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Some of the newest snow throwers are larger and more capable, yet easier to control. Many also cost less, thanks to price pressure from major retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears, which now account for 60 percent of sales.
Two-stage models are the biggest of these machines. Unlike smaller, single-stage models, which rely solely on a rubber-edged auger to move and disperse snow, as well as to provide some pulling power, two-stage models add drive wheels and a fanlike impeller to help disperse what they pick up.
Models from Sears' Craftsman line and Troy-Bilt are among those that clear a wide, 30-inch swath, compared with the 24 to 26 inches typical in our 1997 snow-thrower report. Yet at about $1,300, these newest models cost several hundred dollars less than many of the comparable snow throwers we tested seven years ago.
You needn't buy the biggest snow thrower to get competent clearing. Honda and Toro are among the brands with single-stage models that rival some larger machines, yet weigh far less and require less storage space. Manufacturers are designing these more capable models for homeowners with smaller driveways as well as for women, who make at least part of the buying decision in more than 30 percent of snow-thrower purchases.
Other advances include easier steering and chute controls. You'll also find easy-handling electric models for smaller driveways. Here are the details:
More agility. Most two-stage snow throwers drive both wheels, maximizing traction at the expense of handling, since the wheels aren't free to revolve at different speeds while turning. A growing number of models from Craftsman, Simplicity, Toro, Troy-Bilt, Yard Machines, and Yard-Man address that with handle-mounted trigger releases, which let you disengage and reapply power to either drive wheel without leaving the operator's position. Squeezing both triggers also makes those models easier to maneuver with the engine off--as you would in a closed garage--by disengaging the transmission.
Simpler chute control. Most snow throwers have separate controls for adjusting the direction and angle of the discharge chute, so that you can avoid dumping snow back onto a wide driveway or onto a neighbor's property. Toro recently introduced a joystick control that combines those much-used controls into one lever. Some Craftsman, Troy-Bilt, Yard Machines, and Yard-Man models now have that feature, though the Toro's works more smoothly. You'll also find single-stage Hondas with more-accessible chute-control handles.
More-muscular single-stage units. Several machines cleared snow as well as some two-stage units and threw it as far as the longest-distance models. Especially notable is Toro's Snow Commander, which clears a 24-inch-wide swath, compared with 21 inches or less for most.
Better single-stage models can be expensive, however. At $900, the Snow Commander costs as much as some more-capable two-stage models.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Our Ratings of 23 models on page 39 list many fine choices among two-stage and single-stage snow throwers, including two CR Best Buys. See First Things First. on page 36, for advice on how to best match the snow-thrower type two-stage gas or single-stage gas or electric--to your driveway and climate.
Once you've decided on which type to buy, see Features That Count, on page 38, for tested models that offer the most conveniences. Then do your own convenience test at the store:
Try the controls. Independent dealers and even big-box stores typically have floor samples. Along with trigger releases on two-stage models, look for electric starting. Also be …