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15 Things You Need to Know About Buying a Snow Blower

Choosing the right snow blower can be a daunting task. You’ll see a huge selection of single, two and three stage models in varying widths and with a dizzying array of features. If you’ve never purchased a snow blower or haven’t purchased one in a long time, you’ll be a “blown away” by the blizzard of new features. The newer models offer high-end features like push button power steering that turns the machine around on a dime, heated handgrips that warm your fingers, airless tires that never go flat, and push button chute rotation.

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Shop EarlyMarcel Jancovic/Shutterstock

Shop Early

Retailers are fully stocked with the latest models by Oct. 1 and the snow blowers are usually on pre-season sale with discounts of up to 15 percent off. But once the first big snowfall hits, all bets are off. Stores sell out of the most popular machines fast and it can take weeks to restock. If you wait, you'll pay top dollar and most likely wind up with a machine that's too small for your walk and driveway. Start shopping in late September and early October to get the right machine for you home, and get it at a lower price. Discover the 10 best sites for online deals for even more of a steal.

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What is a single-stage snow blower?

What is a single-stage snow blower?

A single-stage snow blower has a single high-speed auger that scrapes the snow off the ground and propels it up through the discharge chute. Single-stage machines are designed to handle average snowfall depths up to 6 in. on driveways up to 2 cars wide x 2 cars long. They can break up and remove compacted snow left from snow plows as long as you attack it early (before it freezes) and chop down the larger areas with a shovel. The auger has a rubber leading edge that helps propel the machine slightly as it scoops snow off the ground. But it’s not a true self-propelled mechanism. If your drive or walk is at a steep grade, chose a two- or three-stage machine instead. Note: All new gas-powered snow blowers have 4-cycle engines, so you don’t have to mix oil and gas. But you do have to change the oil. Photo: Courtesy of The Toro Company

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What is a two-stage snow blower?Photo: Courtesy of The Toro Company

What is a two-stage snow blower?

Two-stage machines utilize a slow turning corkscrew-like augur that gathers snow and moves it to the center of the housing. Then the snow is pushed into a high-speed impeller that propels it out the chute. They're designed to handle snowfall depths up to 12 in. on larger driveways up to 2 cars wide x 3 cars long. Most are self-propelled with multiple forward speeds. They have a larger auger and engine so they can chew into compacted ice and snow much easier and faster than a single-stage machine and handle more snow in a shorter period of time.

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What is a three-stage snow blower?

What is a three-stage snow blower?

Three-stage machines also have a slow turning auger that gathers snow and moves it toward the center of the housing. However, the second-stage auger is designed to propel the snow into the impeller at a faster rate than a typical two-stage machine. So a three-stage snow blower can move more snow and do it in record time. In fact, a three-stage snow blower can remove heavy snow almost 50 percent faster than the same size two-stage machine. Three-stage snow blowers are designed for heavy snowfall depths up to 18 in. on driveways up to 3 cars wide x 4 cars long. Note: All snow blowers have a drive belt that wears out over time. Two- and three- stage snow blowers have several belts. It's important to know how to change a snow blower belt. Photo: Courtesy of Troy-Bilt

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Driveway construction and slope are critical factors for a snow blowerPhoto: Courtesy of Troy-Bilt

Driveway construction and slope are critical factors for a snow blower

A properly sized single-stage snow blower might be the perfect choice for a small, flat concrete or asphalt driveway. But it isn't a good choice if you have a steep slope or a gravel or dirt driveway of any size. That's because the rubber-tipped auger scrapes the snow off the pavement and into the housing. If you use a single-stage machine on a gravel or dirt driveway, you'll destroy the rubber auger in no time and throw the gravel all over your lawn. On a steep-sloped drive or walk, a single stage machine requires far more effort than a self-propelled model. If you have a gravel drive or walk, get a two- or three-stage snow blower so the auger doesn't scrape the ground.

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The average snowfall depth and the type of snow you get are the next factors to considerFamily Handyman

The average snowfall depth and the type of snow you get are the next factors to consider

Single-stage snow blowers have a hard time throwing deep, wet, sticky snow. If that's the type of snow you get most often, choose a self-propelled two- or three-stage snow blower, even if you have a small driveway. A two-stage snow blower is easier on your back because you don’t have to push it into heavy, wet snow; the self-propelled feature will drive it forward. Plus, two- and three-stage machines have more powerful engines, so they won't bog down in heavy, wet snow.

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Power steering saves your back and makes the job easier

Power steering saves your back and makes the job easier

Two- and three-stage snow blowers are heavy and turning them around at the end of a path can be exhausting. But power steering allows you to turn the machine on a dime. The latest models have one-hand power steering controls that turn the machine 180° in an instant. Learn more tips to make snow blowing easier here. Photo: Courtesy of Troy-Bilt

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Auto chute rotation and chute pitch controls speed up the job

Auto chute rotation and chute pitch controls speed up the job

You have to change chute direction at the end of every path as well as every time the wind changes direction. The chute rotation mechanism on the lower priced machines is just a crank, so you have to stop and turn the crank before you can proceed. Plus, you have to stop and manually adjust the chute pitch when you want to change the throwing range. But the more expensive models have cable and electronically operated chute rotation mechanisms so the thing you do is change direction and pitch right from the operator's control panel. Some even come with a one-hand pistol-grip joystick chute. Those features are worth it because they speed up the job. Photo: Courtesy of The Toro Company

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Plastic chutes are better than steelElena Elisseeva/Shutterstock

Plastic chutes are better than steel

This may seem counter-intuitive, but plastic discharge chutes actually work better and last longer than steel chutes. Plastic chutes are formulated to be somewhat slippery, so snow doesn’t stick or jam as easily. Plus, the plastic is slightly flexible, so it doesn’t crack in cold weather. Steel discharge chutes, on the other hand, can chip and dent. Once they start to rust, snow sticks to the chute, forcing you to stop the machine and clear the snow pack.

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Headlights really help

Headlights really help

It’s winter. So it’s dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home. Whether you clear snow in the early morning hours or after dinner, you’ll be doing it in the dark. Headlights help you see and clear obstacles before they jam the machine. They also allow you to clear snow at all hours.

Photo: Courtesy of Cub Cadet

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Airless tires are hassle free and keep the snowblower driving straight

Airless tires are hassle free and keep the snowblower driving straight

Pneumatic air-filled tires are a constant problem. They always need refilling and repairing a flat snow blower tire is no easy task. Plus, if one tire has more or less air pressure than the opposite tire, the snow blower will pull to one side. Airless tires, on the other hand, never go flat. They’re made from a special polymer material that flexes to shed snow and have just as much traction as traditional rubber tires. They’re totally maintenance-free and eliminate side-tracking, making them the best choice for your new snow blower. Photo: Courtesy of Troy-Bilt

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Electric start saves your shoulders and backAnne Kitzman/Shutterstock

Electric start saves your shoulders and back

Gasoline engines can be finicky, especially in cold weather. If you flood a snow blower engine, it can take 20 good, strong rope pulls to clear out the flood and get it started. That’s easier said than done on a large engine. Electric-start machines plug into a standard AC outlet and start with the push of a button. If your back isn’t in shape for rope pulling, choose a snow blower with an electric starter.

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Electric snow blowers work great for small areas

Electric snow blowers work great for small areas

If you live in an area with light snowfall events and you don’t want to deal with gas and annual oil changes, an electric snow blower may be the right option for you. You’ll need a heavy-duty winter-rated extension cord and you’ll have to follow a specific snow removal pattern to avoid cutting the cord or wrapping it around the auger. But electric snow blowers are a great choice for small areas. Photo: Courtesy of SnowJoe

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Battery-powered snow blowers are gaining ground

Battery-powered snow blowers are gaining ground

A battery-powered snow blower can be an even better option because it eliminates the hassle of gas, oil changes and annual spark plug service. These machine work great for small to average driveways with light to medium snowfall depths. A single charge can run the machine for about 30 minutes. If you need to run longer, simply buy a second set of batteries. Photo: Courtesy of Snow Joe

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Gas-powered snow blowers require extra careFamily Handyman

Gas-powered snow blowers require extra care

Stale gas has always been the #1 cause of small engine problems, even before ethanol gas came on the scene. So you must add a fuel stabilizer to fresh gas and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for off-season storage.