Pros: Powerful, moves snow banks, great value, darker color than most others.
Cons: Plastic shoot needs a more rugged design.
Winter 2003/2004 Update
January had the biggest snowfall. Much lake effect snow. Thrower performed well and plastic shoot is holding up. I see in the stores some of the Yard Machine throwers have a dark green color. I walked up to one in a Lowe's store that had all the controls at the handle area for about $200 more than I paid. Shoot tilt included. Looked well designed. The first thing I noticed was that the handle bars where positioned lower by about three inches. this is a feature I would have liked. I have carpel tunnel in both hands, and when holding down the levers on the handle grips, my hands go numb. I have to stop frequently and let the blood back in my hands. The lower handle position would keep my wrists straighter and I would be able to go longer before stopping.
This is my first snow thrower. I looked at many different manufacturers and models. Here's what sold me...
1) I bought a lot of machine for $700.
2) I have a 60ft driveway and 150ft of side walk to clear.
3) I live in southwest Michigan were we can get a lot of lake affect snow. I don't even get this machine out until we get six inches. Less than six inches I can shovel easier/faster. I bought 9 horses to take the back breaking work out of deep snow falls and snowbanks.
4) I like the dark color of the Craftsman models. I did not prefer yellow, red, and orange as I saw with other manufactures.
When I was still shopping around I saw the Ariens at Home Depot. Definitely the Cadillac of snow throwers. Rugged heavy design with all the options. But, the 9-10hp models were around $1200. My co-worker has an Ariens and said it was the best thrower he's owned.
I then looked at the Craftsman when strolling through Sears. It was around Sept. and they were having a pre-season sale. Here was this 9hp with just about every option but a headlight.
I quickly set aside some more time and looked at other manufactures around town. Then settled on the 9hp Craftsman and placed it on layaway. Didn't have to pay the full price until Oct.31st
Unfortunately I did not get dumped on this winter. I was pray'in for a blizzard to put it to the test. The snow came in evenly all season and only twice did we have snowfall around six+ inches. In the mean time I had shoveled up some good snow banks and the city plow had accumulated a good size bank at the road and around the mail box.
With fresh snow, this machine can throw snow 30ft vertical and 30ft horizontal. When the snow has been compressed as in a snow bank, it will still throw it a good 20ft. Heavy, wet, or ice chunky snow will still throw 10-15ft. Most snow pups run and hide when they see snow like that.
Most of the time I used speed setting #2. I used #5 and 6 for traveling. I found the setting #1 was super creeper. When not engaged in a snow bank, creeper moved forward like a snail. When it engaged the snow bank, it stopped traveling forward. I found this speed setting useless, but maybe it just needs an adjustment. The owners manual has a section on making speed/wheel engagement adjustments.
The only piece I found a little flimsy was the shoot. My co-worker said the advantage to a plastic shoot was that stones would not chip the paint off and rust it badly over the years. It also does not have a shoot tilt control cable up to the handle bar area. I found that compressed snow beats the shoot pretty good (although nothing broke the whole season) and with the tilt of the shoot aimed more horizontal, the force of the heavy snow would overcome the wimpy locking mechanism and I had to re-tilt and lock it down to much. I finally gave up and let the snow shoot straight up in a big arc. The down side of a big arc is, make sure the wind is blowing away from you. If the wind shifts, you get a face full of snow.
One of the other reviews stated a problem with steering. I had no problems in this area. Possibly his machine was not adjusted or assembled right at the factory. I had great traction with the big knobby tires. I've seen bigger tires on some 10hp models but mine performed just fine.
I did not find the noise more offensive than the neighbors' rat-a-tat 2 cycle snow pup. The four stroke has a much deeper sound like a lawn tractor and the torque of a four stroke is incredible compared to his motorized snow brush. The machine will not bog down or stall in a tuff snow bank, set at #2 speed.
The electric start worked great and all large snow throwers I saw had this feature. Once started, the D handled rope pull was easy to start back up with. I always set the RPM's on high unless idling. It was not a gas hog, I only filled the tank once all season. I had expected to fill it at least twice. Probably holds a gallon of gas.
Considering price and features, it was a great buy and Sears is right around the corner for questions or parts.
The only better deal I saw, was an end of season 10hp Yard Man with all the options for $679 at a Menard's Building Supply store but, it was yellow in color.