This winter is expected to be dominated by below-normal temperatures with predictions for “lots of snow’’ in central and northern New England, according to the Farmers’ Almanac.
That forecast may have you thinking about buying a snow blower.
With the help of Consumer Reports, we have some general tips tailored for New Englanders about what to consider when making this purchase. We are also including details about two-stage snow blowers that Consumer Reports have labeled as a “best buy.’’
How do I find the right snow blower?
A snow blower will likely be a long-term investment. You’ll use it about eight hours a year, and can get 20 years out of the machine if you take care of it, said Peter Sawchuk, who tests snow blowers for Consumer Reports.
When considering what to buy, don’t think about the amount of snow that accumulates on your driveway. Rather, think about the pile of snow that gets plowed into the end of your driveway when crews clear your street, Sawchuk said.
There are also several types of snow blowers to choose from: corded electric, single stage, and two stage.
Sawchuk calls corded electric models “pretty much useless.’’ “Don’t waste your time and money,’’ he said.
How about choosing between a single-stage and two-stage models?
Single-stage snow throwers are smaller and more lightweight, Sawchuk said. But two-stage models push themselves into the snow, rather than single-stage ones that need to be pushed into the snow by the user, he said. Sawchuk recommends the two-stage models for people with a driveway that gets plowed in.
From there, Sawchuk recommends thinking about how quickly you want to get to the bottom of the snow pile that will be plowed into the end of your driveway, Sawchuk said. For $1,000, he said, “you can get a lot of snow blower.’’
What features do I need in a snow blower?
Electric start: Models with plug-in electric starts have an extension cord to plug into a wall to start the engine for the first time. You can take the cord off when you’re ready to use the snow blower. Almost all two-stage models have an electric start, Sawchuk said.
Easy-turning feature: There are two types of features to help users turn a snow blower’s wheels while the machine is trying to propel itself forward. One is a set of triggers located on the handle bars, Sawchuk said. There are also models with an automatic differential that allows one wheel to spin more slowly for easier turns while keeping both engaged.
Heated hand grips: It might sound like an option feature, but Sawchuk said they come in handy.
How do I take care of my snow blower?
The fuel that you put into a snow blower contains ethanol, which can eat into fuel lines and even clog the carburetor, Sawchuk said. He recommended buying fuel stabilizer at a home center or gas station to add to the fuel. At the end of the season, the fuel should be drained from the snow blower, he said.
Another option is to buy fuel that does not contain ethanol, Sawchuk said.
Model to try: Craftsman 88396
Approximate retail price: $1,200
Consumer Report score: 88 out of 100
Details:This is a 30-inch, two-stage snow blower. Consumer Reports said its pluses include electric start, free-wheel steering, single-hand controls, and LED headlights. For drawbacks, the snow blower does not have heated handgrips and Consumer Reports recommends you use hearing protection.
Consumer Reports also gives the same score to the Craftsman 98539 and the Troy-Bilt Storm 3090XP 31AH55R.
The score is based on Consumer Reports’ test of the Craftsman 88396, which it describes as enough alike in its performance, features, and specs that its tests apply to the other models.
The Craftsman 98539 is also 30 inches and retails for about $1,000, Consumer Reports said. The Troy-Bilt Storm 3090XP 31AH55R is also 30 inches and retails for about $1,200.
Model to try: Ariens 921022
Approximate retail price: $1,000
Consumer Report score: 85 out of 100
Details: This is a two-stage, gas-powered snow blower equipped with an electric start and a 28-inch clearing width. It also has a headlight.
Consumer Reports calls the machine a “great choice’’ if you want a large machine without paying top dollar.
The lower price means settling for a traditional crank adjustment and forgoing heated hand grips. Consumer Reports also said it found the mechanism for turning to be more awkward to use than individual trigger-type turning clutches that some models have.
Model to try: Craftsman 88173
Approximate retail price: $680
Consumer Report score: 73 out of 100
Details: This is a compact, two-stage, gas-powered snow blower with an electric start and a 24-inch clearing width.
The snow blower tested well for removal speed and was rated “excellent’’ for its ability to plow a pile at the end of a driveway, Consumer Reports said.
Drawbacks include the machine’s ability to throw snow, which was rated as “only good’’ and its lack of freewheel steering that makes the snow blower harder to turn. It also does not have a headlight.
Consumer Reports also gave the same score to the Craftsman 98536. The score is based on their tests of the Craftsman 88173, which reviewers described as “alike enough’’ in its performance, features, and specifications that its test results would apply to both.
That snow blower has a 24-inch width and retails for about $650.
Model to try: Sno-Tek 920402
Approximate retail price: $600
Consumer Report score: 66 out of 100
Details: This is a two-stage, gas-powered snow blower with an electric start and a 24-inch clearing width.
Consumer Reports said its ability to get through a snow pile and throw snow is “impressive for its size.’’ But its narrower width slows down the process of removing snow. The machine also does not have a headlight or freewheel steering that makes the machine easier to turn. Consumer Reports said a user must wear hearing protection when using this machine.
Single-stage snow blowers: Toro Power Clear 621 38458
Approximate retail price: $699
Consumer Report score: 70 out of 100
If you decide to buy a single stage snow blower, Sawchuk says it should be an easy call.
“A Toro single-stage snow thrower is superior to everything else,’’ he said.
Sawchuk added that Toro models are pricier than other snow blowers, but worth the cost.
This snow blower is powered by gas and has a 21-inch clearing width. Consumer Reports gives it high marks for removal speed, its ability to get through a snow pile, surface-cleaning ability, handling, and use of the controls.
For drawbacks, Consumer Reports said the throwing distance was “only good.’’
It also said the snow blower does have an electric-start feature, headlight, or freewheel steering that makes the machine easier to turn. It also has one speed and requires the use of hearing protection, Consumer Reports said.
Model to try: Toro Power Clear 621 38451
Approximate retail price: $499
Consumer Report score: 65 out of 100
Details: This is a gas-powered snow blower with a 21-inch clearing width. Consumer Reports calls its light enough to lift onto a porch or deck and “powerful enough to handle moderate snowfall.’’
Consumer Reports also lists the machines removal speed, ability to break down a snow pile, surface cleaning power, and handling as positives. Drawbacks include the machine’s ability to throw snow, which was listed as “only good.’’ Consumer Reports also noted that the machine does not have electric start, freewheel steering to make it easy to turn, or a headlight. It has one speed and requires the use of hearing protection.
The ease of using controls like speed, chute, and auger was “only good,’’ Consumer Reports said.