When a storm blankets your driveway with a foot of snow, a snow blower can quickly become your best friend. These machines are life savers (literally!) by removing snow in a safe and efficient manner.
Choosing the right snow blower can be a daunting task. Dealers will push you toward the latest and greatest contraptions that you likely don’t need. Budget models might not provide the power for your area and end up an expensive eye sore in the garage. Your goal should be finding the right type at the best price.
Choosing a Type
The most important decision you’ll have to make is choosing the right type of snow blower for your needs. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Electric Snow Blowers – These machines need to be plugged in to operate and feature motors that range between 8 amps and 15 amps. Unfortunately, that is not a lot of power. Thus, electric snow blowers are best for areas that receive light annual snowfall totals. You’ll need to avoid regions like the East Coast where snow is heavier. And purchasing an outdoor extension cord is a necessity.
On the plus side, electric models are incredibly cheap. Brands like Greenworks and Snow Joe offer models at around $100. Their lightweight build makes it simple for anyone to operate. This makes them ideal for clearing a few inches of snow off wood decks, sidewalks, and single-car driveways. A great choice for people living in states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Kansas where snowfall totals rarely get over 20 inches a season. Plus they fold up nicely for easy storage through the Summer.
Cordless Snow Blowers – The hottest fad in the industry is powered by lithium-ion batteries. Typically using between 40V and 80V, they provide enough power to remove up to 6 inches of snow at a time. Their best asset is the maintenance free upkeep. There is no oil to change, gas to purchase, or spark plugs to replace. Simply plug in the battery and get started. Brands such as Ryobi will even let you use the batteries off their power tools on their cordless snow blowers.
On the downside, cordless snow blowers are more expensive than their electric counterparts. This is largely due to the cost of the battery. You are limited to how long your battery holds a charge which is typically less than 30 minutes. Still, if you have a smaller driveway in an area that receives light to moderate snow totals, these can be great options.
Single-Stage Gas Snow Blowers – This is where we crank up the power and start removing larger quantities of snow. Single-stage machines have a rubber auger that will scoop up snow and sling it out through the discharge chute in one motion. The paddles touch the ground which helps clear down to the surface. Power varies by engine size, but they are built for areas that receive moderate levels of snow each season.
A lot of new features start popping up in single-stage blowers. Most notably is auger-propelled drive systems. When the auger makes contact with the ground, it will propel the machine forward allowing you to guide it instead of push. More expensive models from Toro and Ariens carry power steering as well. These snow blowers start at $400, and can top out around $900. They are a great choice for people throughout the Midwest and others outside the snowbelt region.
Two-Stage Gas Snow Blowers – Sometimes referred to as dual-stage, these snow blowers are the cream of the crop. They work similar to single-stage models by collecting the snow with the auger. The difference is in that second stage which involves an impeller that launches the snow outside the discharge chute. This allows for some impressive throwing distances up to 45 feet.
These powerful units are made for snow of all types. Heavy snow, slush, and even ice can be removed with ease. That pesky pile the snow plow left for you at the end of the driveway is no match for a two-stage. Since the blades don’t make contact with the surface, they can be safely used on gravel driveways too.
With power comes price and two-stage snow blowers top the charts. Good models can reach $1200 or more in this field. But there are a lot of great values under $1000 too.
Snow Blower Features
Now that you’ve determined what type of snow blower suits your needs, it is time to look at features. These range from necessities to luxuries.
Self-Propelled – This is essentially an automatic transmission that moves according to the speed you set at. Many models give you up to 6 forward speeds and 2 reverse. This allows you to choose what’s best for your pace and the conditions you are working on. Going up an incline? Turn up the speed. Going down and need to be careful? Shift down. This works similar to how lawn mowers have for decades.
Power Steering – The heavier the snow blower, the more this is necessary. Power steering works by locking the inner tire when making a turn. This allows the back end to slide around effortlessly. Some companies like Toro and Ariens will lock the wheel automatically based on a sensor. Others require squeezing a handle. The community is split as to which option works best, so make sure to try it out before making a purchase.
Chute Controls – Controlling the discharge chute may be one of the most important functions to operating a snow blower. Not only do you want them to turn smoothly, but also be in a position to change without having to slow down. Many models work off a hand crank that allows you to turn from left to right. But newer models are using joysticks and mechanical controls to make this task easier. As the complexity increases here, so does the price.
Electric Start – This feature is more or less standard on newer models. What it does is allow you to plug your gas powered snow blower into an electrical outlet and start it up through an extension cord. This is important when the weather dips real low and your traditional recoil start struggles. Or if you have a bum shoulder and don’t want to exert yourself.
Headlights – While most look at these as a luxury, they become an essential depending on where and when you plan to use your snow blower. If you plan to operate at night near oncoming traffic, it can become a much needed safety device to alert cars of your presence. Remember that when snow is blowing it leads to limited visibility. These lights can come in traditional halogen bulbs or LED.
Hand Warmers – Operating levers and cranks with freezing cold hands can be tough. And throwing on some ultra-thick winter gloves makes that task just as difficult. Heated handlebars keep your hands warm while allowing you to wear thinner gloves. Many new models come with this standard, while others can be added through aftermarket parts.
Other Snow Blower Buying Tips
- Parts break. It’s an unfortunate consequence of any mechanical device. Be sure that the snow blower you choose has replacement parts available to order online. Most major brands will have this area covered. Issues come when purchasing discontinued or older used models.
- Check the warranty. Not just the number of years you are covered for, but what happens when it breaks. Do they require you to pay to ship it back? Or maybe just take it up to an authorized service center? If the latter, make sure you have one nearby.
- Don’t fret too much over name brands. Sure you may have a personal favorite. But most small engines are built overseas by a handful of manufacturers. In fact, many snow blower brands use the exact same engines. While there are subtle differences, it is not worth spending hundreds of dollars more for a similarly powered machine just because of the brand.
There are endless resources online to help you compare snow blowers. Consumer Reports recently tested dozens of models and rated them on important factors. Review sites like SnowBlowers.net will tell you what they think are the best snow blowers on the market. And of course, read through customer reviews on sites like Amazon and Home Depot to see what issues people have encountered.
There is no best snow blower for everyone. Only for you. To get to that point, determine the type that fits your region, the features you need, and then which model can provide those at the lowest price. Then you will be ready to tackle the next blizzard with confidence.