NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Some parts of the country have already seen the season's first snowstorm. But for much of the U.S., the first covering of white stuff isn't too far away.
We can't help you escape the snow but we can help you avoid hours in the cold shoveling -- and the sore back. Snow blowers are one way to take the labor out of labor intensive tasks like snow removal.
So, with help from Consumer Reports, we've got 5 tips on how to find the snow blower that's right for you and keep it running for years to come.
1. Consider your snow profile.
There are all kinds of snow blowers, but the trick is finding one that fits your potential workload. If you've got a long, wide or hilly driveway and you get frequent, heavy snow coverage, you'll want to look into a more powerful snow blower.
Consumer Reports recommends two-stage gas powered snow blowers if you fit this profile. These blowers have wide augers that gather snow and an impeller that throws it. They're also essential if you have a gravel driveway since the auger doesn't actually touch the ground. Some of these machines can clear swaths 28 to 30 inches wide. Prices for two-stage gas snow blowers range from about $600 to $2,100.
If you've got a flat, mid-sized, paved driveway and you don't get heaps of snow, you probably don't need a heavy-duty snow thrower. Consumer Reports recommends single-stage gas blowers for this type of property.
These machines are lighter and easier to handle and most can clear swaths 20-22 inches wide. However, these are best for paved driveways since the auger makes contact with the ground and could scoop and throw stones from an unpaved driveway. (Yikes!) You can expect these blowers to cost $300 to $900.
For short, flat paved driveways and snow coverage of 4 inches or less, you may want to look into a single-stage electric blower. These models are smaller, lighter, quieter and easier to handle than gas-powered blowers. They clear swaths about 11-18 inches wide. Prices for these lighter-weight models range from $100 to $300.
2. Take it for a test drive.
|Gerri Willis shares five tips on how to find a perfect snow blower.|
(Real or Windows Media)
Many stores may have floor models for the products they sell so don't be afraid to take a few for a spin. A snow blower won't save your back if you're struggling to push the thing around, so make sure it's not too heavy. (Some two-stage gas blowers are pretty large.)
Also pay attention to the height of the handlebars and the machine's ease of handling around turns. Another important feature to zero in on is chute control. Consumer Reports says most snow blowers have separate controls for adjusting the direction and angle of the chute. That's important since you don't want to dump snow back onto your driveway (or onto your neighbor's).
3. Safety first.
There are some safety measures you'll want to take before you power up your snow blower. If you're using a gas-powered model, start it up outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Gas-powered blowers can be pretty loud so don't forget earplugs. Don't wear loose scarves, paints or jackets that can get caught in the machinery.
Last but not least, NEVER use your hands or feet to clear a clog in the machine. Turn off the engine (or unplug an electric blower) before trying to clear blockages and always use the clearing tool that comes with your blower. If your model didn't come with one, Consumer Reports recommends using a wooden broom handle for clogs.
4. Maintain your snow thrower.
Gas-powered snow blowers require regular engine maintenance. According to Lou Manfredini at Ace Hardware, you've got to stay on top of it to keep your new investment in tip-top shape.
For "two-cycle" snow blowers, you'll have to mix the fuel (a combination of gas & oil) that powers it. You can't just add gas -- it needs oil to keep the engine lubricated. If you just add gas, you can burn up the engine. Make sure you understand how to mix the fuel you'll need to keep your snow blower going.
Manfredini says you'll also need to check the machine's air filters every season. If the air filters are dirty, the engine will perform poorly. He also recommends spraying WD-40 on the machine's moving parts to keep rust away and keep components lubricated. When you're doing this, pay particular attention to the impeller and levers that engage it.
He also says it's a good idea to replace the spark plugs every 2 years. Four-cycle snow blowers run on regular gasoline. But they too need oil, so make sure to check the oil before each use.
5. Pick a winner.
|Toro Power Max 828LXE†||$1,250†||Two-stage gas†|
|Troy-Built Storm 10030†||$1,300†||Two-stage gas†|
|Honda Harmony HS520AS/HS520A†||$750†||Single-stage gas†|
|Toro CCR 2450 GTS 38515†||$540†||Single-stage gas†|
|Toro 1800 Power Curve 38025†||$300†||Single-stage electric†|
Consumer Reports tested a variety of snow blowers. Their "Best Buys" were the Craftsman 88790, which sells for $960 and the Yard-Man E5KLF, which sells for $1,100.
Both of these two-stage gas blowers got high marks for their ease of use, their ability to be cleaned quickly, and their chute control.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also hosts CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.