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Say goodbye to backaches with a new snow blower

Extra features
Once you figure out the class of snow blower you need, you can start shopping for features. For example, more expensive machines feature a differential lock on the drive system, meaning that when it comes time to make a turn, the dual wheels that are locked in place for blowing snow disengage so you can navigate a tighter turn. Other options include electric start mechanisms (versus manual cord-pull cranks), heated handgrips and headlights.

Another point to consider is the manufacturer. Brands such as Toro, Ariens and Honda have built solid reputations for producing quality machines and for their good workmanship.

"The more expensive units have better quality production, better assembly and stronger gauge materials used," says Ypelaar. Quality doesn't come cheap: single-stage machines cost between $475 and $1,300 while dual-stage machines will put you back $800 to $3,000, but you're less likely to spend time in the repair shop.

Where to buy
While snow blowers are widely available, you might want to consider buying from a store that specializes in outdoor equipment (look for an authorized dealer designation). While you're not guaranteed to get the best price (though some independents compete well with the big guys), you're more likely to find someone to service your machine when you most need it and even offer an upgraded warranty. While most machines come with a two-year warranty, it's usually limited: for example, cables are covered for 90 days while tires are covered for 120 days.

"When it comes down to it, the only thing that is warranted for two years is the engine," says Kevin O'Dell, a mechanic with RD Pond's Sales and Service in Fredericton, N.B. "The engine isn't the problem -- it's everything else that it runs that can fall apart."

Keep it serviced
The best way to ensure years of service from your snow blower is to treat it right. "We still have customers from the 1970s," says Ypelaar. "They paid a bit more in the beginning, but they took care of their machines."

Use a premium fuel and one that doesn't contain ethanol (it can cause small engines to run erratically), and get it serviced every year. At a minimum change the oil, gas and spark plugs. Keep it clean and well lubricated and make sure the tires are properly inflated.

"You've got to maintain your machine -- there's nothing that gets used any harder than a snow blower," says O'Dell. "It's the most neglected piece of equipment you'll ever buy."

Keep it safe
Before using your snow blower, be sure to read the operating manual cover to cover so you're familiar with the controls and safety features. Never clear a clogged auger by hand and don't wear loose clothing when you're out plowing snow. You'll save your back -- and your fingers.

Fiona Wagner is a freelance writer in Georgetown, Ont.

-- Posted: Jan. 30, 2008
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