See response from CR's Peter Sawchuk, below (# 3).
Snow blowers work hard. I see several snow blower ads that claim to move one ton (2000 pounds!) of snow a minute.
They work especially hard on the compacted slush/snow/ice that city snow trucks compress at the end of out driveways, and drive us crazy because those trucks keep piling it up there just when we need to go to work, or are getting home.
Any machine that works this hard will suffer wear and tear. So reliability and the availability of parts become a big part of a consumer’s decision on which snow blower to buy.
So where are the Consumer Reports reliability ratings for snow blowers?
Why doesn't Consumer Reports keep us updated on the huge switch to Chinese made engines by companies we never heard of, now that Tecumseh is out of business and thus no longer makes its Snow King engines that used to power most snow blowers?
Just look at the Sears forum on snow blowers and see all the misinformation consumers are getting from Sears salespeople. (And you can bet they are getting the same wrong information at Home Depot, Lowes, and Walmart.) Consumers are being told that the engines are "Briggs and Stratton" engines made in China. Well, the Sears forum reps correct that 'misunderstanding", and report that all Craftsman engines are made in China by a company none of us ever heard of called LCT: http://www.mysears.com/Lawn-Garden--6733/topics/Snowblower-Engines/posts
And apparently, all MTD (The MTD family of brands includes Cub Cadet, Cub Cadet Commercial, Cub Cadet Yanmar, Troy-Bilt, White Outdoor, Yard-Man, Yard Machines, Bolens, Arnold, GardenWay, MTD Pro and MTD Gold.) engines are made in China by a company we never heard of called Zongshen.
On the other hand, Briggs and Stratton has bought several snow blower manufacturers (Snapper, Simplicity, and Murray). Briggs and Stratton engines are used in all but the low end Ariens models.
(To further confuse the consumer, LCT has bought the naming rights for Snow King engines from the holding company that owns the copyright after Tecumseh went belly up in the recession: http://www.naeda.com/News/NAEDANews/tabid/186/itemid/635/amid/543/cpc-agreement-will-lead-to-reintroduction-of-snow-king-engines.aspx )
So my question to Consumer Reports is: why not give readers a run down on the upheaval in the snow blower marketplace caused by the bankruptcy of Tecumseh and some sort of information on the current quality of LCT and Zongshen engines, and the likelihood of having parts available as our snow blowers age?.
How about something more comprehensive than the information in the following article:Top Rated Snowthrowers: http://www.lctusa.com/resources/CD_WinterWarriors5.pdf
I have done my research and decided on the Honda model 928TAS snowblower, essentially a 3000 dollar machine. It is the best drive system with one serious flaw, it has no steering mechanism, it must then be moved around by brute force, which means me, wrestling with its hundreds of pounds of weight. (This is the unexplained reason for the Black Spot on the CR ratings chart under 'handling'.
In my decision to own this I had to think of the comments I made in the other posting that explains the "Friction Wheel" mechanism used to drive all the other snowblowers and the machines recommended by Consumer Reports as the best choices. This advice is good when the machine is new, which in my experience does not last very long. Hence my decision to spend a great deal more on a machine I know will be leaving my carcass sore and worn after each snow storm, is based on the crucial forward drive capability of the machine. I chose the one and only two stage snowblower that uses a hydrostatic transmission to move the heavy machine, rather than easily worn, and consequently ' needy of repair ' drive system employed by all the other machines. I did this because when the storm is two feet, and wet snow, which is not uncommon in southeastern New York State, it is heavy, hard to throw, and in need of a high torque drive system that won't slip, and leave the machines forward movement one that my body must supplement. The Honda, because of their unique drive system, has the best chance of doing the Heavy Pushing required to get the job done.
The 9 HP Honda Engine is also a far more reliable, powerful, and startable in cold weather power plant than the Chinese engines that replaced what used to be made in America. I'll report back after the snow has challenged the new Honda, and let everyone know the rest of the tale.
In the November 2010 CR Magazine on page 38 under SNOW BLOWERS, CR says this, "Usually get 8 inches of snow or less or just have a small area to clear ? Try a single stage gas model, unless you have a gravel driveway." here's the problems with that advice . . .Areas that typically get 8 inches or less can and Do get occasional 2 -3 foot snowfalls, like Long Island, and can't be cleared with the single stage models. Also even 8 inches plowed into the driveway by the county snowplow is off a salted highway that turns the snow into semi-solid ice that taxes even the heaviest snowblower. Wet snow is considerably more difficult to move than light powder that occurs in very cold climates, so the truth is that areas prone to wet snow in winter require the power of a heavy 2 stage machine, or a strong back, and heart attached to a snow shovel.
The only real conclusion I have come to is that all heavy snowblowers have a major flaw, even the one I just ordered. If the way to make money is to find a need and fill it, then a new type of snow blower may well be the opportunity someone out there will make his fortune from.
Charles, our top mower/blower tester, Peter Sawchuk, had this response:
We currently do not have brand reliability data available for snow throwers. The primary reason is the relatively limited geography where snow products are used. A significant, but small-ish portion of our subscribers live in snow-blower areas, making it difficult to justify committing our limited resources. We are however rethinking this and your vote counts in favor.
We have in the past three years identified and discussed the use of new, off-shore engines on lawn mowers, including the Kohler engine made in China. Our comments in CR magazine were limited due to the space requirements of print.
Although we do not have resources needed to conduct engine durability testing (time, people, space, $$), we have kept a careful eye on these engines and their performance. We did see surging problems on some of the first engines that we encountered, but none in the last two years.
I must point out that all are overhead-valve engines and do meet the strict emission standards required in the US. We are aware well aware of the off-shore engines now being used on snow products. Briggs & Stratton has been quite good at calling this to our attention.
Thank you Ann for the explanation of why CR does not do more testing of snow blowers.
I would ask you to do us all a favor and pass on the idea of providing specifications specific to the 'Friction Wheel' drive mechanism of the 2 stage snow blowers you do test, as it has been obvious to me after owning a few of the machines that this drive mechanism becomes the problem over time.
Snow blowers are important machines to those of us who have rural, and suburban homes with serious snowfall amounts. People die from shoveling snow, as I am sure you already know. The wet snow common to places like Long Island, and southern New England is a very difficult problem to deal with, especially for the aging American population, like me. I managed to keep a Craftsman (MTD) machine CR recommended running for 15 years, but it was always a struggle, and the bitter cold nights spent working on it when I discovered that the warm weather adjustments didn't quite do the job at 20 degrees Farenheit and lower, are not something my aging carcass will endure for much longer. It is for this reason I have made commenting on snow blowers a passion here on the CR forums. The wisdom I offer was Hard Earned I assure you.
If you could answer this question, one that others have sought to ask, it would be useful and appreciated.
Why are "SIMPLICITY" brand snowblowers not listed in the ratings chart ? Did CR test any of them, or is a machine already tested under another brand the same machine ? My understanding is that the 'Briggs & Stratton' company owns and manufacures these machines under the Simplicity brand.
Perhaps Pete Sawchuck can tell us the relationship of CC (cubic Centimeter displacement of the engine cylinder) and actual power needed to move heavy wet snow. Why is horsepower and torgque the tradiional measure of any engines power, virtually impossible to determine. It is as if the industry making small engines is doing everything it can to prevent the buyer from knowing what he is buying. We all know that displacement can not predict actual power, as compression ratio's, bore and stroke all make a difference, and they don't tell us any of that either.
Then ask Pete to read the reviews of various snowblowers, and the Honda brand, which does not receive a very high CR rating, yet it elicits raves from pretty much everyone who ever buys one.