15 Things You Need to Know About Buying a Snow Blower

Choosing the right snow blower can be a daunting task. Here are 15 things to know about snow blowers to help you on your snow clearing journey.

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When it comes to snow blowers, there’s a huge selection of single, two and three stage models in varying widths and with a dizzying array of features on the market. 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.

Newer models offer high-end features like push button power steering, heated handgrips that warm your fingers, airless tires that never go flat and push button chute rotation. There are also choices between cordless models, blowers that run on electricity and traditional gas-powered machines.

“Power steering is the ability of your engine to provide power to the wheels to aid in forward movement. This feature allows you to steer with ease,” says Gary McCoy, Store Manager at Lowe’s and snow clearing expert. “Whether shopping for electric snow shovels or snow blowers, it’s important to choose the snow-clearing equipment that meets your specific needs.”

So, how do you pick the right fit for the job? These are the 15 things to consider when shopping for a snow blower, according to experts.

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A new petrol snowplow is on sale. Snow removal mechanism.
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When should I buy a snow blower?

Retailers are fully stocked with the latest models by early October—and snow blowers are usually on pre-season sale around this time. Stores sell out of the most popular machines fast, and it can take weeks to restock. If you see a snow blower on sale, snap it up right away!

What are single-stage snow blowers?

According to McCoy, 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 like the Ego electric snow blower are designed to handle average snowfall depths up to six inches on driveways up to two cars wide and two cars long.

“Single-stage blowers work best for walkways and smaller driveways,” notes McCoy.

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, choose a two- or three-stage machine instead.

Note: All new gas-powered snow blowers have four-cycle engines, so you don’t have to mix oil and gas. But you do have to change the oil.

What are two-stage snow blowers?

Two-stage machines like this Toro Power Max model utilize a slow-turning corkscrew-like augur that gathers snow and moves it to the center of the house. Then the snow is pushed into a high-speed impeller that propels it out of the chute. They’re designed to handle snowfall depths up to 12 inches on larger driveways up to two cars wide x three cars long and can either be gas or electric-powered.

“If your driveway is over 60 feet long, consider choosing a two or three-stage snow blower,” says McCoy.

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.

What are three-stage snow blowers?

Three-stage machines also have a slow-turning auger that gathers snow and moves it toward the center of the house. However, the second-stage auger is designed to propel the snow into the impeller at a faster rate than a typical two-stage machine.

A three-stage snow blower can move more snow and do it in record time. A three-stage snow blower can remove heavy snow almost 50% faster than the same size two-stage machine. Three-stage snow blowers are designed for heavy snowfall depths up to 18 inches on driveways up to three cars wide and four cars long.

“Three-stage units can handle 16 inches of snow or more,” notes McCoy. “The impeller on two-stage and three-stage snow blowers helps prevent clogging and makes them the best snow blowers for heavy, wet snow.”

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 the belt to fix a snow blower that won’t start.

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Typical American home in wintertime.
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Driveway Type and Slope

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.

“Auger-assisted, push-propelled models are ideal for level surfaces. Therefore, if you are someone with a leveled driveway that gets light layers of snow, a single-stage blower or an electric-powered shovel would be the most beneficial,” says McCoy.

“When it comes to sloped driveways, a gas snow blower or three-stage snow blower that can work up to 23 inches of snow will be a good choice. You can use tire chains with some models to enhance traction in all conditions.”

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.

Average Snow Type and Depth

According to our expert snow blowing tips, 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.

What is power steering?

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 degrees in an instant. Many best-reviewed snow blowers boast this feature, but always check before clicking “add to cart.”

Chute Rotation and Pitch

For both electric and gas snow blowers, it’s important to change the 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.

More expensive models like the Snow Joe Ultra have cable and electronically operated chute rotation mechanisms, so it’s possible to 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.

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A manual snowplow or snow cleaning machine in the alps switzerland in a hotel garden
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Chute Material

This may seem counter-intuitive, but plastic discharge chutes work better and last longer than steel chutes. Plastic chutes, like the one on this self-propelled snow blower from PowerSmart, 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. They’re also at risk of rusting. Just like snow blower belts, snow sticks to rusty chutes, forcing you to stop the machine and clear the snowpack, so it’s better to opt for blowers without metal chutes.


During winter it’s poorly lit when you leave for work and dusky 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 remove snow at all hours of the day.

What are airless tires?

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 has just as much traction as traditional rubber tires. They’re maintenance-free and eliminate side-tracking, making them the best choice for your new snow blower. It’s also nice not to worry about whether your snow blower is ready for the season after six months in a garage.

Electric Starters

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—and unfortunately, aggressive pulling can also damage starter cords.

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 instead.

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Fuel cap for loading gasoline in a small combustible engine
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Corded or Electric Snow Blowers

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. For corded machines, grab a heavy-duty winter-rated extension cord and follow a specific snow removal pattern to avoid cutting the cord or wrapping it around the auger.

Battery-Powered Snow Blowers

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 machines work great for small to average driveways with light to medium snowfall depths. For battery-powered machines, consider the battery life and charging time. Most machines operate for about 45 minutes and charge in an hour. Snagging a second battery helps extend your time outdoors.

Electric snow shovels are another option for those who don’t have the strength to push a heavy machine.

Gas Snow Blowers

Stale gas has always been the number one cause of small engine problems, even before ethanol gas came on the scene. Add a fuel stabilizer to freshen gas and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for off-season storage.

Why You Should Trust Us

I specialize in how-to articles and technical white papers in the automotive, DIY home improvement, telecommunications and digital photography fields. Emily Way is an Associate Shopping Editor for Family Handyman with experience researching products and recommending the best designs to consumers. She researched and updated this piece. Way consulted Gary McCoy, a Store Manager at Lowe’s with ample experience researching and recommending snow blowers.