Is a Gas Two Stage Snow Blower The Best Choice For You?
Gas 2-stage snow blowers can handle heavy snow, deep snow and wet sloppy snow. If you live north of Interstate 80 in the U.S. it should be the first type of snow removal you look at.
Two Stage Snow Blowers are far more effective than the other types in handling deep snow, heavy wet snow, and large piles of packed snow that the city snow plow leaves at the end of a driveway. These machines are cost more but are faster and more productive than gas powered single-stage or electric models. Two-Stage snow blowers will clear snow from gravel driveways, paved driveways and turf. Most two-stage snow blowers will throw snow a lot farther than other types. Being able to throw the snow farther allows you to have smaller piles of snow around the end of your drive and lets you spread the snow over a much larger area so you don’t get deep drifts across your drive the next time it snows.
Two-Stage Snow Blowers have two sections that break up the snow and then throw it. First, a metal auger grabs the snow and moves it to the center of the machine. This auger spins fast enough that once the snow reaches the center of the front housing it gets thrown into an impeller/fan behind it. This impeller/fan or second stage is spinning at a much faster rate and the blades of the impeller throws the snow up and out the discharge chute. In addition, the intake or mouth of the snow blower is typically two to three times higher than single stage snow throwers and can handle deep snow in a single bite.
Two stage snow blowers come in many different sizes and quality levels. I am going to let you know what I know about snow blowers and that will help you decide which size and quality level is best for you. I’m not going to sell you only the biggest or the baddest or a certain brand but I will go through the many brands and help you sort out the best brand with the best service for you. You don’t always need to buy the widest, most powerful, most expensive snow blower to get your snow clearing done. The name brand machines sold in the U.S. and Canada are powerful enough to get the job done for most of you.
2-stage snowblowers are huge! Aren’t they hard to use? Two-stage snow blowers have full time powered wheels and pull themselves through the snow. Like a 1949 Willy’s Jeep the technology behind the full time power is rude, crude and bulletproof. 2-stage snow blowers give you the maximum traction for blowing snow all the time.
Economy 2-stage snow blowers have a solid axle and can be hard to turn for some people. Mid-priced and deluxe snow blowers have independently powered wheels (power steering) so they are easier to handle and turn. Most have multiple forward/reverse speeds and all good 2-stage snow blowers have 110 volt electric start so they will start easily in all temperatures.
If you can walk and use both hands you can use a 2-stage snow blower with power steering. Some models even offer adjustable height handles for shorter people.
BEFORE YOU BUY A SNOW BLOWER, ASK YOURSELF:
- How big an area will you need to clear; e.g. driveway, walking path, sidewalk, down to the milking parlor, business parking lot etc? A 30 inch heavy-duty snow blower will clear twice the area in the same amount of time as a 24 inch homeowner snow blower.
- How much time do I have to move my snow? The size of the engine will make a big difference in how fast you get the job done.
- 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. For example, Chicago averages 40 inches of snow a year but is common for that area to get 60 inches or more. A residential grade will work for most areas of the U.S. but if you live in a “snow belt” you will want a higher horsepower landowner or commercial grade machine.
- 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)? Do you live out where drifted snow is 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? Heavy, drifted or hard packed snow needs a heavy duty snow blower to quickly get the job done.
- Where will you store the snow blower? How wide is your doorway? If you have to go through a 32 inch side door a 28 inch is the widest you can buy.
- 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. You can adjust a 2-stage snow blower so it will clear a gravel driveway or a spot on your lawn for the dogs without throwing rocks or tearing up the turf. Most 2-stage machines now have available skid shoes that won’t scratch your colored driveway. Larger tires or tracks may be a good option for working “off-road.”
- Do I have a sloped driveway? Todays snow blowers no longer use tire chains so you may want a snow blower with large deep treaded tires or tracks.
- How big am I? Can I handle a cheap snow blower with no power steering (can I lift and carry 50 lbs?) If you weigh less than 150 lbs, have a bad back or on lifting restrictions, snow blowers with solid or pin-lock axles can be hard to turn .
- Can you do the maintenance and repairs your own snow blower? Do you even want to work on it yourself? Can you haul the broken snow blower to a repair center or do you want someone to come to your home for the repair?
- Do you know how to look up parts and order them from your local dealer or over the internet?
- A longer defects warranty is nice but it still does not cover starting issues, belts, or other normal parts that wear out. Some brands also offer protection plans that cover wear and tear.
- Don’t buy the cheapest machine advertised in the Sunday paper and expect it to last. DON’T BUY THE BLACK FRIDAY SPECIAL AND EXPECT IT TO BE THE RIGHT SNOW THROWER FOR YOU. Be careful with brands you are not familiar with. Manufacturers from around the world are trying to get into the U.S. Many of these manufactures are trying to get you to buy on price alone – a few are quality snow blowers, but at this point in time all lack an extensive parts and service network.
These questions in part will help decide what type of snowblower you will ultimately purchase. Once you determine the best size and type, then we will go shopping for the one that is best for you!
Things to keep in mind when buying a snow thrower or snow blower:
When choosing a snow removing machine, consider the size of the area to be cleared and the typical snow conditions in your part of the country. A snow blower with a powerful engine and wide working width will save time if the area is large and covered in deep, heavy snow. Smaller areas covered in dry, light snow require less power.
A snow blower with power steering is easier to maneuver than other models. Choose a model with power steering if you need to make lots of turns, either while clearing large open areas (where you need to go back and forth many times) or when removing snow from winding walkways.
Features to consider:
- Construction of components for durability – snow removal is a lot of work.
- Engine size – power matters here.
- Intake Height – how many inches of snow can it take in a single pass.
- Clearing Width – larger clearing width for big driveways reduces chore time.
- Drift cutters to cut through deep overhanging snow drifts.
- Large tires for better traction and easy steering – do you need chains or tracks?
- Single-hand operation allows easy adjustments.
- Adjustable chute direction and pitch.
- Skid shoes to lift intake off ground – ideal for uneven or gravel surfaces.
- Work lights to help you see in low light and at night.
- Electric start – for turn key cold starting.
- Heated handles – for more comfortable operation in the cold.
- Length and type of warranty.
Remember it is a machine – all machines break down eventually. It is a mechanical device that works in extreme conditions. It is not always about low price. Saving a couple bucks in the beginning does not always save you money in the end.
Don’t fall for sales pitches – Features Tell, Benefits Sell
Reviews tell only a small part of the story: I’ll tell you right up front – 80% of the people who are satisfied with their snow blower purchase will not write a review but over 80% of the people who are not satisfied will write a review. In addition many people who are not satisfied will write a bad review on many different sites. So be practical when reading the reviews and don’t always rule out a snow blower or brand because it has a few bad reviews. Ask me and I’ll help you decide.
Cost is relative: The most expensive is not always the best for you and likewise the cheapest is probably not the snow blower you need. Your budget needs to be based on the features you really need and then on how much you want to spend. Let’s figure out the type of snow blower you need, then the size you need, the features you want and finally the type of support you require to keep it running for years to come. Then we will go shopping at L&G dealers, retailers and online to get you the best deal.
Engines are not the same: Engines have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Your dad’s favorite old Tecumseh (Snow King) is gone. Engines are now sized by cc’s or torque not horsepower. Even more, engine dependability has dramatically improved in the last 3 years to the point where some brands are now offering a 5 year starting guarantee. The engine market has changed so much that just a few years ago Briggs & Stratton snow engines were widely recognized as the best but new manufactures like LCT and PowerMore have leapt ahead in dependability and useful life. Starting this year EFI (electronic fuel injection) is now available on some models. EFI will eliminate starting issues. The change is becoming as drastic as the change in the auto market in the 90’s.
Quality is hard to determine: Most of the brands you are familiar with offer a reliable residential grade and a higher horsepower, heavy-duty grade. Some brands and manufactures also offer an economy grade and commercial grade. In addition some retailers and dealers also offer cheap, low quality, price-point equipment. I’ll guide you through these differences.
Where do I get Service and Parts? Don’t forget that a snow blower is a mechanical piece of equipment and it needs maintenance and repair. Yes, you will break it eventually. Some brands are harder to maintain and some are harder to find parts for. Warranty, parts availability, service and customer satisfaction after the sale are almost as important as what the snow blower can do for you now days.
Two stage snow blower quality:
You do get what you pay for IF you know these quality levels.
Two stage snow blowers range in size from 22 to 45 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. 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 (and sometimes awkward) 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.
UNDERSTAND SNOW BLOWER MAINTENANCE BEFORE YOU BUY
With proper care and maintenance, a snow blower should last 10 -15 years or more, but like anything mechanical, snow blowers/ snow throwers do need periodic and preventative maintenance.
In addition, snow blowers pick up snow and anything else in their path. There will be “stuff” hiding in the snow that will try to break your snow blower. Boots, doormats, sticks, landscaping bricks, garden hoses, kids toys, and debris from the road out front. (Last winter I found a piece of a car suspension strut hiding in the snow plow drift across the end of the driveway.)
Be certain to ask maintenance questions before you buy! Below is a summary of some of the general snow blower maintenance that you should expect:
Follow the recommendations in the owner’s manual for changing the spark plug and-for models with a four-stroke engine-the engine oil. Most recommend changing both at least once each year.
Always add a fuel stabilizer to preserve the fuel between storms and storing it for the summer. Stabilizers keep fuel from degrading for up to one year to help prevent gum and varnish deposits from clogging the carburetor and fuel passages.
For two-stage machines, have some spare auger shear bolts on hand. The bolts are designed to protect the gearbox by breaking if the auger hits a hard object. For both single and 2-stage snow blowers keep one set of belts on hand. If you get a lot of heavy, wet snow you may burn out the impeller belt. If you own a 2-stage snow blower made by MTD I suggest keeping a set of control cables on-hand. Both the drive engage and the shift cable.
Snow blowers vibrate more than you lawn mower so periodically tighten nuts and bolts, especially on control linkages, which tend to loosen as a snow blower vibrates.
Learn how to adjust the scraper and skid shoes. Check the skid shoes on the 2-stage snow blowers at least twice a season.
FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE
If I can stress only one point, it is do your research before you buy a snow blower. 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 large investment in time and money and it should not be taken lightly. The right choice can last you many years.