Elsewhere I've reviewed electric snowblowers. They can be a smart choice for small driveways, where you won't mind dragging the cord around for a bit. For longer driveways, however, gas snowblowers are the preferred option. They are also a better choice in regions subject to heavy snowfalls or wet snow.
But to zero in on the particular model right for you, we must draw a further distinction -- this time, between two different types of gas snowblowers.
Types of Gas Snowblowers
Snowblowers (also termed "snow throwers") fall into two categories:
- Single-stage snowblowers
- Two-stage snowblowers
Gas snowblowers are available in both single-stage and two-stage models; but with electric snowblowers, you're restricted to the single-stage option. Whether you're interested in gas snowblowers or electric snowblowers, single-stage snowblowers are not recommended for regions prone to heavy snowfalls or wet snow: they just don't provide enough power. With a single-stage model, don't expect to be able to clear more than an 8" snowfall; and forget about clearing wet snow altogether, without doing a lot of extra work.
So what's all this talk of "stages," you ask? In what sense does one type of gas snowblower have two stages, while the other type has but one? Well, it's all in the "auger."
An auger is the corkscrew-shaped component of a snowblower responsible for sucking up the snow. In single-stage models, the auger performs double-duty: it both sucks up and discharges the snow. Whereas in two-stage models, the auger is devoted exclusively to the task of sucking up the snow off the driveway; while a separate gizmo, called the "impeller", is responsible for discharging the snow out of the chute. This "division of labor," if you will, allows you to blow the snow a greater distance with two-stage gas snowblowers.
Other Advantages of Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers
From Lowe's "Snow Thrower Buying Guide":
Single-stage snowblowers use an auger assembly made from a combination of metal and plastic or hard rubber. The auger spins at high speed to chip ice and snow, collect it, and direct it out of a discharge chute. Though not propelled by engine-driven wheels, the spinning auger contacts the clearing surface and pulls the assembly forward. This results in some degree of self-propulsion, but the operator must still guide the machine. Because the auger directly contacts the clearing surface, single stage throwers are best used on pavement or other smooth surfaces.
Note that with two-stage gas snowblowers, the auger that sucks up the snow doesn't contact the clearing surface, meaning you can snowblow even on crushed stone or gravel driveways. However, there's a flip side to the augur not contacting the surface: unfortunately, a thin coating of snow will be left behind.
The superiority of two-stage gas snowblowers goes beyond the matter of augers and impellers. Their clearing width is also greater, ranging from about 20" to about 36", depending on the model. And engine-driven wheels (or in some cases, tracks) propel two-stage gas snowblowers for you, making them easier to use.
Not All Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers Are Created Equal
Before you can appreciate all your options before deciding between the various gas snowblowers on the market, you must understand yet another distinction, this time between:
- Low-end two-stage gas snowblowers
- High-end two-stage gas snowblowers
In addition to other features, what "separates the men from the boys" is horsepower. At the low end are machines with 5.5 hp; at the high end, 9 hp.
Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers Come at a Price!
Of course, you'll pay the most for high-end two-stage gas snowblowers, because of all their advantages. While it's possible to buy electric snowblowers for a little over $100, high-end two-stage gas snowblowers sell in the $1000-$2000 range.
When shopping for two-stage gas snowblowers, it's important for you to determine ahead of time just how much of a wonder-machine you really need. Otherwise, you could end up spending more money unnecessarily. For instance, Consumer Search compared the Craftsman 88790 (ca. $1,000) to the Toro Power Max 828LXE (ca. $1,500). Reviews say, according to Consumer Search, that while the Craftsman 88790 doesnt throw snow quite as far as the Toro does, "for most people, that tradeoff will be worth the $500 cost savings."