|Your clearing area
||Size up just what you have to clear: Driveway, front
walk and paths. One, two or three car wide driveway. Does it fan out at the far end with a garage? Can you throw snow to both
sides of your clearing area or one side? Are there places where you
have to make long throws?
|End of the driveway pile (EOD)
||This is a special consideration area. The
buildup from the plow is highly compacted unlike what falls on your
driveway. Its being high is not the factor it's the density, chunks
and often wet. Do you have a one, two or three car wide driveway? Do
you clear sidewalks with plow buildup? Some streets have a lot of
salt. Will you be tossing it onto your lawn or flower bed?
|How much snow?
||Inside of route 495 (eastern Massachusetts) gets about 3-7 light snows a year and a few big
snows. Most of the time you'll be clearing 1-4 inches and a few
times a year 6-10 inches. Buy for the average snow not the killer
storm. A smaller snowblower will clear bigger storms with a little
more effort and more passes. You don't want to use a 9 to 11
horsepower machine to clear 1-3 inches. The north part of the north
shore gets more snow than the south shore and a bit dryer.
||Consider horsepower, clearing cut width and intake housing
height. Smaller snowblowers get the job done but require more passes and
time. Depending on your clearing area that might be insignificant.
If you want to get clearing done quickly go for more horsepower and wider
intake housing.. More below in individual sections.
||Small area 4 -7hp, medium/average driveway 5-8hp, big area
6-11hp. Intake housing width, small area 20-24 inches, medium/average driveway
22-26 inches, big area 24-28 inches. You have to have a pretty big
area to have a machine over 11hp and 28 inches or larger. Remember that even
if required to get the job done for a big storm you'll be running the
snowblower mostly for lesser snows.
|Snowblower model designations
|| Common names which indicate horsepower and cutting
width are: 521 5hp 21 inch wide cut. 622 6hp 22 inch wide cut, 824 8hp
24 inch wide cut.
Snowblowers have marketing names. Toro XL, Toro Powershifter, Ariens
SnoThro, YardMachine. The model names are used over many years and do not
specifically identify a snowblower. For example a Toro 521 general model
has been made with changes for over 20 years.
Factory model designations. Every snowblower has a factory model
number which specifically identifies a particular make and features.
This model name (always numbers) is used to order parts and manuals. The
factory model number is usually on a tag on the back lower base of the
|OHV vs L-head
L-heads have been the standard winter engine for over 40 years and
fantastic motors. Overhead valves are the trend and a good one.
OHV's use less gas, wear better, quieter, and have a
little more torque per similar L-head horse power rating. There is
no overall big disadvantage to an L-head but an OHV is nice. Tecumseh
is now out of business but parts readily available so not a problem.
Briggs and Stratton and Chinese L-head and OHV engines are now on most
snowblowers. Both are fine.
|Single or Two stage
||A single stage has one intake blade set that throws snow
directly to a chute. A two stage collects snow and passes it to an
impeller that throws the snow.A single stage works well for smaller snows but can't
snows. A two stage can do both.A single stage is self propelled by the blades lightly touching the
ground i.e. no wheel drive. Two stages generally have driven wheels.
.Single stages are mostly two stroke engines. Two stages are four
stroke engines. Most single stages were two stroke but manufacturers
are moving to four stroke engines.
|Two and four stroke engines
||A two stroke has gas and oil mixed together. No oil
changes. A four stroke has an oil reservoir. Requires oil
changes. For the oil change there's a spout at the engine base and
easy to change - one quart.
||Not required for most areas. Older snowblowers had small tires
with poor grip except Toro. Newer snowblowers don't need chains on
flat ground or mild inclines. They have good tread patterns that grip
||Mostly not used even by people that have them. When
properly maintained a snowblower starts on the first or second pull but
electric start is a good backup. Electric starters are plug-in so
require a line cord. It's usually more trouble to get the cord than
pull the rope a few times. More below.
||Snowblower maintenance is fairly easy and must be done to
avoid early failures and problems. If you don't do basic lawnmower maintenance you probably
should not buy a snowblower. See separate page on maintenance.
|Making a rational purchase
||Match your need. Most snows each year are one to
four inches and only a few deeper snows per season.
snowblower may be used a few times for a couple of years and many times in
a bad year. Sizing for the average conditions is most practical.
Snowblowers only get used a few times a year and making extra passes with
a small snowblower for a
big storm does not add much overall time to clearing for most clearing
A small machine will be less
expensive, easier to use, and to store. A big machine is overkill to
drag around for a 1 to 4 inch snowfall but nice for a 10 inch
storm. If you hate being out there then bigger is better and
There are many possible features for snowblowers. Hand
warmers and lights are unnecessary additions for some and indispensable
An apple peeler is a great gadget for a person who needs it. Wheel
differential is not needed for most people, see section below.
Electric chute options and hand triggers add failure points but can be
useful if you have a clearing area where they would be used a lot. Most
people don't have a clearing area where they would be helpful. Most
clearing areas don't require a lot of chute manipulation so any simple
hand crank is fine.
|Your area to clear:
|A long thin driveway does not require a
snowblower capable of great distance. You'll be throwing from the
center to the sides which is a very short distance. For a three car
wide driveway with no throw areas on the sides you would want a bigger
machine to toss up into collection areas or throw up the driveway
requiring a double throw. A double throw is difficult but not
because it's twice as much. It's difficult because it's compacted.
Where will that snow go
when you clear?. Moving snow to a corner of the property or between
the house and garage might be ok for a few storms but after three or four
snows it's full, frozen and may become an unplanned barrier. You may
require a bigger machine to get around tossing restrictions
How long and wide is each area to clear? It makes a difference
how far you will need to throw the snow and the power requirement of
Is your area flat, a hilly, or have many sharp bumps and crevasses?
What is your driveway surface: dirt, tar, cement, pebbles,
How much turning will you
have to do for your area? A long thin driveway is easy to
clear. It's up and back with few turns or backing up. A
complex driveway with nooks or side areas requires much more chute
turning, backing up and turning.
|How much snow
||What are the average snowstorms like in a given year
where you live? There's a difference for areas close to
Boston versus around the 495 belt. The average depth is
different and the average dryness or wetness of the snow is
different. It makes a big difference if your blowing loose light snow
versus sticky wet snow.
A small snowblower will do the
work of a large snowblower but require more passes. That's not a big
deal for most of your clearing area. The end of the driveway pile is
the tough spot. If you have a one car driveway then it's only a
little more effort to clear that with a small snowblower versus a big
snowblower. For some areas a
smaller snowblower is more practical. For others it's not.
Year on year there the big storms get remembered but overall the yearly
average is the thing to consider.
|The perfect snowblower
||A perfect snowblower is one that matches your
needs at a cost that is within your budget. Getting a
snowblower to cover all your requirements is a matter of tradeoffs.
The throwing requirements change with the storms.
Why buy a 10 horse power to throw 45 feet for a small section when
you could double throw small areas with a smaller machine at a minor
inconvenience? Why get a 32 inch bucket when a 24 would do the job
well enough and you won't have to store a monster machine? A 25 inch
high bucket works better on the EOD pile and drifts but with a few extra
passes you could get away with a smaller size that matches most
of your area most of the time.
The consideration is don't let a few
special considerations drive your decision. Think about getting by
with a little more difficulty for special spots and have a snowblower that
matches your average conditions that are what you'll be clearing the
majority of the time.
||Snowblowers vary in horse power, intake chute width, intake height, low and high center of gravity, narrow and
wide spaced wheels, big and small diameter wheels, wide and thin
Average to a bit bigger driveway.
5hp 20 to 24 inch intake width 12 to 18 inch intake height.
6hp 20 to 24 inch intake width, 12 to 18 inch intake height.
7hp 22 to 26 inch intake width, 14 to 20 inch intake height.
8hp 24 to 32 inch intake width, 16 to 22 inch intake height.
Pretty big driveway or two driveways with both being average to bigger.
9hp 26 to 36 inch intake width, 20 to 24 inch intake height.
>hp 26 to 36 inch intake width 20 to 24 inch intake height
||Snow blower intakes housings go from 16 inches to 36
inches. Do you have a long thin driveway 1 car wide, two wide?
How many passes would you make with a 20 inch housing versus a 26 inch
housing? Is one or two more passes for your area a big deal for you?
The size of the housing will determine if you have to make two passes on
walkways or one.
||The height of the bucket makes a difference. Low
bucket of 12 to 16 inches will work in most areas but can't eat a large
end of driveway (EOD) buildup easily. There will be spillover and require
a few more passes. That might might not be an issue of you don't
have a wide entrance to your driveway or a lot of high drifts.
A 16 to 22 inch bucket will go into piles more easily and capture most
of the pile. How big are the drifts and EOD piles in your clearing
area? Do you clear a one car entrance or a three car entrance?
|Impeller (two stage)
||The impeller consists of blades around the auger drive
shaft. The snow gets pushed into the impeller by the augers.
The impellers rotate at about 1200 rpm. They usually have 3 to 4
blades of varying shapes. The diameter of the impeller varies from
10 to14 inches.
There are usually 3 to 4 blades and of various shapes. Some are like
flat paddles and others are long strips.
In general there is no advantage to shape or number of blades.
Each company designs to maximum efficiency for their shape of blade versus
number of impeller blades and diameter. There is usually an
advantage to having a larger diameter impeller.
Larger horsepower snowblowers have larger diameter impellers with three
to four blades. Very large blowers generally have 4 blades.
|Impeller (single stage)
||There is no separate impeller on a single stage
like on a two stage.
A single stage has a thin metal auger only for attaching rubber
auger tips. The auger on a single stage throws the snow
directly out to the chute so an impeller is not needed. The shape
near the center of the auger is flat for throwing the snow into the chute.
The auger speed on a single stage is faster than a two stage in order
to get the momentum of the snow higher so it can be tossed without the
need of for an impeller.
A single stage has no wheel drive. The rubber tips touch the ground
and pull the
snowblower along. They bounce around quite a bit on non-flat
driveways from hitting high spots.
||Types: Two stage: The auger blades attach to a
sleeve is which mounted on and rotated by the
auger drive shaft. Some, like Toro, attach to a large cylinder that
is attached to the auger
drive shaft. The big drum is meant to hinder clogging.
Single Stage: On a single
stage the center part of the auger functions as the impeller.
sages have rubber auger blades and attach to a metal auger similar to two stage
augers. Two stage blades deliver snow into the impeller and do not
run completely across the intake housing.
A single stage runs across
the full intake housing and has a flattened section near the center under
the chute which propels the snow up into the chute.
|Engine size, power
||How much raw power do you need? How far do you have to
throw snow for your area? Do you have a long thin driveway versus a
short wide area? Can you throw to both sides of all the areas you'll
There is not a great difference in throwing distance between 5 and 8
horsepower. If you don't have to toss far then a lower horsepower
will move snow 10 to 20 feet. An 8 horsepower will toss 15 to
A great deal depends on the condition of the snow. The early and
late season snows are wet, heavier and more compact. The cold day snows are
loose, light and toss the furthest. If you live to the south near
the coast then your average snow is less but wet and heavier than inland.and
to the north.
Motors wear and loose compression over the
years. An old machine won't toss to factory specification like it
did when new. The tossing distance of a 1970's motor many be fine for
some people (probably most). Some machines get lightly used over
their life and retain much of their original power. Others are worn
out and barely toss snow.
There is no easy way to evaluate a second
hand motor. You can't tell by sound. You can't guess by the feel
of the start cord resistance, it's unreliable. A compression test
will not work on most motors because of compression release for easy
starting.. The best test is with a leakdown tester. It's not very
convenient to bring a tester with you to perform a test when evaluating a
If you can clear your driveway from
the center and can throw to both sides then you don't need a snowblower with
great distance capability unless your driveway is ultra wide.
|OHV vs L-head
||Most snowblowers come with L-head (flat head) engines but the
trend is to over head valves (OHV). Engines are to much to get into and the
differences not significant enough to list. For the average home machine either is
||Easy to start. If you have trouble pulling the starter rope
or a hard starring machine an electric start can be great.
They are nice but the reality is most people don't use their electric
start. It's usually more trouble to get out and put away the cord
than just pulling a few times. If your machine does not start in the
first 5 pulls something is probably wrong and should be addressed.
But if a problem crops up with the carb choke or primer then and electric
start will often muscle through that saving the day. A problem may
crop up on a snowy night and no one wants to hassle with a fussy motor.
Snowblowers are designed to start in cold weather and should be easy to
start. If you stay on top of maintenance your snowblower will start
easily and stay that way for many seasons.
||Some background: A snowblower does not have an
air filter. The carburetor throat is open to the air. It's not
needed because there is no dust and dirt blowing around like with a
lawnmower. Snowblowers come with primers and chokes to insure gas
gets into the carburetor for easy starting.
If your careful about clean gas a snowblower should start within the
first 1 to 3 pulls. With minimal care and maintenance a
snowblower will stay easy to start over many years.
||Each manufacturer lists a specification on how far their machine
will throw snow. The specifications are generally based on perfect
conditions that don't happen much each year.
The main factor in throwing distance other than snow condition which is
very important is raw power. There is horse power and torque and
torque is the important one but for discussion purposes we'll consider
that there is more torque with greater horsepower.
A new snowblower is in peak shape and a 5hp will get very close to the
distance of an 8hp. Depending on your removal requirements it might
not make much of a difference how far the max distance is. For some
there are sections of their clearing requirement where distance becomes an
In some cases you may be able to live with less distance by taking a
smaller cut or double throwing a section of your clearing area. For example a good tossing 5hp which can come close to
an 8hp under certain conditions won't be able to match the 8 chewing
through a drift or EOD and keep the distance. By taking a smaller
cut possibly you can easily live with a 5.
snowblowers have more horsepower (torque) an bigger radious
impellers. That gets a higher rotational speed for greater
distance. The range is 10 to 16 inches diameter for impellers.
|Ease of handling
||Some snowblowers have short compact tractor sections and
engines. They are low to the ground. How they are centered
over the wheels partly determines how they will handle and dig into
Width of handles and height of the handles makes a
How often will you turn
the snowblower as you make passes up and down a driveway? If it's
long and thin then not many. If it's short and wide then many
more. Consider all the areas you'll clear and how much turning
you'll be doing and factor that into your consideration. Making a
moving turn is fairly easy but making a U turn may require lifting up on
the handles to slide the wheels around. If you have trouble lifting
the snowblower for this type of turn then make a driving turn in a
slightly larger area to avoid lifting. You might have clear a small
area at the end of your first pass to make a turning area for
yourself. That's easy, quick to do and once you learn to do a
driving turn most machines are easy to handle.
Turning can be aided by wheel locks and
differentials (see below) but often no matter how easy your snowblower is
to turn what's to the sides often limits easy turning. For example
if you start on one side of the driveway and make passes to the center
then turning into the center is turning into snow, possibly high
snow. No matter what you have for features turning into snow is not
aided by wheel features. For some areas it might be more desirable
to have both wheels locked for more drive into drifts and EOD. If
you have a wheel lock differential then you'll have to hand change the wheel
locking pin every time you want to turn easy versus have both turning for
more grip. People with pin lock set it one way and never change it.
Your area to clear will determine which setting is better
for you and probably be left there sacrificing the easy of the other
setting as it too inconvenient to change during clearing. Having both
wheels turn together for better traction is generally more useful than
having the wheels set for easy turning. Ultimately it depends on your own
physical condition and the conditions for your clearing area.
|Wheel size and spacing
||Large, widely spaced tires can make turning and handling
easier. They raise the height of the tractor section and can make
intake housing ride up sooner. Low wheels, close to the housing can
be harder to turn but generally hold well and drive well into piles.
Because the smaller wheels are not very wide chains general help
out. Wide wheels with a good tread pattern are nice.
||Turing radius, ease of use low high are
considerations. If you have a lot of chute movement while clearing
your area a top dash mounted control is convenient. If not then a lower side
mount is easy enough to use.
Remote top chute controls can be nice if they don't stick or freeze
up. They require a little care but can be and inconvenience when
sticking. Electronic chute controls are cool but a point of
failure. Turning a crank during clearing is not so difficult.
||Some people have two snowblowers. A larger main
snowblower and a lighter backup. Some get a main two stage and a
smaller single stage for backup, slush, and light snows. Having a
small single stage around is simply fantastic.
|Weight or overall heft
||Snowblowers are generally heavy, going roughly
150 to 250 pounds. Their weight can be an advantage and
disadvantage. Going in high heavy snow a beefy machine will dig in
well and the weight help traction. In light snow their overkill and moving
it around can be difficult.
A light weight intake housing will ride up when heavily loaded.
A big heavy solid steel bucket will keep digging in longer to EOD and
drifts. Some snowblowers are balanced evenly on the wheels and
handle easily, some balanced forward. Toro has a back wheel shift
positioning mechanism that shifts all the machine weight forward. It
does a great job of hugging the pavement but puts a lot of wear on the
machine. It's overkill and tough of parts. You can get around
the need by taking a lesser cut and you'll be abusing your machine less.
Size and heft are a tradeoff for your clearing area. Keep in mind
most of the time the snow level will be small and the EOD fairly easy to
clear. It's a trade to manage with a machine that does well in most
storms and struggle a little in bad snows which have a more difficult EOD
||Not just for grip on slopes. They help the tractor
drive into a heavy pile. Useful where required. The new modern
tires are big, have knobby tread patterns and dig in very will mostly
eliminating the need for chains. If you have mostly flat areas to
clear you probably don't need chains. They can be noisy and dig into
a tar driveway or lawn. Snowblowers have multiple speeds and
often dropping a speed setting will get grip back without chains where
with chains a faster speed can be used and maintain grip. If you
have an area to clear without large buildup then chains might not be that
helpful. At times when you loose wheel grip with a 24 inch bucket
you can use a less wide cut to maintain grip. For your clearing area
this might not be an important factor.
||Skids are the shoes of a snowblower. They are on the
bottom of the snowblower intake housing and height adjustable by two bolts.
When they are extended the snowblower intake housing rides high.
When raised the snowblower intake housing will touch the
ground. Actually there is a replaceable plate on the bottom of the
intake housing called the scraper bar which will touch the round. It
and the skids are meant to take the wear and be replaced. .
Adjustments: For a gravel or dirt driveway setting the skids so the
housing is up an inch prevents rocks and gravel from being picked up by
the scraper and augers. Rocks will jam the augers and scrape the
paint off the intake housing and impeller. Setting the skids too
high will leave a thin trail of snow as the scraper and augers will be
riding high. If you have a flat smooth area to clear then most
people adjust the skids so the scraper just touches the cement or
pavement. This will leave very little snow on the ground which will
be removed by later by the sun. The skid bolts rust so brushing the
off after clearing snow helps along with a drop of oil during the
|Where to throw & salt
||Salt is a consideration. If you live on a street that
is heavily salted and clear a long EOD section and possibly some sidewalks
then where that snow goes might be a consideration. Just say you
have a flower boarder on your front lawn and toss to your front
lawn. You'll be putting lots of salt on your flower bed.
When you throw to one place it might be fine for two storms but as
winter goes on and the buildup does not melt you might have created a
situation where continued throwing to that area will make a pile that will
last all winter, for example a heavily shaded area.
Can you throw the driveway snow to both sides of the driveway? Do
you have to start at one side and throw across one care or two car
lengths? Can you start in the middle and throw to either side?
What's the longest throwing distance you'll need for average
conditions? You may want to go with a smaller size blower and throw
the snow twice at times rather than have a bigger blower and need the
extra power only a few times each year.
|Tracks vs wheels
||Tracks are like tank tracks. They are great on hills
and slopes but tough to U turn. Some track snowblowers have tracks
that can be individually disengaged to turn the snowblower under power
(MTD machines). MTD track machines are robust and last for many
years. Track machines are tough to get used to but are great even
for flat areas. They are not good for areas requiring a lot of tight
turning with backing up. The exception is MTD which is very easy to
|Wheel locking and differentials
||Wheeled snowblowers have drives that move both wheels at the
same time. Most wheeled snowblowers have two types of wheel control.
Wheel Lock: A mechanical system that unlocks one wheel from the drive shaft.
The locking is done with a pin through the hub and drive shaft. When
the pin goes through the hub and the drive shaft the wheel turns with the
drive shaft. When the pin is placed on the drive shaft only the
wheel turns freely. With having one drive wheel and one
free the snowblower is fairly easy to turn. Pins are too
difficult to change when blowing snow so usually left in one setting for
Wheel Differential: WD allows either wheel to be disengaged for easy
turning. Some differentials of this type are automatic, others are
controlled by triggers on under the handle bars. Either wheel can be
slipped from the drive to make turning easier. Full differential
like on Ariens machines is wonderful. It's also easy to change while
snow blowing with gloves on. Lock in or out with handle bar triggers
is becoming more common and nice but an expensive feature and not so
necessary after you learn how to control your snowblower especially if you
already have full differential.
| Handle controls
||Usually there are auger engagement and tractor drive levers on the
handles. There are usually safety shutoffs if the auger control is
lifted without the drive lever being lifted. Most newer models have
auger lever locking with the drive lever which
leaves one hand free to use the chute control.
||Position of the chute control can be a sore spot for some
situations. Some handles are low and to the side. Some on the
top dash. If you have lots of turning or turning on the move then a
top dash might be best. If you don't have much changes and long runs
then a lower control is not a factor. Feel and type of
control. Many snowblowers (Murray and MTD makes) have a spiral at the end of the control
rod that mates to notches in the chute. These controls are
inexpensive, a bit sloppy but work and last a long time. Fully
mechanical gears and moving linkages are more positive in movement and
generally give a better feel. They also usually move less under
vibration which snowblowers have a lot of. As a note the MTD and
Murray chute worms are cheap and simple but don't fail and last for
Most blowers have a top chute handle so the up down direction of the
snow can be directed easily. Some blowers have a remote top chute on
the dash that's convenient if it's oiled occasionally. Some have an
electric chute control (few). Remote top hood control is nice if you
|Send any question, comments, or suggestions