What a Blast: Top-Performing Pressure Washers

New gasoline-powered pressure washers include the first model that allows you to adjust the water pressure as well as models that are designed to reduce noise and engine wear. The first electric-powered models that have water-cooled motors have arrived.

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When it comes to making changes to pressure washers, you might say that manufacturers are giving it their best shot.

One manufacturer introduced the first gasoline-powered consumer model that allows you to adjust the water pressure, which means that you can customize the water pressure to fit the cleaning task. Another manufacturer introduced models that have an idling feature that’s designed to reduce noise and to help the engine to run more efficiently.

Manufacturers tweaked electric-powered models, too. One manufacturer now uses water-cooled motors, which independent experts say can extend the life of the motor better than fans do. However, based on our evaluation and according to independent experts whom we interviewed, some of these new features raise at least minor questions for consumers. In some cases, the answers won’t be available until at least later in 2013.

PRESSURE POINT. Although adjustable-pressure-control features have existed on professional models for several years, Generac brought to market in January 2013 the first consumer model that has the feature.

Generac’s OneWash ($449) has a dial that allows you to adjust the water pressure to 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi) from 2,000 psi. You set the dial to maximum pressure when you clean a brick retaining wall or a sidewalk and dial it down for tasks that require less water pressure, such as washing your vehicle or windows.

Unlike professional models that adjust the water pressure via the pump, however, the OneWash adjusts the pressure via the engine throttle by increasing or decreasing the revolutions per minute (rpm), which automatically increases or decreases water pressure, Generac says. Moving the adjustable-pressure-control dial to work via the throttle allows Generac to reduce manufacturing costs and keep the price low, it says.

Based on his knowledge of how pressure washers operate, one independent expert whom we interviewed wonders whether a throttle-based adjustable-pressure control will put too much stress on the pump and lead to pump damage. It’s too soon to tell whether the pump that’s on the OneWash is more susceptible to damage than are the pumps that other models have, says Bill Mikenis, who evaluates pressure washers for online retailer PressureWashersDirect.com. Because the OneWash is so new to the market, we won’t know how well the pump holds up until later in 2013, because that’s when customer feedback will begin to trickle in, Mikenis says.

“If it holds up, [adjustable-pressure control] is a great design and great idea for sure,” Mikenis says.

Generac spokesperson Art Aiello tells Consumers Digest that Generac’s tests show that the adjustable-pressure-control feature doesn’t contribute to additional pump damage, but Aiello wouldn’t share the details of those tests.

No matter what, we expect other manufacturers to add a similar feature to their models, although it’s unclear when those models will arrive or how they will adjust the pressure. Manufacturers tell us that they’re working on moving the pressure-control dial to the spray-gun handle, so you don’t have to walk back and forth from the pressure washer to make adjustments.

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Meanwhile, Briggs & Stratton introduced a feature in February 2011 that throttles down the engine when you let go of the spray-gun trigger. The feature, which is called Quiet Sense, is designed to reduce engine noise and to make the engine run more efficiently, Briggs & Stratton says. Quiet Sense is available on Briggs & Stratton models as well as on Craftsman models, which are made by Briggs & Stratton. You’ll have to pay at least $470 for a model that has Quiet Sense, which is $90 more than similar models that don’t have the feature.

Although experts say Quiet Sense works as advertised, consumers won’t experience significant benefits when it comes to engine efficiency. Mikenis says Quiet Sense delivers noticeable fuel savings and extends engine life only for consumers who use the pressure washer daily—professionals.

PLAYING IT COOL. If you shop for an electric-powered pressure washer, you should know that a new way to cool the motor exists. In 2011, Kärcher introduced the first models that have motors that are cooled by water rather than by fans.

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