Clean up after a winter storm with the best-rated snow blowers under $500.
Snow Blower Performance
Snow Throwers Clearing Width.The clearing width for discount snow blowers usually ranges between 11 inches and 21 inches. A wider clearing width gets the job done faster; if the snow is deep, however, you may have to cut a narrower path.
Snow Throwers Intake.If you live in a region where the snow really piles up, you'll be constantly frustrated if the intake, which determines maximum cutting depth, isn't high enough. A low intake in high snow means you'll need to make several passes over the same area and remove the snow in layers, or venture outside periodically to clear the snow before it gets too deep. (A good rule of thumb from snow blower reviews: the intake should be at least two inches higher than the depth of the snow.) The intake on most discount show blowers ranges from 9 to 12 inches; more power generally means a higher intake. The 7.5 amp Toro Power Shovel features a six-inch intake while the 179cc Craftsman 88780, 208cc Poulan Pro PR621, and McCulloch MC621 sport 13-inch intakes. The heavy-duty Ariens Sno-Tek 939401 cuts up to 20 inches deep across a 24-inch path.
Weight.Snow blowers come in a range of weights. Power shovels are the lightest and smallest; the Toro Power Shovel weighs just 12.5 pounds. At the high end of the snow throwers on our list sits the Craftsman 88780, a gas-powered model that weighs 98 pounds. Even at this weight a good snow thrower is manageable because it's helped along by auger rotors that pull forward as you push. The two-stage Ariens Sno-Tek 24 weighs 175 pounds and features a disc-drive transmission with six forward and two reverse speeds.
Snow Throwers Aim.Once the snow is churned up and compacted, it has to go somewhere. Specs detailing the throw distance and chute rotation give a good indication of where the snow will land. Snow throwers are a bit like ball players: some have a longer reach than others. Expert snow blower reviews suggest choosing a snow blower that can manage at least half the width of your driveway (or the widest area you plan to clear). The throw distance for discount snow blowers typically ranges between 20 and 30 feet, although the McCulloch MC621 boasts a 45-foot reach. Note, though, that the advertised throw rate is only a rough gauge of maximum reach. Consumer snow blower reviews we read say the amount and weight of the snow affect the throw rate (for example, the heavier the snow, the shorter the throw).
As the snow thrower flings snow through the air, it passes through a raised chute. The discharge chute on discount snow blowers is invariably made of plastic, which some consumers report is prone to cracking in cold temperatures. A discussion thread on Abby's Guide, however, points out one benefit of plastic: it doesn't rust. But chutes do clog with snow, which means you have to turn off the snow thrower and clear it out. (Never, under any circumstance, try this while the machine is running.) Some snow throwers come with a plastic scoop; the experts at Consumer Reports suggest a broom handle as an alternative. Some consumers say that spraying the interior of the chute with WD-40 or silicone minimizes build-up. The Toro Power Clear 418ZE features a proprietary design that's supposed to prevent clogging.
These days, the chute on most discount snow blowers is adjustable, which means you can aim the discharge in almost any direction along an arc that's typically180 degrees. Among the models we researched, we found some outliers: The Toro Power Shovel 38361 only throws snow forward while the Toro 1800 Power Curve 38381 chute adjusts along a 160-degree arc; on the Craftsman 88780, the chute rotates 190 degrees and on the Toro Power Clear 418ZE, it rotates 210 degrees. Both the Toro Power Curve and Power Clear models feature what the company calls a "zip deflector" at the tip of the chute that can be set at different angles for higher or lower throws. Pricey models sometimes feature a remote-controlled chute, while the chute on discount snow blowers is manually adjusted.
The point of using a snow blower is efficient and ache-free snow removal. For the most part, snow blowers reviews indicate that the best cheap snow throwers perform quite well and often exceed expectations -- provided they're used under the conditions for which they were designed; that is, light to moderate snowfall. Numerous reviews report these machines clean to the surface and reduce snow-clearing time by at least 50 percent. Some users say the task is sufficiently easy that they're motivated to help out neighbors. This is not meant to imply that the snow clearing is effortless. Reviews note that slow and steady persistence is required, particularly when trying to cut through the snow plow's leavings at the end of the driveway or through heavy, wet snow sitting on the sidewalk. Snow blower reviews also reveal that consumers like the compact size of these budget models, which makes for easy maneuverability and storage. And, the reviews conclude, the best discount snow throwers deliver value for the money.
Snow Clearing.The amount of snow that the best snow throwers can clear depends largely on their design. Consumers' satisfaction with their purchase often depends on how well they matched the machine's capabilities with snowfall conditions in their area. No one, for instance, expects the Toro Power Shovel 38361 to dig through 20-inch drifts with ease. It is, after all, little more than an electrified shovel. Still, numerous users who posted snow blower reviews at Target say it sure beats the manual alternative, especially in a big storm. Users report clearing driveways and paths in a fraction of the time they would have spent without the Power Shovel. Reviews prize this model for its handiwork on small areas and say it's best to clear regularly and not let the snow accumulate more than six inches. When a blizzard hits, reviews suggest, the best line of attack is to clear the snow in layers and first chop up packed snow with a regular shovel.
Expectations are higher for more powerful electric snow blowers. One snow blowers review site named the GreenWorks 26032 the best snow thrower in the electric-powered segment largely because of its cutting path and throw rate; the review adds that it handily cleared snow up to 10 inches deep during field tests. Many users posting on Amazon, including those who live in snowbelt regions, echo this assessment but do suggest getting to it before the snowfall exceeds eight inches. A few reviews caution that this model does better with dry, powdery snow than heavy, wet snow. Another of our picks, the WORX WG650, likewise beats expectations given its low price and light weight, according to reviews. Users' posts on Snow Blowers Direct praise the results with light to moderate snow, and sometimes with accumulations that rise above the nine-inch intake. One user reports, without complaining, that a 10-inch layer required two passes and another notes that the very thin layer of snow left behind is easily eliminated with a sprinkling of salt or snow-melt product.
Moving up to the heftier, gas-powered category, the models on our list garner their share of praise. Despite the many skeptics who doubted that the Toro Power Clear 418ZE could manage the record snow falls of 2011, snow thrower reviews at Snow Blowers Direct and Home Depot report that it cleared more than a foot of snow down to the pavement (several passes were usually required). Users also say it manages heavy, wet snow with ease and throws snow farther than anticipated. The Craftsman 88780 garners approval for its 13-inch intake, which reviews at Sears say chews through snowfalls up to 20 inches without balking. Several note that the Craftsman cleans to the surface and can tackle snowplow pile-ups, although a few report that clumped, dense snow is more than it can handle. We also read one review commenting that it lacks sufficient traction on inclines.
The electric Snow Joe Ultra 6222U1 cuts it with some users but not with others. In snow blower reviews on Overstock, for example, several consumers report it easily clears six inches and more of light, dry snow and a small amount of wet snow; another, however, writes that he's reverted to the old-fashioned shovel because two inches is about the limit of this model's ability. Comments on Amazon are likewise divided. Some reviews say persistence works during a blizzard (e.g., proceed slowly, push forward about 12 inches and then pull back until the spot is clear, shave off a top layer first, go out often) while others assert that the plastic components just can't get the job done.Back to top »
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