PhotoWith it promising to be a cold, snowy winter in much of the country you may be considering adding a snow blower or “thrower” to your arsenal of power tools. But if so, what kind? What should you look for – and look out for?

Snow blowers come in two basic types – stand-alone units and those that attach to the front of a lawn tractor. Beyond that, there are differences in size, the snow-handling process and durability. The kind you select should be determined by the amount of snow you plan to move.

If you only expect to remove an occasional dusting, a light-duty electric snow blower may be what you need. It's designed to easily remove 2 – 4 inches of snow.

Make sure it can handle the job

The medium-duty snow blower is built to handle 2 – 9 inches of snow while a heavy-duty unit should take care of 6 to 16 inches of snow accumulation. If you are unsure of how much snow you need to take care of, err on the side of heavy. Asking a light-duty blower to clear a blizzard can overtax the machine, leading to problems.

That's true for stand-alone and implement blowers alike. Charles, in Anchor Point, Alaska and David, of Superior Point, Wis., both report transmission problems in their John Deere lawn tractors they used with a snowblower attachment.

“After only 79 hours of operation – non-commercial lawn mowing and snow blowing only -- the hydrostatic transmission failed and needed to be replaced,” David wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

When shopping for a stand-alone unit, it's also important to make sure the snow blower you choose has enough power to handle the job. When comparing models, be sure to note the size of the engine. It's also important to understand key differences in the various models, such as manual or automatic controls. The video below highlights some things to consider when shopping for a snow blower.

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How they work

PhotoLight-duty and some medium-duty machines are what are known as single-stage snow blowers. In very basic terms, single-stage snow blowers only throw the snow once. An electric or gas-powered engine spins an auger that scoops up the snow and throws it out the chute.

Since the auger actually contacts the ground, avoid using it on gravel surfaces since it will throw rocks along with the snow. Single-stage snow blowers are usually 19 - 22 inches wide, making them fairly easy to maneuver. But experts say the limiting factor is their height more than the width. It's better to go with a two-stage blower if you frequently find yourself removing deep snow.

Heavy-duty blowers can be two or three-stage machines. Two-stage snow blowers throw the snow twice. First, a metal auger scoops up the snow and ice.

Next, a high-speed impeller throws it out through the discharge chute. The auger doesn't touch the ground so there's no danger of it picking up rocks or other debris. They also have taller buckets capable of taking on snow drifts.

If you typically face deep snow, you might consider a three-stage snow blower. Two metal augers scoop up the snow and ice. Then they move it toward the center where an accelerator chops and pushes the snow to the impeller, launching it out of the chute at high speed. A powerful three-stage snow blower will toss snow as far as 50 feet.

What they cost

How much should you expect to pay? As you might expect, the light-duty blowers are the cheapest, the three-stage units tend to be the most expensive. At Home Depot, a Toro single-stage snow blower with electric engine sells for $279.

At Snow Blowers Direct, an Ariens two-stage gasoline-powered snow blower sells for $980. A Cub Cadet three-stage blower lists for $1,150.

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