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Opinions on snow blowers...

Post in 'The Gear' started by Gooserider, Feb 19, 2007.

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  1. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Only connection to wood burning is clearing the path to the woodshed, but... :)

    The engine on our old Toro snowblower is getting old and tired, and the starting is becoming unreliable - maybe it's the starter (me) getting old and tired, but we don't want to go there.... :red:

    We are considering replacing it, but would really rather not. However if we do replace, we'd prefer to get a high quality machine that will last us for the next few ice ages. I'm not interested in an MTD, or Yardmaster peice of Chinese crapola machine. Used to be the king of the snowblowers was Ariens, followed by Toro (maybe) and everyone else in a distant third - is this still the case? If not what other brands are highly reccomended for reliability and servicability?

    The other option is to try to fix our existing machine. It is an old 7HP 26" cut Toro, with a Briggs & Stratton engine, we purchased it at least 2nd hand through our local outdoor power equipment guy. For the most part, the mechanical half of the snowblower works fine, the drive is solid, auger turns smoothly, etc. OTOH, the motor uses a lot of oil - 1/2-3/4 cup per fillup of gas, and doesn't feel like it has a lot of compression when pulling the start rope. When running, it sounds like crap. The muffler isn't in the best of shape, and everything does serious shake and rattle, almost sounds like a bad rod or main bearing... (I do wear ear protection when using it, and NEED to!) The spark isn't great - I can hang onto the plug wire when pulling it over and it doesn't hurt the way my bike ignition does :cheese: When I pull the plug it's usually fairly black and oil fouled. The out of the engine spark tends to be weak orange rather than a nice fat blue arc.

    When the engine is warm, it starts pretty reliably, one or two pulls. When cold it will sometimes start fine, other times not. However it usually feels like it's almost catching but not quite getting enough RPMs or turning over enough times to start running. Although I'm giving a pretty good yank on the recoil starter, I suspect that it is marginal enough starting the recoil just isn't able to spin things over fast enough to get it cranked. When it starts, I usually get 4-5 pops as the engine winds up to speed and starts to run normally, if it doesn't start I might only get 2-3 pops.

    Thus I see three options -

    1. A new machine - looking on the web, it appears that we can get an Ariens of roughly the same size for about $1,000 more or less (or the big kahuna machines for $1500) - so far it doesn't seem like there are many "end of season bargains" out there, and this is WAY more than we want to spend if we can avoid it.

    2. Try to put an electric start (110v AC) on the existing machine in order to be able to crank it longer / faster than I can with the recoil - I've heard that one can retrofit an electric starter to most B&S engines without too much problem or expense, but I'm not sure just what it would cost me to do so. Given that I'm not sure how long the engine I have will last, I don't know if it's worth it if the cost is much over $50

    3. Try to get a new engine for this machine - I've found at least one website that appears to have about the right size B&S Intek or Tecumseh snow blower engines, with electric start, etc. for $3-500 (I've always heard there is no real difference between B&S vs Tecumseh engines, that both are good quality...) If so, I'm not sure if there is any advantage to trying to fit a bigger engine - the cost difference between a 7HP and an 8 or 9HP engine is minimal, and I've sometimes found the existing engine underpowered - though that could be on acount of it's age.

    Any thoughts as to what I should do?

    Gooserider

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  2. ecfinn

    ecfinn New Member

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    Have you been to Home Despot lately? My local one had their snowblowers pre-assembled all at 20% off a few weeks ago. They also sell a lot of Ariens models. I bought an Ariens a few years ago, but it was used from a local dealer. Its a 724 and only cost me $450. So I would check with your local dealer/small engine repair shop. See if they have any other used models. See what they could charge to overhaul the motor. It probably only needs new rings/cylinder honing, but if it'll cost you $150 to fix up the current one would that be a better deal than having to buy a new one?

    Just a few random thoughts...

    BTW, last time I asked a few years ago it was still Ariens/Toro at the top of the snow thrower list. Not sure if its changed since then.

    Eric
  3. Harley

    Harley Minister of Fire

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    Hi, Goose - probably a bad time of year to by a snowblower - you may want to hold off a little bit... maybe some of the retailers are prpobably holding a little fast (I'm talking non-MTD type) on pricing, now that its only mid-Feb, and the NE at least got some moderate heavy snow. If you are OK with an MTD make (which are most right now) - now might be a good time to buy one. You can probably pick up a 10hp/26" (tecumseh)w/elect start for 5-600 or so, I think. That really should last a few years and be pretty decent.

    That's what I have, but only use it a few times/year, and only to cut the snowbanks back once the plow on the 4-wheeler starts to run out of room... driveway is 350', and gravel, so when it gets used - it gets the snot beat out of it... so far mine has actually lasted a few years, so - I can't complain about it.

    I think I'd wait until maybe mid-late March to make a decision about a new one, by then - pricing should probably be pretty good to compare in your area... just my $0.02
  4. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I was wondering why my Ariens was low on power the other day. Yes, it was a shear pin. I'm thinking the 400' gravel driveway (plus the off-road excursion down to the woodpile) doesn't help. Even though I've had the Ariens several years the price seems to still be $1000. I'm not sure what that means.

    They might all be made in the Far East now.

    It doesn't sound like your motor is much for this world with all that oil burning (compression).
    I don't know if they have any that would fit, but I saw some engines at Harbor Freight the other week.
    One was the same 9 hp Robin Subaru motor for $350 or so that is in my log splitter. I think it has a horizontal shaft. The others are really cheap throwaways but what little engine isn't a throwaway if you have to buy a significant part?
    I've found that synthetic oil makes the motor easier to pull over, but with your weak compression, I don't know if that'll help.

    I have no idea how snowblowers work, but my traction seemed a little weak. Is everything belt driven?

    I also have a little 2 stroke Toro snowblower for the deck and walk. It goes down to the surface because it is a one-stage blower with flexible blade ends. That is not good for gravel or off-road. Very light though. I'm not a fan of the totally plastic enclosed design though - I couldn't find the spark plug when it flooded!
  5. TMonter

    TMonter Minister of Fire

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    You might be able to kit the engine on your old blower if you are so inclined. It's not that hard to do and my neighbor did it a few years back on his old snapper mower that he loved. It bought him another 10 years of service he figures and I believe it cost him less than $100.
  6. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    The Ariens machines may be made in the far east, (I don't know) but looking at them in the stores, there is still a definite difference in the feel of the machines and the weight of the metal in the housings and such. I'm not as sure about the difference between the older machines and the new ones. I know some appliances like washers and driers have shown the same pricing pattern, and allegedly the older driers are better made. However it was worth noting that there seems to be a pretty consistent price difference between Ariens, Toro and the Asian brands - for any given size and 'feature level' the Ariens was most expensive, Toro was about $100 less, and the Asian brands were about $2-300 under Toro. Seems like you get what you pay for...

    Mechanically much depends on the make and model, but the larger two stage machines tend to all be somewhat similar. The motor is a side shaft sitting on top of the drive box, with the shaft sticking out over the space between the drive box and the auger box. There will be one or two belts coming off the motor going down to pulleys between the two boxes (which separate to access the belts) One will drive the auger mechanism, the other will drive the transmission. On the single belt units, there is one shaft that goes in both directions to drive both.

    I don't know about the newer Ariens, but the very old ones like my father had when I was growing up, the transmission used what I called a "dinner plate drive" The engine spun a large round flat plate with a smooth surface that was mounted cross wise to the machine (axis of rotation was front-to-back). Mounted perpendicular to this plate was a second disk that had a rubber "tire" on its edge. The "Tire plate" was on a splined shaft that ran side to side across the machine, and was driven by the tire plate. I forget whether the tire plate was directly attached to the drive axle or if it went through some extra gears. At any rate, the transmission worked by shifting the tire plate to different positions on the spinning drive plate, producing different gear ratios, or even reversing direction.

    This is a nice simple design, but the problem with it is that the tire plate is a "wear item" that needs periodic replacement. However getting to that plate is 'major surgery' so it's one of those jobs that has a very high labor charge to replace a fairly cheap part. Diagnosis is process of elimination - make sure the belt for the drive box is in good shape and tight - if the transmission still slips it's the drive plate.

    I've used synthetic oil on my bikes before, but the problem with it is that if you have a high oil consumption engine (burning or leakage) synthetic will make the problem even worse.

    If I decide to get a new engine, I will definitely be shopping around - Harbor Freight and Northern both carry many engines, but I just found this place called "
    Builder Depot" that seems to have a huge selection of Tecumseh and B&S engines for 3-500 after shipping. At least some of those engines appeared to be specifically designed for snowblower use, and had the snowblower shrouds on them, and even came with the electric starters....

    At any rate, I'm still exploring options.

    Gooserider
  7. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Thanks Goose for the info. There's a lot of stuff to learn about stuff.
  8. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    Round these parts we have a local "sell it" paper/magazine. The Penny Shopper. It has everything in it, usually fairly inexpensive. Thats the first place I look. Then theres craig's list. I am eyeing up a 75 International 1 ton dually, 4 wheel drive, dump body, painted 2 yrs ago, floor been diamond plated and Its a farm trauck. Comes with a 8' power angle plow too. Dump has twin cylinders. I am itching to buy this for my farm truck. Wouldn't need it for on the road, but would make a great plow, firewood hauler.
    And the 4wd would allow me to get back into the woods & haul and dump my cuts. $1,900.00 I might have to check this out.

    Oops sorry went off topic. As I said the local sell it type papers here at least, have a ton of snow blowers/throwers in them.
    Craigs list here had quite a few also. You might also want to look at the garden tractors, alot of them come with snow blowers/plows & extra goodies.
  9. FuzzyOne

    FuzzyOne Member

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    I'll add my two cents. I have an MTD that is about 9 years old and starts on the 2nd pull after the summer months. I never had trouble with it, but it does not get much use with the recent winters we have.

    My friend has an Ariens. It is a definite step up from my MTD. The metal is thicker and it is more durable. But it also has the same 8hp Tecumseh engine, same friction disc (dinner plate as mentioned above) transmission, and same auger drive. It also cost about $400 more.

    I replaced his friction disc last season. About a 90 minute job for a DIYer like myself. This is the big drawback to almost all the box store blowers is the drive assembly. The next step up will put you in a gear drive blower like a high end Toro. But plan on spending $1,800 for it.

    If I were you, I'd replace the engine only. Take a look at http://smallenginewarehouse.com/enginesearchaction.asp?qs=snow You can repower for less than $250. I bet you current blower is built a lot better than the newer ones.
  10. FuzzyOne

    FuzzyOne Member

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  11. MountainStoveGuy

    MountainStoveGuy New Member

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    I try to only by honda power equipment. My Honda 1123 has been a life saver. I would think the 723 or the 923 would do the job and last almost forever. I love the way honda engines start up.
  12. tw40x81

    tw40x81 Member

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    I second MSG's recommendation on the Honda. I've got a HS928TAS track drive and it laughs at the snow we have around here. Though the last storm we had dropped a half foot of stuff the consistency of Italian ice or a snow cone. You can walk on the top of it, and its nice for making snow-ice bricks, but not fun if your interested in keeping the gravel on your driveway when blowing the stuff off. I'd also recommend one with a light.
  13. Roospike

    Roospike New Member

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    You could get a Garden Tractor and have the front blade , a rear grader blade and or a front 48" snowblower.
    I have more options than i do snow.

    Cus MSG hoggs all the snow in Colorado!!

    The nice thing about a garden tractor is you can blow / push snow , grade your driveway , haul dirt , haul firewood , till your garden , plow , pull log splitters and trailers and also cut your grass.

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  14. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Well FWIW department... I just walked over to our local power equipment guy, and according to him, the Toro that we have now is late 60's early 70's vintage, and while I would probably get a fair bit of service out of it if I put a new engine on it, he isn't sure there are parts available for the machine if something did break in the drive box.

    He said the electric start kits for the B&S motors are very expensive - on the order of about $200, or almost as much as I'd pay for a new engine.

    He does have a late 80's vintage Ariens 30" cut, with a 10HP Tecumseh engine, new auger drive box, in good condition, with an electric start. He said that it was one of the "professional" series machines, that the owner was selling only because his kids had gotten him a new machine as a present - it is a nice looking unit, that he wants $525 for. According to him parts availability is no problem for the Ariens, both because it's a newer machine and also because Ariens is still using most of the same parts on the new units.... He said he used the machine on the last storm because his skid-steer was broken, and found it ran good, worked well and didn't use any oil.

    I'm guessing that I can get at least $200 for the Toro, (As that seems to be about the minimum price for any machine that works....) so the cost to move up to the Ariens would be about the same as putting a new engine on the Toro and the overall machine would probably be better. Frankly, while the Toro works, I really don't like it as a machine - I find the user interface awkward and its a bit clunky to steer

    As a side note, I asked him about the B&S vs Tecumseh engine question, his take was that they were about the same for quality, but that Tecumseh was slightly better starting in cold weather, and B&S was better in hot weather - or at least that was what his sources claimed. Otherwise it was like the Ford / Chevy debate....

    Gooserider
  15. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Well we have a Sears Crapsman lawn tractor - I think its a 16 HP, but AFAIK the only options for it are the lawn mower and the front blade. Never seen a snow blower option for it, and not sure how one would hook up as the engine is a vertical shaft where the crank comes out the bottom with one belt that drives the tranny and a second that spins the mower - no front or rear PTO's or the like....

    I find this machine does a tolerable job of cutting the grass, but it hasn't been much use when I try to drag logs with it. A friend had a blade on his similar sized tractor and it didn't work all that well as the thing didn't have enough weight to push anything without getting stuck. When I was trying to use it to roll / drage a couple logs to get them into a better position for cutting, I found I mostly just spun the tires. I don't really have a need to use a tractor to haul wood. I only get an occasional tree off our property (about 1.3 acres, which is one of the largest lots in the area) and if I get a load of log-length brought in, it's maybe 75' from the far end of the log pile to my splitting area, to the wood shed, a tractor would get in the way more than it would help!

    My gardening consists of a few raised "tire beds" of hot peppers, and an indoor shitake mushroom log, plus the assorted berry bushes scattered around... Not really even enough to justify borrowing the neighbor's walk behind tiller...

    Thus I'm not sure a garden tractor - (which would be more than what I'm looking at for a new snow blower I'm sure) is a justifiable expense... Now if the GF could get a good job up in New Hampshire so we could go join the Free State Project folks, then maybe it would be possible to get a bigger place that would justify a fancy tractor and lots of other toys...
  16. Roospike

    Roospike New Member

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    The mower snow blowers work off of the same pulley system as the grass deck as they have for over 30 years , now the bigger 8K and up tractors will have PTO.

    Pulling logs with a 16 hp lawn mower is kinda silly , i don't even do that with a 24hp garden tractor , hauling wood is more like a trailer of splits from here to there and from the pile to the house in the winter.

    Traction you wont get with turf tires as they are just that , turf tires . You would need AG tires like as seen in the pic of my tractor and or tire chains , tire chains are about standard for snow removal and with out setting up your "ride" to fit the needs of what your doing then its not going to be worth the effort.

    I would stay away from dragging logs with your lawn mower , cut them up and use a trailer made for your equipment.
  17. Andre B.

    Andre B. New Member

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    This is 25HP, not a garden tractor just a big mower, with 50lbs of weight on each wheel. I the winter I put on tire chains and a 4 foot push blade and it does a good job up to 3 or 4 inches of snow but more then that and I get out the walk behind blower.

    For the best all around snow moving I think a mid size walk behind blower is hard to beat. The bigger ones start getting expensive and are harder to maneuver so unless you really have a lot of driveway you don't save much time.
    Another thing is the big ones start taking up a lot of storage space during the 99% of the time you are not using them.

    If your drive looks like a drunken snake like mine, a blower mounted on a riding mower or garden tractor really sucks. IMO

    [​IMG]
  18. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Our driveway is BIG in some respects, and has several different parts... I find it kind of amusing, but our driveway is WIDER than the street it comes off of, by a considerable margin!

    The main part is paved from the street to the two car garage, and is wider than the garage, so its a bit over 3 cars wide. (The street is about 1 1/2 cars wide, if they are going opposite directions someone will need to pull way over to get past...) This part is a nice straight and level, with a clean shot to one side, and a good shot on most of the other, except for where it goes into the circular part of the drive and my portable garage (where the snowblower lives)

    We also have a gently curved section that is mostly only one car wide, not paved but flat hard pack clay / gravel that gives us a circular drive back to the street - I usually clear it with the snowblower, but not always. Back when the GF had a plow service, she never bothered to clear it.

    Branching off the curved part is the path that I have to cut to get to the woodsheds - this only needs to be a couple passes wide.

    I also have one bit I cut to the front porch - nominally it's paved, but the pavement is narrow and reall crowded by the bushes next to it, I actually end up doing most of it on the lawn... Currently takes me 1-2 hours to do the whole mess depending on the snow. A wider machine would not be a big problem for 99% of the job, and I could deal on the two walking width paths.

    Gooserider
  19. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Well, talked it over with the GF last night, and today I went over to the power equipment shop, and bought the MONSTER Ariens (Cash is nice, it got me the machine for $500 even) It starts so easy, the pull on the 10HP Tecumseh engine is lighter than the pull on the 7HP B&S... The control setup is nicer for the most part, though I may tie the auger / engine electrical interlock down. Even though the machine is much bigger, it feels better balanced and steers easier. (It has a differential in the drive axle)

    Driving it home from the shop (The shop is w/in walking distance via side streets, so I normally drive the tractor or snowblower there when I need work done) I was able to find some unmelted snow to try it out on - this was pretty wet and slushy stuff, partly packed down by foot traffic, so it was not good throwing snow, but the machine did a respectable job with it, cutting down 3-4" worth and tossing it a good ways without any hesitation - NICE!
    I think I'm going to be very happy - just need a good blizzard to find out for sure.... :coolsmile:

    The Toro looks so cute and TINY sitting next to the Ariens its funny

    If anybody wants a well used Toro, checkout the gear section.... :)

    Gooserider
  20. Harley

    Harley Minister of Fire

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    Holy Crap!!

    Guess my thinking couldn't have been more wrong as far as timing. (good thing I'm not a stock broker)
    Nice buy, Goose

    Snowing here now.... not going to be enough to clear here at work - maybe 4" or so at home, so nothing even worth firing up the toys for :mad:
  21. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Local Ouija board people are saying maybe an inch tonight - if thats all it is I won't bother, but next week does look a bit more hopeful.

    Gooserider
  22. hornett22

    hornett22 New Member

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    best snowblowers in order:

    #1 Honda hydro track drive.

    #2 Simplicity quality company that has never sold out.

    #3 Toro from a Toro dealer.not a box store.

    before you jump on me,i own a husqvarna and it is no match for the three i just mentioned.
  23. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    I don't believe in "jumping" even if I disagree... Never tried a Honda, I don't seem to see many of them around here, and I'd say the same thing about Simplicity as another brand that I've never heard of - they may be big elsewhere but not around here in MA.

    Toro I've seen a lot of, and the machine we'll be getting rid of is one, but I never really felt comfortable with it, the control interface on it just never really felt that easy to use. The newer machines that I've played with in the stores were better, but still felt a bit "off" to me for some reason.

    OTOH, I grew up with an Ariens, and probably see more of them around here than any of the other brands, though judging by store display counts, I think they sell Toro's and Ariens in about the same numbers, not to mention the Asian cheapo units. However the Ariens machines just never quit.... I also like the controls better, they just seem to fall more naturally where I reach for them.

    Gooserider
  24. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    The Hondas looked nice, but the price was too high for a place like here where we only use the things a few times a year - I have only used mine once this year and once last year.

    Still, I did go for the Ariens - I think it's 8HP or so, has electric start although I don't need to use it.

    It is a nice piece of equipment - I can tell that the sheet metal work is first rate, as there is not even a spot of rust anywhere on it although I have not ever cleaned it. Yes, I know - I should hose it off after the season before I put it away!

    It always depends on budget and how you need to use the thing. In my case, I wanted a nice machine and paid about $200 more than comparable units. I have a driveway that is on a fairly steep grade as well as about 200 feet of sidewalk - plus, when I really get going I clear some space for the dog to poop and also the neighbors sidewalks...and sometimes their driveway (neighbor is 70 and has no snowblower).

    I wish we had a bit more snow this year and last. Tonight we are gonna have some and then a lot of rain - The Ariens will probably not get any use!
  25. hornett22

    hornett22 New Member

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    didn't mean to "jump in".

    the honda does have a high price tag.it's only downfall.

    when i saw ariens in HD i got worried.i hear they aren't what they used to be.
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