Snowblowers are a great way to spare you the back-breaking labor of snow removal. Yet not all snow blowers are made the same.
Depending on where you live, the typical winter snowfall can influence the type of snow blower that’s best for you and your driveway.
If you are currently shopping for a new snowblower, you might be wondering what the difference between 2 stage and 3 stage snow blower?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the distinct mechanical differences between a two-stage and three-stage snowblower.
We’ll also examine some other factors which can affect how they operate, as well as some basic tips to help adapt to certain circumstances.
How to Decide Between a 2 stage snow blower vs 3 stage?
A two stage snowblower has an auger in the front which essentially captures the snow in your path as you move forward. It then diverts that snow to an impeller which forces it out of the chute.
Rocks, chunks of ice and hard-packed snow can sometimes make it past the auger to the impeller, which could potentially cause a problem.
With a three stage snowblower the snow move through the auger and passes through a separate mechanical system that essentially grinds up chunks of snow and ice before it is moved through to the impeller, which discharges it out of the chute.
This additional process reduces your chances of hard material jamming the impeller or damaging a belt-pulley.
If you live in a place where winter brings a lot of hard snow and ice, and you have the budget available, the three-stage snowblower is best. If you have a limited budget, there are a few things you can do to make the most out of a two stage snowblower.
How Does A Two-Stage Snow Blower Work?
The first stage involves a powered auger collecting the snow and essentially bringing it into the machine.
The second stage involves impeller, which is directly powered by the motor, that drives the snow up and out of the shoot toward your preferred destination.
On paper, this sounds relatively simple. Yet you need to bear in mind that a two-stage snow blower typically struggles to deal with icy slush and hard compacted snow.
Let’s say for example you head out for the day, and the weather is near freezing. A snowstorm hits the area dropping a rain and snow mix.
If you work late or go out to dinner, to return home after the temperature drops far below 32-degrees Fahrenheit, the snow in your driveway may be frozen hard.
This is even more likely to be an issue if the snowplow came through while you were away and left a compacted frozen windrow at the end of your driveway.
This can potentially be a “Worst Case Scenario” for a two-stage snowblower. If the icy-snow or slush in the main part of your driveway is less than six inches deep, and it hasn’t been compacted by someone driving over it, then your two-stage snow blower may be able to handle it.
You will just need to set the self-propulsion speed to one of its lowest settings.
If someone has driven over it one or more times, leaving compacted tire tracks, or the icy-snow is deeper than six inches, your two-stage snow blower may struggle.
In a scenario like this, you want to clear up your driveway as soon as possible. If it’s allowed to freeze overnight, your two-stage snow blower might simply skip over the top.
How Do I Deal With A Frozen Windrow With A Two-Stage Snow Blower?
If you live in a region where winter drops frequent snow, then you likely know the frustration caused by a snowplow windrow at the end of your driveway.
If you have a two-stage snow blower watching the snowplow come blasting through after you cleared your driveway can lead to a lot of moaning and groaning.
For a two-stage snow blower, there are really two problems caused by a snowplow’s windrow.
The first is the potentially giant pile of snow itself, which can push your snow blower to the max. The second is the potentially fluid state of the snow itself.
You see a snowplow’s blade can potentially create a lot of friction. This, in turn, can cause the snow it scrapes up to slightly melt and compact, in much the same way that an avalanche can harden the tumbling snow off a mountain.
When this happens the windrow at the end of your driveway can become incredibly hard. Especially at the lower portion.
The longer it’s allowed to sit in freezing conditions the harder it will be for a two-stage snow blower to clear.
Dealing with it as soon as possible is key. If you allow it to turn rock-hard, your two-stage snow blower might just skip over the top.
In a scenario like this, you will need to turn to a heavy-duty snow shovel or a flat-nose scoop shovel.
Clearing The Driveway Before The Snow Plow Comes Through
There are a few tricks that people in northern states will use to minimize the problems caused by the snowplow’s windrow.
If you only have a two-stage snow blower, it can make the difference between blowing or shoveling after a modest snowstorm.
If you are clearing your driveway, and the snowplow hasn’t come through yet, you might want to help it out a little bit.
When you get the end of your driveway, turn to the left and clear a 10 to a 15-foot strip of the road. If it’s a particularly heavy snowfall, you might want to make two to three passes onto the road.
When the snowplow does come through, it will leave a significant portion of snow in the cleared area, instead of across the end of your driveway. In many of these scenarios, the windrow that you have to deal with is minor.
If the ambient temperature outside is over 15-degrees Fahrenheit, you might want to apply some halite rock salt, or another deicing agent at the end of your driveway.
When the snowblower comes the chemical interaction between the lower snow layers of the windrow and the salt will delay a full freezing effect.
Do Two-Stage Snow Blowers Suffer From More Wear And Tear?
The answer to this question can vary depending on where you live and how bad your winters are.
If you live in the north, where annual snowfall is measured in two or even three digit-inch numbers, then chances are good that your two-stage snow blower is going to take some abuse.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should scratch a two-stage snow blower off your list.
By taking some basic measures and keeping a few things in mind, you can still do just fine with a “Quality” two-stage snowblower.
One of the most common problems you are likely to run into with a heavily used snow blower is a failure in one or more shear pins.
These are essentially small bolts that go through the auger’s shaft to secure it to the drive shaft that moves the auger blades.
Also known as shear bolts, they typically have small grooves in them and/or are held in place by a small cotter pin.
They are essentially designed to break away when too much force is applied to the auger system. This prevents the excess force from damaging the auger’s driveshaft.
Unfortunately, when a shear pin does fail, it tends to make the auger itself sit idle while the shaft merely spins on its own.
While the snowblower itself and the impeller might be perfectly fine, you aren’t going to be moving any snow until the shear pin is replaced.
Of course, when you are snow blowing, the last thing you want to do is stop and drive across town in bad conditions just to buy a $2 bolt at the local box hardware store!
In a pinch, you might be able to improvise with a similar or smaller diameter threaded bolt with a nut and two washers.
Ideally, you should just drop the extra $5 on a two-pack of shear pins when you initially buy the snowblower.
That way you have them on hand when one or both inevitably fails.
How Do I Deal With A Jammed Snow Blower Impeller?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that it is possible for chunks of ice and hard-packed snow to make it through the auger blades to the relatively smaller impeller.
If the icy material is small enough, or fragile enough, it might shatter enough to be delivered out of the shoot.
If it’s been a particularly icy storm, or you were perhaps out of town for a few days, the ice and hardened snow you have to deal with can be a real problem for a two-stage snowblower.
In a situation like this, hard chunks might make it to the impeller, and potentially jam or even damage it!
When this happens, you’ll likely hear a sound like a gravel truck dumping its load, with a possible mechanical wine.
If this happens with a two-stage snow blower, you need to stop it immediately. The belts or pulleys that help move the impeller simply isn’t designed to take this level of abuse and attempt to just “Grind” through it could cause expensive damage.
Of course, freeing the frozen chunk of snow or ice isn’t always easy. You need to turn the snow blower off completely. Then tilt it back.
If you can clearly see it, you might be able to break-up or dislodge the ice chunk with a wood dowel or broom handle. There might still be a little tension left in the system, so you should never stick your hand in.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that excess snow left in your snow blower from the previous session can partially melt and refreeze.
When this happens, it can also lock up the impeller or the augers. In a pinch, you can deal with this by turning the snowblower so the auger-impeller area is facing up.
Then pour very hot, salted water on it. As it melts, you can try to move the impeller. When it seems to be moving freely. You should start the snowblower to get things moving before the water freezes again.
When you put it away at the end of the next session, you should make a point to run it until all the snow and slush runs out of it.
How Does A Three-Stage Snow Blower Work?
As you might imagine, a two-stage and three-stage snow blower have a lot in common. The distinct difference is that a three-stage snow blower has an additional stage built into it that is designed to grind up hard-packed snow and occasional ice chunks before they are discharged by the impeller.
Three-stage snow blowers are more popular in the northern parts of the United States.
They are often the preferred option around the Great Lakes states, and the front range of the Rockies as well as New England, where storms can frequently shift between freezing rain and snow.
This also means that a three-stage snow blower is more likely to chew through tough areas of ice and snow, rather than run over the top of it.
The additional power also means that you might be able to move faster than you can with a two-stage snowblower.
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For the most part, a three-stage snow blower can handle more than a two-stage on any given storm. It can still have problems with shear pins failing.
However, this is still an important safety measure, and the shear pins are typically rated for the capability of the snowblower.
One area of concern to watch out for when it comes to a three-stage snow blower is an accidental article of clothing lost under the snow.
Something as innocuous as a child’s mitten left on the driveway before it’s covered with snow can turn into a serious problem if it makes it past a three-stage snow blowers auger.
With a two-stage, the mitten would just be jammed up in the impeller, and you can wriggle it free with a dowel or a pair of pliers.
In a three-stage snow blower, the mitten’s fabric and elastic can quickly become snarled up in the system taking the better part of an hour to remove. In an extreme case, it can affect the belts, which might require you to go to a repair shop.
You can typically find a two-stage snow blower for cheaper than a three-stage. Just keep in mind that there will be times when you need to break out the shovel to deal with ice, packed snow, and the inevitable windrows at the end of your driveway.
If you have a little more money in the budget, and you live in a region where winter delivers as much ice as it does snow, then a three-stage snow blower is likely best for you.
I operate a seasonal lawn maintenance business and have 20 years of experience with cool season grasses and coordinating labour for residential yards. I do a lot of work outside as well as writing, making films, equity investing, and overseas travel during the cold winter. Previous life as an architectural design intern.