A snow blower’s job is pretty simple: Clear blankets of snow from your driveway and sidewalks. Yet shopping for a machine can feel as complicated as buying a new car, thanks to the emergence of so many new snow-blower features, from power steering to LED headlights.
Though overall performance counts the most in our snow-blower ratings, the presence of useful features may be the tiebreaker between comparable machines, especially if you have specific needs. Live in snow country? A three-stage blower with an accelerator is a must. Fingers prone to frostbite? Spring for the heated handgrips.
Below is the complete list of snow-blower features that the outdoor-power-equipment experts at Consumer Reports say are worth a close look. Even if you decide you can do without the airless tires or extra-wide impeller, being fluent with these terms will let the sales team at your home center or specialty dealer know you mean business.
It also helps to know the difference between the various types of snow blowers: single-stage machines, which rely solely on a high-speed auger to collect snow and send it out the chute; two-stage snow blowers, which add a fanlike impeller behind the auger to help throw snow out the chute; and three-stage snow blowers, which add an accelerator for even faster snow clearing.
Eight of the 10 features in the diagram below can be found on the top-rated Cub Cadet 3X 30HD.
1. Multiple Speeds
Single-stage snow blowers and some inexpensive two-stage models have only one forward speed. Multiple speeds are much better because they allow you to go faster when conditions allow, say during lighter snow removal or on gentle inclines. Changing speeds can also prevent the machine from clogging in deeper snow.
Models with the feature Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490, Toro Power Max 724 OE 37779
2. Single-Handed Operation
With most multistage snow blowers, a lever on one handlebar engages the wheels and a lever on the other engages the auger. Single-handed operation lets you hold down both levers with a single hand, freeing up your other hand to adjust the chute.
Models with the feature Ariens AX254 921030, Cub Cadet 528SWE 31AH54TT
3. Chute Controls
In recent years, we’ve seen more joystick chute controls, which let you change the vertical and horizontal direction of the discharge chute with the push of a lever. That’s convenient, though the lever can be a little difficult to maneuver if you’re wearing thick gloves. We’re now seeing more easy-turn crank controls, which you operate by hand. That might be a better option in frigid climates, though you should test the crank in the store to make sure it’s conveniently located.
Models with the feature Troy-Bilt Storm 3090XP (joystick), Cub Cadet 3X 30HD (crank)
Consider paying more for this feature if you do a lot of snow blowing at dawn or dusk, or even in just low-light conditions, say an overcast morning following a big winter blast. There’s a safety benefit as well because the headlight will make you and your machine more visible to motorists or the snow plow at the end of the driveway.
Models with the feature Cub Cadet 2X 24HP, Craftsman 88782
You're probably hearing the term three-stage snow blower more and more. The accelerator is the feature that separates these power blowers from two-stage machines—and it's a must if you need to move a lot of snow in a hurry. As the name implies, the accelerator speeds up snow clearing by taking snow from the collection auger and forcing it up into the discharge impeller. Also referred to as multistage snow blowers, they’re some of the top picks in our current snow blower ratings.
Models with the feature Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890, Craftsman 88874
6. Electric Start
Yanking a snow blower’s pull cord in subzero temperatures is miserable, which is why many gas-powered models now offer plug-in electric starting for use near an outlet. The feature also prolongs the life of the pull cord, which you'll still need to use to restart the machine when you’re away from the garage or other power source.
Models with the feature Craftsman 88173, Honda HS720AS
7. Easy-Turn Capability
Also referred to as freewheel turning, this feature is essential on larger snow blowers, say 28 inches wide and bigger, because it really helps with handling (and if you’re not built like a linebacker, you’ll appreciate it on smaller machines, too.) Usually engaged by a set of triggers under each handlebar, it allows the outer wheel to turn faster than the inside wheel, for sharp, easy turning.
Models with the feature Ariens 921032, Craftsman 88396
8. Heated Handgrips
Sure, a good pair of winter gloves will provide warmth and protection, but if you live in an extreme climate and you’re often clearing large spaces, you’ll appreciate the added luxury of heated handgrips.
Models with the feature Cub Cadet 528SWE 31AH54TT, Troy-Bilt Storm 3090
9. Airless Tires
Troy-Bilt launched this smart new feature with its 2017 model line. It’s particularly helpful if you have an unpaved driveway with stones and other sharp objects. Troy-Bilt blowers with standard pneumatic tires can be retrofit with airless tires. Don’t be surprised if other brands start adopting the technology.
Models with the feature Troy-Bilt Storm 2860 (still in testing)
10. Extra-Wide Impeller
Most snow blowers have a 12-inch-wide impeller, and that’s fine for most conditions. But if speed is your top concern and you routinely see a foot of snow or more, upgrading to a 14-inch-wide impeller will make yours more useful, and it will be one of the fastest snow blowers on the block.
Models with the feature Troy-Bilt Arctic Storm 30 (still in testing), Craftsman 88976 (still in testing), Ariens Deluxe 28 254CC 921046 (still in testing)
See more here: 10 Snow-Blower Features That Matter - Consumer Reports