Recommend a snowblower < $500

Anyone have a snowblower that they love? I’m looking for a gas snowblower that can handle Iowa winters, but it’ll be used only on level ground and a relatively small area, so I’m hoping I can get one for less than $500. Are there any features I should look for? Also, any good sites to find reliable user reviews (Amazon has a pretty limited scope in this area)?

For a small area with level ground, the first decision point is electric v gas. I’d choose electric…I admit the cord can be annoying. But boy is using it easy.

I have a large two-stage manly snowblower for big snows and for when I need to impress the neighbors.

I have an accessory electric snowblower, the Toro PowerCurve 1800. $300 to your door, and I personally highly recommend it. Plus, of course, a 100 ft cord (or whatever length you need). The Toro is only 12 amps, so don’t go nuts on a super expensive cord.

We bought a Toro 221 PowerClear this season. It’s a little more than what you want to spend at a bit over $600, locally. Amazon has it at $50 more than what we paid. To be honest, I haven’t used it myself because my SO is hogging it, but he seems to enjoy clearing the drive and sidewalks with it. It has worked well on both light, powdery snow and the thick, heavy wet stuff that came down over Christmas.

We couldn’t go with electric because the city sidewalk we’re responsible for keeping clear is down the hill and rather far from our house. That’s too bad, because the gas makes it really smelly and loud.

I own an older home and outlet accessibility is a problem. That’s why I’ve excluded them from consideration.

I think we recently bought a smaller model of that one - without the remote handle for turning the chute, and 3 " less wide. Also, ours has the engine where you don’t need to mix the oil and gas (4-cycle?) - which I prefer. My understanding is that it pollutes somewhat less and is somewhat quieter. I also prefer not having to mix the 2.

I think this is the one we got. (But I don’t think this one says electric start.)

It has been just fine the 2 times I’ve used it. It is within your budget - and there was some deal where we got a credit/rebate from the store (Ace Hardware.)

For whatever reason, my wife really wanted were electric start - which may be useful sometime down the line, but so far it has started right up.

We initially brought home the biggest single-stage blower with 4-cycle and electric start. This one, I think. But we realized it was likely more machine than we needed. Plus, it weighed enough that it would be difficult for my wife to maneuver. We figured a smaller blower would be adequate for nearly all of our needs, and if it snowed all day and all night, we’d just use our smaller blower 2 or 3 times until waiting until it was all down.

When shopping, make sure everyone who is going to use it actually pushes it around a bit to see how it is. And think about where you are going to store it and how much space it will take up. Bigger is not necessarily better.

So we returned it unopened and for a couple hundred less got the one we now have. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about the brand Toro - tho they undoubtedly are more expensive than some.

As I recall, the main criteria you will be weighing are:
-1 vs 2 stage (you definitely want 1)
-electric start or not
-2 vs 4 cycle engine
-size of engine

Looking at that site, it kinda bugs me that the machines don’t seem to perfectly match what I recall seeing in the store. Gonna have to check out exactly what I have in my garage when I get home tonight.

How small are we talking? I spent around $800 on my Ariens Sno-Throw and it takes maybe 5 minutes to do what used to take me over an hour with a shovel. Best damn thing i ever bought.

I’d be interested to know more, Dinsdale - Toros seem to have good reviews.

I am looking for a small snowblower. I don’t have a huge driveway – long enough to fit about three cars, and I generally only do one “side” (it only is one car wide at the street – it widens near the garage, but I don’t clear this in winter since I’m single and visitors can easily park behind me or on the street). I don’t have a sidewalk to do, but I do a have a path that goes from the driveway (back door) around the house to the front door. I do this whenever I can, for the mailman’s sake.

It’s just enough that, for heavy snows, shoveling is kind of a drag though it’s not insurmountable.

While I could get a more expensive thrower, it just doesn’t seem worth it to run out and pay $800. It’s not that big of a job and it’s on dead level ground. I’m a little more motivated because I always have to do it on my own, and it snows here all the time, but really not so much that I’m willing to drop that kind of money on it. If it takes a couple of passes to do deep snow, that’s OK with me. Plus, I’m female, so I don’t need some gigantic monster that’s difficult for me to move around.

I’ll check out the model # and price tonight, and post it tomorrow.

Sounds like my area to be cleared may be a tad more than yours, and the machine worked fine this weekend when we got 9" or so of very light snow.

I don’t mind shovelling if the snow is very light, tho, or cleaning up around the edges after blowing.

We have a craftman gas, one stage, show blower - I don’t know what model, but at regular price it’s the one closest to $500 - that works fairly well. Our driveway is 1/8th of a mile long, and using the snow thrower means spending only a quarter as long on snow removal as a shovel did.

There are drawbacks, though:

  • small snow throwers don’t do well in deep snow. “deep” can be as little as 8" if it’s wet; so be prepared to do the driveway twice or more if there’s going to be a big snow. Otherwise, it’ll clog a lot, which means needing to turn it off and clear out the blockage every few minutes.
  • the smaller the user, the harder it is to use despite being self-propelled. I’m almost 5’4" and of average weight, and I often find it hard to move in snow deeper than 5-6". The last storm we had left me with bruises across the fronts of both hips from when it stopped short and when I’d had to give it hard shoves to keep it going.
  • no one ever tells you that using a snow thrower in more than moderately deep snow is almost as hard on your back and shoulders as clearing snow with a shovel. You’ll ache almost as much.

It was as I remembered. Model #180, 18" wide, 4-cycle engine, electric start. Not sure why the wedsite does not list the electric start… Cost around $400.

We got the electric start because my wife has some back problems, and does not do well with pull-start - especially if repeated pulls are needed. But this one has a 2-year pull-start guarantee. If you went without electric start, you might be able to save a few more bucks.

As elfkin says, if you go with a smaller blower, you will need to use it more frequently during heavy snows. In Iowa, your snow is likely similar to what I get W of Chicago. And your driveway sounds far smaller than elfkin’s. But you need to make your own decision as to what type of snow you expect to get most frequently.

Good luck.

I have an earlier model of this one and I am very happy with it. No problems after several years and some pretty heavy snow. It has an electric start which I only use for the first start of the year; after that it pulls pretty easily. It is a heavy machine though and it may be more than the OP needs.

Regarding the fuel mixture: I buy a larger engine oil jug with a built-in squeeze chamber for measuring out the amount of oil needed for 1 gallon at 50:1. It is cheaper than buying the little individual jugs and easier than measuring it out in the garage. It is a minor thing, but I would really miss it.

I have a 27" 2 stage craftsman with 6 forward speeds, 2 reverse, electric start and single or dual wheel drive. It will cut through anything. One of the things I’ve noticed about most of the 2 stage blowers is the handle design. I’ll call them bull-hornedbecause the handles are aligned straight back. To engage the blower or the wheel drive you squeeze the levers above them. This is very tiring on the wrists when wrestling a large blower around to change directions. I would recommend a lawnmower style handle for ease of use. If you think you will be constantly changing chute direction AND angle then a single lever adjuster makes that chore easier.

I’m curious - how do you manage to keep the correct amount of fuel/oil mix on hand? We always make a point of using fresh gas in our mower/blower - buy a half gallon or so, and if not used in a month pour the rest in a car. You can’t do that with a mix, can you? I didn’t want to get myself in a position where I might have some fuel mixed up and then it decided not to snow for the rest of the winter.

And I’m sure my blower is not the best thing for the environment, but do you know anything about the noise/pollution levels of 2 vs 4-cycle motors?

I don’t have a good solution for this either. I make it in batches of 1 gallon and I often have 1/2 gallon left over for the summer. I put fuel-stabilizer in it and keep it for the following winter. I’ve never felt comfortable burning off the extra in the car.

It is a good question, but I have no idea. My 2-stage is beastly loud. I try to make up for it by clearing the neighbor’s sidewalks…

The oil used in the mix contains a fuel stabilizer - at least the Craftsman brand does. Through an oversight I once left a tank full of fuel/oil mix in a leaf blower for 2 years - it started right up on the old fuel and ran with no problem. Has worked fine since as well.

Top of the line super-powered Toro for us. We’ve got a steep badly-paved driveway and even though both vehicles have 4WD the driveway still needs shovelling and ice melt in the ruts just in front of the garage. For years after a storm we’d go out there and shovel, pathetically waving our shovels in the air (sometimes the neighbors with snowblowers would team up and free us out of pity). Finally I said, “we’re too old for this shit! I don’t mind shoveling a thin light fluffy layer of snow, but I don’t want us to drop dead of heart attacks when the deep stuff falls.” So we made A Major Purchase, and so far Mr. Sali has faithfully fired the Toro up when needed, without complaining too much.

Thanks for the fuel responses.

Similar to our experience. Last winter I think it snowed on 9 straight days. With the prospect of our youngest of 3 heading to college this year, we decided in our late 40s we were a little past the time when we could readily handle that - at least not without wiping ourselves out.

I have a Honda HS55 two stage snow blower over 20 years old. What a great machine, always starts on the first pull and there is absolutely nothing it can’t cut through. I have tackled snow 18 inches deep, ice chunks, melting slush that shoots out of the chute like a water pump. I had trouble with it last year when the drive & auger belts went as well as the auger clutch cable snapped all with in a few weeks, the only time I was mad at it but after over 20 years of use they were way over due.

Someone has a picture of one.

I had a little Toro that I loved - it was years ago though so I doubt the model is still active. But it held up really well.

When we moved to a house with a bigger driveway, my husband got a bigger snowblower. I can’t really handle it. But the little snowblower didn’t handle the three car driveway (three cars wide) uphill and the Minnesota snow.