tests.

Best 3-Stage Snow Blowers

For clearing up to 18 inches or more

Cub Cadet 3X 30” PRO H
Price: $2,400
Overall score: 92
Ranking: 1 of 6
CR’s take: No snow blower clears faster, or more thoroughly, than this Cub Cadet. Period. It throws snow far out of your path and is built with nice features like electric start, built-in headlights, and heated hand grips.

Cub Cadet 3X 30” HD
Price: $1,650
Overall score: 91
Ranking: 2
CR’s take: This premium Cub Cadet model, sold exclusively at Home Depot, performs almost as well as our top-rated snow blower but costs a whopping $750 less. It still plows through a 30-inch-wide path in a single pass and clears like few other tools.

Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890
Price: $1,200
Overall score: 90
Ranking: 3
CR’s take: For half the price of the top-scoring blower, this model clears almost as well and in a slightly narrower profile—it’s 28 inches wide as opposed to 30. It still has nice features like headlights and heated hand grips, and unlike the two models above, you can access and adjust all the controls using one hand.

Single-Stage Battery Snow Blowers in Our Ratings.
Current Single-Stage Battery Snow Blower Ratings

Recently Tested Snow blowers

See our full list of Snow blower Ratings