After 20 more hours of snow-blower testing this winter, we’re sure the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE 24-inch snow blower is the best for most people. We reached this conclusion after putting in a total of 100 hours of research over multiple years of testing, doing interviews with snow-blower manufacturers, and looking back at all the snow wisdom one can learn as a lifelong New Englander.
The 24-inch SnowMaster 724 QXE is quite simply the fastest snow blower we’ve ever used. It even worked faster (and did a better job) than larger, more expensive competitors, thanks to the unique design of its auger and drive control. Unlike typical blowers’ cumbersome manual-shift speed controls, Toro’s intuitive Personal Pace drive system synchronizes the speed of its wheels with how fast you’re walking. The electric start is convenient, and a smooth joystick chute control makes directing snow easy. At around $750 currently, this blower is also a couple hundred dollars less than many comparable competitors. It’s the ideal machine for a paved two-car driveway (up to about 80 feet in length) and for snowfalls that are consistently in the range of 6 to 12 inches. It’s not the best pick for unpaved surfaces, though, so if you have a gravel driveway or need to clear a lot of lawn area, our runner-up is a better option.
If the Toro is not available, or if you have a gravel driveway (up to about 80 feet in length), we suggest going with the more traditional Craftsman Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero Turn Snowblower (88694). This 26-inch model is our previous top pick, and we still like its combination of premium features and excellent price. It has power steering—a must for a heavier two-stage blower like this one, and a feature usually reserved for blowers north of $1,000. The dash-mounted chute control and electric start are nice, too, but one more detail really sets this Craftsman model apart: an engine so quiet that it requires no hearing protection.
If you regularly get only 6 inches of snow or less and you need to clear a small, flat paved driveway, patio, or city sidewalk, we recommend the 21-inch Toro Power Clear 721 E. This less-powerful single-stage blower can toss snow about 15 feet. It has a convenient electric start—not a standard feature on blowers this size. In addition, Toro single-stage blowers sit at the top spot in Consumer Reports testing, the owner feedback is very good, and our research could not uncover any serious challengers to the brand.
For larger driveways and deeper snows, we recommend the 30-inch, MTD-made Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP Snow Thrower. This larger two-stage machine is ideal for anyone who regularly experiences snows of 15 or more inches, has a (paved or gravel) driveway that’s 100 feet or longer, needs the job to go quickly, and wants full confidence that their snow blower will be powerful enough. Compared with our runner-up two-stage pick, it offers the same durability, the same reliability, and many of the best features, but is built to tackle bigger jobs.
In late 2016, we also tested two leading cordless options, the Snow Joe iON24SB-XR and the Ego SNT2102 Power+ Snow Blower. While we did find a lot to like about each one, their drawbacks—from performance to ergonomics to the high costs and inherent limits of battery run time—leave us unable to recommend them. We have more details in the Competition section.
Snow blowers are complicated, feature-laden machines, so to wade through the morass, we got the input of a number of experts with years of experience among them. One invaluable source has been Paul Sikkema of MovingSnow.com, an independent site dedicated to all things snow blower. Sikkema has been using blowers for the past 50 years. Since starting MovingSnow.com in 2008, he has written more than 350 snow-blower reviews. Here’s more info about Sikkema’s site and his interest in snow blowers.
We also spoke with two people at Toro: marketing manager Christine Cheng and senior design engineer Derek Duchscherer. Megan Peth, brand marketing director at Troy-Bilt, also shared her expertise on snow blowers.
Beyond those interviews, we read everything we could about snow blowers, focusing our attention on the epic Consumer Reports rundown, which that testing house has updated regularly for years. We spent hours reading the reviews of currently available snow blowers at MovingSnow.com, plus a lot of owner reviews on the Home Depot site. We also found the website of retailer Snow Blowers Direct useful for researching models.
As for personal qualifications, I’m a lifelong New Englander, and I’ve spent countless hours running snow blowers—both in clearing my own property and in cleaning up construction sites during my time as a general contractor.
Buying a snow blower is a big investment that not everyone needs to make. If you have only a small driveway or city sidewalk to clear, you’re physically fit, and you usually have snowfalls of about 6 inches or less, you may prefer a snow shovel, pusher, or sleigh. But if you deal with deep snows and large driveways (or if shoveling is just too challenging), you really do need a snow blower.
In discussing pricing, MovingSnow.com’s Paul Sikkema strongly warned us against blowers under $500. In general, such models have short throwing chutes, small wheels with little traction, the bare minimum of controls with minimal service support, and mediocre reviews. Some don’t even have a reverse gear, so you must literally pull the machine backward, an important consideration with the heavier two-stage blowers. All of the units in this price range appear in the bottom 25 percent of Consumer Reports’s ratings (subscription required). Overall, we believe you’d make a better investment in a machine that will be more satisfying to use for a longer amount of time. Sikkema told us, “You can’t imagine all of the people who write me and the first thing they say is, ‘I don’t want to spend more than $500, but I also want it to last 20 years like my old one.’” Unfortunately, that’s not realistic.
The price tier above that, the $600 range, has some good-quality blowers, but we’ve found that the best of those models are close enough in price to the full-featured blowers ($800-plus) that making the additional investment for a premium machine is worth it.
However much you spend, consider how you’ll get parts and service. All quality blowers have at least two-year warranties standard, and on some of them the companies sell extended service plans for in-home service and coverage of wear and tear. Sikkema recommended purchasing from a service-oriented retailer, saying, “Menards, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, and Costco will all sell you a snowblower, but if you have any problems with it, you’re on your own.”
When it comes to brands, one important fact a shopper should understand is that this category includes only a few manufacturers. A company called MTD makes Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Remington, and Troy-Bilt snow blowers. The Husqvarna company makes units under the Husqvarna, Jonsered, and Poulan Pro brands. Ariens makes Ariens and Sno-Tek models. In many cases, these brands indicate quality differences (Ariens, for example, represents a step up over the budget Sno-Tek). But in other instances, the distinctions are less clear—Troy-Bilt and Craftsman, for example, have many blowers that are nearly identical and simply sold at different retailers. Toro makes only Toro blowers.
Within each brand, snow blowers have traditionally fallen into two simple categories: single-stage models for places with minimal snowfall, and two-stage models for heavier snow areas.
Single-stage blowers are less expensive, but they’re less powerful and have other limitations. Sikkema’s opinion is that “people buy single-stage snow throwers because of the price, not because it is the right snow blower for them.” He said single-stage blowers “will only work on a hard surface like blacktop, cement, or a patio.” They have a single front paddle and no second impeller. As Toro’s Christine Cheng said, the paddle “scoops up the snow and throws it out the chute in one motion.” The paddle is also designed to hit the ground so that it propels the blower forward as it’s moving snow. This design eliminates the need for engine-driven wheels, but as Cheng warned, they’re not recommended on gravel driveways (unless you want to pick up and launch every loose rock you come across).
Single-stage blowers also start to lose their effectiveness at around 6 to 8 inches of snow.1 As one snow-blower manufacturer once told Sikkema, “No one who lives north of Interstate 70 should buy a single-stage snow blower.” To see the difference for yourself, watch manufacturer Ariens’s revealing video of a single-stage blower going up against a two-stage model.
Two-stage blowers are the type that most people who truly need a snow blower have traditionally owned. These models have both a front auger (the first stage) that feeds snow into the machine and an impeller (the second stage) that tosses it out of the chute. This design lets them take in a lot of snow and then launch it, in some cases up to 50 feet. Two-stage blowers are also heavy, but as Troy-Bilt’s Megan Peth told us, “they have engine-driven wheels that can handle uneven terrain and reduce the amount of effort it takes to remove snow.”
A two-stage blower that’s 24 to 26 inches wide is best for handling about 6 to 12 inches of snow in a two-car driveway up to about 80 feet long. The features we think are worth paying a little extra for in that size include power steering and a four-way chute control that can shift the direction of the snow while you’re operating the machine. Larger models, with a width of 28 to 30 inches, are good for consistent snows of 15 to 20 inches. We wanted to recommend a pick at both of those sizes.
Three-stage blowers under a number of brand names have appeared in recent years, all originating with the manufacturer MTD. These models have an additional impeller at the front of the mouth to assist with feeding snow into the rear auger. We have more info on some specific three-stage models in our section about the competition.
Last, the unclassifiable Toro SnowMaster design, introduced in 2015, combines elements of single- and two-stage models—and you can read more about it in the next section.
In addition to the dozens of hours we’ve put in reading reviews and interviewing sources, we’ve spent the past three winters testing a number of snow blowers in Buffalo, New York, and in rural New Hampshire. Most of this testing time has consisted of simply using the snow blowers in a normal fashion: clearing the driveway, the walkway, and the frozen mess that the plow left out by the mailbox. We’ve been able to test in everything from deep, fluffy drifts to slushy, sloppy day-after melts. Having several of the best-rated machines on hand for multiple seasons has allowed us to do thorough side-by-side comparisons, a process that has revealed key distinctions in performance and has helped us determine the best snow blowers for multiple situations.
After all of our research and testing, we believe that the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE 24-inch snow blower is the best fit for most people. This single-stage/dual-stage hybrid offers, without question, the fastest snow-blowing experience money can buy. Introduced in 2015, the SnowMaster design is a unique style of snow blower, combining elements of single-stage and two-stage models, and before we could feel confident making this recommendation, we had to test this machine through two New Hampshire winters. We even put it head-to-head against a 30-inch two-stage Troy-Bilt (our upgrade recommendation), and in each test the smaller SnowMaster got the upper hand. In fact, with this machine in the shed, we haven’t seriously considered using any of our bigger, pricier snow blowers.
What makes the SnowMaster so fast is the combination of a unique single-auger design and Toro’s Personal Pace drive system.
The auger, while technically a single-stage design, is atypical in two ways: speed and shape. According to Toro marketing manager Christine Cheng, the SnowMaster’s auger spins 10 times faster than that of the company’s compact two-stage snow blower. It has the same turning speed as a regular single-stage version, but “it has a 25% higher tip speed due to the larger diameter rotor, which provides greater throw distance versus the single stage.” That means it throws snow faster and farther. As for the shape, the sides are designed to pull snow toward the center portion, which then throws the snow. A regular single-stage design has a more “gentle curve,” which results in “a portion of the snow that does not go up the chute.”
The Personal Pace drive system, the other part of the equation, is far more intuitive than the usual method of shifting through gears to speed up or slow down. Here, your pressure on the grip area determines the speed—the faster you walk, the harder you press, and the faster the SnowMaster goes. If you slow down, reducing the pressure on the grip area, the speed of the wheels slows as well. The entire time, the machine is matching your pace, and the SnowMaster will clear snow as fast as you can walk.
According to Toro, the SnowMaster is capable of speeds up to 3.5 miles per hour, in contrast to the company’s compact two-stage model, which can go only 2.3 mph. With the SnowMaster, we were always very comfortable at the higher speeds, because we knew we could slow down in an instant. We could also fly over lightly snowed areas and quickly slow down when the snow got thick. With a regular two-stage machine, we usually defaulted to a moderate speed and kept it there, because the manual shift to slow down or speed up was too tedious to bother with for a short stretch.
We tested the SnowMaster 724 QXE head-to-head against the 30-inch Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP, using each machine to clear a 100-foot-long, 4-foot-wide path through 8 inches of snow. The SnowMaster did the work in almost half the time the Troy-Bilt required, even though it’s 6 inches (20 percent!) narrower. Not only was it quicker, but it also cleared down to the ground better.
We also ran the two blowers on 4 inches of soaking-wet driveway slush (the kind that’s more water than snow), and again the SnowMaster 724 QXE did a better job. The lumbering two-stage Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP constantly clogged up at the chute, so we had to keep stopping and shutting it down to clear it. On the SnowMaster, in contrast, the speed of the auger was fast enough to keep the slush flying through the chute, prohibiting any blockage.
The SnowMaster does not have power steering, but due to the light weight of the machine, we don’t think this is a problem. According to Toro, the SnowMaster 724 QXE is about 125 pounds, roughly 50 pounds lighter than Toro’s compact two-stage blower. It is very easy to maneuver, and you don’t have to shift constantly between forward and reverse when clearing a tight spot—you just pull the unit backward. We are big fans of power steering on two-stage units, but we didn’t miss it at all on the SnowMaster.
The SnowMaster also has a nice joystick-style chute control that you can operate on the fly as the blower is moving—an invaluable feature when you’re blowing, say, the area between a house and garage, or any other tight space where you have to continually move the chute and cap to put the snow right where you want it. Using this control is much easier and faster than manually adjusting the deflector every time you need a direction change. Our one quibble is that we wish the chute could turn further; at times, such as up at the end of the driveway, it’s nice to be able to toss the snow to the side and a little behind. The SnowMaster can go a few degrees more than 90, but hardly enough to make a real difference. Our other picks all go further, allowing you to throw the snow a little to the rear of the blower.
Like most decent machines, the SnowMaster 724 QXE has an electric start. (MovingSnow.com’s Paul Sikkema told us that you have to go really cheap to get a blower without an electric start.) Located on the blower engine is a reverse plug (the male end). You hook it up to an extension cord, plug it into an outlet, press the primer bulb a few times, and push a start button, and the gas engine fires up and takes over.
We tried to find the ceiling of the SnowMaster’s capabilities and discovered that at about 12 inches of wet snow, the engine starts to bog down a little. Sikkema’s site points to a video where you can hear this engine strain as someone clears the end of their driveway (with the more powerful SnowMaster 824 QXE). It’s a clear sound, and once we recognized it, we simply eased off a little and started taking smaller passes or going a bit slower. The machine still cleared the snow, but with the deeper drifts it went at more of a normal pace rather than the race-car speed we were used to.
We also found that the SnowMaster is so light, it tends to ride up over packed snow rather than knife under the snow. We had 5 inches of heavy, heavy snow, and while most areas didn’t cause issues for this snow blower, the tire lines where a car had driven out took a few passes to break up and remove. We also found the crusty, crunchy next-day plow mess at the end of the driveway to be a little challenging—as Sikkema writes, “You will have to bring a shovel out with you to break up that hard snow.” That said, a similarly sized two-stage machine will have a problem in this situation, as well.
The price on this blower is excellent for the capability and convenience it offers. The SnowMaster 724 QXE costs about $750 currently, less than our previous pick, the fully loaded two-stage Craftsman Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero Turn Snowblower (88694).
The truth is, after using the SnowMaster, we have completely changed the way we view snow clearing. In the past, moving snow was something we had to do after the storm, maybe even the next morning. It took hours and was a drudgery we didn’t look forward to at all. But because of the SnowMaster’s sheer speed and ease of use, the task is now something we can rattle off in less than an hour. With the SnowMaster, we also have the option to do a quick midstorm pass with larger snowfalls, when the snow is still fluffy, rather than wait until the next day. By taking this approach, we’re hardly spending any more time snow blowing (because the SnowMaster is so fast), and we’re also not stressing the SnowMaster with an inordinate amount of snow.
We’re not alone in our high opinion of the SnowMaster. Paul Sikkema thoroughly tested the larger SnowMaster 824 QXE and came away deeply impressed. You can read his detailed walkthrough, or just take this away from it: “Toro does not sell anything until it’s met their extremely high quality standards so don’t be cautious about buying this new model.“
Toro makes a few SnowMaster models. We tested (and recommend) the smaller 724 QXE, which has a 212 cc engine and sells for about $750. The larger 824 QXE, with a 252 cc engine, typically goes for a little over $900. You’ll also find a stripped-down version, the 724 ZXR, with no dash-mounted chute control, for roughly $700. Spend the extra $50 for our pick. Sikkema differentiates the models by saying that the smaller 724 series should handle snows up to about 14 inches and the larger 824 can go to roughly 18 inches.
Finally, Toro covers the SnowMaster with a three-year limited warranty (PDF), and the chute is guaranteed for life. At the company’s site, it recommends contacting your retailer for details.
Toro recommends that the SnowMaster 724 QXE be used only on paved surfaces, because the speed at which the auger moves leaves the possibility of launching a rock. “We’re being cautious,” marketing manager Christine Cheng told us. We did much of our testing on a gravel driveway and didn’t notice any more rock ejections than our two-stage blower produced. Still, the SnowMaster’s auger does spin fast, and we’re not going to take Toro’s warning lightly.
But we did find other reasons to stick to flat surfaces (even if it’s a flat gravel driveway). The Personal Pace system can have difficulty on uneven ground such as a lawn. That’s because if the front of the blower jams on something, the Personal Pace handle naturally gets pressed in a little, which gives the wheels a burst of juice—and this causes the SnowMaster to jump a bit. If you’re just clearing a quick path to the woodshed or a dog run, it’s something you’ll likely learn to deal with (we did). Still, if you have a lot of lawn clearing to do, we suggest considering our two-stage runner-up model.
Steeper inclines can pose a problem for the SnowMaster, as the combination of the small tires and the light weight can lead to a loss of traction. The driveway we used for testing has a definite slope to it, and we never had any problems, but if you have steep areas to clear, you may end up putting a little more push into the machine than you’re used to.
The SnowMaster also lacks a couple of features common to high-end two-stage blowers, namely a reverse gear and power steering. As we mentioned above, the SnowMaster 724 QXE is so light and easy to handle that we hardly even noticed that these features were missing. Even up at the end of the driveway with cars going by, maneuvering the SnowMaster was easy.
It also has no headlight, which is a nice feature to have but not a huge loss. Over the years, we’ve actually found that a good headlamp is much better for snow blowing because it lets you put light anywhere you want, not just in front of the blower. Sometimes it’s more important to see where you’re blowing the snow, and a headlight on the blower can’t help with that.
If the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE is not available or if you have a gravel driveway (or you clear a lot of lawn area), we recommend the Craftsman Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero Turn Snowblower (88694). Like the Toro, this model is good for regular snowfalls of roughly 6 inches to a foot on a two-car driveway up to about 80 feet long. This machine was our pick for the previous three years, and when it comes to traditional two-stage blowers, no other model matches this Craftsman’s unique combination of features at such an excellent price.
The 88694 has power steering, a four-way chute control, and an engine design that, according to the manufacturer, is 45 percent quieter than its predecessor. Like all good-quality blowers, the Craftsman has an electric start and no-mar skid shoes—these features make it easy to get running and safe to use on a deck or patio without leaving scratches. Finally, the blower has a great rating from Consumer Reports (subscription required), and Paul Sikkema’s review on MovingSnow.com is extremely positive.
Because it’s a two-stage, it’s much heavier than our main pick, so the power steering is crucial. A small trigger at each handle stops the corresponding wheel from moving. With one wheel stopped, the snow blower turns on a dime (or a slow arc, if you’re just intermittently tapping the trigger). Once you use power steering, there’s no going back to the days of wrestling a blower around at the end of the driveway. Even if all you’re doing is blowing a path around the house, power steering is essential for traveling in a constant arc.
In fact, power steering is a major reason this Craftsman is special: Many other high-end two-stage blowers have power steering, but most of them cost over $1,000. Anything under $800, even in the smaller 24-inch size, doesn’t have power steering. According to Sikkema’s review, “This is the best value snow blower on the market with this feature.”
A feature unique to only this and one other Craftsman blower is the quiet engine, which the manufacturer claims is 45 percent quieter than those of previous Craftsman models.2 We ran our own tests, and during operation this blower averaged a decibel rating in the low 80s—a noise level similar to that of a garbage disposal. In another MovingSnow.com article, Sikkema writes: “If you need to blow snow at all hours of the day or night right next to your neighbor’s bedroom window and you want a snow blower that’s easy to use – this is the one for you.” Consumer Reports testing confirmed that it operates below the level at which OSHA requires wearing ear protection (85 dB). Sikkema also mentions in his article that a side benefit of this muffler redesign is that “the fuel tank is also relocated and is larger than the old version.”
A joystick up at the dash controls the side-to-side motion of the chute as well as the up-and-down movement of the deflector cap. As on the SnowMaster, you can make these adjustments while the blower is moving. Sikkema has a video of how that function works, and the proper way to use it.
The blower is covered by a two-year limited warranty and a limited lifetime warranty on the chute. Beyond that, Sears offers a couple of different long-term protection plans. Available in both three- and five-year lengths, these plans offer either in-home or shop repair and cover nearly everything. They range in price from $160 to $300, and they cover fuel-related issues, which are a concern with the amount of ethanol in today’s gas: According to a quote in a Consumer Reports article, even though small engines can use gas with up to 10 percent ethanol, there is still a risk of “corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components, harder starting, and reduced engine life.”
Looking at reviews of the 88694 elsewhere, we found that at Consumer Reports (subscription required) this model is the highest-ranked 26-inch two-stage blower. The reviewers call it out for having excellent handling, removal speed, and plow-pile removal, and they say that it is so quiet that the operator doesn’t even need ear protection.
Craftsman sells a few other blowers with the quiet engine. The 26-inch 88972 is identical to our recommended blower, except that it does not have power steering. Again: You want power steering! The two units are very difficult to tell apart, so if you’re considering a purchase of the recommended 88694, make sure the model you’re looking at has the small red power-steering triggers under the handles.
Craftsman also offers the 28-inch 88394, which has a headlight plus a larger engine and cuts a slightly wider path. In all other ways, it’s basically the same blower. According to Sikkema, 28-inch models are a good fit for two-car driveways up to about 150 feet in length. This model costs about $1,000.
One final point that we need to stress about the Craftsman 88694 is that even though it is no longer our main pick, it is still a fantastic snowblower. While we found the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE to be easier to handle and much faster at moving snow, if you recently purchased the Craftsman, you should still be satisfied with your investment. Sears and Craftsman have a great reputation for supporting products long after they’ve been discontinued, including a supply of the parts needed to keep a unit running—another reason you can feel confident about such a big investment.4
The Craftsman 88694 lacks a headlight. This is a drag, because with its quiet engine the machine lends itself to being used early in the morning and later in the evening. That said, even if the blower did have a headlight, it probably wouldn’t be a very good one. The Craftsman 88694 is manufactured by MTD, and that company’s comparably sized Troy-Bilt and Cub Cadet models place the light in the center of the dash, where much of the light gets blocked by the chute. My MTD 30-inch Troy-Bilt has the center-mounted headlight, and it’s so unimpressive that after the bulb blew years ago, I never bothered to replace it. A headlamp (we have a favorite) is often more useful.
Since 2015, Buffalo-based Sweethome writer Kevin Purdy has been testing the Craftsman 88694 on his 50-foot-long two-car driveway. The one annoyance that Kevin has experienced with the Craftsman is that the chute control has some slippage. As the machine vibrates, the joystick slowly works its way down, “which means the chute gradually points higher and higher, so you’re throwing snow in a higher arc.” He told us that it is “more noticeable when going uphill … or when the machine is really vibrating.”
Other than that, he says he finds it capable, manageable, and “much quieter than [the] neighbors’ beasts.”
If most of your snowfalls don’t exceed 4 to 6 inches and you’re blowing snow off a hard, flat surface like pavement or concrete, you can get by with a true single-stage blower. In this situation, it’s tough to beat the Toro Power Clear 721 E. This blower has the top spot in Consumer Reports’s single-stage testing results as well as solid customer feedback. It also has a reputation, confirmed in Paul Sikkema’s writings, as the gold standard of single-stage blowers.
Single-stage blowers are much lighter than their two-stage counterparts, so you can haul one of these models up onto a deck. Because the front auger propels the machine forward, a slight tip back stops it from moving, and you can make a quick pivot. These machines even have bail control, like old-school mowers, where you have to hold the metal bar against the handle for the machine to go.
The Power Clear 721 E comes with a 212 cc engine, among the most powerful we’ve found on any single-stage blower. According to Toro, it can launch snow up to 35 feet, though that’s likely only under ideal conditions. As this video shows, the majority of the snow seems to land in the range of 10 to 15 feet. Still, this is a blower meant for a driveway, so as long as the majority of the snow can reach the edge of the driveway, it’s fine.
Consumer Reports declares that the Power Clear “has raised the bar for [single-stage blowers] with impressive speed and power for plow piles.” Our pick, the 721 E, has an electric start; this is not a standard option in single-stage blowers, as it is in two-stage machines. The 721 R, an otherwise identical Toro blower, has only the recoil start and costs about $500—we think our single-stage pick is worth the extra $70 or so.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The major flaws with the Toro Power Clear 721 E go back to the fact that it’s a single-stage blower. Because of the way the paddle pulls it forward, you shouldn’t use it on gravel or grass, as it can pick up and throw loose stones. Single-stage blowers usually can’t handle heavy snows over 6 inches. Compared with more powerful blowers, this one doesn’t throw snow very far, as the video above shows. Finally, a minor point: Like most single-stage blowers, this Toro does not have a headlight.
If your driveway is more than 100 feet long, or if you’re constantly getting hit with snowfalls of 15 to 20 inches, we recommend either moving somewhere else or getting the Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP Snow Thrower. This MTD-made Troy-Bilt has a massive engine, trigger-operated power steering, and a cool electronic chute control that uses a small thumb-operated joystick. It also has heated handles. MovingSnow.com’s Paul Sikkema refers to this Troy-Bilt as “one of the most reliable snow blowers on the market,” and in Consumer Reports ratings (subscription required) it is among the top models in the 30-inch class and priced lower than most.
The Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP has a 357 cc engine that, according to Sikkema, “will easily handle 16 inches or more snow on a three-car drive 150 feet long.” To give us a sense of the snow-moving capabilities of a 30-inch blower, Sikkema told us that it can complete a job in half the time of a 24-inch model.
The electric chute control is a relatively new feature from MTD that appears on the manufacturer’s high-end blowers sold by Troy-Bilt and Craftsman. Instead of using a full-size, arcade-game joystick control, you maneuver the chute using a much smaller thumb joystick located near your right hand. The larger joystick works well, but to use it you need to let go of the blower’s handles, which can be a little tricky if you’re on a curve and using the power-steering feature. With the electronic control, you can redirect the chute while keeping both hands on the handles. Troy-Bilt has a video showing how it works.
We also like the heated handles. They may sound a little extravagant, but during long snow-moving sessions on very cold days, you’ll probably appreciate them. The handles don’t get hot, but they do manage to keep the bone-chilling cold away from gloved fingers.
This Troy-Bilt blower comes with a three-year limited warranty (PDF). Troy-Bilt does not do the work, instead directing owners to authorized service centers in the area. If you buy it from Lowe’s, you have the option of a more comprehensive three- or four-year protection plan. According to Lowe’s, for items over $800, such as this blower, the retailer will “pick up, repair, and return the product.” We haven’t had any issues in almost seven years of owning the Storm 3090 XP, and Sikkema writes that it’s “designed to be as maintenance free as you can get with a mechanical device.” He believes it will last 15 years or more.
Personally, we’re on the sixth winter as owners of an older version of the Storm 3090 XP (which doesn’t have the electronic chute control). Even though we’re a little lax with seasonal maintenance, it has always started immediately and has been able to handle 30-plus inches of snow on occasion. In January 2015, with nearly 32 inches of snow, it had no problems clearing two driveways (totalling 250 feet), including the plow mess at the ends.
We must note that Troy-Bilt also sells a model with just the Storm 3090 name (no “XP”). That blower has a hand-cranked chute control, not the electronic joystick. Make sure to get the right one if you decide to buy.
This Troy-Bilt is nearly identical to the 30-inch Craftsman 357cc Dual-Stage Snowblower (88396). The only real difference is that the Craftsman doesn’t have heated handles. Sears, Craftsman’s primary retailer, offers a longer service plan (five years) than Lowe’s, which is a good thing, but our older Troy-Bilt 30-inch has never had any issues in six years, which confirms Sikkema’s strong opinion regarding the machine’s reliability. If for any reason the Craftsman is more convenient to purchase, however, you’ll be just as satisfied with that blower as with the Troy-Bilt.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
As Sikkema points out about all 30-inch blowers, the Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP will have a hard time going through a standard door. It will get through a 34-inch door, but just barely. If you have a back patio that you like to keep clear of snow, and the only access is through the rear door of the garage, this blower may not be able to get there.
It also has a regular engine, so it’s a loud machine. Blowers operate around 90 dB, which is about the same as a lawn mower, so ear protection is a must.
We didn’t focus on electric blowers. While they eliminate the need for a smelly engine or gas storage, they have significant drawbacks for anyone with a decent-size driveway or medium to large amounts of snow. Corded models need to be tethered to an outlet.
Tracked blowers are also available. These models are like regular two-stage machines, but with tank tracks instead of wheels. Some manufacturers and brands, such as Craftsman, don’t even offer them. Other companies have them, but you need to go to a specialty retailer, like Snow Blowers Direct, to buy one. Tracked machines sit on the periphery of the snow-blowing world—as Paul Sikkema told us, they’re helpful for steep driveways or “large areas of gravel or turf,” but in the end “most people don’t need tracks.”
In 2016, the most interesting news in the snow-blower world, other than the SnowMaster, was the rise of cordless technology. These machines offer convenience over gas blowers: They start with the push of a button, require no gas, and require minimal off-season maintenance. We tested two leading models, and although each one has its high points, the drawbacks are significant enough that we’re not giving our full endorsement to either machine.
The Snow Joe iON24SB-XR works on two 40-volt batteries. It’s a full 24 inches wide, yet it’s a small unit next to a gas two-stage. It’s the first cordless self-propelled two-stage model available, and in our tests we consistently got about 30 minutes of run time out of two fully charged batteries. It has three speeds forward and one reverse, all of which are pretty slow. In our tests the blower had no problem moving 8 inches of fluffy snow but struggled with wetter, dense snow, sometimes pushing it forward rather than drawing it in. Still, we were satisfied, especially considering that this machine is cordless. MovingSnow.com’s Paul Sikkema was also impressed, saying in a video review, “It can throw snow very well, a lot better than I expected it to.”
Unfortunately, the Snow Joe blower has awkward controls and ergonomics. The handles are tilted slightly forward, so to comfortably hold them, we had to hunch over the blower, gripping the handles from directly above and even a little from the front. Each handle also has a full-size grip trigger on the underside that you need to hold to operate the blower (the right controls the auger, the left controls the wheel drive). I have fairly strong hands, and even for me this became very tiring after 10 or 15 minutes. The drive control does not lock on with the auger control (a feature on many gas blowers), so you can’t make on-the-fly chute adjustments. Instead, you have to stop either the drive or the auger and then restart it once you’ve made the adjustment. This last point isn’t a huge deal, but in addition to the rest of the grip issues, it gets to be annoying.
The Snow Joe iON24SB-XR comes with a dual-port charger that charges both batteries at the same time and fills them both in four hours, so if you don’t get the entire area cleared in one charge, you’re looking at a bit of a wait. This model is priced around $800, which is a significant amount of money and is about $50 more than the typical price of our Toro SnowMaster top pick. Still, if you have minimal snow-moving needs and are desperate for cordless convenience (and willing to overlook the ergonomic issues), the Snow Joe is certainly an option.
The Ego SNT2102 Power+ Snow Blower runs on two 56-volt batteries, compatible with the rest of the company’s outdoor lineup. During our testing, we found the Ego to be a fairly powerful snow clearer, but we had issues moving it around the driveway.5 Unlike on most single-stage blowers, the Ego’s front paddle does not touch the ground and thus does not assist with moving the blower forward. What you’re left with is a unit that needs 100 percent manpower to move. We tested it after a number of snowstorms ranging from 6 inches of light and fluffy to 3 inches of wet and dense, and in every instance we struggled to move the Ego around in any kind of efficient manner unless we were just taking in very small amounts of snow. Paul Sikkema also has concerns, which he expressed in his caveat-filled recommendation of the Ego: “I can’t recommend it for older, rougher driveways, sidewalks and patios with cracks and other parts that stick up and catch the snow thrower. I can’t recommend it for sloped driveways.” He directs his readers to this video, specifically starting at the 8:30 mark, where the operator starts to struggle at the end of the driveway. If you have minimal snow-removal needs on a very flat surface, the Ego SNT2102 could be a fit; otherwise, it’s too much work.
Another downside to the Ego is that it works on two batteries but comes with only a single charger. Dealing with two dead batteries this way is inconvenient; a full charge takes just 40 minutes, but you’ll need to remember to swap them out after the first one is done. Equipped with 5.0 Ah batteries (as in the unit we tested), the Ego costs roughly $600. It is also available with more powerful 7.5 Ah batteries for $800, as the SNT2103.
As for gas models, we dismissed quite a few. Most of these are two-stage machines comparable to our runner-up pick, the Craftsman 88694. Nothing really comes close to the speed and maneuverability of the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE.
Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, and the new Craftsman Pro Series all have models referred to as “three-stage” blowers (all manufactured by MTD). In this design, a third impeller located at the center of the front auger feeds snow very quickly into the throwing impeller. These machines are great for moving massive amounts of snow quickly, but with smaller snowfalls, Sikkema told us, they “throw snow out the front all over the place.” The Home Depot customer feedback on these models isn’t as good as on the traditional two-stage blowers. You should also know that although Consumer Reports ranks them as the best blowers (subscription required), in this case CR appears to be looking at raw snow-throwing power and also combining several blowers of different sizes into an overall list. Respectfully, we think price is a major factor, too, and for our top pick we’ve chosen a 24-inch machine that can meet the needs of most buyers.
Like the Craftsman 88694, last year’s runner-up, the Cub Cadet 2X 24″, is manufactured by MTD, so it has the same power steering, four-way chute control, and nonmarking skids—all great features. It also has an excellent review from Paul Sikkema and rates highly in Consumer Reports’s evaluation (subscription required). But on the downside, it’s not as fast or easy to handle as the SnowMaster 724 QXE, and the Craftsman is wider and quieter for only an additional $100 or so. But still, this Cub Cadet model is a high-quality blower that offers a lot of features at a good price.
As far as two-stage blowers go, models from Craftsman, Cub Cadet, and Troy-Bilt tend to be very similar (again, all three are made by MTD). The similarities are so strong that Consumer Reports will test a Craftsman and project the results to a comparable Troy-Bilt. But only the Craftsman blowers, as of now, come with the quiet engines.
Also in Craftsman’s 2015 pro lineup are wider models (33 inches and 45 inches). These are priced closer to $2,000 and are overkill for most people. In fact, Sikkema told us that “30-inch is the practical limit for residential snow blowers,” so we didn’t spend time looking at these larger machines.
Ariens is a very highly regarded manufacturer of blowers. For residential use, it has a compact line and a deluxe line. The two-stage Ariens Compact 24 is priced just slightly less than our runner-up but does not come with power steering. Instead, it has what’s called a pin lock system, which lets you manually disengage one of the wheels from the engine. You can’t make the switch on the fly, so before you start snow blowing, you need to decide if you’ll be taking right turns or left turns. This system can make maneuvering easier, but with one wheel out of the equation, it results in a loss of traction.
The Deluxe Ariens line of two-stage blowers (ranging in width from 24 to 30 inches) boasts solid customer feedback and features Ariens’s auto-turn technology, the company’s version of power steering. With the auto-turn system, once the operator starts to maneuver the blower, the machine senses the motion and slows down one of the wheels. Depending on how the operator is handling the blower, it may even put one wheel into reverse, gaining the ability to make a true zero-radius turn, pivoting on the blower’s centerpoint. Sikkema is a fan of the system, but we ran across a number of commenters who were less impressed, such as the guy in this video.6
Many of Toro’s two-stage blowers have very positive reviews, but in Consumer Reports rankings none of them score higher than our picks in their given width category. For example, Toro’s 26-inch Power Max 826 OTE ranks lower (and costs more) than our 26-inch Craftsman runner-up. Sikkema seems to particularly like the 24-inch Power Max 724 OE, but for the same price and width of the Cub Cadet 2X 24″, it doesn’t come with power steering.
Sikkema also likes the recently redesigned Husqvarna two-stage blowers, specifically the 24-inch ST224P with power steering (released in 2015). Consumer Reports has yet to rate this model, but the testing house does have the 27-inch Husqvarna ST227P, with power steering, ranked considerably lower than our 26-inch runner-up, the Craftsman 88694. This result leads us to believe that CR would rank the narrower ST224P even lower.
As for 30-inch models, the Husqvarna ST230P has a nice-looking control panel and adjustable handlebars, but it also scored low in Consumer Reports testing.
The 24-inch Craftsman 179cc Dual-Stage Snowblower (88172) is about $250 less than our main pick and lacks the key features found on our recommended Craftsman runner-up—no power steering or four-way chute control here. The 88172 also has a smaller engine and smaller tires than our main pick, so it will be slower at moving snow and might struggle on inclines. It has a short chute with a hand-crank adjustment that is nowhere near as convenient as the joystick control of our recommended blowers. The deflector cap piece, which controls the distance and arc of the snow, needs manual adjustment. The 88172 is very similar to other MTD-made blowers in the same price range. The Troy-Bilt Storm 2410 and Yard Machines blowers are nearly identical and plenty expensive, but missing the major details we think it’s worth an additional few hundred dollars to have.
The Craftsman 208cc Dual-Stage Snowblower (88173) is a very highly regarded blower that Sikkema told us is his “base model of 24-inch blowers.” It has the engine and chute length of our recommended Craftsman and the Cub Cadet, but nothing else. At about $700, it’s only around $100 away from a model with power steering and a four-way chute control (the Cub Cadet 2X 24″) and about $200 away from one with both of those features and a quiet engine.
The Daye DS24E is another stripped-down blower in the $700 range. Daye is a company that, according to Sikkema, is well-established in Europe and is now making inroads in the United States. Sikkema vouches for Daye’s service network, but the company doesn’t have much of an official US presence yet (no website), which makes us wary. This blower also doesn’t offer power steering or four-way chute control, but it does have the pin lock system.
As we said earlier, we avoided any blowers under $500, so we didn’t spend much time on lesser brands like Murray, Poulan Pro, and Yard Machines, all of which sat at the bottom of the pile in the Consumer Reports rundown we saw. Sikkema, for his part, has given Power Smart and Snow Devil a “Do Not Buy” designation, writing, “If you want the cheapest snow blower, if you don’t care if you can easily get it repaired, if you don’t care how long it will last. This is the snow blower for you.”
Sno-Tek, the Ariens budget brand, offers some very basic models. Like the inexpensive Craftsman blowers, the better ones are close enough in price to our recommended models that we think it’s worth investing the additional $100 to $150 for the premium features.
Jonsered also sells snow blowers, but they’re made by Husqvarna and sold only at Tractor Supply, so we decided to concentrate on the more widely available Husqvarna brand for those machines.
For a single-stage blower, Sikkema likes the Ariens Path-Pro SS21EC, but it performed poorly in Consumer Reports testing and is about $100 more than our Toro single-stage pick.
Husqvarna single-stage blowers look very good, as well, and Sikkema places them on an equal footing with our recommended Toro. The Husqvarna machines have headlights, which is a nice touch, but in general they’re more expensive, and the Amazon customer feedback isn’t as roundly positive as with the Toro. In fact, seven of the 25 reviews we saw for the Husqvarna ST121 E report issues with the lights going out. These Husqvarna models also rank quite low in Consumer Reports ratings.
The Toro 721 QZE is nearly the same as the 721 E, but it comes with a chute controller mounted on the handle bar. This single-stage model is so expensive that stepping up to our main recommendation or even our runner-up, which is only about $30 more, makes more sense.
Other single-stage blowers from Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Honda, Snapper, Troy-Bilt, and Yard Machines were all bested by the recommended Toro 721 E in the Consumer Reports rundown.
After spending over $700 on a snow blower, it’s a smart idea to take care of your new machine. First, check the manual for a home maintenance plan, because (as with lawn mowers) not following this plan can void your warranty. As for other questions, Paul Sikkema at MovingSnow.com has a very good maintenance article, and you can find more advice from Bob Vila, RepairClinic, and Jack’s Small Engines.
If you get a two-stage blower, keep shear pins on hand. The shear pins hold the auger blades to the auger axle, and they’re designed to break if the auger gets jammed, preventing damage to the blades or engine. The blower will likely come with a few extras, but check the owner’s manual for a part number so you can order more. The SnowMaster does not need shear pins because it doesn’t have a gear box. As Toro marketing manager Christine Cheng told us, “In the unlikely case it gets jammed, the engine will kill and the auger will stop turning.”
Off-season storage usually involves draining the gas tank, draining the oil, and cleaning off the spark plug. Sikkema told us that instead of emptying the gas tank, he simply leaves stabilized gas in the tank. He uses 2 tablespoons of Sea Foam per gallon of gas (he mixes it in the storage can, not the blower tank), and once it’s in the machine, he runs the engine for five to 10 minutes: “That way, the treated fuel will get into the carb and be good until next fall.” He told us that he had an older snow blower stored in a shed for two years and “dug it out last fall and it started on the second pull.” In addition, he said to just make sure that the stabilizer has a moisture absorber; Sea Foam, Sta-Bil Marine, Sta-Bil Storage, and Briggs & Stratton Fuel Treatment & Stabilizer are the brands he said he trusted.
For those who feel more comfortable draining the tank, Sikkema has written a TodaysMower.com post describing some of the different fuel pumps that he’s used.
Originally published: February 13, 2017
The key's under the mat.