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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.

Single stage gas snow blower

Cub Cadet 1X 221 LHP 31AM2T6D756
Cub Cadet 1X 221 LHP 31AM2T6D756

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 in the past been clear winners with expert reviewers and users. Many of the most popular models have been discontinued, however. New models have racked up some good expert reviews, but user feedback is scant at the time this report was prepared. Still, based on past performance for this line of snow blowers, and continued good performance in expert testing, we are comfortable giving the thumbs up to 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.

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.

As noted, user reviews are tough to find. We see just a handful at HomeDepot.com and around a dozen more at Toro's own site. Thus far it earns a good 4.5 stars from both groups. That's based on experience with assembly and initial starting, however, rather than performance clearing snow -- mainly because most users had not yet seen enough snow to test out the Toro at the time this report was prepared. The Toro Power Clear 721 E 38742 is covered by a two-year residential warranty, but only 45 days for commercial use.

The Cub Cadet 1X 221 LHP 31AM2T6D756 (Est. $650) is another good choice in this category. It scores a few points lower than the Toro Power Clear 721 E in the same professional test, but that's still good enough to earn it both "Recommended" and "Best Buy" status. Paul Sikkema at MovingSnow.com doesn't formally review this Cub Cadet snow blower, but includes it on his list of "Single Stage Snow Throwers The Pro's Use." The warranty is a little better than the Toro's: three years residential, 1 year for commercial use.

The 1X 221 LHP is a little more feature rich than the Toro 721 E. Extras include a headlight and remote chute control that lets you change the direction and angle of the ejected snow with a single, handlebar-mounted lever. Like the Toro, there's an electric starter.

Performance, while good, rates a step behind the Toro 721 E when it comes to sweeping the snow completely off a sidewalk or dispatching piles of snowplow-deposited snow, at least by the one expert that conducts side-by-side testing. It's judged to be slower, too.

Users like it anyway. Again, there are not a ton of reviews, but what's available to see is largely positive. It draws nearly 45 reviews at HomeDepot.com and a 4.4-star rating, and unlike the Toro, many of those comments reflect usage with snow from the preceding winter. Most negative comments deal with units that arrived damaged, though even some of those owners are happy enough anyway to recommend the snow blower. User reports say that this Cub Cadet snow blower is able to dispatch accumulations of 8 inches or so with ease.

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 say the Craftsman 88173 (Est. $700) is a compact two-stage gas snow blower that's powerful 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.

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 150 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, and it 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.

Paul Sikkema at MovingSnow.com notes that the Sno-Tek is built by Ariens, but is an economy model sold exclusively at HomeDepot.com. He 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. It's amassed more than 1,200 reviews, with an average overall rating of 4.5 stars; about 94 percent of owners say that they would recommend this snow thrower to a friend.

Both of these snow blowers feature 24-inch clearing widths -- fine for most residential uses. If your property demands something larger, the full-sized 30-inch Ariens Deluxe 30 921032 (Est. $1,300) snow blower looks like a good choice. The Ariens Deluxe 30 scores well in professional testing, and is a good value according to MovingSnow.com. When dealing with such a behemoth 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 shines 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 nearly 300 reviews at HomeDepot.com, though some of these originate at the Ariens site.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Snow Blowers: Learn all about the different types of snow blowers, and how to find the right one for your climate and property. Editors name top choices, as well as good alternatives to consider

Best Electric Snow Blowers: If you live where the winters are mild, and don't have a ton of property to clear when snow does fall, an electric snow blower is an economical and energy-efficient choice. These are the top performers.

Best Snow Shovels: Is a snow blower overkill for where you live and the snowfalls you typically get? If so, a good but not-so-old-fashioned snow shovel could be a reasonable choice. Here's what to look for to find a snow shovel that will clear your walk without breaking your back, along with some top choices to consider.

Buying Guide: Having the wrong snow thrower for your property could be worse than having no snow thrower at all. Here's what to look for to find the right snow blower for your needs.

Our Sources: These are the professional and user reviews we consulted to find the best gas and electric snow blowers. They are rated and ranked according to their expertise and helpfulness.

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Ariens 921032 Deluxe 30 291cc 30 in. Two-Stage Snow Thrower with Electric Start
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