When Old Man Winter blows into town, home improvement stores roll out their snow blower displays—rows of shiny red, blue, and yellow machines—tempting you to pull out your credit card and take one home. But, as its price tag will remind you, a snow blower is a major purchase that will cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Before you invest that sort of money, get a better understanding of what to look for in the best snow blower. We’ve outlined the need-to-know information and identified three top-rated models so you can confidently select the best machine for your snow-removal needs, whether you’re a first-time buyer or just upgrading to a new model.
Size up the muscle power: Most people think of size in terms of the width of the path a snow blower will clear. While that is a consideration, especially if you have a large area to clear, the real challenge is in finding the best snow blower for efficiently removing both the amount and the type of snow you’re likely to receive in your region—at a price you’re willing to pay. Manufacturers describe snow blowers as “single-stage,” “two-stage,” or “three-stage” to distinguish strength.
• Single-stage snow blowers feature a horizontal auger at the front of the machine that rotates rapidly, scooping up snow and tossing it out the chute. The motion of the spinning auger creates the force that blows the snow from the chute, so single-stage snow blowers generally do not generate sufficient power to blow the snow more than 15 to 25 feet away. The auger blades on a single-stage blower skim the ground during operation, so the machine can effectively clear flat and smooth paved areas. Because the blades are so low, however, they tend to pick up small rocks and toss them out the chute, making single-stage blowers unsuitable for clearing gravel driveways. Most single-stage blowers can clear a 12- to 18-inch swath of light, fluffy snow, and they’re available in both gas- and electric-powered models
• Two-stage snow blowers, which are usually fuel-powered, feature a powerful impeller fan that works in combination with an auger to draw in snow and forcefully throw it out the chute. A two-stage snow blower can shoot snow in excess of 35 feet, depending on the power of the fan on a particular model and the weight of the snow. A snow blower will throw powder snow—the kind skiers love—the farthest, but if you’re clearing heavy, wet snow, don’t expect your blower to reach the maximum distance. Two-stage blowers can handle wet snow as well as fluffy snow, and clear a swath ranging from approximately 12 inches to 2.5 feet. Unlike their single-stage counterparts, two-stage snow blowers are suitable for use on gravel drives because their auger blades don’t touch the ground.
• Three-stage snow blowers are the big boys in the snow-removal world—and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive. In addition to an auger and impeller fan, they feature an accelerator that grinds chunks of ice and powerfully expels snow and slush from the chute. It’s not unusual for a three-stage blower to throw lightweight snow a distance of 50 feet. These muscle-bound machines can clear paths as wide as 40 inches, depending on the specific model. If you have heavy-duty snow-removal needs, a three-stage blower might be the machine for you.
Find the appropriate fuel: Like most outdoor maintenance machines, snow blowers can be powered either by electricity or by gas or diesel. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks.
• Electric-powered snow blowers are the least expensive options and smallest in overall size. Typically single-stage machines, these models clear light snow best, up to about 8 inches deep—but won’t dig you out of deep and heavy snows. Their need to be plugged in to an outlet via an extension cord limits their performance ever so slightly, making them best suited for homeowners who receive minimal snowfall and have relatively short sidewalks and driveways. They’re also handy for clearing snow from decks and steps, because they’re lightweight enough to lift and move. An added bonus: These machines don’t create fumes and won’t raise concerns about where to store their fuel.
• Gas- and diesel-powered snow blowers boast more power than electric blowers, albeit at a higher price tag. They efficiently clear away deeper and heavier snows without restricting their users to the length of an extension cord. With a fuel-powered blower, once you’ve cleared your own driveway, you can continue down the sidewalk and clear your neighbor’s drive as well.
Here’s what reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out in their laboratories to the consumers who have already grappled with the pros and cons to find the best snow blower—said about today’s top models.
Toro Power Clear 518 ZE 18 in. Single-Stage Gas Snow Blower ($399)
For the homeowner with low to medium snow-removal needs, Consumer Reports gives the Toro Power Clear 518 ZE Snow Blower 4.4 out of 5 stars, a rating that Home Depot consumers confirm with an impressive 4.3 out of 5 stars. In field tests, this gas-powered single-stage snow blower excelled in quickly removing snow without engine drag. Compact but commanding, the blower clears a respectable 18-inch path, yet takes up no more room than a standard push-mower in the garage or storage shed. It comes with a rotating chute and snow deflector, allowing you to easily change snow discharge direction, and an electric start to get things up and running even in bitter temps. The Toro Power Clear is designed to remove light-to-moderate snow at depths of up to 12 inches. Available at Home Depot.
Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow Blower ($899)
A respected authority on all aspects of home technology, The Sweethome recommends the Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow blower as the best machine for most people. This two-stage powerhouse is designed to handle snow depths up to 12 inches quickly and quietly, which should keep your neighbors happy. Powerful enough to quickly clear a 26-inch path—even when snow gets packed, thanks to its heavy-duty impeller fan—the two-stage blower from Craftsman earned 4 out of 5 stars from Sears consumers. With power steering and zero-turn capability, the Craftsman blower easily maneuvers through tight sidewalk turns and can reverse direction on a dime. Plus, its six forward speeds and two reverse speeds enable you to hustle through light snow or slow down for accumulations of heavy snow and slush. Available at Sears.
Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower ($1,399)
For the ultimate snow-removal power, Popular Mechanics recommends the Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower, which rapidly clears a 28-inch swath and ejects the snow as far as 50 feet. Designed to tackle heavy snows on large driveways and walks, the Cub Cadet chews through formidable drifts and icy chunks. Its push-button start, easy maneuverability, and ability to clear snow twice as fast as two-stage blowers earned it 3.9 stars from Home Depot consumers. And if it somehow gets dark before you’ve sped through the job, never fear: The Cub Cadet comes with an in-dash headlight so you can blow snow long after sundown. The Cub Cadet even offers one-hand operation with fingertip controls—although with heated handles that make the chore almost pleasurable, you may not want to let go. Available at Home Depot.