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Craftsman 88173 Snow Blower Review
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 many 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 (covered in their own section) 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, along with some higher performance cordless models, such as the EGO SNT1202 (Est. $600) profiled in the section on electric models, span the gap between lighter weight corded 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 accumulation 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 721 single-stage snow blowers have long been clear winners with expert reviewers and users. They are available in several configurations, including electric and manual starting models, and models designed for residential and commercial users. We spotted the most feedback for the Toro Power Clear 721 E 38742 (Est. $570). It's on Paul Sikkema's list of top 20 snow blowers at MovingSnow.com -- and one of the few gas-powered single stage blowers to qualify. User feedback at HomeDepot.com is extensive and solid; it earns a 4.5-star score following more than 410 reviews, with 95 percent giving it a recommendation.

This Toro snow blower isn't packed with features, but it does have an electric starter 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.  The Toro 721 E can clear a path of up to 21 inches and 12 inches deep 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 warranty for residential use, plus a two-year starting guarantee that promises that the blower will start in one or two pulls.

The 721 E was formerly the top rated single-stage gas snow blower at ConsumerReports.org, but it's been supplanted there by a very similar model, The Toro Power Clear 721 QZE 38744 (Est. $700). The key difference between the two is that the QZE has Toro's Quick Shoot Control System and Locking Zip Deflector. The former allows users to change the chute direction, while the latter allows you to change the angle at which the snow is thrown, all on the fly from the blower's handle. Performance should otherwise be identical, and that's borne out in user reviews -- for example a 4.5 star rating following nearly 100 reviews at HomeDepot.com, with recommendations from 95 percent of owners. Whether the higher price tag is worth the added convenience is in the eye of the buyer, but if your budget allows for it, or if the 721 E is not available, the Toro Power Clear 721 QZE 38744 is a pretty good choice as well.

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

If your property is larger, or if you regularly get heavy snowfalls, stepping up to a two-stage snow blower makes sense. Two-stage machines use an auger to pick the snow up and a chute-mounted impeller to shoot the snow out further than single-stage snow blowers. 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. $700) 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 Sikkema at MovingSnow.com. He puts the Craftsman 88173 on his list of the top 20 snow blowers for 2016, and adds that this older model is "still one of the best values snow blowers." In his full review, Sikkema adds that "It will do the job well, is easy to use, is reliable and easy on the pocket book."

Others are equally enamored. The Craftsman 88173 earns a "Best Buy" rating and is recommended by ConsumerReports.org. The only notable performance complaint is that some other snow blowers can throw snow farther. At Sears.com, the primary seller of this snow blower, it earns a 4.5-star rating following more than 350 reviews.

One negative with the Craftsman is that it lacks power steering, something that makes maneuvering through the heavy white stuff a little easier. If that's a concern, a near identical model, with power steering, is available as Cub Cadet 2X 24 (Est. $800).

Also known as the Cub Cadet 524 SWE, this snow thrower earns kudos from both experts and owners. It's a Recommended choice among compact two-stage snow blowers at ConsumerReports.org and makes Sikkema's top 20 list at MovingSnow.com. It's a little pricier than the Craftsman, but the ease of use can be worth it for some. "Anyone who can walk and use their hands can operate this snow blower," Sikkema says. The other extra compared to the Craftsman 88173 is a headlight. Otherwise, specifications and performance are very close -- not a surprise considering that both blowers are made by the same manufacturer, MTD. For their part, users are pleased. At HomeDepot.com, this Cub Cadet snow thrower earns a 4.5 star rating following more than 235 reviews. Around 93 percent of customers give it a recommendation.

If your property demands something larger, the 26-inch Craftsman 88694 (Est. $1,000) might be a better choice. Also known as the Craftsman Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Snow Blower, it 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 ConsumerReports.org to grant it Best Buy status.

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 ear protection is probably a good idea anyway) and your neighbors peace. 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.

User feedback at Sears.com isn't extensive, but more than 70 user reviews result in a 4-star overall rating. Carburetor issues are one sore spot, but as noted at MovingSnow.com and TheSweethome.com, that's a problem with many power tools -- including many other snow blowers -- that use smaller gas engines. The culprit is the amount of ethanol used in typical motor vehicle fuels. Sikkema advises using a fuel stabilizer or non-ethanol fuel to minimize problem. He also suggests considering purchasing a service contract. "For less than the cost of one carburetor repair you can have 5 years of protection that includes wear and tear," he says, and Doug Mahoney at TheSweethome.com concurs. This article from the Chicago Tribune has more information.

For even larger properties, the 28-inch Ariens Deluxe 28 921046 (Est. $1,100) is worth considering. This snow blower scores well in professional testing. It's recommended by ConsumerReports.org and gets high praise at MovingSnow.com. It finishes in the sixth spot on Sikkema's list, and he notes that "This is the standard heavy-duty snow blower that everyone else is trying to beat."

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. For 2016, handling has been further improved thanks to some minor upgrades that improved the blower's balance. It excels in testing, earning top marks in speed, throwing distance, and the ability to deal with those high mounds of snow that road plowing crews so helpfully leave at the end of your driveway. Like all two stage snow blowers, it doesn't clean right down to the surface, but still does well in that regard. User feedback is strong -- a 4.5-star rating following roughly 1,625 reviews at Lowes.com, though some of these originate at the Ariens site and many reflect owner experience with earlier, similar versions of the Ariens Deluxe 28.