Is a 3-stage Better Than a 2-Stage? | Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490 Video Review

My goal is not to tell you which snow blower is best. My goal is to tell you which snow blower is best for you!

I finally had a chance to finish putting together a video review of the Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490 3 Stage Snow Blower.

In the video I go through the key points that make the 3-stage MTD built snow blower unique. Watch the video and then read my conclusions below. Click on the bottom right corner to make it full screen.

Is a 3-stage better than a 2-stage? The answer is yes and no.

The 3-stage MTD snow blowers definitely are better than a residential 2-stage MTD snow blower. Is it better than other manufactures 2-stage units? The answer is – it depends.

Cub Cadet claims 50% more capacity than a two-stage. What most people miss in this advertising claim is they are stating “It clears deep snowfall up to 50% faster than a traditional Cub Cadet 2X™ two-stage snow thrower.” MTD is not making any claims that it clears snow faster than other brands. In my opinion “traditional” is the 500 series Cub Cadets.  Does it throw better than a 900 series? Read on to find out.

The 3-stage Cub Cadet, 3-stage Troy-Bilt Vortex, Craftsman Pro 3-stage and Columbia 3-stage snow blowers have three features that make them different from the “standard” 2-stage MTD built unit.

  1. They have larger engines for the size. Extra power makes a big difference for the amount of snow you can move through a given machine.
  2. They have 4 blade impellers instead of three blades. The combination of the larger engine and 4 blade impeller lets it move more snow through the snow blower.
  3. They use a center front auger that rotates 10 times faster than the front augers on conventional MTD snow blower. The theory behind this is the center auger forces more snow into the impeller giving the snow blower more capacity.
  4. The front of the snow blower is open more which allows more snow to go into the machine compared to the closed flight system on the MTD built 2-stage snow throwers.

So, are the 3-stage machines better than a 2-stage.

  1. More homeowners today demand that snow blowers work faster and more efficiently than they did 20 years ago and each manufacture has developed a proprietary system to meet those needs.The 3-stage snow blowers DO NOT have a capacity advantage over the heavy-duty 2-stage snow blowers by Ariens, Toro, and Husqvarna. 3-stage snow blowers are not better but simply another way of increasing the capacity of a snow blower.
    • The Ariens Deluxe and Platinum Series uses an open flight auger, larger 14 inch impeller and high horsepower engines to increase the capacity of their machines. In addition their SHO units have a specially designed impeller that allows even more capacity.
    • Husqvarna uses open flights, a 4-blade cast iron impeller and high horsepower engines to increase the capacity of their 300 series machines.
    • ToroPowerMax HD series uses open flights, a 14 inch impeller and a “relief valve” to keep the snow circulating inside the snowblower until the impeller can throw it out. “relief valve is Toro’s Anti-Clogging System.” 
    • The 900 series Cub Cadet snow blowers have a large 16 inch impeller but still use the closed flight front auger. I am going to guess that the 3X HD Cub Cadet 3-stage snow blowers (with the metal chute) will move more snow than the 900 series. I am going to guess the 900 series will move more snow than the Troy-Bilt Vortex, Craftsman Pro and standard Cub Cadet 3X snow blowers. (with the poly chute)
    Closed Flight Auger

    Closed Flight Auger

    Open Flight Auger

    Open Flight Auger

  2.  The 3-stage snow blowers definitively have more capacity than the 2-stage MTD units. Why? The 2-stage MTD snow blowers use a closed flight auger that metered the snow going into the snow blower and kept the snow blowers from plugging. The closed flight system also allows these snow blowers to use smaller engines and still get your driveway cleared.  But the closed flights severely limit the amount of snow going into the machine. If you have owned one you know that many times the snow would build up in front of the snow blower and the snow blower would push the snow almost like a snow plow.
  3. Open flight, ribbon verses closed flight, stamped augers. Open flight augers give an improved mix of snow and air. This makes the snow easier to handle for the snow blower and helps the snow blower move snow faster. The whole system is more efficient and handles the snow better. Open flight, ribbon augers mix air with the snow which allows the snow blowers to move more snow. 

This special design is one of the biggest factors limiting the Chinese snow blowers trying to come into the U.S. and Canada. Yes, they can make snow blowers cheaper than we can here in the U.S. Yes, they look just like the snow blowers we used from 10-20 years ago. But they don’t have the industry leading engineering, capacity and durability of todays heavy-duty snow blowers.

What I like about the Vortex.

  1. Low handle height: The handle height is great for people less than 5″ 7″. If you are 6 feet or taller you have to bend over to push down the front of the snow blower to turn.
  2. The Vortex has plenty of power for the size.
  3. It likes snow – the more the better!
  4. It throws 2-3 inches of heavy wet snow well. (Farther than the new Toro SnowMaster but not as far as the Ariens Deluxe 28 SHO)
  5. Trigger steering works very well. The snow blower travels in a straight line until you pull a trigger to turn.
  6. The snow blower is balanced making it easy to turn. When you push down on the handles to turn there is very little weight. Even small people can use this snow blower.
  7. If the snow is deep it does not push the snow in front of the machine like the 2-stage Craftsman, Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt snow blowers will.
  8. Large gas tank.
  9. Good traction. Even clearing a snow plow drift on the lawn it had plenty of traction.
  10. Overall this is a good snow blower for smaller than average people to use. If you are under 5′ 7″ and weigh less than 175 lbs this is a great choice for you.

What I don’t like about the 3-stage Vortex

  1. Snow Blower is balanced which sometimes cause the front end to ride up in deep snow.
  2. When blowing wet, “snowman” snow the 3rd stage auger throws snow into the top of the housing and it sticks making the front end heavy and hard to clean.
  3. The 3rd stage spins fast and causes some snow to be thrown to the left of the housing. When clearing 6 inches or more this will cause the snow to fall out the left side of the housing leaving a “windrow” that has to be cleaned up with a second pass. If you are clearing your driveway start in the middle and keep the uncleared area to your left. The 3-stage clears and cleans your driveway just fine. When you are clearing wet snow be sure you clean out the bucket when you are done. Snow gets packed all over and if you don’t clean it the snow will freeze into the snow blower and you will break shear pins or burn out a belt the next time you go to use it if you don’t.
  4. The 4-way joystick chute control is inconsistent. On some machines the side to side is easy to use, on others of the same model it is stiff and hard to use.  I would like to see MTD’s electric chute control on all the 3-stage machines.
  5. The shear pin on the center auger is hard to change.

None of the items I mention above are intended to tell you not to buy this snow blower. All snow blowers are different and if you understand these little quirks you can decide for yourself if this snow blower is for you.

Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490

This snow fell out of the front housing after I cleaned heavy, wet snow.

So is the 3-stage better than a 2-stage Toro, Husqvarna or Ariens?  No, it’s just a different way of doing of moving snow. 

How I test these snow blowers: 

When it snows I go out and clear my paved driveway, my neighbors gravel driveway, my brick patio and a large spot on the lawn for my dogs. When I get 15-20 inches of snow built up in the back yard I will also go out and compare throwing distance, clearing speed and traction. Each time the snow is different so over the winter I get a chance to try these snow blowers in all types of snow. I look at not only how it clears snow but how well it cleans the different surfaces, how easy the snow blower is to use and the little idiosyncrasies each snow blower has.

My methods are not “scientific” meaning I don’t use damp wood chip horse bedding to consistently test each snow blower. I don’t have a checklist to make sure I look at the same features every time. Because of that my opinions are different from Consumer Reports.

My goal is not to tell you which snow blower is best. My goal is to tell you which snow blower is best for you!

Feel free to ask questions about this snow blower in the comments below.

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