The Ultimate Snow Blower Buying and Maintenance Guide
So, you’re ready to hang up the shovel and experience the ease and convenience of a snow blower, but picking the right snow blower for you might seem like another snow pile to move. There is a lot to consider and many decisions to be made.
If you’re wondering what you need to know in order to make the best decision, we’ve got you covered with the ultimate snow blower buying and maintenance guide to help you make the right choice this winter.
- Why choose a snow blower?
- What should I consider before purchasing a new snow blower?
- When is the best time to buy a snow blower?
- What is the difference between a single-stage snow blower, two-stage snow blower and three-stage snow blower?
- What specifications should I consider when buying a snow blower?
- What features should I consider when buying a snow blower?
- Why choose a Cub Cadet snow blower?
- What snow blower is best for...
- What are the best snow blower operation tips and practices?
- How do I operate a snow blower safely?
- What are the basic snow blower maintenance tasks?
- What snow blower replacement parts do I need?
- How do I store my snow blower in the off-season?
Shovelling snow is a tough job that can become a regular part of your daily routine if you live in a place where snowfall is heavy and frequent. Demanding heavy lifting and repetitive strain, there are legitimate reasons to ditch your shovel in favour of a snow blower. If you’re looking to justify a snow blower purchase, consider the following:
Save your back
Heavy lifting and throwing, and unnatural twisting and turning present hazards for injury even before taking icy conditions into account. A snow blower reduces back and neck strain and the risk of other types of injuries by eliminating awkward and strenuous motions, keeping you upright and keeping you stable even through icy patches.
You clear your driveway because you have places to be. A two-hour job for a shovel becomes a quick 20 minute job with a snow blower, which means you can finally spend less time sweating in your driveway and more time where you need to be.
Make snow clearing fun
It is incredibly satisfying to move an entire driveway's worth of heavy snow in a swift and easy motion to create a clear, snow-free path. Snow blowers turn hard work into satisfying and enjoyable work.
Be a neighbourhood hero
More efficient and less strenuous snow clearing means having the time and energy to lend the favour to a neighbour. If you don’t purchase a snow blower to save your back, save time or to make snow clearing fun, buy one simply to do more friendly favours.
2. What should I consider before purchasing a new snow blower?
Purchasing a snow blower can feel overwhelming; from machine type to the features and accessories there is a lot to think about, but it really comes down to the job at hand. To find the right one for the job, here are the four things you should consider when buying a snow blower.
How large is the area that you’ll need to clear?
Certain snow blowers are more conducive to clearing snow from larger spaces simply because they can throw snow farther. Single-stage snow blowers are designed to handle small to midsize driveways, somewhere between 1 - 8 parking spaces, whereas two-stage and three-stage snow blowers are better suited for large areas, between 8 - 15 parking spaces.
What type of terrain are you clearing snow from?
Even if you are looking to clear a small to midsize area that would usually be best suited for a single-stage model, uneven terrain can make a two-stage or three-stage snow blower a better choice. So, what’s below the snow – a solid and even paved surface (consider an auger-assisted or push-propelled machine), or is it a rough or sloped surface (consider an engine-driven model).
How much snowfall do you typically get?
Up to eight inches of typically powdery snow can be considered “light,” while up to 16 inches of wet snow can be considered “heavy.” Single-stage snow blowers are designed to clear light snow, while two-stage and three-stage blowers will plow through deep snow and have serrated augers that can break through packed snow or even ice.
What do you need from your snow blower?
Once you’ve determined your basic snow-clearing needs, think about your needs as the operator to identify any features or accessories that would be beneficial. For example, if the spaces you intend to clear are poorly lit, look for a model with bright headlights. If you experience back problems, look for power steering and an electric start. If you have perpetually cold hands, find a snow blower with hand-warming handles.
3. When is the best time to buy a snow blower?
As with every one of your snow necessities, from your parka to your boots to your snow blower, it’s best to think about buying before you’re snowed in and in desperate need. Shopping for a snow blower before the official snow season (in September or October) doesn’t just mean that you’ll be prepared for an imminent blizzard though; you might even be able to snag a pre-season sale.
4. What is the difference between a single-stage snow blower, two-stage snow blower and three-stage snow blower?
The various stages of snow blowers signify how many augers/impellers the unit has to scoop and throw snow.
Single-Stage Snow Blowers
A single-stage snow blower has one auger that breaks, scoops and throws snow, so are an ideal choice for smaller jobs like walkways and short driveways.
Two-Stage Snow Blowers
A two-stage snow blower has an auger and an impeller. The auger breaks and scoops up wet and heavy snow, then the impeller throws snow out and away from the path. This division of labour means more power and a much further throwing distance compared to a single-stage.
Three-Stage Snow Blowers
A three-stage snow blower is the ultimate in power and performance. Think of this one like a turbo-charged two-stage. Two augers and one impeller work in unison to pull more snow, ice and slush through the system — perfect for busting through chunks of snow at the end of your driveway during the hard winter months. The three-stage system is an industry-exclusive to Cub Cadet. With the ability to finish clearing up to 50% faster than a two-stage snow blower, a three-stage snow blower can handle winter’s absolute worst, and help you get the job done with less effort.
In summary, the more stages a machine has, the more powerful and efficient it will be to clear more snow in less time. Single-stage snow blowers are ideal for smaller jobs like walkways and short driveways. They are light, compact and easy to handle. But if you have more snow, unpaved surfaces with inclines or a longer driveway, you’ll want to consider a two- or three-stage snow blower that will help clear larger volumes in larger areas.
Here is a summary of the different type of snow blowers and the work they are best suited for:
Up to 12”
Up to 18”
Up to 23.5”
Up to 23”
Up to 23.5”
12 - 18”
18 - 22”
20 - 38”
24 - 30”
24 - 32”
Up to 30’
Up to 35’
Up to 60’
Up to 50’
Up to 60’
Finding the right snow blower model for you is based entirely on your personal needs and preferences. Here is a guide to some key snow blower specifications and why they are important to consider:
Clearing width refers to the amount of space you can cover at once. Whether you have a single-car or double-car driveway, the larger the clearing width, the fewer passes you’ll have to make to clear it.
Whereas single-stage snow blowers have auger paddles come in direct contact with the ground, two-stage snow blowers are designed with the ability to adjust the height of the auger housing depending on the type of surface you are clearing snow from. For paved surfaces, you can leave the auger at the lowest height, but if you’re clearing snow from a gravel surface, the ability to adjust height is important to clear as much snow as possible from the surface without picking up and throwing gravel onto your lawn.
From consumer-grade snow blower engines that are 200 cc, to midsize 200 to 400 cc engines, to professional-grade 400+ cc engines, engine size is an important factor to consider since it determines how much horsepower your snow blower produces and how much gas it consumes. Larger engines support faster drive systems and easier maneuvering, but bigger engines are not always necessary for the average driveway.
With more horsepower comes a larger machine and greater efficiency. For a snow blower with an engine ranging from 200 to 400 cc, horsepower outputs can range from six to mid 20s.
Fuel types or stabilizers
The chemical compounds of gasoline stratify and deteriorate over time, dramatically impacting their performance. Cub Cadet Recommends STA-BIL fuel additive and stabilizer for its gas-powered outdoor equipment. Using a gasoline fuel stabilizer additive will help to maintain the gasoline's effective life longer and prevent future fuel system problems.
What oil to use
To ensure the engine continues to run smoothly in frigid temperatures all season long, it’s important to select a high-quality, high detergent motor oil that meets or exceeds the SF or SG service classification. Non-detergent motor oils can harm and shorten the life of the engine. When purchasing oil for seasonal maintenance, most medium size engines (such as those found on residential snow blowers) have total capacities of less than two quarts (64 oz.). You should change your snow blower’s oil after the first five hours of use, and then after every 50 hours of use (or once per season).
Throwing distance refers to how far your snow blower can throw the snow, and ultimately how long you’ll spend clearing your driveway. A shorter throwing distance will work for smaller driveways, but if you have a wider driveway, a longer throwing distance will be required to reach the edge.
A shorter throwing distance will mean more passes, more work for your snow blower and more time spent clearing.
6. What features should I consider when buying a snow blower?
Snow blowers are built to make snow clearing safer, easier and more efficient all winter long, and having the right features can make the process even better. Here is a quick guide to snow blower features:
Replacing pull cords, many snow blowers now give you power that starts with the hassle-free push of a button.
Trigger control power steering
With just a finger, trigger control power steering gives you the ability to turn heavier, two and three stage snow blowers on a dime at the end of your driveway.
The perfect solution for perpetually cold hands, heated grips or handlebars keep your hands warm for easier control and makes snow clearing even easier to enjoy.
LED headlights will illuminate your clearing path to give you better visibility in poorly-lit areas and through heavy snowstorms.
Skid shoes make handling and maneuvering easy by gliding over surfaces and preventing rust on garage floors, driveways, and sidewalks.
For deep drifting conditions where snow depth exceeds intake height, drift cutters will prevent snow from falling onto the machine.
Electronic fuel-injected (EFI) engines
EFI technology provides quicker startup, making both hot and cold restarts easier. EFI also uses up to 25% less fuel versus standard carbureted engines, which means fewer emissions and fewer fill-ups.
7. Why choose a Cub Cadet snow blower?
Cub Cadet offers a line of best-in-class outdoor power equipment that is engineered to deliver flawless performance. Cub Cadet is the standard for Canadians who want products that are carefully, thoughtfully, and purposefully designed around people. When you buy Cub Cadet, you're backed by our Canadian Advantage, which includes outdoor power equipment that is engineered and tested in Canada, bilingual customer service support, and a nationwide network of 1,100 service dealers that offer full warranty and parts service.
8. What snow blower is best for...
When choosing a snow blower it’s paramount to consider the ground beneath the snow. Uneven terrain or gravel can impact the type of snow blower best suited for the job. While area size should also be taken into account, here is a quick guide:
Best snow blower for gravel:
It is important to find a model that allows you to adjust clearing height, so a two- or three-stage snow blower should be used on gravel. Single-stage snow blowers clear right to the ground, which means gravel will be thrown in addition to snow.
Best snow blower for stamped concrete
As with gravel driveways, it’s also important on stamped concrete to choose a two- or three-stage model that allows you to adjust clearing height so that rotating blades do not touch and damage the concrete surface. If you do have a snow blower that makes contact with the ground, make sure they’re not sharp to avoid scratching the surface.
Best snow blower for a wooden deck
For wooden decks, it’s typically best to look for a lightweight and maneuverable electric model. Electric models are a good choice as they tend to have rubber or plastic paddles that won’t cause damage to the deck surface.
Best snow blower for steep slopes or terrain
Lessening the physical effort required of the operator and maintaining strong traction are the two biggest considerations when it comes to clearing snow from steep slopes. Look for a light-weight, engine-driven snow blower as opposed to a push-propelled model, and consider the addition of tire chains to maintain traction.
Ice chunk at the end of the driveway
The ice chunk, the plow pile, the snow windrow, whatever you want to call it, the wall of winter at the end of your driveway is a formidable foe when you have somewhere to go. A three-stage snow blower will have the teeth and engine power you need to clear winter away.
You know how to operate a snow blower, but do you know the best way to operate a snow blower? Follow these tips for most efficient operation:
Remember pre-season maintenance
Get your snow blower ready for action by installing a new spark plug, changing the oil and checking the condition of the belts. Replace the belts if you see cracks, fraying or glazing or notice that chunks are missing. Replacing the spark plug? Consider an iridium spark plug.
Use fresh fuel
While it’s tempting to use fuel that’s been leftover from previous seasons, stale fuel is often the reason for hard-to-start snow blowers. Start the season off strong by pouring from a fresh can. Add fuel stabilizer to keep the fuel from deteriorating over time.
Don’t wait for the snow to stop
Waiting for the snow to stop will mean more effort required of your machine. Less snow means an easier time throwing it far, and throwing it far means you won’t have to pass over the same piles a second or third time.
Slow and steady avoids clogs
After a heavy snowfall, avoid the temptation to plow quickly through large piles, which will only clog the chute or break your drive belt. Take smaller bites, up to half the width of your machine.
Prepare your property before it snows
Remove anything that could obstruct snow clearing or damage your machine – everything from rocks to extension cords to hoses. Use stakes to mark your driveway, walkways and gardens to clear what needs to be cleared without causing any damage to anything below.
Cool down, gas up
Your snow blower’s hot engine is right below the gas tank. If you need to top your snow blower up with gas mid-way through a job, always wait at least 10 minutes for it to cool down before refilling to avoid a fire.
Throw your snow with the wind
Avoid snow drifting over a path you’ve already cleared by throwing your snow in the same direction as the wind.
Use the Zamboni method
The most efficient way to clear your driveway includes reducing how often you have to adjust your chute. Clearing your driveway in a standard back and forth motion means adjusting your chute whenever you change directions. Try the zamboni method. Zambonis start in the middle and work their way out in a circular motion. This circular motion will keep your chute pointing toward the lawn – no adjustment necessary.
Operator error is the number one cause of clogs and breakdowns, and improper clearing of clogs is the most common cause of injuries. Keep yourself safe and your snow blower working efficiently with these tips:
Snow blower safety before you turn it on:
- Make sure that you are familiar with all snow blower controls and their proper operation
- Be familiar with the safety tips specific to your model, available in your operator’s manual. Make sure you know how to stop the snow blower and disengage it quickly
- Never allow children under 14 years of age to operate a snow blower. Review snow blower safety with children over 14 before they operate it
- Plan your pattern to avoid discharge of material towards roads, bystanders, your home and other objects. Thrown objects can cause serious injury
- Inspect the area you intend to clear and remove anything that might obstruct your machine (doormats, newspapers, sticks, boards and other objects that could be tripped over or thrown by the snow blower auger/impeller)
- Always wear protective eyewear during operation and while performing an adjustment or repair to protect your eyes
- Be aware that clothing can become entangled in moving parts of the snow blower Do not wear jewelry, long scarves or other loose clothing items while operating
- For snow blowers with an electric start engine, use a grounded three-wire extension cord and receptacle
- To clear snow on gravel or crushed rocks, adjust the snow blower collector housing height to avoid throwing rocks
- Before starting the snow blower engine, disengage all control levers
Snow blower safety during operation:
- Never attempt to make any adjustments or repairs to the snow blower while the engine is running, unless otherwise stated in your manual
- Create a safety area of 75 feet around the snow blower to keep bystanders, pets and children away from the equipment. Stop the snow blower if anyone enters the area
- Exercise caution to avoid slipping or falling. When the snow blower is in reverse, pay special attention to your footing
- Before clearing snow, let the engine and machine adjust to cold outdoor temperatures
- Do not use a snow blower on steep slopes and use extreme caution when clearing snow from mild slopes. Do not use the snow blower in heavy snow or with minimal visibility
- Never use your hands to clear a clogged chute assembly. Shut the engine off and remain behind the handles until all moving parts have stopped before unclogging. Then, use the snow blower chute clean-out tool, which is conveniently clipped to the rear of the auger housing
Keeping up with regular maintenance tasks for your snow blower can ensure your equipment is ready when the snow begins to fall, every time.
After 5 hours of snow blower use:
- Replace engine oil after the first 5 hours of use
- Check the engine oil
- Clean the exhaust area
- Clean the air filter
After 25 hours of snow blower use:
- Check the spark plug
- Lubricate the gear shaft
- Inspect impeller and tighten regularly
After every season
- Replace engine oil (technically after every 50 hours of use)
- Replace the spark plug (technically after every 100 hours of use)
- Replace fraying or torn belts
Our biggest tip: Condensation in the gas tank caused by fuel separation is a major cause of engine troubles. You can prevent this by using new engine fuel at the beginning of each season, or using fuel stabilizer.
There's always a chance you will need a part during, or right after a snowstorm (after all, that's when you're most likely to use your snow blower). But in wintry conditions, it isn't always convenient to go out and buy parts and the part you need may not be readily available. Be prepared for this type of emergency situation by having the following spare parts on hand:
- Drive Belt(s)
- Spark plug
- Oil and fresh fuel
- Skid shoes
- Shear pins
- Shave plate
Consult your Operator's Manual and/or Illustrated Parts List for exact part numbers and/or location of these components on specific units. Find your Cub Cadet machine operator’s manuals here.
Cub Cadet genuine parts are available at your local authorized Cub Cadet dealer and online.
These instructions will explain how to prepare your snow blower for off-season storage. Some of these steps differ between single-, two- and three-stage snow blowers and, depending on your model, the instructions below may also vary slightly.
Always make sure your snow blower is on a level surface and disconnect the spark plug wire to avoid accidental movement or starting.
Check out your owners manual. Whether you have a single-, two- or three-stage snow blower, reference the "Off- Season Storage," "Maintenance & Adjustments" and "Service" section and the "Service" sections of your operator's manual before performing steps for Off-Season Storage.
Single-Stage Snow Blower Storage Maintenance
Position the snow blower for maintenance. Carefully tilt the snow blower back so it rests on the handle. This will allow you to easily access various components.
Check the shave plate. The shave plate can wear out over time. The shave plate on your snow blower has two wearing edges, simply reverse it to maximize the life of the plate. If it's already been reversed, replace it with genuine, original equipment part from Cub Cadet.
Check the auger. The auger's rubber paddles become worn with use. They should be replaced if any excessive wear is present.
Inspect the belt. Remove the belt cover on the side of the snow blower. Check the belt for signs of wear, cracks, fraying, etc. and replace if necessary.
Order replacement parts. If any of the above-mentioned items need replacing at the end of the season, it's a good time to order and install them before you put your snow blower into storage.
Two-Stage and Three-Stage Snow Blower Storage Maintenance
Check the shave plate and skid shoes for damage and wear. The shave plate and skid shoes protect the housing from damage. Replace these items with genuine, original equipment parts from Cub Cadet.
Prepare the fuel tank. Drain any fuel left in the tank using the siphon pump. A siphon pump can be purchased on cubcadet.ca and wherever mower parts are sold. With the help of another person, carefully pivot the snow blower up and forward so it rests on the auger housing. This will allow you to easily access the parts of the snow blower that require maintenance.
Lubricate the gear shaft. Remove the lower frame cover from the underside of the unit. Apply a light coating of oil to the hex shaft. Be careful not to get any oil on the aluminum drive plate or the rubber friction disc. Check the rubber friction disc for wear or cracking.
Return the snow blower to its wheels and skid shoes. Before checking the snow blower belt, put the lower frame cover back in place. With the help of an additional person, carefully pivot the snow blower back and down so it rests on the wheels and skid shoes.
Inspect the belt. Remove the belt cover on the front of the engine and inspect the belts for wear, cracks and fraying. If the belts are worn, they should be replaced immediately. Worn belts can break when you least expect it so make sure you replace your snow blower belt as soon as you see signs of wear. Put the plastic belt cover back in place or order a new one if needed.
Single-Stage, Two-Stage and Three-Stage Snow Blower Storage Maintenance
Change the oil. Drain and refill the engine oil before storing your snow blower. Refer to your engine's Operator's Manual for the correct viscosity and oil capacity. Always dispose of the used oil in an environmentally responsible manner.
Check the spark plug. Remove and inspect it for signs of corrosion or residue build-up. Clean it with a wire brush if necessary. If you are unsure if the spark plug is good or not, it is recommended that you replace it. Reinstall the spark plug and reconnect the spark plug ignition wire.
Clean the snow blower. Clean debris from around the engine and muffler. Apply a light film of oil on any areas that are susceptible to rust. Wipe away any dried salt that may have accumulated to help prevent your unit from rusting over the winter.
Prepare the fuel tank. Finally, fill your engine's fuel tank with fresh gasoline and add a fuel stabilizer. This is better than storing it empty because an empty fuel system exposes any bare metal parts within it to air and moisture — which can lead to rust and also allows gaskets and O-rings to dry out, crack and shrink, causing eventual leaks.
Following these steps for proper snow blower storage will help ensure you have a well-functioning machine the next winter. Remember to complete each of the steps outlined above — skipping a snow blower storage maintenance procedure can result in expensive repairs down the road. For more snow blower maintenance tips, check out our Cub Cadet how-to articles.