Best Gas Two-Stage Snow Blower
When you live in a region like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or New England, you are all too familiar with the fact that the onset of winter means one thing above all else: lots of snow. These regions, and others like them, experience some of the highest average snow fall anywhere – from about 35 inches per year at minimum all the way up to 100 inches of snow annually. If you are a skier or a snowboarder, that kind of snow fall is welcome. But if you are a homeowner with a big driveway, it spells something else altogether: a whole lot of work.
It is almost pointless to try to clear a long driveway that is buried under a foot of snow or more with just a shovel. That kind of work is going to easily take over an hour, and by the time you are done your fingers and face will be frozen, your back will be stiff and your shoulders will ache like nothing else. And you definitely will not be able to get the kind of even lines and neat banks of snow on either side of your driveway that you want. No, when this is the case you need a snow blower.
And not just any snow blower, either. Whether your driveway is long and unpaved or just long, when a serious winter storm drops major accumulations on your area, you are going to need the kind of snow blower that is big enough to clear snow efficiently – no matter how deep it is – and powerful enough to do the whole job the first time. Single-stage snow blowers are just not going to cut it. You need a gas two-stage snow blower.
Two-stage snow blowers have the kind of extra wide clearances that allow you to knock out big driveways efficiently, the super high snow cut depths that can handle deep drifts, and the power necessary to take care of big jobs. That is what you want in your garage when Old Man Winter comes calling. This is doubly true if you have an unpaved driveway – single stage snow blowers are not designed to handle that kind of job.
But there are a lot of different options out there, and it can be difficult to figure out what makes the best gas two-stage snow blower better than its competition. These machines are not cheap, and you want to make sure your money is well spent and you are getting a snow blower that can stand up to the elements and last for the long term.
But if you pay attention to a few of the most important characteristics, you should be able to quickly and correctly figure out which machines are just average and which ones are truly the best gas powered two-stage snow blowers on the market. Keep these characteristics in your back pocket when you are shopping for a new one, and you are guaranteed to find the best one in your price range.
1. Best Gas Two-Stage Snow Blower Characteristics
1a. Extra-Wide Clearance
Before you even consider looking at any of the other features on a gas two-stage snow blower, you are going to want to look at its clearance width. One of the main reasons to be in the market for a two-stage snow blower instead of a single-stage one is because the two-stage models have the widest clearances of any machine out there. And so there is no point moving up to this level of snow clearing ability unless you are really looking for a machine that has the kind of extra wide clearance that can get the job done with real efficiency.
The main advantage to having an extra wide clearance is that it allows you to finish clearing your driveway in far fewer passes than it would otherwise take – and fewer passes means you will not have to be out in the cold and snow any longer than is absolutely necessary. Being out working in the cold is not only unpleasant; it can be downright dangerous, especially when temperatures start to dip below zero. So what kind of clearance width is the best gas two-stage snow blower going to have?
Well, the range of widths on these machines starts at about eighteen inches and go all the way up to 36 inches (and occasionally – for serious dollars – you might be able to find models that have even a few more). Right at the start, you should cross any two-stage snow blower with a clearance width of less than 20 inches off your list. Single-stage snow blowers have clearance widths that go as high as 22 inches; if you want that kind of clearance width, what is the point of getting a two-stage snow blower? It really is not worth the trouble at that kind of clearance width.
No, you want something a lot wider than that. And the widest two-stage snow blowers are more than twice as wide as the average single-stage snow blower, which is a lot of clearing room. That kind of upgrade can have you finishing your driveway in half the time it would take you with the average single-stage snow blower. That is a major difference. So my advice to you is to start narrowing down your search for the best gas two-stage snow blower by finding the ones that have the highest clearance widths available in your price range before you do anything else.
1b. High Snow Cut Depth
The other major advantage that the best gas two-stage snow blowers have over other styles is the fact that they have the highest snow cut depths out there. Whether you are dealing with lake effect snow in Michigan, blustery blizzards in the Great Plains or Arctic blasts bearing down on northern New England, you know that there are some snow storms that are not to be taken lightly. These are the kind of extreme weather events that can knock out power lines, snarl traffic for miles, and dump two feet of snow in an astonishingly short amount of time. And when they come you had better be prepared for them or you will quickly find yourself calling in professional snow plows to clear your driveway.
But with a gas two-stage snow blower in your garage, you should have the kind of high snow cut depth that is able to easily deal with the worst winter storms. Just like with clearance width, there is a range of heights for two-stage snow blowers. At the low end these machines have intakes of 14 inches, and they can go all the way up to slightly more than two feet. Once again, you should find the snow blower in your price range that has the very tallest snow cut depth. Single-stage snow blowers have snow cut depths of up to sixteen inches – so there is no reason to purchase a gas two-stage snow blower that has a depth anywhere close to this, or else you might as well save your money and get a single-stage model.
But that is not why we’re here, right? We want serious snow clearing ability that we can rely on when serious winter storms are threatening to dump a lot of snow on our property. While you may go an entire winter without having to deal with the effects of a real blizzard – knock on wood – you still want to have the kind of clearance that can handle that kind of snow fall, just in case. In my opinion, the best gas two-stage snow blowers will have a snow cut depth of at least 22 inches. This is the kind of clearance that can ensure that no matter what kind of accumulation may occur, you will definitely be prepared for it. So do yourself a favor, and make seriously high snow cut depth one of your must-haves on a two-stage snow blower.
1c. Powerful Engine
There is one very important thing that gas two-stage snow blowers have that a lot of single-stage snow blowers don’t: power. In order to support ultra wide clearances and extra high snow cut depths, these machines need to have powerful engines. This is especially true when you think about the fact that the engine is running several components at once: it is providing power to the auger at the front of the machine, running the impeller fan at the bottom of the snow chute, and on top of all that, driving the self-propelled rear wheel drive – usually at one of several variable speeds! So of course you are going to want a solid, powerful engine in your machine if you are really interested in finding the best gas two-stage snow blower.
But unless you have a lot of experience with engines – and if you are not a mechanic, there is no reason you should – you are probably going to find the process of figuring out which engine is really the best a bit challenging. I know that I did when I was buying my first gas-powered snow blower. The good news is that it is actually fairly simple; there are a few key points to pay attention to, and fortunately most manufacturers will let you know at least one or two of them in the Product Specs section of a listing.
First of all, the engine is either going to be made in-house or sourced from one of several companies that specialize in engine design and manufacturing. If it’s made in-house, you can be fairly certain that it will have been designed especially for that snow blower’s general specs, which means it will be a pretty good fit. If it is sourced elsewhere, it should be from one of the top names in the business: this includes Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kawasaki and Kohler.
The specs of the engine are a lot more important than who made it in terms of how much power it will provide. The displacement (measured in cubic centimeters, or cc), horsepower (HP), and torque will all be good indicators of how powerful one engine is compared to its competitors. Whenever possible, go for a model with a good manufacturer’s name behind it and high values in these three areas. Also, try to find an engine that has high fuel efficiency, is CARB compliant, and not too noisy.
1d. Quality Materials
When you are in the market for a gas two-stage snow blower, it’s because you need a rugged, heavy duty machine that can hold up under a variety of conditions. Two-stage snow blowers are the only ones that can be used off-road: if your driveway is not paved, and is either gravel or dirt, you just can’t clear it with a single-stage snow blower. You need a two-stage snow blower to do it. And for areas that get severe winter storms, you need a machine that is tough enough to stand up to big jobs and do heavy lifting on a regular basis. For that, a wide clearance and intake and a powerful engine is a good start, but for the best gas two-stage snow blower, you need a machine made out of high quality materials.
For starters, the auger and housing of the snow blower should absolutely be made of steel. There is just no getting around this: if you expect the auger to hold up over the long term to the kind of jobs you use a two-stage snow blower for, it has to be steel. And not just any steel: it should be of a high enough gauge that you know it’s durable, and it should be welded or at least heat-treated to ensure that it is extra strong. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting a low-quality auger that will not be able to get the job done, or that may break if you accidentally run over an obstacle or hit a curb hidden under the snow.
The auger housing and body of the two-stage snow blower also have to be made of steel. Most models are made of stamped steel parts, which is more or less fine: they may take the occasional ding if they hit a wall or tree stump, but overall stamped steel parts will hold up well to whatever they may come across. Welded steel is a bit better, because you know that it will be a lot tougher over the long run. And if the snow blower has welded steel parts, you know that its manufacturer put a lot of effort into making the rest of the machine high quality as well.
The snow chute should be made of high-impact composite plastic, and the wheels should have tough rubber tires on them. Pneumatic tires are the best. The handle should be made of durable metal, and all of the connections on the machine should have proper metal fixtures.
1d. Thoughtful Details
That does it for all of the major components on a gas two-stage snow blower. High snow cut depth and wide clearance, backed up by a powerful engine and housed in high quality materials are going to be available on only the most high performance snow blowers. The list should be considerably cut down by these characteristics, and none but the very best should remain. At this point, what is the best method for choosing one over the others? It comes down to thoughtful details.
The overall ease of use of a two-stage snow blower is going to be heavily influenced by how much attention the manufacturer has paid to things like accessories, design features, safety and ergonomics. Two snow blowers may have identical clearance and power profiles, but the one that has the best accessories and design is going to win every single time. So pay attention to the little details.
Make sure the control panel is designed in a user-friendly manner. You do not want a machine that requires you to use both hands to control the speed, steer, and engage the auger all at the same time. Foot petals to control the auger are excellent. Single-hand speed control is a plus. Power steering takes a lot of the work out of clearing the driveway. The snow blower should have multiple speed options for both forward and reverse. And the wheels should have deep treads to increase traction on slippery ice and slush.
Rotation of the snow chute should be an easy process of simply turning a crank – at most. Some of the more expensive models even have convenient joystick control of the show chute. Headlights are pretty much an absolute in my book; you never know when you are going to be clearing snow in the middle of a dark winter morning. The handle should be ergonomically designed so you are steering in comfort.
Safety features are very important with these machines, because they are big and powerful and can be dangerous. The clutch should have a dead man switch that shuts off the auger if you let go of it for more than a second to prevent accidents. Make sure there is a child-proof starter key. Speaking of starters, there is no reason the best gas two-stage snow blower should not have an electric start. Gone are the days of struggling with a heavy ripcord in subzero temperatures.
When you find a machine that boasts all of these features, you can be certain that you have found one of the best gas two-stage snow blowers on the market.
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