Commonly Asked Questions

How long do snow blowers last?

This depends on the initial build quality along with proper maintenance and care. A quality brand name snow blower from Ariens, Honda, or Toro should last you at least 10 years. If you care for it properly, I see no reason why you can’t get 20-30 years of good use out of it.

Lower end snow blowers have lifespans that top out at 10 years. I’m talking about machines that you can find for under $400 at your local big box chain. They use too much plastic and thin metal parts. And when they do break, the repair costs are often not worth it.

Every Winter I come across machines from the 1960’s and 1970’s that are still performing well. Exterior is dinged up and parts can be tough to come by, but they still chug along. These are machines that were cared for over the years by their owners. Regular oil changes, maintaining belts, and proper storage in the off-season.

My suggestion to maximize life expectancy is to stick to a quality name brand and learn how to maintain your snow blower.

Where to Buy

Deciding where to buy a snow blower comes down to what you are looking for. When it comes to price, it is tough to beat some of the larger hardware chains. Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware usually have the lowest prices and a chance for customers to see the machine in person. And their return policies are customer-friendly. Unfortunately, finding a knowledgeable sales representative is a crapshoot here. You should be prepared to do your own research.

Buying from dealers has become less popular over the years, but still offers benefits. The sales representatives are usually knowledgeable in the lineup. Dealers also get models that are not sold at traditional retail outlets. Another advantage of buying from a dealer is repairs. Good dealers take care of their customers and handle warranty claims quickly.

Lastly, online has gotten popular, especially among cheaper models. Not everyone has a vehicle available to transport a large piece of equipment. Amazon has a slew of sub-$500 snow blowers that ship free to your door through Prime. Their customer service is top notch and they take returns. Home Depot offers free shipping too or in-store pickup. If you’ve done your research and don’t want to deal with a pushy salesperson, this is the way to go.

How much is a new snow blower?

Prices for new snow blowers vary widely. At the absolute low end, you can purchase an electric snow blower for under $100 (not including extension cord). At the high end, you can pay over $2000 for a top of the line residential model with all the bells and whistles..

Most people will fall between the $500 and $1200 range for a good snow blower. Just remember, as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.

Should I buy used?

If the price is right, absolutely. There are often deals aplenty on local marketplace sites like Craigslist and Facebook. Especially after Winter when people don’t want to find a place to store their machine. Check out our guide for finding a used snowblower.

Are snow blowers easy to use?

Most modern snow blowers are easy to use. They are typically self-propelled with multiple speed options (even in reverse). More expensive models come with power steering to make turning simple. Most people should be able to handle a modern snow blower without much stress to the body.

What is the difference between a snow blower and a snow thrower?

Technically, a snow thrower is what we refer to as single-stage snow blowers. The machine scoops up snow and throws it out the discharge chute in one motion.

Back in the day, snow throwers were single-stage while snow blowers were two-stage machines. This was because two-stage snow blowers had an impeller that would actually blow the snow out of the discharge chute (thus the “blower” name). But marketing executives realized “snow blowers” were seen as more powerful by the public (which they were). So they decided to blur the lines and dub snow throwers as single-stage snow blowers.

What is the difference between a single-stage and two-stage snow blower?

A single-stage snow blower uses auger paddles to scoop up snow and throw it out of the chute in one motion. Think of it as an automated shovel.

A two-stage snow blower also uses auger paddles to scoop up snow. The difference is that the paddles throw the snow into an impeller. The impeller works like a high-powered fan to blow the snow out of the discharge chute.

Another major difference is with the auger paddles. On single-stage units, the auger paddle will scrape against the ground. This works great on flat surfaces like concrete, asphalt, and even wood decks. But they cannot be used on gravel (due to throwing rocks) or grass (will tear up your lawn).

Two-stage snow blowers are more powerful units. They not only throw snow farther, but can handle heavier, thick snow more efficiently. This comes with a higher price tag though. The auger paddles on two-stage units do not scrape the ground. This means they can be used on all surfaces, including gravel driveways and grass lawns.

Which is better?

This depends on your situation. From a strictly snow removal standpoint, a two-stage snow blower will provide better results. Ideal for people in heavy snowfall areas that have to fight the occasional blizzard and heavy snow storm. But if you live in an area that gets a handful of light snowfalls a year (3-5 inches), you’re better off saving money and going with a single-stage snow blower (or thrower as described above).

What is a three-stage snow blower?

As the name suggest, this snow blower theoretically works in three stages. The first is a collection auger which breaks up and shovels in the snow. Next is an accelerator, which runs perpendicular to the collection auger. This is essentially another auger that further breaks up snow and “accelerates” it to the impeller. The impeller than blows the snow through the discharge chute. The difference between a three-stage and two-stage is that accelerator.

Are they worth it?

For most people, probably not. I’ve rarely run into situations where a high end two-stage snow blower couldn’t handle the job. With that said, a three-stage handles large piles more efficiently. And many manufacturers throw their most powerful engines and fancy features into their three-stage models.

On the downside, they’re much more expensive. I’ve found that wet snow can stick to that accelerator (extra auger) and cause a bottleneck. Shear pins are constantly breaking too. I’d rather own a high end two-stage from a company like Ariens than a similarly priced three-stage from an MTD offshoot (Cub Cadet, Troy Bilt). Perhaps over time the design will improve and that extra money will be worth it.

What is the most reliable snow blower brand?

My personal favorites are Ariens, Honda, and Toro.

Honda has the best build quality with incredible engines. But I do find them to be unnecessarily expensive. That is why I typically recommend Ariens and Toro for most customers. They build high quality machines that are reasonably priced.

How big of a snow blower should I get?

For most residential driveways, I think a snow blower that is 18-24 inches in width and over a foot in height is adequate. In fact, I think clearance width is the most overrated feature customers look for today.

As an example, the difference between the Ariens Deluxe 24 and the Deluxe 28 is 4 inches in width and $100. Everything else is the same. Those 4 inches will save you 1-2 passes on a standard 2-car driveway. A savings of a few minutes tops.

Now you might argue that it’s only $100. But remember a wider snow blower is more difficult to handle. It also requires more storage space. So unless you have a really long driveway, don’t fret too much over width.

How many inches of snow before I can use a snow blower?

I usually don’t bother until it reaches 2 inches. But it is up to you and your needs. A single-stage snow blower scrapes the surface, meaning you can bring it out anytime you want some clean looking pavement. But if you have a gravel driveway that is set up to leave an inch, it’s probably not worth the trouble till you hit 3-4 inches.

Then again, if you just spent a bunch of money on a new machine, you’re looking for any reason to bring it out and play.

Can you use a snow blower on a gravel driveway?

Yes. The best snow blower for gravel driveway owners is a two-stage model. The auger paddles do not make contact with the ground. You can choose how far off the ground you’d like the auger to be by adjusting the skid shoes. This is an easy thing to adjust.

Do not use a single-stage snow blower (thrower) on gravel. They will catch rocks which will not only destroy your machine, but pose a danger to anyone within throwing distance.

Does throwing distance matter?

Throwing distance matters to an extent, especially if you have a wide driveway. You want to ensure the snow blower has enough power to not only reach the sides of your driveway, but have some room to spare. If you’re dealing with a sidewalk or single-car driveway, this is less important.

The distance a machine can throw snow is a nice measure of how powerful it is. But be wary of claims by manufacturers. While they don’t outright lie, they are using a number based on the most ideal conditions. Don’t expect to get the advertised 40 feet on wet, packed snow.

How much snow can a snow blower handle?

This is largely determined by size and power. A 28-inch snow blower with the same specs as a 24-inch snow blower will remove more snow. Likewise, a snow blower with a more powerful engine will be able to push more snow through at a given time. My estimates would be:

  • Electric – 500-800 lbs/min
  • Cordless – 800-1500
  • Single Stage – 1000-1500 lbs/min
  • Two-stage – 1700-2400 lbs/min

There are other factors at play too. Wet snow sticks to everything, most importantly the discharge chute. Any clogging will act as a bottleneck that can drastically reduce capacity. It is always advisable to keep both the chute and auger paddles covered in a non-stick spray.

It is worth noting that going by manufacturer’s numbers is a bad gauge. Each company measures this in different ways under different conditions. Don’t make your final decision because one company claims it can plow a little more snow per minute.

Can you use a snow blower on wet snow?

Yes, although it provides obstacles. When it comes to wet snow, power is everything. You want the best engine you can afford in this case.

While wet snow can occur anywhere, people most susceptible are those on the East Coast or in parts of the country that receive regular lake effect snow. If you fall in that category, it is best to not skimp.

Are wheels or tracks better on a snow blower?

If you are using your snow blower on a steep surface, buy one with tracks. They provide better traction, especially on icy days. For those with flatter surfaces, wheels will do the job. And if you fall somewhere in-between, buy wheels and add some chains to them. Tracks make the machine heavier, less maneuverable, and more expensive. So don’t buy them unless you absolutely need them.