Cheapism: Best budget snow blowers

Oct. 26, 2011 at 10:27 AM ET

By Kara Reinhardt 

Depending on how you look at it, shoveling snow can be a good way to get out of the house and get some exercise or a good way to strain your back and freeze your bum off. If you tend toward the latter, you can make the job quicker and easier by picking up an electric snow shovel for as little as $100. With high-end snow blowers commanding a few thousand dollars, even $500 is a bargain for a model bearing a name like Toro or Craftsman.

Low-cost snow blowers -- or snow throwers, as they’re also known -- can rid the average driveway, walkway, deck, or patio of up to eight inches of snow. Unlike pricey, two-stage snow blowers, which have an impeller to hurl the snow, models in this price range use an auger not only to churn up the snow but also to throw it and help propel the machine along. The augers on these snow blowers graze the ground, making them suitable for smooth surfaces such as a paved driveway but not for rougher ground.

Electric models have many advantages over their gas counterparts. They’re cheaper, lighter, quieter, and easier to start and maintain. However, a gas-powered snow blower can handle a larger space and isn’t restricted by a cord. Choose one with push-button electric start to avoid the sometimes strenuous pull-cord start.

Power is typically listed in amps for an electric motor and cc’s for a gas snow blower. No matter what the measure, the higher the number, the more powerful the machine. A larger snow blower that cuts a wider clearing path can finish the job faster. The intake should be at least two inches higher than the snow, so note that number if you live somewhere that sees deep snowfalls. (Meteorologists at predict that winter will hit the Midwest particularly hard this year.) Look for a model that can throw snow at least half the width of your driveway (or the widest area you need to clear). An adjustable chute lets you aim the flying snow.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable snow blowers.

  • The Toro Power Shovel 38361 (starting at $99) may be basic, but users say it easily trumps a regular shovel for clearing small areas. This electric snow shovel -- the lightest and cheapest model on our list -- has a 7.5-amp motor, a 12-inch clearing path, and a 6-inch intake. It can fling snow up to 20 feet. (Where to buy)
  • The GreenWorks 26032 (starting at $200) is powerful and easy to use, according to reviews. This electric model has a 12-amp motor and a discharge chute that can be adjusted 180 degrees. It clears a 20-inch path with a 10-inch intake and throws the snow up to 20 feet. (Where to buy)
  • The gas-powered Toro Power Clear 418ZE (starting at $399) houses an 87-cc engine with the electric start feature. Users credit this machine with cleaning up after record snowfalls. It offers a 12-inch intake, an 18-inch clearing path, and a throwing distance of up to 25 feet. Its chute can be rotated 210 degrees, making it the most adjustable on our list. (Where to buy)
  • The WORX WG650 (starting at $228) exceeds reviewers’ expectations for its price and weight. This electric snow blower is capable of catapulting snow up to 30 feet. It features a 13-amp motor, an 18-inch clearing path, a 10-inch intake, and 180-degree chute adjustment. (Where to buy)
  • The Craftsman 88780 (starting at $500) boasts a 179-cc engine and electric start. It cuts a 21-inch clearing path and the chute can be adjusted 190 degrees. Users appreciate the 13-inch intake, which handles even deep drifts. (Where to buy)

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