Your Guide to Buying and Owning a Snowblower

snow blower

Sick of shoveling? When winter sweeps in with a mega storm that blankets your neighborhood, a snowblower can be a saving grace. While you still have to go outside, a snow blower spares you from the back-straining labor of shoveling snow.

If you have a snow blower—or you’re thinking of investing in one—read on. You’ll learn all about snow blowers—starting with the history of this time and labor-saving machine.

A brief history of snowblowers

A look at the history of American snow removal uncovers an interesting fact. Back in the days of horses, snow wasn't cleared from the roads and walkways. It turns out hard-packed snow was good for getting around. While some cities experimented with horse-drawn plowing in the 1800s, others brought out the municipal "snowroller" to make surfaces suitable for walking, riding and gliding on a one-horse open sleigh.

Interestingly, the very first rotary snow blower created in the late 1800s wasn't even created for sidewalks and driveways. It was invented to do a better job of clearing deep snow from railroad tracks.

Other versions of the snowblower later followed, each designed to tackle big jobs like clearing roads.

Finally, in 1952, homeowners got a break from clearing their driveways and doing battle trying to steer their Studebakers out of their garages. Toro, a company known for its lawn mowers, came out with the Snow Hound. It cost $159.95. (“Much lower than the cost of a strained heart or even a strained back,” boasted an early advertisement.) Other companies followed suit, including Ariens, Simplicity and Gilsen. 

While lightweight models for smaller jobs came on the market, other snowblowers have grown in size and power over the years. The earliest models had three to four horsepower engines. They grew to eight horsepower by 1970. Today, you can find a 13-horsepower engine to tackle deep drifts blown up from the toughest storms. Plus, they come with plenty of features and accessories, such as tracking, hand warmers and headlights. 

What will the next generation of snow removal bring? It’s anyone’s guess, but perhaps fully automated snowblowers that do the job while we sleep through those cold, dark winter mornings.

What to consider when buying a snow blower

Not all snow blowers are alike. Don’t pick a machine that wimps out if you want something that can handle the Arctic wasteland in your driveway. Here's a look at the different kinds of snow blower models out there and which features they offer. Knowing what your options are can go a long way toward picking the snow blower that's right for you. 

Decide on the level of snow blasting

While snowblowers have several features to consider, they come in two basic models.

  • Single-stage snowblowers: These are small and lightweight machines weighing no more than 100 pounds. All-plastic models can be even lighter. If you kneel down, you’ll see the auger. Its job is to "paddle" the snow upward and through the chute.  
  • Double-stage snowblowers: When you see one of these babies, they look pretty serious. Their rotating augers have serrated blades so they can break up tougher areas. These models also have an extra propeller inside the machine to blast snow through the chute. 

Consider your area’s conditions

Here are three conditions to consider when selecting a snowblower. 

  • Area: How large is your driveway? Factor in walkways as well. Double-stage blowers are recommended for areas more than 60 feet long.  
  • Slope: Is your area flat or will you be pushing it uphill? For a hilly job, engine-driven wheels are a must.
  • Snowfall: If your area consistently gets no more than a few inches of powder at a time, then a lower-powered, single-stage snowblower can get the job done. If you need something capable of blasting away more than 8 inches of snow, look to the double-stage options.

Review features and specifications

It’s worth it to take the time to think about what's essential and what's nice to have in your snowblower. 

  • Power source: Double-stage snowblowers have gas engines. Single-stage sweepers do, too, but these smaller machines also have electric options. For cordless models, take note of the voltage and calculate whether it can remain powered long enough to cover your area. After all, you don't want it to abandon you before the job is finished. 
  • Electric starter: If you have access to a power source, this is a convenient alternative to yanking on a manual starter in the pre-dawn dark.
  • Clearing ability: If you need your snowblower to throw farther so it can handle a wide driveway, look for a higher cubic-centimeter rating.
  • Clearing width and intake height: If you will be pushing the machine into deeper drifts, this is a feature you’ll want to pay attention to. 
  • Power steering: This option helps you move the snowblower through tough jobs.
  • Tires: Large, chunky tires have better grip and do a better job maneuvering on snow and ice. 
  • Chute control: This enables you to adjust the direction in which snow blows. Some come with a joystick or a remote control to help you change direction.
  • Heated hand grips: They will feel mighty nice on those cold, blustery mornings and nights. 
  • Headlight: Essential for those dark winter mornings, especially if your outdoor lighting can't illuminate your entire drive. 

How to safely use a snowblower

Snowblowers can certainly spare you from the strain and exertion of shoveling, especially if you have a large driveway. But to stay safe, be aware that snow blowers have a wide-open and exposed auger that spins very fast. Simply put, these machines can be hazardous when not used correctly. 

Which takes us to the most important piece of advice: Never, ever stick your hand in a running snowblower.

Between 2003 and 2013, an estimated 9,000 people in the U.S. were treated for finger amputations following mishaps with snowblowers. In many cases, people reported their hand was pulled in while trying to dislodge debris or snow from a jammed auger or chute. Make it a rule to always turn off the machine and use the clearing tool—never your hands. Saving time is not worth risking a finger.  

Here are some extra snowblower safety tips: 

  • Secure loose clothing and hair: Tie back back long hair and secure scarves, pants and other loose articles before turning on the machine so they don’t get pulled into the spinning auger. If you have a plug-in model, always be aware of the cord's location. 
  • Clear debris: Before the snow accumulates, collect any objects from the sidewalk and driveway, including doormats, newspapers, toys and pet leashes. This way, they won't be pulled into the machine accidentally. If you have decorative lights bordering your drive or walkway, stake out the area. While children and pets may want to play in that shower of snow pouring out of the chute, doing so could be dangerous. The rocks, sticks and chunks of ice that are drawn in become dangerous projectiles, so keep people and pets a safe distance from the discharge area.    
  • Be aware of carbon monoxide: Never start a gas-powered machine inside a garage or shed—doing so puts you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always take it outdoors before starting the engine.
  • Wear ear plugs: When working with a machine or appliance that requires you to shout to be heard, wear ear plugs. At 106 decibels, a running snowblower is in the category of “extremely loud,” according to the American Speech Language Association. Prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss. 

How to maintain and store your snowblower

What you have is an engine, and much like the one in your car, it needs attention from you from time to time. Before the snow flies in a new winter season —and perhaps right after you rake the leaves — give the machine a complete inspection. Revisit it with a mid-season once-over, too, just to make sure everything is okay. 

This checklist has everything you need to keep your snowblower in top shape for years to come. (Because the last thing you want to do is reach for the shovel after a storm when your snowblower is down, right?)

  • Keep the owner’s manual handy. You will want to be accurate with the gasoline, oil grade, lubricant and replacement parts you use.
  • Inspect it by making sure the belts are not worn and the bolts are tightened.
  • Change the oil and gasoline.
  • Lubricate the drive and chassis.
  • Change the spark plugs.
  • Check tires and chains.
  • Replace broken shear pins.
  • Inspect the scraper bar.
  • Inspect the starter cord.

Snowblower storage

During the snowy season, always take a moment to clear away any snow remaining inside the machine by running it on a cleared surface before wheeling it back into the garage or shed between uses.  

And on that distant day when the grass emerges for good, drain any remaining gasoline and properly dispose of it. (You can skip this step if you add fuel stabilizer to the tank instead.)

This is also a good time to inspect the bolts and parts and to lubricate the machine. For summer storage, wheel it to a low-traffic area in your shed or garage and cover it with a tarp. With all luck, your snowblower will help you survive this winter (which is predicted to be pretty nasty for a good portion of the United States) and many more to come.

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