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Cheap Snow Blowers Buying Guide

The heavyweights in the budget segment include Toro, GreenWorks, MTD Yard Machines, and Craftsman. There's a good selection of inexpensive consumer-grade snow throwers capable of clearing snowfalls up to about 8 inches from medium-sized driveways, walkways, decks, and patios.

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And a cheap power shovel costing less than $100 is more than sufficient for very light snowfall and/or very small areas. Although some consumers report the best low price snow blowers go all out in blizzard conditions, such brawn might be excessive for your needs -- not to mention hard to find in the budget snow blowers market. So if you live where the snow falls fast and furious, be prepared to invest bigger bucks in a model engineered for such weather.

As you consider which type of snow blower to buy, take account of several critical variables. First is geographic location. Experts suggest that you overestimate the amount of snow that usually hits your area because machines with insufficient oomph will be ineffective when the snowfall exceeds annual averages. Second is your property; take note of the size and surfaces of the areas you'll be clearing. Finally comes your comfort level with the different options: electric or gas, and single-stage or two-stage (more on this below).

Electric snow blowers and gas snow blowers each claim their partisans. Electric models are significantly cheaper and best suited to lighter-duty work. Gas-powered models are bigger and more complicated machines that rise to more challenging demands. Cheap snow blowers, whether gas or electric, are single-stage models that rely on the auger to send snow through the discharge chute and help pull the machine along. The auger in single-stage snow blowers scrapes the ground, which means these machines should be used only on paved/smooth surfaces. Two-stage gas snow blowers are pricier, heavier, and bigger than single-stage models. In this configuration, the auger churns up snow and an impeller helps send it out the chute. The auger in two-stage snow blowers doesn't scrape the ground so they can be used on rough or gravel surfaces. Two-stage snow blowers are priced way beyond the Cheapism range.

Good inexpensive electric snow blowers and good cheap gas snow blowers differ in size and price and power source but otherwise have several features in common. In both gas and electric models, engine size is indicative of power, not necessarily performance; choose the size that can handle at least the high estimates of expected snowfall in your area. The clearing width affects how many passes you'll have to make to clear away the snow. A related feature is the height of the intake, which determines how deep the unit cuts during each pass. The throw distance indicates how far the snow blower blasts the snow; look for a minimum 20-foot throw. You'll also want an adjustable discharge chute to aim the snow where you want it to go (probably not on your neighbor's property). And finally, if you opt for a gas snow blower, choose one with an electric start so you won't ever have to struggle with a recoil start.

Our research found that consumers are more than satisfied with the performance of the best cheap snow blowers. Some even say a good cheap snow blower makes clearing snow so easy (dare we say fun?) that they willingly take on their neighbors' walks, driveways, and parking spaces. The reviews we read indicate that the critical variables for assessing performance include how well a model chews through the snow, its user-friendliness (including the ease of getting it started), and its reliability.

We considered all these factors when assembling our list of best cheap snow blowers, which includes three electric snow blowers and two gas snow blowers. The electric category includes the Toro Power Shovel 38361 (starting at $99), which is the lightest and cheapest of the top snow blowers and best reserved for light snows and small, tight spaces. Beefier electric alternatives are the GreenWorks 26032 (starting at $200), which packs power and reliability into a cheap package, and the WORX WG650 (starting at $228), which wins plaudits for handling moderate amounts of fluffy snow. Our picks for the gas snow blower category include the Toro Power Clear 418ZE (starting at $399), a solid and durable performer even in deep snow, and the Craftsman 21" 88780 (starting at $500) with its no-hassle start and snow-clearing proficiency. One cheap snow blower that disappoints is the electric Snow Joe Ultra 622U1 (starting at $168); although many users praise its efforts in light snow, others complain loudly about build quality.

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Regardless which snow blower you settle on, experts say it's a good idea to survey your property before the first storm. Collect any objects lying around and place markers indicating the location of gardens and small shrubs. This way you'll avoid damaging your belongings or landscaping, not to mention the machine, when clearing the snow. By the way, if you have a lawn tractor or riding mower and are tempted to add a snow blowing attachment, think twice. Users posting in a forum on a consumer products website caution that you need way more traction on snow than you get with a vehicle designed to ride on a lawn. In short, opt for a cheap snow blower instead.

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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