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How to buy a snow blower?

Updated on January 6, 2018

Do I need a snow blower?

Snow blowers are very useful when it comes to removing snow from your walkway or driveway. Instead of shoveling, you can walk around with a snow blower. Using a snow blower is similar to mowing the lawn with a walk-behind mower, which can save you time and the backaches you receive from shoveling. Moreover, because they are basic machines and models are slow to be replaced, your choices remain fairly consistent from year to year. Worth noting, however, is the fact that during the last year some popular models have increased the engine horsepower. This might be in response to heavier-than-normal snow storms (depending where you live) in recent seasons.

The big question is do you get enough snow yearly for a snow blower to make sense. Only you can make that call.

Cost of snow blower

Because snow blowers are very seasonal items, you can often save money by buying one off-season. Single stage models can range from about $110 to nearly $600 and two stage models usually range from $350 to $2600. Single stage corded electric models usually range from $120 to $350, while single-stage auger-propelled gas usually range from $350 to $600. Two-stage wheel-drive gas models are more expensive and can range from $600 to $2600 depending on the horsepower and clearing width of the snow blower. Track-drive gas models are also expensive and usually range from $900 to $2500.

Types of snow blowers

Overall, technology has not changed much in the last year or two, but today’s models feature various improvements for easier handling and comfort. Walk-behind snow blowers have a horizontal auger and are either "single-stage" or "two-stage" machines.

Single-Stage snow blowers

Single-stage snow blowers are for homeowners with relatively small spaces to clear. Despite their small size, these snow blowers are capable of handling fairly heavy snows, but going might get slow. These are the simplest snow blowers to use and maintain, and easier to store because they are compact and relatively lightweight.

Single-stage snow blowers have tough, rubber-faced auger blades that contact the driveway surface as they rotate within an open-faced housing, pitching snow up and out through a directional chute (or vanes in the case of one small electric model). They are partly self-propelled in that they usually need some pushing as you walk behind. They clean smooth surfaces quite well, but they do not work as well on gravel or uneven, crumbling concrete.

Corded electric snow blowers are all single-stage and have 6.6-amp to 12-amp motors; and they can clear 12 to 20-inch paths. They are good for light snows but can operate only within 100 feet of an electrical outlet (unless you get an extension cord). The lighter models are ideal for clearing decks and patios, so it might be a good idea to own one as a second snow blower just for that purpose.

Single-stage auger-propelled gas snow blowers have nothing but a bail between the handles to engage the auger. The engine and running gear are smoothly shrouded in these low-profile models, which also feature relatively small tires. The clearing widths are 17 to 22 inches, and the horsepower ranges from 3 to 5.5.

Two-Stage snow blowers

Two-stage snow blowers have steel auger blades, representing the first stage, which may have smooth or serrated faces (These are important for breaking ice and hardened snow). The second stage is a high-speed impeller located directly behind the auger, which significantly increases the machine's capacity to blast snow up and out of an adjustable discharge chute. Adding an impeller and power travel naturally requires more engine horsepower. Because the auger blades are not supposed to touch the plowing surface, they will leave a bit of snow. The amount left behind will depend on how the auger-housing scraper bar is adjusted relative to the skid shoes. All two-stage machines have either powered wheels or tracks. The wheel-propelled models all come with large, deeply treaded tires that reduce the need for chains (optional on some models) in most situations. The engine power is transmitted by belt/disc or belt/chain devices on most and by gearing on others. In all cases, two-stage models will have incremental or variable-forward and reverse-travel speeds.

Two-stage wheel-drive gas models with 5-hp to 6.5-hp engines have 21- to 24-inch cutting paths. These midrange machines can handle big storms but are smaller and more maneuverable than larger models, making them ideal for small to midsize driveways.

In the 7-hp to 8-hp range, two-stage wheel-drive gas models offer more power and 22- to 26-inch clearing widths.

Two-stage wheel-drive gas models that feature 9-hp to 13-hp engines are the real performers for the big jobs where big snowstorms regularly occur. The clearing-path widths range from 26 to 33 inches.

Track-drive gas models represent a relatively small part of the market. They provide outstanding traction in routine snow conditions and work very well in deep accumulation. The range in horsepower is 7 to 12.5 with clearing paths from 24 to 33 inches.

Snow blower features

Auger
A rotating, drum-shaped wheel with horizontally oriented curved blades that cut into and lift the snow.

Adjustable Handlebars
These handlebars are adjustable, either for height or side-to-side.

Anti-Vibration Device
Comfort design features such as rubber engine mounts or a padded handle that can reduce stress from prolonged tool operation.

Dual Tracks
Bigger, dual-stage snow blowers may be propelled on dual tracks instead of wheels. These tank-like treads are especially good for clearing sloped areas.

Four-wheel Drive
Featured on a few high-end, powerful snow blowers.

Handheld/Manual Operation
This is meant for light snowfalls or small areas with an electric motor or small 2-cycle engine.

Heated HandGrips
A convenience feature for those who do not trust their gloves.

Power Steering
Models with this feature, found on dual stage snow bowers only, have a wheel differential operated with a trigger on the control bar.

Remote Chute Rotation
Remote chute rotation employs a crank, placed close to the reach of the snow blower operator, for minimal effort in allowing the snow to be discharged to the left or right of the machine, usually with 210 total degrees of allowable chute movement.

Remote Height Discharge
A lever on the snow blower's control board that allows for quick height discharge adjustments while the operator is running the machine. It can control the height and distance of the snow throwing, which may be important in windy conditions.

Impeller
A bladed wheel located behind the auger that propels the snow at high speed into the discharge tube.

Single-Hand Control
On dual-stage snow blowers, this feature allows for the operator to operate the machine with one hand, versus needing both for propelling the machine and engaging the auger. All single-stage machines are single-hand operation, generally with a spring-bar auger engagement.

Snow Blower Forward Speeds
Most self-propelled, dual-stage snow blowers have between three and six forward speeds (six being common) with one or two reverse speeds.

Tractor/Mower Automatic Transmission
Speeds are selected without clutching, usually with a car-like rocker pedal on tractors (includes hydrostatic drives) or with single or dual levers that control both speed and direction.

Translucent Fuel Tank
Gas tank, which allows the user to see the fuel inside it and keep track of the level. This is usually made of white plastic.

Drift Cutters
Standard or optional narrow steel bard fastened to the sides of the auger housing to slice through drifts and prevent them from collapsing as the snow thrower passes through.

Snow blower buying tips

Check for comfortable handle-grip heights; some models feature adjustable grips.

Maintain a snow blower like any other outdoor power machine, paying particular attention to the condition of any belts and cleaning and protecting the unit from rust in storage. Be sure to grease any fittings.

Look for larger wheels to make pushing easier, folding handles for compact storage, optional or standard electric start, convenient chute cranks and pitch adjusters.

Single-stage models are easy to start and operate even when cold. Simply grab the bail to start and then release your grip to stop the rotor. They handle most 6-inch snows with ease and 8- to 11-inch snows with a little more effort, making them good choices for many average homeowners living where snows are moderate in depth and frequency.

Snow Blower Maintenence

Below are some general maintenance tips. Most of this information can be found in your owner's manual. As time goes on this section will grow to include more detailed maintenance information such as how to perform various repairs to your snow blower.

General Maintenance

Read your owner's manual

Check oil before each use. Add oil as needed.

Change oil and filter after 20-30 hours of use. See owner's manual for the recommended frequency of oil changes for your specific model.

Inspect/clean air cleaner elements every couple months or 30 hours of use.

Use a wrench to make sure all nuts and bolts are snug.

Change spark plugs at intervals recommended in the owner's manual.

Lubricate all moving parts as well as exposed metal after use to prevent rust.

Use a mild soap and water to clean the equipment.

While washing the snow blower inspect it for any signs of damage.

Upon completing the job run the unit for a while to allow excess snow to dissipate

Beginning Of Season Care

Depending on how much you have used the snow blower in years past, you may want to have it tuned up by a professional before the first time out for the season

Replace spark plug(s)

Ensure that tires are adequately inflated

Replace/inspect air filter

Ensure oil is at proper levels

Fill with new gas

End of Season Care

Disconnect spark plug wire

Thoroughly clean snow blower

Empty the gas tank by running the snow blower until it stops

Drain the oil

Fill with new oil

Lubricate all of the needed areas on snow blower (see owner's manual)

Check parts for damage

Spray exposed metal parts with WD-40 or similar product

Cover and park in a dry place

Snow blower safety tips

Most injuries happen when people try to clear a plugged chute with thier hands while the snow blower is on.

When the chute becomes backed up follow these steps.

Turn off the snow blower

Remove the spark plug wire

Use a stick to knock free the impacted snow in the chute

Never, ever, put any body parts in the chute at any time

Consider your environment before you use your snow blower.

Do not operate your snow blower on inclines of greater than 10 degrees. Make a path up and down slopes rather than side to side.

Are there people nearby? Get them out of the way before you begin operation of the snow blower. Snow blowers can propel objects they run over at a high rate of speed.

Are there items that will be in your way? Move toys, branches, hoses, extension cords, and any other objects that would cause damage to the snow blower, yourself, or others.

The heavier the snow the slower you should go. You should also make smaller passes if the snow is very heavy.

If you are using an electric snow blower always be mindful of where the extension cord is.

Other Safety Concerns

Wear eye protection and if noise bothers you, ear plugs.

Bundle up with adequately warm clothing. Dress in such a way that you do not need to rush the job.

Wear clothing and shoes that will not interfere with the safe operation of the snow blower. Double knotted, sturdy, shoes and close fitting clothing is best.

Aim the discharge away from people, cars, or anything of value.

Never leave a running snow blower unattended.

Do not operate the snow blower in the dark or twilight.

Keep your hands and feet free of any moving parts.

Do not let children operate the snow blower.

Do not smoke when you are handling gasoline. Keep gasoline containers in approved containers and make sure that you store the container away from any heat sources. Gasoline should also be kept in well ventilated areas.

Let engine cool for 10 minutes before filling with gasoline.

Learn how to properly operate your snow blower before you start it. Operator's manuals have come a long way and are now quite user friendly, so read it.

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