Smart choices

Say goodbye to shoveling

The right snow blowers can plow through winter’s worst with aplomb

CR Best Buy: John Deere 1028E, heavier-duty construction. $1,300. CR Best Buy: John Deere 1028E, heavier-duty construction. $1,300.
Consumer Reports / January 30, 2011

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After last week’s storm dumped more snow on the region, a snow blower is probably starting to look pretty good — even to dedicated shovelers. Consumer Reports’ conducted grueling tests of more than 20 snow blowers and found that some of the best machines aren’t much pricier than less-capable models.

That’s especially good news because late-winter storms bring heavy, wet snow that can clog even large machines. CR’s tests included wet sawdust that simulates those tough conditions.

For large areas or heavy snow. The best two-stage gas blowers meet those conditions with wider clearing, engine-driven wheels, and a high-speed impeller that throws what the front-mounted auger scoops up. At $900, the 28-inch Troy-Bilt 31AH64Q, a CR Best Buy, doesn’t cost much more than many smaller, narrower machines, and it has a joystick control and heated handgrips. Paying a little more for some higher-scoring models buys added throwing distance and, for the Ariens 921022, $1,000, a CR Best Buy, and John Deere 1028E, $1,300, heavier-duty construction.

CR also tested the battery-powered Ariens 916003, a first among snow blowers. But that $1,500, 24-inch model proved relatively wimpy, especially when it came to digging into dense plow piles. Its 48-volt battery needs up to 7 hours to recharge after 45 minutes of clearing.

Almost as good for less. The 26-inch Craftsman 88970 88691, a CR Best Buy at $700, scored a notch lower than the best two-stage machines, but it cleared impressively overall. Like roughly half of the gas snow blowers tested, it’s powered by a Chinese-built engine, which helps manufacturers cut costs. Those engines performed comparably to the Briggs & Stratton engines on other models.

For level driveways with less snow. Smaller, single-stage machines rely solely on a rubber-tipped auger to pick up and throw snow while providing some pulling power. They take up less space, and they’re light enough to lift onto a porch or deck. The Toro Power Clear 210 38587, $560, was impressive in the plow-pile test. Single-stage machines are limited to snowfall of about 8 inches on pavement. All demand more pushing and pulling than two-stage models.

For light duty only. None of the plug-in, single-stage models scored better than Fair overall. Consider them only for clearing decks, walks, and other small, lightly dusted spots.

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