Choosing a Snow Blower
Unless you live in a region that's regularly slammed with substantial snowfall, there's little need to spend more than $500 for a snow blower that will see only occasional use. A cheap snow blower can reliably clear small to medium-size driveways, walkways, decks, and patios of around half a foot of snow, or more if you're willing to make multiple passes. The cheapest snow blowers are usually corded electric models under $200, but spending a bit more -- over $300 -- can buy the cordless convenience of a battery-powered blower or the added power of a gas blower.
Snow Blower Brands.Several familiar and a few not-so-familiar names rule the cheap snow-blower market. Well-known brands with models in the Cheapism price bracket include Toro and Troy-Bilt, which make a range of electric and gas blowers. Cub Cadet and Poulan Pro have inexpensive gas models, while Snow Joe and Greenworks make cheap corded and battery-powered electric blowers. Big names including Honda, Husqvarna, and Ariens focus on pricier, higher-end gas models, while Ego makes a higher-end cordless blower.
As with many appliances, there are a lot of brand names but not a lot of manufacturers. The Ohio-headquartered company MTD makes Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Remington, Troy-Bilt, and Yard Machines. Husqvarna makes Poulan Pro, while Ariens makes Sno-Tek.
Electric vs. Gas Snow Blowers.It's important to carefully consider your needs before deciding between electric and gas. Electric snow blowers are lighter and lower maintenance than their gas counterparts, but most require access to a power outlet and an extension cord that can stand up to the elements (generally not included). Buyers can opt for a cordless model, but expect to pay a premium for that convenience -- and there's the risk of dealing with a dead battery before the job's done. Gas blowers are typically a bit more powerful than electric blowers. While a cord or a dead battery is not a worry, the tradeoff is that users must stay on top of routine maintenance, such as checking oil levels and replacing fuel filters.
In our roundup of the best cheap snow blowers, we recommend three corded electric models. The Greenworks 2600502 (starting at $123) makes it onto many reviewers' lists as one of the best electric snow blowers around. Its light weight and the brand's overall reputation for high-quality products at reasonable prices make it our top pick. There's also the Snow Joe Ultra SJ622E (starting at $167) and the PowerSmart DB5023 (starting at $129). Both have shorter warranties than our top choice and a bit more heft, but each presents its fair share of positives.
The Snow Joe iON 18SB (starting at $278) is a cordless electric snow blower that's a good option for homeowners facing lighter loads and willing to sacrifice a bit of power for easy portability. Cordless converts who want as much power as possible can consider stepping up to the Ego SNT2102 (starting at $599). Buyers might want to steer clear of the Greenworks Pro 2600402 (starting at $254). Complaints concerning reliability dog this battery-powered snow blower.
Snow blower reviews suggest that anyone who regularly receives up to a foot of powder or significant amounts of wet snow should spend extra for a gas model. Our pick for best cheap gas snow blower is the Craftsman 88780 (starting at $450). It can power through fairly substantial piles of snow with relative ease. Another gas blower we recommend is the Toro Power Clear 518 ZE (starting at $399), a compact model that users say is small but mighty and can clear snow deeper than its 12-inch intake suggests. We're a bit wary of the gas-powered Poulan Pro PR100 (starting at $350). Reviewers indicate it suffers from durability issues and maneuverability that's below par.
Expensive vs. Cheap Snow Blowers.All electric snow blowers and most cheap gas blowers are single-stage models that rely on augers (usually rotating rubber paddles) to gather up snow and send it through the discharge chute while helping pull the machine along. The auger in a single-stage snow blower scrapes the ground, so it should be used only on paved/smooth surfaces.
Those who get a bit more snow or have rough surfaces to clear may want to step up to a gas-powered two-stage snow blower like the Troy-Bilt Storm 2410 (starting at $599). Two-stage models use an auger (usually made of serrated metal) to churn up snow and an impeller to help send it out the chute. They can handle heavier snowfalls and uneven terrain or gravel because the auger doesn't contact the ground. Three-stage snow blowers, the most expensive of the bunch, work like two-stage models but are much faster. They are best for users who get a lot of snow and want to deal with it as quickly as possible. The Cub Cadet 3X 26" (starting at $1,199) is one of the best values among three-stage gas blowers.
For the most part, two-stage snow blowers are $500 and up, while three-stage blowers run at least $1,000. At the other end of the spectrum is the lightweight, inexpensive Toro Power Shovel (starting at $99), for those who want assistance with small snowfalls in tight areas.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Snow Blower Reviews: What We Considered
To research and compare snow blowers, we consulted expert sources such as Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, and MovingSnow.com, all of which do product testing. We also plowed through thousands of online reviews from current and past owners of cheap snow blowers on the websites of retailers including Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, and Sears. Most reviews focus on performance, maneuverability, durability, and ease of use. All in all, reviews indicate that buyers who match the specs to their particular needs and have realistic expectations are satisfied with cheap snow blowers.
Power.Manufacturers often indicate the power of a snow blower in cubic centimeters (CCs) for gas models and amps for electric blowers, which can make it confusing to compare models. CCs refer to the volume of piston displacement in a gas-powered engine. The greater the displacement, the more powerful the engine. The same is true for the amp rating in an electric motor -- the more amps (a unit of measure for electric current), the more powerful the motor. In the case of battery-powered blowers, higher voltage means more power.
Reviews indicate that more power doesn't necessarily mean better performance. Indeed, a slew of satisfied reviewers say many of the less-powerful blowers we researched do just fine for light snowfall on small, paved areas and deftly blow away top layers of deep snow.
Still, expectations are usually higher for gas snow blowers, and users' satisfaction often depends on how well they have matched a snow blower's capabilities with weather conditions in their area. While an electric or single-stage gas blower should suffice for lighter use, buyers who live in very snowy climates should consider a two- or three-stage gas model.
Clearing Width and Intake.The amount of snow that the best snow blowers can clear also depends largely on their design. The clearing width affects how many passes you have to make to clear away the snow. A wider path gets the job done faster. The clearing width for the cheap snow blowers we researched ranges between 18 and 21 inches. More powerful gas models, especially two- and three-stage machines, are more likely to clear wider paths.
A related feature is the height of the intake, which determines how deep the snow blower cuts during each pass. If you live in a region where the snow really piles up, you'll be frustrated constantly if the intake isn't high enough. A low intake in high snow means making several passes over the same area and removing the snow in layers, or venturing outside during a storm several times to clear the snow before it gets too deep. A good rule of thumb: The intake should be at least 2 inches higher than the depth of the snow.
On most cheap snow blowers, the intake ranges from 9 to 13 inches. Although that means they can handle nearly a foot of snow at a time, single-stage snow blowers and power shovels generally are best for light duty on smooth surfaces with accumulations up to about 6 inches. Reviewers who expect these machines to power through larger amounts or manage very wet, heavy snow are often disappointed when they find they need to make several passes. A higher intake generally comes with a higher price tag. On two- and three-stage blowers, the intakes typically range from 16 to 23 inches.
Weight and Maneuverability.If light weight is a key requirement, it's no contest: Electric snow blowers win out big time. The electric models on our list start around 32 pounds. The heftiest, a battery-powered model meant to compete with gas blowers, tops out at 64 pounds. For an even lighter option, a power shovel can make quick work of smaller, tighter areas where a blower would be too awkward.
The lightest (and least powerful) gas snow blower among our picks is just under 60 pounds, while the three-stage model we favor tops out at a hefty 267 pounds. Fortunately, a gas blower is also more likely to feature some form of self-propulsion and power steering, making it less of a beast to move. Still, gas blowers are likely to be bulkier, so users who need help clearing snow in tight areas will want to stick to an electric model -- or a tried-and-true shovel, electric or otherwise.
Throwing Distance and Discharge Chutes.Once the snow is churned up and compacted, it has to go somewhere. Specs detailing the throwing distance and chute rotation of a snow blower give a good indication of how far the snow will go and where it will land. Look for a model capable of blasting snow at least 20 feet. The maximum throwing distance of the blowers we researched ranges from 20 to 35 feet, although a few manufacturers don't provide this spec. Note that advertised throwing capabilities are only rough estimates. Reviews indicate that the amount and weight of the snow affect the throwing distance -- for example, the heavier or wetter the snow, the shorter the distance.
These days, the chutes on most snow blowers are adjustable -- typically at least 180 degrees -- which means you can aim the discharge in almost any direction (ideally not onto a neighbor's property). Blowers with adjustable deflectors can also shoot the snow high or low.
The discharge chutes on cheap snow blowers are invariably made of plastic, which some consumers report is prone to cracking in cold temperatures -- although, on the other hand, it doesn't rust. Also, the chutes tend to clog with snow, which means having to turn off the machine and clear it out. (Never, under any circumstance, try this while the machine is running.) Some snow throwers come with a scoop for this purpose. Spraying the interior of the chute with WD-40 or silicone can also minimize buildup. Keep in mind that less powerful snow blowers are more prone to clogging simply because their engines aren't as capable at pitching the snow, particularly wet snow, out of the shoot as quickly as necessary to avoid backups.
Ease of Use.User-friendly touches can make a demanding winter chore easier, if not fun. Buyers who have switched from gas to electric snow blowers prize the ability to plug in and go rather than mess with a fuel tank and pull start. Apart from a few users who feel hampered by the cord (which can be run over, if you're not careful), most say electric blowers are easy to manage once you get the hang of it, which happens pretty quickly. Even easier to manage are battery-operated models that don't require an outdoor extension cord or a well-placed outlet. Other features reviewers appreciate include small touches like easy-to-operate power buttons that don't require constant engagement and snow-discharge chutes that are easy to aim. Bells and whistles like headlights, heated handgrips, and remote chute control are nice but uncommon on the cheapest blowers.
Gas snow blowers require more user engagement than electric snow blowers. Oil and fuel levels must be checked throughout the season, and the engine should be cleaned when snow is done for the year. A pull cord or recoil start demands priming the engine and setting the choke, and some users find the recoil action awkward, if not impossible. But technological improvements have made the top gas snow blowers quite user-friendly. For one, the four-cycle engines now common at the cheaper end of the market have separate compartments for oil and gasoline, so there's no need to premix the two, as you would with a two-cycle engine. Several users report that their clothes no longer have the telltale odor that inevitably comes with a two-cycle model. In addition, many top snow blowers now have a convenient electric start that can eliminate any struggles with the pull cord.
Durability.Even a budget snow blower can last for many years -- if properly maintained. Most of the snow throwers we researched come with two-year warranties, although we did see coverage as short as one year and as long as five years. Regardless, a warranty doesn't mean much when there are 6 inches of snow on the driveway and the snow thrower won't start or a critical component shakes loose mid-clearing.
Long-term durability data on most of the blowers on our list is scant. However, we did come across some reports of lemons that were defective from the get-go. There are also plenty of complaints about components breaking after a couple of snow-clearing sessions. Blowers that employ a lot of plastic parts particularly draw users' ire. Some reviewers say they just aren't strong enough to stand up to Mother Nature. Finally, there are countless reports of gas blowers that wouldn't work when pulled out of storage. Experts suggest this is often the fault of improper upkeep, as opposed to engine defects.