Power Tool Buyers Guide: Buying The Best Snow Thrower

Snow throwers save you time and prevent injury. Doing your homework before you buy will help you decide which snow thrower is right for you.

Three important factors to consider before buying a snow thrower are: size of the area you need to clean, typical accumulations of snow fall in your area, and affordability. Snow throwers come in a wide range of sizes and prices, and knowing the terminology that you will read in advertisements can help you to make an informed decision about which one is best for you. Some basic terms are:

Auger - The auger rotates and loosens the snow. In single stage throwers, the auger throws the snow directly out the chute. In two stage throwers, the auger propels the snow into an impeller, or fan, which then thrusts the snow out the chute. Two types of augers are available, belt run and gear run. Belt-run augers, as their name implies, are powered by a belt, which can break from wear. Gear-run augers, if kept greased, should last the life of the snow thrower.

Chute Control (Rotation) - On cheaper models, you have to manually change the direction of the chute. Pricier models have an automatic lever or joy stick that will turn the chute anywhere from 180 degrees to about 220 degrees. All models will turn at least 180 degrees, whether manual or automatic, to allow you to change the direction in which to throw the snow. Most models also have a lever to move the cute vertically. Small models must be set manually.

Clearing Path - This is the width of the path your snow thrower will make in one pass through the snow. Twenty-eight inches is an average path. Standard sidewalks are four feet wide (forty-eight inches), so you want the width of the snow thrower to be well enough within the four feet to prevent damage to edgings along sidewalks and landscaping.

Clutch - If the clutch is locked, the thrower will continue to run but not move forward, as the clutch is what puts it into gear. Look for a hand clutch lock control.

Electric Start - To start this unit, you plug in the cord, start the machine, then unplug the cord before beginning to clear snow. This is a nice feature for anyone physically unable to tug on the old-fashioned pull cord. There are some entirely electric small models called snow brooms, but they don't have the power the full snow throwers have.

HP - Most of us are familiar with this one. We're used to hearing it used in reference to cars. Horsepower refers to the rate of which an engine can perform. The higher the horsepower, the better the machine is able to cut through deeper snow. Snow throwers range from about 3.5 hp to 12 hp.

Intake Height - Twenty-one inches is about the average intake height, and it refers to the maximum height of the snow you can clear. Intake height is another feature that often corresponds with the price of the snow thrower; the more you pay, the more height you can clear.

Safety Override - If you fall and let go of the engager, the unit stops. This should be standard in all models.

Single Stage/Two Stage - A single stage thrower has an auger but no impeller. In a two stage snow thrower, the auger pushes the snow into an impeller, which provides more force to eject the snow through the chute.

Speed - The smallest models may not have a reverse and may only have one or two speeds forward. More powerful models have up to six speeds forward and two in reverse.

2-cycle Engine - A separate pan houses the oil. The motor picks up the oil from the pan and lubricates the internal engine parts, such as the pistons and the crank shaft. Without the 2-cycle engine, you must manually mix the gas and oil.

Warranty - Two years is normal.

Wheel Drive - All you have to do is walk behind this unit, which is self-propelled; no pushing involved. Look for an automatic shut-off that engages if you let go of the lever: a nice safety feature if you fall on a slippery walkway.

Weight Transfer System - Helps penetrate a hard snow pack for better traction.

Internet search can be a valuable tool to show you what's available. A variety of brands are available. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Power, durability, and price increase respectively. As with most things you buy, you get what you pay for; but the least of the snow throwers is preferable to the best of the snow shovels.

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