Best Cheap Snow Blowers
- Published on
- By Elizabeth Sheer
If you don't have the time or energy for the back-aching chore of shoveling the snow-covered surfaces on your property, a cheap snow blower (a.k.a. a snow thrower) makes a lot of sense. A high-end, professional-grade snow blower, like the Ariens ST32DLE, can set you back several thousand dollars while mid-range gas-powered models from the likes of Husqvarna and Honda carry price tags in the high triple digits. Step down a few rungs, though, and you'll find good inexpensive snow blowers for the home market that cost less than $250 for electric models and $500 or less for gas-fueled models.
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. 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 518 ZE (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.
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.
Electric vs. Gas Snow Blowers
Electric Snow Blowers.Electric snow blowers are designed for relatively light snowfalls and moderate-sized snow-covered areas. They boast several critical advantages, not the least of which are quiet operation, light weight, and low cost. Electric snow blowers also start up right away (regardless of the outside temperature) with the flick of a switch or push of a button and are nearly maintenance-free. The electric snow blowers we like include the GreenWorks 26032 (starting at $200), WORX WG650 (starting at $228), and Toro Power Shovel 38361 (starting at $99).
On the downside, electric snow blowers require a power cord, which means you need access to an outlet and an extension cord intended for outdoor use and the amp rating of the unit. Don't count on going much farther than 150 feet from the power source, though, because at that point the power begins to degrade. Users also caution that you must take care to manage the cord so you don't accidentally run over it. The Toro Power Shovel 38361 and GreenWorks 26032 feature a cord lock that ensures the cord doesn't detach from its socket as you work. The Snow Joe Ultra 622U1 (starting at $168) lacks this component and users report on Snow Blowers Direct that vibrations can cause the cord to come unplugged.
Gas Snow Blowers.Gas snow blowers are heavier, noisier, messier, and more expensive than electric snow blowers. Still, they boast certain benefits. Models such as the Toro Power Clear 518 ZE (starting at $399) and Craftsman 21" 88780 (starting at $500) are more powerful and perform better in heavier, deeper snow. They're also better suited for larger areas because there's nothing to restrict your movement.
But gas snow blowers have their drawbacks. For one, they require ongoing maintenance -- checking and adding fuel and oil throughout the season and cleaning the engine at winter's end. Gas snow blowers with pull-cord starts (picture your lawn mower) can be a bear to power up in extremely cold weather or for anyone lacking sufficient upper-body strength. The McCulloch MC621 (starting at $420), another gas snow blower we researched, has a particularly large handle on the pull-cord that should make the job easier with gloves on. The best cheap gas snow blowers, including our top picks, feature a back-up push-button electric start that lets you bypass the recoil start and is much appreciated by users, particularly women and seniors, according to reviews on sites such as Sears.
One more thing about gas snow blowers: Gas engines are classified as two-cycle (i.e., two-stroke) or four-cycle (i.e., four-stroke). Two-cycle engines require premixing oil with fuel before filling the tank and are rare in the low-end consumer market. Most cheap gas snow blowers feature a four-cycle engine, which doesn't require premixing (separate tanks for each). Four-cycle engines also produce a cleaner burn than two-cycle engines.
Power.Manufacturers often specify the power of a snow blower in cc's (cubic centimeters) or amps, which can get confusing when comparing models. CC's refer to the volume of piston displacement in a gas-powered engine -- the greater the displacement, the more powerful the engine. The same is true for the amp rating in electric motors -- the higher the number of amps (a unit of measure for electric current), the more powerful the motor.
Opinion varies about the usefulness of power ratings. The experts at Snow Blowers Guide assert that more horsepower doesn't necessarily mean better performance. Indeed, the slew of satisfied reviewers of the little 7.5 amp Toro Power Shovel say it's superb for light snowfall on small, paved areas and deftly blows away a top layer of deep snow. But if there are more than three or so inches on the ground and/or sidewalks and a long driveway that need clearing, you'll probably want more power. The heavier electric snow blowers on our list feature 12- or 13-amp motors. Another model we researched, the Toro 1800 Power Curve 38381 (starting at $300), boasts a 15-amp motor.
Frequent snows of six to eight inches at a time and larger areas to clear call for a gas snow blower. The Toro Power Clear 518 ZE features a relatively small 87cc engine, while the Craftsman 88780 boasts a 179cc engine. If it's brute power you're after, the McCulloch MC621 and Poulan Pro PR621 (starting at $420) sport 208cc engines. Ditto for the Ariens Snow Tek 24" (starting at $700), one of the few good and moderately-priced two-stage snow blowers. (Reminder: Two-stage snow blowers are engineered to work on rocky surfaces and are preferred by commercial snow-removal services; homeowners generally opt for cheaper single-stage snow blowers like those on our list.)
Snow Blower Reviews
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. Among the snow throwers we researched, the gas-powered Craftsman 88780 and Poulan Pro PR621 each clear a 21-inch path while the light-duty Toro Power Shovel 38361 cuts a 12-inch swath.
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 518 ZE 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 518 ZE, 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 418 ZE, the predecessor of the 518 ZE, 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 managed heavy, wet snow with ease and threw 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.
Snow Blowers Durability
Durability.According to The Gilson Snow Blower Shop, a snow thrower should last at least 10 years. The best snow throwers we found come with one- or two-year warranties, while the warranty on the GreenWorks 26032 is an unusual four years. But a warranty doesn't mean much when there are six inches of snow on the driveway and the snow thrower won't start or a critical component shakes loose mid-clearing. The top snow blowers on our list are relatively new, so durability data is scant. We did, though, come across isolated reports indicating that the life span of even the best snow thrower may be unexpectedly short. The occasional lemon was either defective from the get-go or some component broke after a couple of snow-clearing sessions.
The Snow Joe Ultra 622U1, however, is the target of more complaints about build quality than the best snow blowers on our list. The greatest number of reviews for this model are posted on Amazon, and here users report mishaps such as detached blades, bolts loosened from vibrations, arcing and smoking, and cracked and broken plastic components. Unhappy users commenting on Snow Blowers Direct voice similar problems; one says the plastic pulley broke on the unit's second outing, another complains that the electric cord easily shakes loose from its socket, and a third says the plastic housing seems flimsy.
Ease of Use.Reviews overwhelmingly assert that these user-friendly models even add a bit of fun to a demanding winter chore. Consumers who have switched from gas snow blowers to the best electric snow throwers prize the ability to plug and go rather than having to mess with fuel tanks and pull cords. Apart from a few users who feel hampered by the cord, most say it's easy to manage once you get the hang of it, which happens pretty quickly. In reviews of the WORX WG650 on Snow Blowers Direct, one owner notes that a roller fixed to his garage door keeps the cord off the ground and out of the way and another stresses the need for a heavy-duty extension cord that stays flexible in very cold weather. We also read reviews of the best electric snow blowers, including the GreenWorks 26032, on sites such as Viewpoints that were written by women and senior citizens who say these models are easy to operate. The Toro Power Shovel 38361, in particular, wins points from users posting on Target for its light weight and maneuverability. That said, some users gripe about the inability to direct the discharge (it only shoots snow straight ahead). Another minor irritation about this best snow thrower, according to user reviews, is the need to keep pressing the power button while you work.
Gas snow blowers require more user engagement than electric snow blowers. Oil and fuel levels must be checked throughout the season and the engine should be cleaned when the snows end. A pull-cord, or recoil, start demands priming the engine and setting the choke, and some users find the recoil action awkward, if not impossible.
But technological improvements have made the top gas snow blowers quite user-friendly. For one, the four-cycle engines now common at the cheaper consumer end of the market have separate compartments for oil and gasoline, so there's no need to premix the two as you would with a two-cycle engine; several users cheerily report that their clothes no longer have the telltale odor that inevitably comes with the two-cycle models. In addition, the top snow blowers now have a convenient electric start that eliminates any struggles with the pull-cord. Users say they like the insurance provided by the electric start on the Craftsman 88780 and Toro Power Clear 518 ZE, although many comment on Sears and Home Depot that they don't bother with it because the recoil is so responsive. The McCulloch MC621 lacks an electric start option but reviews on Snow Blowers Direct say it starts with the first pull. Users also value the easy access to the gas tank on the Craftsman 88780, which one notes is a miser when it comes to burning fuel.