Pathfinders: Next-Generation Snowthrowers

Snowthrower technology has stormed in like a lion, but snowthrower prices have reacted like a lamb.

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There’s something calming about waking up, looking out the window and seeing 10 inches of freshly fallen snow. However, soon after, you realize that the 10 inches of wonderland that you’re admiring also covers the driveway, and you have to be at work.

Moving snow is a chore. Fortunately, our investigation of the segment found that today’s snowthrowers are a better value than ever before.

MORE VALUE. Since we last reported on snowthrowers, pricing on models has remained relatively unchanged. You still can buy a basic single-stage snowthrower that has 22 inches of clearing space and enough engine power to clear a 75-foot driveway for around $400. However, single-stage snowthrowers might not be around for much longer. Craftsman, Husqvarna, MTD and Toro now make only two or three single-stage models. Conversely, the manufacturers added eight to 15 new two-stage models to their product lineup.

Two-stage snowthrowers throw snow farther and can cut through a snow drift much more easily than a single-stage model can. Single-stage snowthrowers use an auger to chop and throw snow; two-stage models have an auger and an impeller, the latter of which gathers the snow that’s chopped by the auger and tosses it. A premium two-stage snowthrower can hurl snow 60 feet; but the average entry-level to midrange two-stage snowthrower can throw snow 40 feet. The range of even the most premium single-stage snowthrower can toss snow up to 30 feet only. According to snowthrower manufacturers, this all depends on the engine displacement and torque, how cold it is outside (the colder it is, the lighter the snow) and the speed of wind conditions that cause resistance. A driveway that might take an hour to clear with a single-stage snowthrower might be cleared in a half-hour with a two-stage model.

Among the expanded selection of two-stage snowthrowers that are on the market now, you’ll find more models at around $600 than existed in 2009. Manufacturers pulled this off by downsizing the engine and limiting the clearing path to 24 inches. For around $600, today you can purchase a two-stage model that has an overhead-valve engine, which is inherently more fuel efficient than a two-stroke side valve engine, electric start, six forward and two reverse speeds, and a clearing path of 24 inches.

Add another $100 or so to your budget and you now can afford a machine that has headlights and heated hand grips. Three years ago, you would have paid $400 more for those premium features.

Today, more two-stage models that have power steering can be found on sales floors. Since two-stage snowthrowers use a solid axle, they can be difficult to maneuver, especially for someone who has a smaller build. A snowthrower that has power steering mitigates the problem greatly. Today, you can get power steering on a two-stage snowthrower starting at around $800. Three years ago, that same snowthrower would have cost $800 more.

Three fourths of two-stage snowthrower models now come with plug-in electric start as standard, as opposed to recoil start, with the exception of some entry-level models. Manufacturers have equipped all current single-stage and two-stage snowthrower models with four-stroke overhead-valve premium engines that use 10 percent to 30 percent less gasoline and allegedly leave fewer carbon deposits, which can wear down an engine over time. (The manufacturers that we contacted cited numerous variables that they say prevents them from telling us how many fewer carbon deposits that a four-stroke snowthrower engine emits when compared to a snowthrower that has a two-stroke engine, which minimized their claim to us that carbon deposits have been significantly reduced in four-stroke overhead-valve engine models.) Three years ago, all two-stroke engine snowthrower models produced by manufacturers had Tecumseh engines, which was the primary engine manufacturer at the time that eventually decided to stop manufacturing engines for the snowthrower category.

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