Buying A New Snow Blower FAQS – Read This For The Truth

Buying A New Snow Blower

This is a list of facts to help you decide on the best snow blower.  There is no specific order to this list but if you read everything here you will know more than 80% of the sales associates and dealers.  I’ll expand this list as needed. Feel free to ask questions at the end of the article. When you are done reading this article go here for the next step in finding the best snow blower for you: What’s next? Go to the Top 20 List

What Do I Need To Know Before I Buy A Snow Blower?

Please, please do your research before you buy any type of snow removal equipment.

A good piece of snow equipment can be great investment and will last you many years if you make the right decision. Deciding which snow equipment you should buy can be a large investment in time and money and it should not be taken lightly. After reading this buying guide I hope you will have a better understanding of not only what type of snow equipment is best for you, but how it works and what it can do for you.

BEFORE YOU BUY A SNOW BLOWER, ASK YOURSELF:

  1. Is a snow shovel too much work? e.g. I get heavy snow, the kids are gone, I don’t have time to shovel, the doctor said, “No lifting.”
  2. How much snow does my area of the county usually get? Average Snowfall For U.S. Cities. Double the amounts in the chart to get your worst winter.
  3. What type of snow do I need to clear; e.g. fluffy, light, make a snow ball (heavy), wet, end-of-driveway slop (extra-heavy)?  Drifted snow so hard you can walk on the drift, or loose snow so soft your dog can’t dig herself out when she jumps into a drift.
  4. How big an area will you need to clear; e.g. driveway, walking path, sidewalk, down to the milking parlor, business parking lot etc?
  5. What type of surface will you be clearing snow? Hard surface; e.g. asphalt, cement, lawn, wood deck, pavers or any surface; e.g. gravel, lawn etc.
  6. How big am I? Can I handle a cheap snow blower with no power steering (can I lift and carry 50 lbs?) or do I need a snow blower that is very easy to use?
  7. Can you do the maintenance and repairs your own snow blower; e.g. Do you want to work on it yourself?
  8. Do you know how to look up parts and order them from your local dealer or over the internet?

These questions in part will help decide what type of snow equipment you will ultimately purchase. Once you determine the best type, then we will go shopping for the one that is best for you!

If I can stress only one point, it is do your research before you buy your snow equipment. I want you to make the best choice the first time. Educate, educate, educate, yourself and you cannot go wrong. Purchasing a snowblower is a huge investment in time and money and it should not be taken lightly. I hope that after reading this buying guide you have a better understanding of not only what a snowblower is, but how it works and what it can do for you. Let this guide act as your starting position, pointing you towards the right snow blower for the season.

Before/when I buy a new gas snow blower what else do I need?

I read dozens of reviews every year where an owner uses their brand new snow blower for 10 -30 minutes. The snow blower stops running and they can’t get it started again. I read hundreds of reviews every year where a new owner used their snow blower for the first time and loved it. But when they went to use the second time – it would not start. They bring it back and the repair person tells them they need a new carburetor and it’s your fault the carb is bad.

Gas Snow Blowers really are no more difficult to maintain than your gas push mower but they do operate under extreme weather conditions so it is imperative that you do a few things differently.

  1. Do you want your new snow blower to run the second time you use it? Of course you do and the insure that I am going to suggest that you go out and buy a new sealed gas can. The biggest issue with owner’s new snow blowers not running well is using old gas or using an old gas can to fill it with. Why? If you are using ethanol blended fuel it easily absorbs moisture from the air. You can’t see this moisture in the bottom of your old gas can, but it’s there. You use this old fuel that was in the fuel can. This moisture gets into your carb and keeps the fuel from flowing through the carb properly. It won’t start. (Yes, I know the old mower runs fine on that old fuel)

So take your old can, pour the fuel into your car. Then hang it upside down so the spout is hanging down and let it dry out for 6 hours. Every time it rains or snows do the same thing.

Or buy a new fuel, sealed can.

2. I would like you to have no issues with your new snow blower.  So you have an old can and you go add fresh fuel to it and pour that fuel in your new snow blower’s fuel tank. The new snow blower runs fine for a while, but quits and will not restart.  the cause is probably some kind of contaminent in the gas can. Spiders, dust, and everything else that crawls/blows into the open spout. Those contaminants clog the really tiny – fuel efficient jets in today’s carbs. (Yes, your old mower runs fine because it’s older carb has much larger inside ports and passageways))

So take your old can, pour the fuel into your car. Then hang it upside down so the spout is hanging down and let it dry out for 6 hours. Every time it rains or snows do the same thing.

Or buy a new fuel, sealed can.

3. If you don’t use your snow blower often, say once or twice a year. Or, if you are putting it away for the summer I highly recommend TruFuel.  Yes, the fuel is expensive but it’s a lot cheaper than a new carb.

For storage run the existing fuel out of the snow blower or siphon it out of the tank if you know how. Then put a pint or two of TruFuel in the tank, start the engine and let it run about half-throttle for 10 minutes. I have one snow blower here with a 208 cc PowerMore engine that I don’t use. It has been sitting for 2 years with TruFuel in it. I had to move it last month and it started on the second pull!  I gave you a link for  TruFuel at Amazon but you can get it by the quart at any Home Depot, hardware store, or farm store.

4. If you run your snow blower more than a few times a year then I suggest the sealed gas can – fuel stabilizer method. You need a new sealed gas can. I like this one. It works very well. No Spill Fuel Can. I put use 2 tablespoons per gallon of Sea Foam in the fuel when I go buy the gas. (5 gallon tank that’s 10 tablespoons)

STA-BIL 360 works well also. Finally, in the winter if the fuel in my gas can is more than a month old I’ll put that in my car and go buy fresh.

Maintenance Schedule

Your new snow blower’s manual states maintenance schedules in hours but there is no hour meter on your new snow blower.  The easy way to keep track is to remember how long it usually takes you to clear your snow. Then divide the listed maintenance schedule by that time to determine when to do the maintenance. I do recommend following the schedule or performing the maintenance every spring before you put the snow blower in storage. Whatever is the shortest.

What is the best type of snow blower for gravel driveways?

Two-stage snow blowers are best for gravel areas. The wheels are powered, pushing the unit. The front auger housing is equipped with adjustable skid shoes. You can adjust the skid shoes so  there is a gap between the bottom scraper of the auger housing so the snow blower won’t pick up rocks and throw them through the chute.

This makes two-stage snow blowers the best choice for gravel surfaces. Single stage snow throwers are not a good choice because the auger/impeller touches the ground when moving snow and can easily pick up and throw rocks.

Will any single or 2-stage snow blower clean any type of snow?

In theory yes, in reality no.

Single stage snow blowers only work on hard surfaces like your cement driveway. Single-stage snow throwers with 205cc and larger engines will clear heavy, wet snow but if the snow is wet enough they will only throw it a few feet. Snow throwers with smaller motors may not even throw it out of the chute. In addition all single-stage snow throwers will only clear a maximum of 6-8 inches in one pass. The only exception to this is the Toro SnowMaster. The SnowMaster will handle snow up to 16 inches deep.

Two-stage and 3-stage snow blowers will handle deeper snow but have the same problem with wet heavy snow. The really wet snow and then a warm-up above freezing will cause most 2-stage snow blowers to plug up or just blurp the snow out the discharge chute. That’s why all manufacturers state “up to X feet”

Economy and residential snow blowers will not throw as far as heavy-duty and professional snow blowers. You do get what you pay for with snow blowers. In particular there are no 2 or 3 stage snow blowers under $500 that are good.

The engine power is very critical for either type. The more horsepower the better it will handle the snow you get.

Is the snow blower’s throw distance important?

This is one way to measure the ability of the snow blower and how effectively the snow is thrown from the chute. The longer the throwing distance, the better. If your snow blower does not throw far you may not be able to throw the snow all  the way off your drive the first time. When you can throw snow farther you will have shorter piles near the drive which will also create less drifting when it snows again. When it melts, the risk of run-off flooding your sidewalks and pathways will be reduced.

Longer is better and don’t worry about it throwing too far. The chute and deflector can control the direction and how far it throws if you need to keep it out a certain area.  In other words you can use the chute and deflector to put the snow exactly where you want it. Unfortunately, each brand measures this a different way so it really has no meaning when comparing one brand to another.

Is the snow blower’s tons per hour capacity important?

Tons per hour tell you how much snow the snow blower can move in an hour. In theory a heavy-duty snow blower should move more tons per hour than an economy model. Unfortunately, each brand measures this a different way so it really has no meaning when comparing one brand to another.

What are the different quality levels of snow blowers?

You do get what you pay for IF you know these quality levels. 

Two stage snow blowers range in size from 22 to 34 inches. I divide the huge list into four types, or classes:

Economy: These are the cheapest snow blowers you find at the retailers and online. They have small engines and very few features that make them easy to use. These are not the snow blower that you buy your mom because it’s “small.” Craftsman gray snow blowers, Huskee, Troy-Bilt Storm 2410, basically any snow blower that now-days costs less than $600 is considered an economy model.

Residential: Some online stores call this grade “entry level.” This quality of snow blower will last the typical homeowner with a normal sized suburban paved driveway many years. If you live in the Midwest or any other area of the country that gets 60 inches of snow or less a year these are a good choice.  Every major brand makes snow blowers in this quality level. Sizes range from 24 to 30 inches and cost $650 to $1200.

Heavy-Duty: Some brands call this grade Landowner or Professional. Some online stores call this mid-grade. Bigger engines to get the job done faster. Bigger tires to give you better traction. Some models in this class give you high speed impeller, heated hand grips, hydrostatic transmissions, power steering, thicker skid shoes, ball bearings instead of bronze, and/or better chute controls. If get a lot of snow or get snow more than once a week in the winter these will last you. If you have more snow to clear than you typical suburban home these are the best choice.

Commercial: There are commercial warranties and then there are commercial snow blowers. Commercial snow blowers are heavy duty snow blowers capable of moving 10 times more snow in a year than a residential grade machine and still lasting many years. Commercial warranties are restrictions placed by the manufacturer on residential and heavy-duty snow blowers. Basically, if someone pays you to clean their snow, you are using the snow blower commercially and the defects warranty is shortened or void.

What snow blower features can you choose? Type, size, electric start, ease of control, type of transmission, power, and creature features like heated handles. The options you choose will largely depend on your needs, wants and budget. But one thing is crucial: make sure you get an adequate sized and type of snow blower to fit your needs. Follow my advice and do not underestimate, or over-estimate your snow blowing needs. There is nothing worse than purchasing a snow blower and realizing it won’t do the job for you. Likewise it can be a real embarrassment to find the “Tim-The-Tool Man” model won’t fit through your storage shed door.

Some of the options like, power steering, single stick controls, heated hand grips and hydrostatic transmissions, etc. may look good on paper but think about whether you actually need them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comments below.

What does a good 2-stage snow blower that will last cost?

Cost: Baby Boomers: I’m sorry to tell you this but there are no “good” $500 two-stage snow blowers anymore. That last snow blower you bought for $500 now cost $650 to $1800. If you are buying a new machine for less than $600 or so you are not getting the quality you want. This especially includes the Chinese imports flooding the market.

Economy 2-stage Snowblowers: $600 to $800 depending on the width

Residential 2-stage Snowblowers: $650 to $1200 depending on the width

Heavy-Duty 2-stage Snowblowers: $850 to $1800 depending on the width

Professional 2-stage Snowblowers: $1000 to $2400 depending on the width

Commercial 2-stage Snowblowers: $1800 to $3400 depending on the width

Please note: Price is not always reflective of the quality. If you feel a snow blower is priced wrong – ask and I’ll help you decide if it’s a good value.

Is a 3-stage Better Than a 2-Stage?

A lot of the blogs and review sites are trying to make you think a 3-stage snow blower is better than a 2-stage. In reality, it’s not better – just different.

Don’t be fooled by advertising hype. 3-stage residential snow blowers will move more snow than the 2-stage machines of the SAME BRAND but they won’t necessarily move more snow than a 2-stage machine from another company. Ask me if you have any questions about this.

General Snow Blower Questions

What is the difference between Home Depot/Lowes snow blowers and the dealer models?

It always surprises me how much misinformation there is out on the web. There is even one guy out there telling everybody who will listen that all snow blowers are made in China! I asked him one day if China now owns Ohio (where MTD is made) Minnesota (where Toro is made) and Georgia (where Husqvarna is made). I haven’t heard from him since….

Two years ago Home Depot had ONE Ariens snow blower that had different tires on it than the dealer model but as of today the same model snow blowers are sold at The Home Depot and the Dealers. In other words an Ariens Deluxe 28 will be the same model number (Model 921048) and the same machine at both places. The models sold at The Home Depot do not use cheaper parts.

But….the dealers also have more snow blowers than The Home Depot. Specifically the Platinum models are dealer only. For example you can’t get the Platinum 30 SHO with the super high output impeller and 414cc engine at the Home Depot.

Almost all of the brands are this way. The large retailers only want the more popular machines and most don’t stock the really expensive machines. For example, Cub Cadet has a line of snow blowers they sell everywhere but they also have a few additional HD models that only the dealers can sell. The HD models have more powerful engines and metal chutes.

Another example, in 2015 Lowes sold only the Husqvarna 200 series but the dealers also had a heavy-duty 300 series they could sell. The 300 series had hydrostatic transmissions, cast iron impellers and big engines. (The most expensive Husqvarna Lowes sold was $1200. The dealers had more powerful and long lasting snow blowers.

Why should you trust MovingSnow?

You have many options when it comes to buying a snow blower and there are hundreds of review sites.

Why should you trust me? I’ve lived in the Midwest for over 60 years and have used or owned just about every type of snow removal equipment there is. I also owned a landscape company on the south side of Chicago and did snow removal for home owners, apartments, businesses, and commercial properties for over 10 years.

I’ve been helping residential buyers find the best snow removal equipment here at MovingSnow since 2008.  I’m used to doing my own maintenance and repair so I know what equipment will last. I’m also lazy so I know the easiest and best ways to efficiently move snow. Between this site and todaysmower.com I have helped well over 10,000,000 people find the best snow blower or riding lawn mower for them. 

I’ll help you decide what type of snow removal method is best for you.

I’ll guide you through the 100’s of choices and help you make the best decision.

How Can I Stay Safe Moving Snow?

Moving snow can be dangerous. It can be a long way back to the house if you injured yourself moving snow. There are over 3000 finger injuries every year just from people trying to clear clogs from their gas powered snow blower. In addition there are thousands of people ending up on the emergency room because of over exertion, slips and falls. Moving snow by hand or using a snow blower can be more work than going to the gym. Working in cold temperatures and doing more work than you are used to can be a dangerous combination. Take frequent breaks. Use layers of clothing to stay warm. If you don’t regularly exercise either by physical work or at the gym be very careful and take breaks to avoid overexertion.  If you are the type who has to finish a job have someone in the house set the timer on the microwave or set the alarm on your phone to remind you to take a break. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes should consult a doctor before working out in the cold, using a snow blower or moving snow by hand.

Whichever snow blower you use this winter, a few basic steps will help keep you from becoming a statistic:

  • Take your time and take frequent breaks. If you normally work inside pay attention to how cold you are getting. If you start to sweat don’t remove clothing – instead go inside and cool down.
  • Get familiar with how to use the snow blower, the controls, and starting procedure. Practice with your machine before it snows. If it is over 45 degrees when you practice only run a gas powered snow blower for 5 minutes or less to keep the engine from overheating.
  • Keep pets, children and other people away from the snow blower and the areas where you will be blowing the snow.
  • Turn off the engine on a gas machine or unplug the motor on an electric model before clearing a clog at the auger or discharge chute. Then use the clearing tool, never hands or feet, to remove the clog. Even with the engine turned off some snow blowers can cut your fingers off.
  • Protect yourself from carbon-monoxide poisoning by starting and running gasoline-powered snow blowers outside, rather than in your garage or shed. Never start your gas powered snow blower in the house.
  • Don’t wear loose pants, jackets, or scarves, which can get tangled in a snow blower’s moving parts or get caught in the handles of the snow blower when backing up.
  • Wear ear plugs or other hearing protection, especially with gas-powered models.
  • Wait until a gas model’s engine is cool before refueling.

Never be afraid to ask for help if moving the snow is more work than you can handle. Friends, neighbors, and local agencies are great places to ask and find help. Don’t wait until it snows – ask now for the help you need next winter. Hiring a professional can be expensive, but don’t be afraid to barter with a neighbor or a friend. A dozen tomatoes from your garden now, a plate full of chocolate chip cookies then or trade for an item or other type of work can go a long way towards getting your snow moved.  I’ve traded moving snow for many things over the years including dog sitting and a bushel of concord grapes.

Do I need to wear ear protection when operating a snow blower?

How loud is the typical snow blower?

Electric snow blowers are quiet.

Gas powered snow blower use air cooled engines and are much louder. The snow blower itself is quiet – it’s the engine and the engine exhaust that makes the noise.

Husqvarna is the only manufacturer to post actual noise levels. Consumer Reports is the only organization that tests noise levels but they don’t post the actual data. Currently, they recommend hearing protection for all the gas engine snow blowers they have tested.

The 2016 snow blowers in general are quieter than ones made 5 years ago. For example, the Craftsman 28″ 243cc Dual Stage Snowthrower with Quiet Engine is 45% quieter than the previous model. Husqvarna and Toro also have models with quieter exhaust systems than older models.

In general – If you are concerned about your hearing you should use hearing protection when using all gas powered snow blowers.

What Type Of Snow Equipment Do I Need?

You can spend as little as $20 for a snow shovel and well over $2,500 for a heavy-duty gas powered snow blower. The type of snow equipment you buy depends on the size of the area you need clear, the types of snow you get and how large the area you need to clear. You should also take into consideration the size of your doorways on your garage or shed and the space available to store it when not in use.

Here are some common ways to move snow.

Snow Shovel

Suncast Shock Handle1 A good 20 to 30 dollar snow shovel is designed to easily move snow.  It is the most important item in your snow fighting toolkit and even if you hire someone to clear your snow I suggest owning a good one yourself. The snow shovels I will show you are built of a lightweight material like plastic or aluminum and are slippery so the snow doesn’t stick.   In the Snow Shovel Guide we will go through all the manual ways to move snow and find the best choice for you. For example, I prefer one like the one pictured that is about 18 inches wide and has a longer handle with a grip at the end.  This shovel allows me to throw the snow without bending.  If the snow is light and fluffy I can also push large amounts because it rolls the snow forward much like a snowplow and the “D handle” on the end let’s me get a good push.  Snow shovels range in width from 16 to 30 inches.

The biggest disadvantages to a snow shovel is the labor involved and the fact that you can only move the snow away from your door or driveway as far as you can throw it.

Electric Snow Shovel

Snow Joe Crodless If you are under doctor’s orders not to shovel snow but you still need to get a small amount of sidewalk or driveway cleared an electric snow shovel or power shovel may be just what you need.  Electric Snow Shovels are designed for small areas like steps, porches and small decks. Most electric snow shovels use an extension cord and are about 12 to 14 inches wide. They only take about 4 inches or less but are light enough so you can pick them up and use them like a snow shovel for cutting down larger drifts.

The cordless snow shovel has finally come of age. New Lithium power shovels will run 20-40 minutes on a charge.

The biggest disadvantage to an electric snow shovel is it only throws the snow a few feet, basically no farther than you can throw it with a shovel.  If you live in an area that gets feet of snow instead inches this will not work for you.

Electric Snow Thrower

Greenworks Single-stage electrics. An electric snow thrower is the next step up from the power shovel.  If the area you need to clear is less than 100 feet from your house. If you only get a little snow each year, and you don’t have to throw it more than a few feet off your sidewalk or driveway the electric snow thrower may work for you.  About the size of a walk-behind mower, single-stage electrics are also the lightest, smallest, quietest, and easiest to handle. Their electric motor frees you from fueling and engine maintenance. The most common is corded electric but lithium battery – cordless models are now available through most home centers. My friend in St Louis has a 10 by 30 foot driveway, and an 8 by 16 foot deck.  An electric snow thrower is perfect for him.

Two disadvantages to using electric snow throwers.  First corded models use 110v so you have to drag a 12 gauge extension cord along with you as you are moving snow.  Second, both the corded and cordless models only throw snow 15 feet or less.  Last year it snowed early and didn’t melt so homeowners with electric snow throwers had piles of snow by March.  My neighbor eventually had to hire a skid-steer to move his piles of snow because his snow thrower couldn’t throw the snow over the mounds that built up.

These small snow blowers don’t have driven wheels and don’t pull themselves through the snow. You have to push the snow thrower through the snow like a shovel. They’re best for short, level driveways, decks, and walks with less than four inches of snow.  They don’t work on gravel driveways or your lawn. The biggest disadvantage is they are small and their 11- to 18-inch swaths typically mean clearing your snow takes a while. Because you have to push them through the snow they don’t work on steep slopes. And, of course, the corded models are limited to 100 feet or less from a 11o volt outlet.

Gas Powered Single-stage Snow blowers

Briggs & Stratton Single Stage - 22 inch - 250cc - Electric Start - Model 1696507

 A single stage gas snow thrower is the fastest way to clear up to 6 inches of snow from a paved surface. In fact many of us who own large two-stage snow blowers will also have one of these for the lighter snows. These 18-to-22 inch snow throwers are more powerful than electric versions and will clean packed snow and snow that has been driven on off your driveway or sidewalk. They are a good choice for level, mid sized paved driveways and side walks with typical snow falls of less than eight inches. Single stage gas snow throwers are very simple to operate. Most weigh less than 70 lbs and very easy to handle and push around. They have few moving parts so they are easy to maintain . They don’t have complicated controls and transmissions. They use the rubber coated front auger to both throw the snow and pull you along. Any quality machine now comes with electric start so they are easy to start. They take up about as much storage space as a push lawn mower. Today’s gas powered single stage snow throwers use a four-stroke engine so they require about as much regular maintenance as your gas push mower. No mixing of oil and gas is required.

If you have a paved one car driveway that is only one or two car lengths long, you don’t get snows deeper than 6-10 inches, and you don’t have to blow the snow more than 20 feet this may be the right snow thrower for you.  This style of snowblower is also popular for cleaning off decks and patios because it is light enough to drag up steps and through the house.  Most of these are designed to use the auger to pull you forward through the snow.

Disadvantages of single stage:  People tend to buy these snow throwers because they cost less than the larger two-stage but they really need a larger machine.   They only throw snow 15 to 20 feet and efficiently only clear 6 inches or less at a time. For example, if the weather center forecasts more than 6 inches of snow at once you need to plan to go out in the middle of the snow storm and clear snow. If the forecast is for 12 inches or more you will have to come back a second or third time and clear the drive after the snow ends. If the snow is very wet sometimes a single stage snow thrower will only throw it 3 to 10 feet.  Because the spinning front auger on the gas machines contacts the ground they won’t work on gravel driveways or your lawn. The spinning auger will also scratch your deck. Because they don’t use a transmission to drive the wheels their auger provides only a small amount of pulling power going uphill, and they tend to pull sideways on sloped surfaces.

Cost: Gas Powered Single Stage Snow Throwers cost anywhere from $350 to $750. Budget $500 to $650 for a quality machine that will last more than a year or two.

Cordless Electric  Single-stage Snow blowers

 

 A cordless electric single stage snow thrower is very similar to a single-stage gas thrower except they do not pull themselves along.  In other words you have to push the snow blower into the pile of snow and it will be hard to use on the end-of-driveway pile the snow plows left. 

Be very careful buying an used machine. Over the years the front auger will wear out and the replacement part can easily cost more than you paid for the used machine. Many homeowners don’t use stabilized gas when storing the snow blower so assume the carburetor on a used machine is gummed up or corroded if it won’t start. To have a repair center replace the carburetor can cost over $250. Most of the single stage gas machines built before 2008 used two-cycle engines and you have to use a smokey, smelly oil-gas mix to run them.

Gas Powered Two-stage and Three-Stage Snow blowers

ST224 Front Like single-stage gas snow blowers, two-stage models begin by using a front auger to pick up the snow. But that is where the similarity ends. The front auger on a two-stage then chews up the snow into small chunks and throws it into a high speed impeller (It looks like a heavy duty fan).  This impeller then throws the snow out the top mounted chute. This allows a two-stage snow blower to throw snow much farther than a single stage snow thrower.  Because the front auger throws the snow into this “second stage” and that fan then throws the snow is why this type of snow blower is called two-stage.

Three-stage gas snowblowers – Three stage snow blowers work like a two-stage snow blower and have an additional front or top auger to break heavy snow up into smaller particles. For example, Cub Cadet three-stage snow blowers adds a front screw that is advertised to throw the snow into the impeller quicker, allowing it to have more snow moving capacity than their Cub Cadet two-stage snow blowers.

Two-stage machines use a multi-speed transmission to propel the wheels.  This allows you to power the machine into deep, heavy snow and large wind packed snow drifts easily.  Because they are self-powered they also work on slopes, gravel driveways and turf.  On the downside, they’re relatively heavy and expensive, and can take up as much storage space as a lawn tractor. Their gas engine also requires regular maintenance.

If you live north of Interstate 80 this type of snow removal should be your first choice.

If properly maintained most will last you many years so they are always a good investment. Quality units will handle typical 6 to 12 inch snows easily and even handle that 22 inch’er the east coast seems to get at least once a year. They are powerful enough to clean the snowdrift that the city snowplow leaves at the end of your driveway.  Depending on the water content of the snow this type of machine will throw snow 15 to 50 feet so you don’t have to be concerned about getting too high of banks close to your driveway.  This type of snowblower uses a separate multi-speed transmission to push the unit through the snow.

One of the best advantages of this type of snow thrower is the front scraper bar can be raised off the ground so you can easily clean a gravel driveway without throwing rocks or clean an area off your lawn for your dogs.

What Types Of Transmissions Do Snow Blowers Have?

Single Stage Snow Throwers:

Auger Propelled – Single stage snow throwers can pull themselves along if you lift up on the handle and let the front auger (rubber paddles) touch the ground. The wheels do not push/pull the snow blower through the snow.

CVT – One new single stage snow thrower uses a CVT transmission to drive the wheels and is designed to automatically go forward as fast as you walk.

Two-Stage Snow Blowers:

Single Speed – A single speed gearbox drive the rear wheels and pushes the snow blower. This is found ONLY on the most inexpensive snow blowers. Trust me – it’s either too fast or too slow.

Friction Disk – This is the most common type of transmission used on todays snow blowers. I won’t go into how they work here but they are very reliable and keep down the cost of your new snow blower. The brands usually list these as 5 or 6 speed and usually have 6 speeds forward and 2 in reverse.

CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission.  CVT transmissions are sealed, take no training to use and have been perfected to the point that it’s just a matter of time before they replace Friction Disk transmissions. The Toro Personal Pace is a CVT.

HydroStatic – Hydro’s are the heavy duty transmission. Like CVT’s they are continuously variable and easy to use. You will only find these in the high-end snow blowers.

Geared – I list this just to tell you no one uses a geared transmission for walk-behind snow blowers.

What type of propulsion is best for hilly terrain?

Track Drive 2-stage snow blowers have a lot more traction than most of the wheeled counterparts. This is because they have a larger contact surface with the ground compared to wheels. A good example of a tracked machine is the Husqvarna Track-Drive Snow Thrower – 414cc Engine, Model# ST330T

If you have a sloped drive but don’t want a tracked snow blower look for a snow blower with large, tall wheels. The Toro Snow Removal Power Max HD 1028 28 in. OHXE Two-Stage Gas Snow Blower 38802 is a good example of a snow blower with large, tall tires.

Single Stage Snow Thrower FAQS

What is a single stage snow blower?

With a single-stage snow blower, the auger (the rubber paddles you see in front of the blower) grabs the snow and then directly throws it out a discharge chute. With most single stage snow throwers the auger contacts with the surface you are clearing so it should only be used on a paved surface. It will throw gravel, rocks, sticks and other items you can’t see in the snow.

Briggs & Stratton Single Stage - 22 inch - 205cc - Electric Start - Model 1696506 Single-stage snow throwers are ideal for smaller paved sidewalks, patios and short driveways. They are about as easy to use as your gas push mower, but they are only suitable if you get 8 inches or less of snow.  If you live north of Interstate 80 consider a 2-stage snow blower instead.  They handle slush better than the larger 2-stage snow blowers. When moving 2-4 inches of snow they are faster than a 2-stage snow blower so many homeowners have both a 2-stage snow blower for the normal snows and a single stage for the light stuff.

They typically come in 20-24 inch widths.

Home Depot Lists The New Toro SnowMaster As A 2-stage – Is It?

No, it is a single stage.

Go Here To Find Out More:Toro SnowMaster Review

Two Stage and Three Stage Snow Blower FAQS

What is a two stage snow blower?

A 2-stage snow blower uses two components to collect the snow and then throw it out of the machine. The front auger grabs the snow and then pushes it to the center of the front housing. It is spinning fast enough that it throws the snow out the back into a fan behind it. This fan, called the impeller grabs the snow and throws it out the top chute. The impeller spins about 10 times faster than the front auger so the snow is thrown faster and farther away than a single stage snow thrower.  2-stage snow blowers typically can handle deep snow and throw it 30 to 50 feet away from your driveway.  ST224 Front

More expensive 2-stage snow throwers use larger impellers, faster impeller speed, and/or larger engines to increase the capacity of the snow blower so you can move heavy, deep snow faster than the less expensive machines.

The auger on a two-stage thrower does not contact the surface so it can be used over gravel or dirt.

Is a 3-stage snow blower better than a 2-stage?

In the last few years manufacturers have realized that if they put larger engine on snow blowers that they can move a lot more snow than they could with the old 5, 8 and 10 horse Tecumseh  engines.

But they also realized that the auger and impellers they were currently using also limited how much snow a 2-stage snow blower could handle. So each manufacturer has developed a refined system to get more snow into the machine. I’ll quickly go through the changes including 3-stage that have increased the capacity of the heavy-duty machines.

But first – Two terms you need to know

Ribbon auger – The open flight auger system mixes air with the snow to prevent heavy, wet snow from clogging the discharge chute. This system is limited mainly by engine size and impeller speed.

Open Flight Auger

Open Flight Auger

Closed flight auger -closed flight, closely spaced front auger meters the snow into the impeller. This system is limited mainly by flight spacing.

Closed Flight Auger

Closed Flight Auger

Toro PowerMax HD – Toro uses an open flight front auger and a high speed impeller. Toro has increased the capacity of the HD with new engines and the Power Max® Anti-Clogging System. (ACS)

Ariens Deluxe/Platinum SHO – Ariens has increased the engine size, increased the impeller speed and changed the design of the impeller to increase the capacity.

Husqvarna 300 Series – Husqvarna has switched from a closed flight front auger to an open flight and went from a 3 blade impeller to a 4 blade cast iron design. They also increased the engine size.

MTD/Cub Cadet/Troy-Bilt/Craftsman 3-stage – MTD has kept the closed flight front auger but has added a center auger that forces the snow into the impeller faster than standard closed flight system.

Snowblowersdirect

3-stage

They also increased the engine size to handle the additional snow the 3rd stage pushes into the machine.

So – is a three stage snow blower better than a two stage? Each manufacturer has an improved the way to get more snow into and through these new high horse power snow blowers. They will all get the job done faster than a typical 10 year old residential machine. The 3-stage system is just one way of doing it but not necessarily a better way.

What Sizes Do 2 and 3-Stage Snow Blowers Come In?

Residential two stage snow throwers come in many widths ranging from 24 to 30 inches.

20-22 inch – One manufacturer still makes a 20 and one a 22. All the rest now only make 24 inch and larger.

24 inch – This is a common size for your 2 car, 70 foot or smaller residential driveway.

26 inch – Get done a little faster.

27-28 inch. Good for 2-3 cars wide – up to 120-150 feet long. Many brands make high horsepower snow blowers in this size for areas that get heavy snow.

29-30 inch. Good for larger driveways up to 200-250 feet long. Will clear sidewalks in one pass.

32-34 inch. Snow blowers in this size get hard to handle and only work well on flat areas like parking lots.

Engines are sized for the snow blower and a few brands also offer high powered snow blowers for those of you who live in the “snow belt” areas like Buffalo, NY.  24 inch is the most common size and will easily take care of a 16 by 60 foot driveway.  I’ll help you decide on the best size and quality you need for your area of the country.

How Large Of A 2-3 Stage Snow Blower Do I Need?

There are two main questions that will get you in the ball park for figuring out the size of a two-stage snow blower you need.

  1. How large is the area you need to clear?
  2. How much snow do you need to clear per snowfall?

Generally accepted suggestions for the general size you need includes the sidewalks in front of your home.

24 inch. Two car driveways 20 to 60 feet long
26 inch. Two car driveways 30 to 80 feet long. A 26 inch will save you about 15% in time over a 24 inch.
27-28 inch. Two car driveways 30 to 150 feet long. A three car driveway 100 foot long would be the same size.
30 inch. 30-200 feet. If your driveway is longer than 200 feet consider a tractor mounted snow blower.
32-38 inch. Large, flat, open areas like parking lots. 32 inch is about as wide as you want to go if you have residential sidewalks to clean.

Minimum engine size (in cc’s) for the size of the snow blower and the amount of snow you typically get per snow fall.

24-26 inch. 208cc for areas of the country that get up to 70 inches per year of snow. 250cc for “snow belt” that average more than 70 inches.
27-28 inch. 250cc for areas of the country that get up to 70 inches per year of snow. 300cc for “snow belt” that average more than 70 inches.
30-33 inch. 290cc for areas of the country that get up to 70 inches per year of snow. 350cc for “snow belt” that average more than 70 inches.

What extra features are really useful on a 2-3 stage snow blower?

Electric Start – If you have problems starting a lawn mower I strongly suggest getting a model with electric start. You may not need it most of the time but it is so handy if it’s really cold out or your gas is not fresh.This is pretty much standard now-days. Only the cheapest models and on Honda 2-stage snow blowers is it an option that you have to check for.

Remote Chute – A remote chute control is a lever or crank up near the handles that allows you to turn the discharge chute without having to stop the snow blower, walk around to the side, and then move the chute. This allows you to put the snow where you want it. This is now standard on all but the cheapest snow blowers.

Remote Deflector – The deflector controls how far the snow is thrown and a remote deflector can be very handy if the wind is blowing the snow back into your face. It’s also handy to direct snow away from the side of your house or so it doesn’t blow over into your neighbor’s newly cleaned driveway. All snow blowers over $700 now have a remote deflector.

Single Hand Control – This feature allows you to take one hand off the handlebars and have the snow blower still continue to move forward and throw snow. This allows you to move the remote chute or deflector without stopping the snow blower. It saves time. This is now standard on all but the cheapest snow blowers.

Power Steering – If you have a bad back. If you can’t lift more than 30 lbs. If you are small. If you have balance problems power steering is a great feature. Basically if you can walk behind a snow blower you can use one with power steering. The steering is controlled using small triggers under the handles or it’s done automatically (no levers) on Ariens Deluxe/Platinum and Toro SnowMaster snow blowers. Models with power steering typically start around $850.

Headlight – Headlights help you see in the middle of the night or early morning. Some models like the Husqvarna ST224P have wrap-around lighting that doesn’t let the discharge chute get in the way.

Heated Handgrips – If you clear your drive in any weather – no matter how cold it gets heated hand grips can help you stay out working longer. Heated handgrips don’t get hot – they just warm so your hands won’t start to sweat inside your gloves.

Electric Chute and Deflector Controls – A few models like the Craftsman 30 In 357cc Dual-Stage Snowblower w/ EZ Steer Electric 4-Way Chute Control have a small joystick right by your thumb to control the chute and deflector. This is very convenient and built to last. A few other models like the new HondaHSS724AW use a huge joystick in the center of the operator’s console and are not that convenient.

Tire Chains – Years ago snow blowers used lawn mower tires and to get enough traction tire chains were wrapped around the tire. They worked great but tore up your blacktop and left brown rust marks on your cement. Today deep, aggressive tires are made just for snow blowers so tire chains are not used very often.

How Do I Steer or Turn A 2-stage Snow Blower?

There are 5 ways:

Solid Axle – With a solid axle both wheels turn all the time so you have to “skid” the snowblower around the turns. You will find this on the economy models. This type of steering will be hard to use for smaller people.

Pin Lock – This is also a solid axle but you can remove a pin from one wheel to make it easier to turn. This works for light snow but you lose half your traction. Put the pin back in if you need the traction and it then steers like a solid axle.

Trigger Steering – Commonly called power steering.  There is a small trigger under each handle that you pull when you want to turn. The wheels/axle are locked until you pull the trigger so you always have the maximum traction – yet you can turn the snow blower easily.  If you have a bad back or have a hard time controlling a snow blower this is a preferred solution.

Auto-Turn – These snow blowers have a locking differential that automatically releases when you turn. It gives you maximum traction yet is very easy to turn.  No triggers or lever to pull. If you have a bad back or have a hard time controlling a snow blower this is a preferred solution.

Locking Differential – The Auto-Turn has replaced this method but there are a few snow blowers left than use one lever on the handle to release the locked differential. These can be hard to turn.

What’s the difference between “Power Steering” and “Auto Turn”? Which one is easiest to use?

Models with power steering use triggers under the handle to steer. When you want to turn left just pull up on the trigger under the left handle and you go that way. This type of steering has been around for years and the Cub Cadet, Toro, Craftsman and Husqvarna trigger power steering will never give you problems. If you have a very long driveway you may like the trigger steering best because the snow blower will go in a straight line until you tell it to turn.

The Ariens Auto-Turn doesn’t use triggers. It automatically releases a locked differential inside the transmission when you want to make a turn. It’s an extremely simple system and like the power steering is built to last. Auto-Turn is very easy to use and requires no learning curve.  There are no extra levers or triggers to use. It works really well for areas that require lots of turning and maneuvering.

Toro is using the Auto-Turn on the SnowMaster and other units and they call it Automatic Steering. They have coupled it with their Personal Pace drive and it works so well that you don’t even know it is there. This system is as easy to use as your push mower.  It gives you traction from both wheels when going in a straight line and automatically releases one wheel when you make a turn or zero-turn.

What Are The Current U.S. Brands of Two Stage Snow Blowers Sold In The U.S.

Ariens, Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Honda, Husqvarna, Poulan Pro, Remington, Simplicity, Snapper, Sno-Tek, Toro, Troy Bilt, Yard Machines. Any other name is most likely a Chinese Import.

Would you like to know more about the brands?  Click Here: Which Snow Blower Brand Is Best For You?

Snow Blower Maintenance & Care

Do I need to use fuel stabilizer in my gas snow blower?

Yes,

I use fuel stabilizer in all my small gas engines. I actually put it in my storage container when I go buy fuel. Why? because I never actually know how long my small engines will sit between run times. This is especially true with snow blowers because it may snow tomorrow or it may be a month before I use it again.

Because I always use fuel stabilizer I never have to worry about bad gas or moisture in the fuel wrecking my carb.

My questions to you is. Do you spend an extra 20 cents or so per gallon of gas for fuel stabilizer or do you spend $80 to $250 to replace a carb because of bad fuel?

Can I use ethanol fuel – gas in my snow blower?

Yes,

You can use 10% or less ethanol fuels in all snow blowers manufactured after 2009. 

Do NOT use fuels labeled E15 or E85. Some states now offer a higher percentage blend at the same pump where you get the E10 and non-ethanol fuels. This new fuel – E15 – will wreck your snow blower and lawn & garden engine. In other words – todays snow blower engines are designed to run on 87 octane 10% ethanal fuels.

Yes, you may run ethanol-free or premium fuel. 

I strongly suggest you run fuel stabilizer in any fuel you run in your snow blower! When you go buy fuel at the gas station put the stabilizer right in the storage container. That way you will always have treated fuel that will last more than a few weeks.

Should I lubricate my snow blower?

In general todays snow blowers use maintenance free sealed bearings and don’t need grease but read the maintenance section in your operator’s manual to be sure.

There are a few snow blowers that have a grease fitting or two for the rear axle and transmission bearings.

In the spring I usually clean the snow blower before I put it away and any parts inside auger and impeller area that have the paint worn away I spray with a lithium grease to protect them from rust.

Change the oil in the spring so the snow blower engine sits for the summer with fresh oil.

Read your operator’s manual. It will tell you what parts need to be lubricated.

Can I add an electric starter to my gas snow blower?

In general it will be cheaper to buy a new replacement engine than it would be to add all the parts needed for an electric starter. 

Plus the new engine will be quieter and more fuel efficient.

A new Briggs & Stratton 205cc, LCT Stormforce, or PowerMore engine with electric start are around $250 to $300. The parts and labor to change over your old Tecumseh to electric start will be more than that.

The only exception is if your old engine has two output shafts. A replacement engine is very expensive and the starter kit to add electric start is no longer available. In the case – buy a new snow blower.

Can I clean chunks of ice with the snow blower?

If you can step on the ice and break it up with your foot it may go through the snow blower. 

I don’t recommend trying to throw pieces that are solid or very tough or larger than a tennis ball. At the very least you will break shear pins. At the worse you will break augers, impellers and gearboxes. I have seen impellers bent from ice and other hard objects.

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I'll be glad you help you find the best snow blower. Please tell me the city, state and how large an area you want to clear.

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