What's the Difference Between Single- and Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers?

How They Work, How Much Snow They Can Handle

Image of man using gas snowblower in Damariscotta, Maine.
Man using a snowblower in Damariscotta, Maine. Scott B. Smith Photography/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Elsewhere I have reviewed electric snowblowers. They can be a smart choice for small driveways, where you will not mind dragging the cord around for a bit. For longer driveways, however, gas snowblowers are the preferred option. They are also a better choice in regions subject to heavy snowfalls.

But to zero in on the particular model right for you, we must draw a further distinction -- this time, between two different types of gas snowblowers.

Types of Gas Snowblowers

Snowblowers (also termed "snow throwers") fall into two categories:

  1. Single-stage models
  2. Two-stage models

Gas snowblowers are available in both single-stage and two-stage models, but with electric snowblowers, you are restricted to the single-stage option. Whether you are interested in gas snowblowers or electric snowblowers, single-stage snowblowers are not recommended for regions prone to heavy snowfalls or wet snow: they just do not provide enough power. With a single-stage model, do not expect to be able to clear more than an 8-inch snowfall (two-stage models can handle much more). And forget about clearing wet snow altogether, without doing a lot of extra work.

So what is all this talk of "stages" about, you ask? In what sense does one type of gas snowblower have two stages, while the other type has but one? Well, it is all in the "auger."

An auger is the corkscrew-shaped component of a snowblower responsible for sucking up the snow. In single-stage models, the auger performs double-duty: it both sucks up and discharges the snow. Whereas in two-stage models, the auger is devoted exclusively to the task of sucking up the snow off the driveway; while a separate gizmo, called the "impeller", is responsible for discharging the snow out of the chute. This "division of labor," if you will, allows you to blow the snow a greater distance with two-stage gas snowblowers.

Other Advantages of Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers

With single-stage models, the spinning auger cuts into the snow, gathers it up, and blows it out of the discharge chute. Though technically not self-propelled (that is, by the engine), the action of the auger does have the affect of driving the snowblower forward as it comes into contact with the driveway surface (the operator simply has to steer it). But as the Lowe's "Snow Blower Buying Guide" points out, "Because the auger directly contacts the clearing surface, single stage throwers are best used on pavement or other smooth surfaces."

But with two-stage gas snowblowers, the auger that sucks up the snow does not contact the clearing surface, meaning you can do your snow blowing even on crushed stone or gravel driveways. However, there is a flip side to the augur not contacting the surface: unfortunately, a thin coating of snow will be left behind.

The superiority of two-stage gas snowblowers goes beyond the matter of augers and impellers. Their clearing width is also greater, ranging from about 20 inches to about 36 inches, depending on the model. And engine-driven wheels (or, in some cases, tracks) propel two-stage gas snowblowers for you, making them easier to use.

Not All Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers Are Created Equal

Before you can appreciate all your options in deciding between the various gas snowblowers on the market, you must understand yet another distinction, this time between:

  1. Low-end two-stage models
  2. High-end two-stage models

In addition to other features, what "separates the men from the boys" is horsepower. At the low end are machines with 5.5 hp; at the high end, 9 hp.

Two-Stage Gas Snowblowers Come at a Price

Of course, you will pay the most for high-end two-stage gas snowblowers, because of all their advantages. While it is possible to buy electric snowblowers for a little over $100, high-end two-stage gas snowblowers sell in the $1000-$2000 range.

When shopping for two-stage gas snowblowers, it is important for you to determine ahead of time just how much of a wonder machine you really need. Otherwise, you could end up spending more money than you really need to spend. For instance, Consumer Search compared the Craftsman 88790 (which costs around $1,000) to the Toro Power Max 828LXE (cost of about $1,500). Reviews say, according to Consumer Search, that while the Craftsman 88790 does not throw snow quite as far as the Toro does, "for most people, that tradeoff will be worth the $500 cost savings."

Of course, none of these machines will be of any use to you if you cannot get them to work properly when you need them. Here is some advice to help you start up a snowblower that does not want to cooperate.