In this report
Craftsman 88173
Best Reviewed

Best two-stage gas snow blower

Craftsman 88173

Single-stage gas snow blowers are best for medium-duty clearing

Gas snow blowers have more power than electric models so they clear snow faster. They are also better at moving heavier wet snow and breaking up packed mounds left by a snowplow. Those advantages lead some experts to recommend gas snow blowers over electric.

But gas snow blowers also have some downsides. Gas snow blowers have a higher annual cost of ownership than electric snow blowers due to their higher fuel costs and required engine maintenance. Failure to do the recommended maintenance can add dollars to the ultimate cost of the snow blower and/or remove years from its useful life. Finally, gas engines can be a challenge to start in cold weather, one reason why the top models have electric starters -- along with a higher initial price tag.

Single-stage gas snow blowers are the middleweights among snow blowers. They span the gap between lightweight electric snow blowers, good primarily for clearing light snow accumulations on smaller properties, and heavyweight two-stage gas snow blowers, capable of moving up to 18-inches of snow in a single pass. In a single-stage gas snow blower, the auger scoops the snow and sends it through the chute in a one-step process. These blowers tend to be smaller and less expensive than two-stage machines and are best for clearing 6 to 8 inches of snow off blacktop or concrete.

The auger in a single-stage gas snow blower typically scrapes closer to the ground than two-stage models. That means that they do a great job of removing snow right down to the surface. On the flipside, they are a very bad choice for gravel driveways as they can send that gravel flying with the snow. This type of snow blower can get a little rough with wood surfaces -- such as decks -- as well.

Toro Power Clear single-stage snow blowers have long been clear winners with expert reviewers and users, and that includes the Toro Power Clear 721 E 38742 (Est. $570). According to one expert review, the Toro Power Clear 721 E is a terrific performer -- best in class among tested single-stage snow blowers, including current and older models. It's also a great value, earning "Best Buy" status. It's a fast worker, and can dispatch those back-breaking piles of compacted snow that road plows invariably deposit right at the end of your driveway with ease. It also does a great job of removing snow right down to the surface -- great for asphalt and concrete, but potentially a window breaking hazard if you have gravel -- and Toro explicitly states that this snow blower is not intended to be used on gravel surfaces.

Other feedback is strong as well. It's on Paul Sikkema's list of top single-stage gas snow blowers at MovingSnow.com, and though Doug Mahoney has yet to test it, it's the recommended single-stage snow thrower at TheSweetHome.com. "The Toro Power Clear 721 E is a good choice for flat, small driveways and paved surfaces that get snows of 6 inches or less, Mahoney says. User feedback at HomeDepot.com is extensive and solid; it earns a 4.5-star score following more than 280 reviews, with 96 percent giving it a recommendation.

This Toro snow blower isn't packed with features, but it does have an electric start for easier, more dependable starting in wintertime temperatures. The scraping auger is fine for hard surfaces, and its constant contact with those surfaces helps pull the machine forward with less effort. It's rated to throw snow up to 35 feet, but one test says maybe not -- rating throw distance as only so-so, but adding that's only really a worry if you have an extra wide driveway. The Toro 721 E can clear a path of up to 21 inches in one pass, and is rated to move up to 1,800 pounds of snow per minute. The Toro Power Clear 721 E 38742 is covered by a two-year residential warranty, but only 45 days for commercial use.

Two-stage snow throwers can tackle heavy-duty snow removal

As the largest and most powerful type of snow blower, two-stage gas throwers can clear the most snow. Two-stage machines use an auger to pick the snow up and a chute-mounted impeller to shoot the snow out further than any other type of snow blower. The best have a throwing distance of about 40 feet, making them a good option for large driveways. Two-stage gas snow blowers are large machines compared to single-stage gas and electric models. For most homeowners, compact two-stage gas snow blowers may be the best choice. While these may not match the clearing ability of a full-sized machine, there's plenty here for all but the largest driveways, and compact two-stage snow blowers can be easier to handle and store than their larger counterparts.

Both professionals and owners give the Craftsman 88173 (Est. $680) a thumbs-up for its performance and value. This 24-inch dual-stage snow thrower is powerful, yet compact and easy to handle. The plow-style handles can be driven with one hand, freeing the other to work the throttle or the chute. The Craftsman 88173 pairs a four-stroke engine with an eight-speed transmission (six forward gears and two reverse) to tear through the heaviest storms. Reviews say the 12-inch steel serrated auger can break apart packed snow banks -- like those left from the municipal plow -- and the chute design minimizes clogging.

Though this is a compact model, the Craftsman 88173 "has enough power to handle heavy, wet snow and the intake is tall enough to handle 24-inch drifts," says Paul Sikkema, editor of MovingSnow.com, a website dedicated to snow blowers. He names the Craftsman 88173 the best value among two-stage snow throwers. "It will do the job well, is easy to use, is reliable and easy on the pocket book," Sikkema says. However, he notes that snow blowers with power steering, such as the Husqvarna ST224P (Est. $900) are still easier to maneuver.

Others are equally enamored. The Craftsman 88173 earns a "Best Buy" rating and is recommended in one large comparative review. The only notable performance complaint is that some other snow blowers can throw snow farther. It's named a Buyer's Pick at Sears.com, based on its 4.5-star rating following more than 200 reviews.

The Sno-Tek 920402 (Est. $630) is another compact snow blower worth considering. It rates a bit lower than the Craftsman in the same large comparative review, but good enough to still be Recommended and is a good enough value to earn Best Buy status; it also sells for around $50 less. One major difference is that testing found the Sno-Tek to be a little slower than the Craftsman in clearing snow.

The Sno-Tek is built by Ariens, but is an economy model sold primarily at HomeDepot.com. Sikkema calls it "a great machine for the money" for those who need a basic, no-frills snow blower. User feedback at HomeDepot.com is excellent. The 920402 has amassed more than 1,300 reviews, with an overall rating of 4.5 stars; about 93 percent of owners say that they would recommend this snow thrower to a friend. One caveat is that the Sno-Tek was part of a recall in April, 2014, though that does not impact models currently on sale. Full information can be found at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website.

Both of these snow blowers feature 24-inch clearing widths -- fine for most residential uses. If your property demands something larger, the 26-inch Craftsman 88694 (Est. $900) might be a better choice. This 208cc dual-stage zero turn snow blower does well in professional testing, and is the top-rated snow blower at TheSweetHome.com. It's pricier than some snow throwers -- and likely overkill for some properties -- yet has performance and features that are usually reserved for models costing hundreds more, leading Sikkema to grant it Best Buy status at MovingSnow.com. User feedback at Sears.com isn't extensive, but more than 40 user reviews result in a 4.5-star overall rating.

Ease of use is outstanding. Power steering becomes important in larger snow blowers, and this Craftsman thrower has that, and is self-propelled for easy maneuverability. The electric start is reliable, and the snow blower is also relatively quiet compared to many competing models -- a boon for your hearing (though protection is probably a good idea anyway) and your neighbors. It's appropriate for asphalt and concrete walkways and driveways, of course, but also for gravel and even for wood decks and patios as its non- skid shoes won't mark up or even scuff up surfaces.

For the largest properties, the 30-inch Ariens 921032 (Est. $1,400) is worth considering. Part of Ariens' Deluxe series, this snow blower scores well in professional testing, and is a good value according to MovingSnow.com. When dealing with such a behemoth of a snow thrower, easy handling -- though a concern with even small snow blowers -- becomes a top priority. That's where this snow thrower shines. An auto-turn system is unique, and makes for easier maneuvering without needing to deal with wheel release triggers or levers. It excels in testing, with one expert saying that easy steering is what sets the Ariens "apart from other snow blowers." Like all two stage snow blowers, it doesn't clean right down to the surface, but still does well in that regard, and performs among the best when it comes to speed, dealing with snow piles, and throw distance. User feedback is strong -- a 4.6-star rating following roughly 330 reviews at HomeDepot.com, though some of these originate at the Ariens site.

image
Husqvarna ST224P - 24-Inch 208cc Two Stage Electric Start with Power Steering Snowthrower - 961930122
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $929.95   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review: