If you need a new snow blower or are planning to buy one for the first time, now's the time to do shop. The better-performing models in Consumer Reports' tests could be hard to find in stores as the weeks pass and snowstorms increase.
There hasn't been any snow at our Yonkers. New York, headquarters so far this season, but that doesn't mean we can't test snow blowers. How do we do it? We use wet sawdust (actually horse bedding), which in comparative tests against real snow has tracked closely with our results for the white stuff. With wet sawdust, we can test even in the summer in order to get results to you in time for the winter.
Here are some of the best models we’ve tested and others to pass up:
The Most Muscle: Two-Stage Gas Models
The spinning impeller found on two-stage snow blowers grabs what the usual auger gathers and flings it up and out of the chute. This, along with driven wheels (there’s a transmission), easier controls, and clearing widths up to 30 inches or more, helps the best of these large models clear your driveway and walks in a hurry.
The high-scoring Cub Cadet 3X 30HD 31AH57SZ710 (shown below), $1,650, and Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, $1,300, boast an additional impeller in front that helped us clear more quickly. They’re among the only models that aced our tests for all but noise. (We recommend hearing protection for nearly all gas models we’ve tested.) For less money, consider the Ariens AX254 921030, a CR Best Buy at $1,000, which did nearly as well.
Two low-priced models to pass up are the Power Smart DB 7103PA-26, $650, and thePower Smart DB7651-26, $685. While they were effective at dealing with the end-of-driveway snow piles created by a municipal plow, their removal speed and throwing distance were unimpressive. Some similarly priced smaller models, such as the Craftsman 98536, perform better.
Power With Storage: Compact Two-Stage Gas Models
With clearing widths of 22 to 24 inches, compact snow blowers don’t clear as quickly as their larger siblings, and they often lack the easy controls that make the larger, heavier models easier to move around. But they will fit in your garage or shed.
Two high-scoring compact two-stage models also have that extra impeller. That feature helped the 24-inch Troy-Bilt Vortex 2490 31AH54Q, $1,100, and the Craftsman 88870, $1,200, clear snow faster than some models with a wider clearing width. But you don't have to pay $1,000 for a compact model that gets the job done. The Craftsman 88173 ($680) not only costs less but is also one of few gas-powered snow blowers for which you don’t need hearing protection.
Among compact, two-stage models that fell way short in our tests are the 24-inch Power Smart DB 7651-24, $560, and 22-inch Power Smart DB7659-22, $500. But there’s also one made by MTD, the same company that manufactures Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, and Craftsman snow blowers. The 22-inch Yard Machines 31A-32AD, $500, was among the worst at fast clearing, plow-pile removal, and throwing speed.
For Lesser Snowfalls: Single-Stage Gas
Single-stage snow blowers have only an auger for clearing, but that auger spins more quickly than in two-stage units. And since the auger is typically more of a rubber-tipped paddle, it tends to better clear down to the pavement. Most are less evenly matched against a plow pile, and they can’t handle snow beyond about 9 inches deep. Single-stage models do require less storage space.
We recommend a handful of models of this type, but for sheer performance for the price, there’s no beating the 21-inch Toro Power Clear 721E, $570, which is the only single-stage gas unit we tested that aced our plow-pile test. It was also fairly fast at overall clearing speed.
Not all Toro single-stage models performed well in our tests: The 18-inch Toro Power Clear 518ZE, $400, and the 21-inch Ariens Pro Path 938034, $450, and the 21-inch Poulan Pro PR621ES, $450, scored only fair overall.
We’ve also tested battery-powered and corded electric models. But every model we’ve seen bogs down in anything more than a few inches of snow, making them suitable for only a walkway or patio. You’ll likely finish the work faster with a shovel.