Snow Blower Buying Guide and Things to Consider
When large quantities of snow have to be moved, snow blowers are the first choice: they quickly and reliably clear snow from pavements, parking lots or driveways.
Snow clearing everywhere
Snow blowers originally come from North America and Canada, where they are used in large quantities today. But also in the European mountain regions, they now belong to the basic equipment of every house owner.
Unforeseen and heavy snowfalls, which have increased significantly in recent years, also make snow blowers very interesting in flatter areas. While in the past there were only large machines with combustion engines, today the range starts with small snow blowers that are driven from the socket.
Simply equipped and inexpensive to purchase, they are the ideal entry point for use on small areas and with rather small snow masses to be expected.
You work a snow blower only after snowfall, while it stands around unused for the rest of the time. Once it snows again, the machine must be immediately ready for use. Reliability is, therefore, a decisive purchase criterion, as are easy starting, handling, and possible applications. This is followed by clearing performance, consumption, and comfort.
Due to the many different criteria that are mutually dependent and ultimately also determine the purchase price, please check out our various top lists and reviews for a good overview of the market.
Single-stage or two-stage?
Small snow blowers are powered by electric or petrol engines and operate in one stage. This means that the snow is picked up by the auger and ejected directly – in a single stage – over the chimney. The auger also ensures that the machine moves forward in the snow due to its direction of rotation.
The larger machines operate in two stages: the first stage is the snow cutter, which loosens, cuts and picks up the snow and then, in the second stage, passes it on to the counter-rotating turbine wheel, where it ejects it.
Clearly, the two-stage technology is more complex and expensive, but also offers significant advantages in terms of clearing quantity and throwing distance. This is why only the small models are single-stage.
Single-stage snow blowers also have a simple design for the entire equipment. You see this in the wheels, in the adjustment options for the auger and chimney, or at the start-up. They will certainly do their job when snow has fallen fresh and is not too much – but they will quickly reach their limits when the snow is firm or large quantities are involved.
Two-stage snow blowers offer significantly more possibilities for all applications. Even the smallest machines have large, profiled rubber tires that provide significantly better traction on smooth snow cover.
The possibility of fitting snow chains significantly improves steering behavior. In addition, the driving axle is driven, which means strong propulsion and thus less effort on your part.
Three-stage snow blowers have been on the market since 2013. The first stage moves the snow in the clearing housing towards the center, the second presses the snow backward and only the third ejects it. This technology is barely available and unnecessary.
A further variant is the caterpillar drive. Here a strong, profiled rubber band runs on each side of the snow blower via two wheels, which are driven separately.
This is the strongest drive type for traction, but not for maneuverability. Tires have clear advantages but the caterpillar wins in terms of power transmission, grip, and propulsion.
The technology of caterpillar tracks in conjunction with the correspondingly designed drive wheels is so advanced today that there is no risk of the caterpillar track jumping off when driving or working.
These design elements become decisive when it comes to the terrain in which you plan to work.
- In steep terrain and on large, uninterrupted clearing areas, the caterpillar has the advantage.
- For flat terrain and frequently interrupted small areas, use a machine with wheels.
The number of models with hydrostatic drives is increasing. Compared to conventional manual transmissions, the hydrostat has the advantages of infinitely variable speed adjustment and thus a somewhat more effective mode of operation.
Note that manual transmissions can be produced more cost-effectively, which is why snow blowers with manual transmission are somewhat cheaper to purchase.
Chimney and ejection distance
To work effectively, not only the engine power but also the adjustment options for the chimney and the ejection distance matter.
- On single-stage models, you adjust the chimney manually, and the throw distances are limited compared to two-stage models.
- On two-stage models, you can often easily adjust the chimney electrically, and the throwing distance is significantly increased due to the corresponding engine power.
You can adjust the chimney on two levels: On the one hand, the complete pipe can be rotated at a certain angle, on the other hand, the upper guide plate can be angled to the corresponding conditions.
Electric start and headlights
You should always take difficult conditions into consideration: when using a snow blower, it is always cold and you wear gloves.
Really simple working procedures, easy accessibility and operation (like larger switches), are advantages that can make a big difference. What can be easily operated with bare hands is difficult to grasp with gloves and perhaps even with cold fingers.
Two important features are an electric start and headlights.
Batteries quickly lose their power in cold temperatures. And who would remember to charge the empty battery before winter? Few people! That’s why snow blowers don’t use built-in batteries. It makes sense to start the electric motor by connecting it to a 230 V socket. The only exceptions are electric battery powered snow blowers.
Spotlights are also very important since snow clearing work often takes place in the dark or fog, whether in the morning or evening. And with the spotlight, the working area in front of you is always well illuminated. This point is an important comfort feature but also a matter of safety.
In the ideal case, the auger clears the snow exactly down to the ground. In order not to cause damage to the ground or the auger itself, it must be possible to adjust the height precisely and without steps.
One problem is a solid layer of snow or ice. The auger must be able to break it open. In any case, it is better not to allow this condition to occur in the first place.
Noise is a major issue during early clearing times. Although the machines now have to comply with the relevant legal requirements, the noise generated by gas-powered models is still a major issue.
First attempts have been made to make snow blowers significantly quieter. Note that every 3 dB[A] reduction in the noise level halves the loudness. If, for example, the value drops from 1oo dB[A] to 97 dB[A], the ear perceives this as a halving!
In practice, this means that in such a case, two noise-reduced machines are just as loud as an old noisemaker. A reduction of 6 dB[A] would mean that four new machines would reach the noise level of an old one.
Like electric cars, electric snow blowers are essentially noiseless since they have no internal combustion engine. Their only noise comes from the auger, which is significantly less than the engine would be. So if you want to be as quiet and good to your ears (and neighbors) as possible, an electric model might be right for you.
Engines and technology
Under the special winter conditions, the engines must be particularly easy and safe to start. They are designed for these extreme starting conditions.
Easy starting and large handles, which can also be gripped with gloves, are now standard for snow blowers.
Care and maintenance
Maintenance of the engine is similar to that of your car: you should replace oil and air filters at least once a year and observe maintenance intervals. It is best for you to do this directly after winter so that the machine is immediately ready for use again in the new season.
Incidentally, appropriate maintenance significantly extends the service life of such a machine – and ultimately it has a direct effect on runnings costs.
Snow blower V-belt
V-belts are used to transmit the engine power to the milling auger. At the correct tension, the V-belt is a good and cost-effective power transmission. If the belt is not correctly tensioned, it can no longer convert the force coming from the motor into power because it slips more or less with each revolution. In this case, wear increases rapidly.
Squeaking noises or overheating are unmistakable signs of the incorrect tension of the V-belt. Retightening the belt is possible even for technical laymen.
In two-stage snow blowers, the force is distributed rigidly from the V-belt to the usually two-part worm and the turbine wheel.
If the worm is jammed by an object on the housing, shear pins ensure that the rigid connection is not damaged. They break when too much force is applied to them. Should the pin shear off, it is important that it is easy to change. Otherwise, there is a risk of a workshop visit, which is usually associated with costs.
There are two other points worth mentioning in this context: The machine must always be secured against starting during repair work. Original accessories must be used for the shear pins. Only these have the appropriate material properties to shear off at the right moment in the event of an overload.
Clogging snow blowers
Wet snow tends to clump and the auger will start to clog. To solve this problem, a wooden stick is usually attached to the tiller. It is designed to remove clogged snow from the housing.
In order to prevent clumping, you should reduce the milling height after the clog has been removed. This gives the engine the opportunity – depending on its power – to throw away the wet snow.
During long working hours, the operating and safety elements must always be easily accessible in a relaxed, straight posture and without much muscle effort. In any case, the control bar should be easy to adjust to any body size. We have already talked about the special features of operating levers and switches in winter; they are essential for comfort!
Snow blowers are always equipped with special safety functions. You are particularly at risk when reversing.
The technical solution is the so-called “dead man’s switch”. This is a simple safety coupling on the operating bars, which you always need to press or pull during operation. If the clutch cables are released for any reason, the drive of the wheel or track and milling auger stops immediately.
When working with snow blowers, you need to take various safety aspects into account:
The operator should always work with the wind and never against it. It goes without saying that the wind should pick up the snow in its direction of throwing and carry it away.
Obstacles and objects that can be thrown away by the auger are not visible under the snow.
- This poses a risk to the auger and to people in the snow cutter’s throwing circle.
- Of course, the objects thrown up can also endanger cars or windows.
For this reason, it is always important to keep a large safety distance from endangered persons and objects.