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Snow Blowers: Frequently Asked Questions

snow blower stages

Here are some of the snow blower related questions we come across most often. After you've read through them, don't forget to read our reviews of the best cordless snow blower, corded electric snow blower, and gas snow blower!

Do I Need A Snow Blower Or A Shovel?

There are quite a few factors to consider when answering this seemingly simple question:

  • How is your general health?
  • How large an area will you be clearing?
  • How often does it snow?
  • How much snow falls?
  • Is there somewhere to blow the snow to?
  • Do you have anywhere to store a snow blower?

Health

Surprisingly, shoveling snow can be dangerous. According to estimates, around 100 people die every year while shoveling snow, usually due to heart attacks. The combination of strenuous exercise and cold temperatures seem to be the cause. This article has more information.

Area

If you only have a small area to clear, such as a front step or patio, it may be just as easy to use a shovel (though there are some lightweight corded electric snow blowers available which you might want to consider). Nonetheless, if you would still want to buy one, check this article about what size snow blower you require.

How often?

If it only snows occasionally, you may decide it’s not worth buying, storing and maintaining an expensive machine that you rarely use. Another option apart from a shovel in this case may be paying for a snow blowing service for the few times you need it.

How deep?

If you only get a light dusting of snow, a shovel may be enough (or you could use a leaf blower to clear snow, depending on how light & dry the snow is, and how soon you can clear it before it goes through a freeze / thaw cycle).

Obstructions

A snow blower works by moving snow from one place to another. If you have obstructions (such as trees, fences or walls) beside your driveway or sidewalk, there may be nowhere to blow the snow to. If a shovel is not an alternative in this case, you may want to consider installing a heated driveway, or seek other professional advice.

Storage

You will need somewhere to store your snow blower when you’re not using it – it’s not a great idea to leave such an expensive machine outside exposed to the elements, or visible to passing thieves. It’s best to store your blower in a shed or garage (there are dedicated sheds available for this purpose). If you genuinely have nowhere undercover to store a snow blower, this may influence your buying decision.

Can A Snow Blower Clear A Gravel Driveway?

Single-stage snow blowers cannot be used on gravel, or any other loose surface. This is because the auger of the snow blower makes direct contact with the ground, and will pick up any loose items, throwing them out of the chute & causing a hazard (or at the very least dumping gravel on your lawn, for you to discover during the first cut in spring).

Two-stage and three-stage blowers have adjustable skid plates, which can raise or lower the height of the auger, and avoid it making contact with the surface. These snow blowers can be used on loose surfaces such as gravel.

Can You Use A Snow Blower On Wet Snow?

In theory, snow blowers can clear any type of snow. In the real world, this is one of the cases where you get what you pay for – more power, more stages, better design, and more solid construction all contribute to how effective a snow blower will be at clearing wet snow. If your budget is under $300 for a new snow blower, expect to be unblocking the chute on a regular basis if you’re trying to use it on wet snow. On the other hand, if your can stretch to a top-of-the range 400lb Ariens snow blower with around 13hp, it will cope much better with heavy, wet snow.

At the lower end of the market, theres not really any snow blower that will cope well with wet snow.

How Many HP Is My Snow Blower?

Snow blower manufacturers can be a little shy when it comes to stating their machines’ horsepower. If you have a 4-cycle gas engine and you know the cubic centimeters (cc), these figures from Harbor Freight will be close:

Engine size (cc)

Horsepower (HP)

Torque (lb/ft)

79

3

3.5

173

5.5

6.6

212

6.5

8.1

301

8

14.9

420

13

19.8

harborfreight.com is a great source for replacement engines, if you have an old snow blower with a dead engine, or an engine that costs you too much time and money at the workshop keeping it alive.

Are All Snow Blowers Self Propelled?

In general, most single-stage snow blowers are not self-propelled*, and all two-stage and three-stage blowers are. Single-stage blowers are usually considerably lighter than their larger cousins, so the lack of self-propulsion is not necessarily a deal-breaker.

*Single-stage snow blowers can pull themselves forward using the auger to drag them through the snow, however the effect is mild compared to the larger wheel-driven snow blowers. The only wheel-driven single-stage snow blower we’re aware of is the Toro Snowmaster.

What's The Difference Between A Snow Blower And A Snow Thrower?

This is one of those questions that doesn’t really have a correct answer. Most of the resources out there point to a “Snow Thrower” being a single-stage snow moving machine, and a machine with two or three stages being a true “Snow Blower”. However, Wikipedia points out that even two-stage machines aren’t technically snow blowers as they don’t blow snow – both single-stage and multi-stage machines move snow by mechanical means, not by blowing.

The common usage today seems to be to call single-stage or multi-stage machines which move snow using an auger and / or an impeller “Snow Blowers”.

What Is The Minimum Amount Of Snow To Use A Snow Blower?

The consensus seems to be around 2” of snow, as the minimum to justify using a snow blower. Bear in mind if you have a two-stage or three-stage blower, it will not clear all the way down to the surface, while a single-stage blower will, so this should be factored in. Also, if you’re clearing snow on a gravel driveway or other loose surface, you most likely have your skid plates set higher than normal (to avoid picking up gravel), so there’s no point using your two-stage snow blower to clear 2” of snow if your auger is 1.5” above ground level.

How Early Can I Use My Snow Blower?

Another question with no definitive answer, the general opinion seems to be “about half an hour before you have to leave for work”. Reading the debate on various websites is an exercise in futility & people talking past each other, like many other subjects in today’s world.

The best suggestion is to talk to your neighbors before the first winter snowfalls, and agree between you what time you will be clearing snow.

If snow blower noise is going to cause a problem (for example, if you start work at 5am and none of your neigbors leave the house until 9am), you could consider a corded electric or cordless snow blower – these are much quieter than the traditional gas-powered machines.

Check your local ordinances, as the last thing you need after getting up early to clear snow is a noise ticket!

Why Won’t My Snow Blower Start?

With gas-engined machines such a snow blowers, which lie unused for much of the year, and exist in extreme conditions when they are used, the most common problem is stale gasoline. When storing your blower for the summer, add fuel stabilizer to the gas tank (or better still, use stabilizer with every tankful – after all, you rarely know which snowfall will be the last one of the winter!). This may cost a little more, but not as much as paying to rebuild the carburetor every season.

Most blowers can use E10 (gas with up to 10% ethanol), but you should never use E15 or higher blends (check your own blower's manual to confirm). The ethanol in the gasoline absorbs moisture from the atmosphere – the higher the ethanol percentage, the more moisture it will absorb. When you try to start your blower 9 months later, there’s so much water in the fuel system that the gasoline will not ignite.

Ethanol is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water. See this article for an explanation of ethanol in gasoline, and the effects on gasoline's shelf life.

Contamination (other than water) in the fuel is another possibility. Modern gas engines are more prone to this problem as they use much smaller jets, in pursuit of better fuel economy and lower emissions.

How Much Does A Snow Blower Cost?

You can spend under $100 on a small, electric single-stage blower, up to several thousand for a heavy-duty, gas-powered, multi-stage beast that will make light work of the toughest conditions. Generally, below $300 you’re looking at small electric models, and the very bottom of the gas-powered single-stage range. Around $500 you’ll find larger electric (corded and cordless) models, as well as single-stage gas blowers with features such as electric start. Closer to $1000 will get you the largest of the cordless electric blowers, and decent-sized two-stage gas models.