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Product Reviews

Get winter out of the way with a snow blower

New models make clearing sidewalks, driveways easier

A December storm last year in in Wilmington, Del.,  put snow blowers to the test.

JENNIFER CORBETT

A December storm last year in in Wilmington, Del., put snow blowers to the test.

Bigger, better, and friendlier are the terms that best describe the latest snow blowers, also called snow throwers. The new models feature easier steering and more convenient chute controls. When shopping for a snow blower, Consumer Reports suggests considering these features:

Controls. Independent dealers and even big-box stores typically have floor samples you can check out. Be sure you’re comfortable with the height of the handle and chute adjustment, which you’ll be using frequently.

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All the snow blowers Consumer Reports tested have a dead man control — a critical safety feature that stops the spinning auger or impeller when you release the handlebar grips. A long handle on single-stage models or a joystick on two-stage models lets you quickly change the height and direction of the snow thrown from the discharge chute.

On two-stage models, a drive/auger control lets you work the drive wheels and auger with one hand while leaving the other hand free to control the chute. A handlebar-mounted trigger release on two-stage models makes steering easier by disengaging power to either or both drive wheels.

Clearing tool. Typically it is a plastic stick used for safely clearing clogs in the discharge chute or auger housing. Use a wooden broom handle, never hands or feet, on models without the tool.

Electric starting. Most gas-powered models now offer plug-in electric starting for use near an outlet, which is much easier than yanking a pull cord in cold weather.

Headlight. This feature on many two-stage machines lets you work after dark.

Speeds. Most two-stage snow blowers have five or six forward speeds for the drive wheels compared with just one on single-stage models. A choice of speeds can help prevent clogs while you slog through heavy snow.

Choosing a snow blower

Larger storms are spawning bigger, brawnier snow blowers. But you needn’t buy the largest, widest model to get competent clearing. You’ll find smaller, easier-handling machines for smaller driveways, and mid-size models that can handle the occasional heavy storm.

Large or hilly driveways and consistently deep snow demand a larger snow blower with power-driven wheels, however. Use this snow-blower guide to find the right model for your needs:

Don’t fall for sales pitches. Some manufacturers and retailers push big-name engines at the expense of other brands. But Consumer Reports has found that performance has more to do with the design of the snow blower itself than the engine that powers it.

Don’t go by size alone. Manufacturers and retailers also push bigger engines — typically expressed in cubic centimeters of piston displacement (ccs) — and wider clearing swaths. But size isn’t everything when it comes to snow blowers. Some smaller machines can out-clear and out-throw the big boys for less money.

How to stay safe. Snow blowers cause thousands of finger injuries each year, including amputations, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Don’t ever clear a clogged discharge chute or auger housing with your hand. Most machines now come with a plastic clearing tool, but something like a broom handle will do.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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