Snow blowers, also called snow throwers, are bigger, better and friendlier than ever before. With easier steering and more convenient chute controls, clearing the snow from your driveway and walkways has never been easier. Also, prices are lower than ever, thanks to major big-budget distributor competition. This winter, do your research on snow blowers and find one that will fit your needs and budget.
Types of Snow Blowers
Single-stage electric snow blowers don't have driven wheels. Instead, they have a rubber-tipped auger that picks up and throws snow; this also helps to propel the machine. Best for short, level driveways, decks and walks, single-stage electric snow blowers work best with 4 inches of snow or less. They're easy to handle, relatively lightweight and available in cordless and plug-in models.
Single-stage gas snow blowers are fairly easy to handle but are more powerful than electric snow blowers. They work well on midsized paved driveways with snow levels under 8 inches. While it has an auger that works similarly to the electric model, it also has wheels. They are often two-cycle, requiring an oil-gasoline mix to operate, as well as regular maintenance.
Two-stage gas snow blowers also use an auger to pick up snow and throw it. Unlike smaller machines, they add a fan-like impeller above the auger to help throw snow out the shoot and are propelled by engine-driven wheels. They work well on long, wide driveways with excessive levels of snow, and are the best model to use if you have gravel driveways or walkways, because the auger doesn't touch the ground as the single-stage electric and gas snow blowers do.
Important Snow Blower Features
- Controls vary extensively from model to model, so you should always test out a snow blower before you buy it, or at least sit at the helm to get a feel for the controls. The way they're arranged, their height and their adjustments can be difficult to handle if you don't find one that's right for you, so always examine the quality and likability of the controls before buying a new snow blower.
- Clearing tools that come included with your snow blower are typically the best. They are usually made of plastic and are used to clear clogs in the discharge chute or auger housing of your snow blower. Snow blowing incidents are the number one cause of arm and leg dismemberment in the United States, so always use the tool included with your machine to do the cleaning, not your hands or feet.
- Electric starting is available on most gas-powered models now, and it works by plugging in an electric cord to a nearby outlet and pressing a button or using a nozzle. While this may seem strange, it can be a lot easier than yanking a pull cord on a machine in the wintertime.
- Headlights are available on two-stage snow blowers and allow you do to work after dark. If you plan on doing any snow blowing after dark, always have extra lighting available to avoid causing injury to yourself and others, and to avoid getting any foreign objects picked up by the machine and causing additional damage.
- Speed settings are available on most two-stage snow blowers, up to seven. This gives you control over the speed of your drive wheels, which can help prevent clogs while you slog through heavy snow.
- Extension cords are almost always necessary with electric blowers with cords. Even if you have a nearby outlet, it's convenient to have extra cord to allow for wider ground coverage with the machine. Always choose extension cords that have extra lining and padding and are moisture safe. Check the users manual for your snow blower to find recommendations from the manufacturers.
Know Your Snow Profile
Consider your typical weather conditions and ground size. Do you have a long, wide or hilly driveway and get frequent, heavy snow coverage? Or is your driveway more flat, mid-sized and paved, and your snow less heavy?
If you have the former, then a two-stage gas-powered snow blower will work best for you. They have wide augers that gather snow and an impeller that throws it. If you have a gravel driveway, they're also more fitting, because the auger doesn't actually touch the ground at any point during operation. These machines are also available in swath sizes from 28 to 30 inches. They'll usually cost between $600 and $1,200.
If you have the latter snow profile, then you don't need as heavy-duty a thrower. Try a single-stage gas blower, which is lighter and easier to handle. They usually have swaths between 20 and 22 inches and are best for paved driveways, because the auger makes contact with the ground and could scoop and throw stones from an unpaved driveway. This could cause a severe safety hazard. Single-stage gas snow blowers usually cost between $300 and $900.
Snow Blower To-Do List
- Take it for a test drive. When you're shopping in store for a snow blower, there will likely be floor models for the products they're selling, so don't be afraid to take a few for a test drive. A snow blower can be strenuous if you're not prepared to control the heavy weight, so the test drive will give you a better idea of which handles you can better handle. Also pay attention to handlebar height, because if they're too tall or too short, you may have issues handling the machine overall.
- Be safe. Before powering up your snow blower, take into account your safety and the safety of those around you. If you're using a gas-powered model, then start it up outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Gas-powered models can also get pretty loud, so always wear earplugs to protect your hearing. While operating the machine, don't wear any loose clothing like scarves, pants or jackets that could get caught in the machinery. Also, you should never, under any conditions, use your hands or feet to clear a clog in the snow blower machine. Always turn off the engine or unplug the machine before trying to clear any blockages, and always use the clearing tool that comes with your blower. If your model didn't come with one, then use a wooden broom handle.
- Maintain your snow thrower. Just like with any investment, you should take care of your snow blower to ensure it lasts as long as possible and always operates smoothly. Gas-powered snow blowers require regular engine maintenance. Two-cycle snow blowers require a mix of fuel between gas and oil to run, so don't just add gas. That can burn up the engine. Make sure you read and understand the instructions in your owners manual. Also, you need to check the machine's air filters every season. If they're dirty, then the engine will perform poorly. Spray WD-40 on the machine's moving parts to deter rust and keep the machine lubricated. Pay particular attention to the impeller and levers. Also, replace your spark plugs every two years. Four-cycle snow blowers run on regular gasoline, but they need oil, too, so make sure to check the levels before each use.