Pros: Superb power, great transmission, real tires, steel construction.
Cons: Large machine, can still get stuck in the really heavy stuff (30 inches +).
This particular machine is sold under several different brands/model numbers but they are all built by MTD, a.k.a, Yard Machines.
Home Depot sells this piece through special order in a yellow color as a "Yard Machines" snow thrower, and several other companies sell the "MTD" labeled version in a red color.
If you see a snow blower that looks like this one, with 8.5hp Tecumseh Snow King engine and electric starting, then it's probably this unit.
I've toyed with the idea of getting a snow blower for years, but I always felt that the light snows that we get in the Denver area, coupled with my being slightly out of shape precluded such a choice.
Shoveling snow is "good" for me I would tell myself when I saw a neighbor doing some quick work with a light weight snow thrower.
That all changed during the 2006 Denver winter. My wife and I purchased a new home in September of 2005, and although the house faced north (meaning the ice and snow never melts away) and was a large corner lot (with a huge sidewalk) AND the new house sat in the foothills west of the city at 6100 ft elevation I was pleasantly surprised by the light amount of snow that we got that first winter. I thought to myself "this isn't so bad".
Boy was I wrong. Between December 22nd and January 10th we have received over 60 inches of snow at our home. It very well might be over 70 inches. I had to shovel at least a dozen times in the first week alone, and that was just to make the driveway passable. The idea of shoveling the sidewalks was ludicrous as the snow drifts approached five foot heights.
While I was busting my back trying to shovel my driveway, I saw a neighbor tooling along, clearing not only his drive and sidewalk, but doing the driveways and sidewalks of three of his neighbors, all in the time it was taking me to try to clear snow from our driveway.
I ordered this snow thrower from Northern Tool Company the very next day.
I did a lot of research on snow throwers, a lot of research, so let me spare you some of the trouble.
You don't want a single stage snow thrower if you get any appreciable amount of snow (anything over six inches), you want a two stage unit that pulls the snow up with the auger and then launches it out with a separate screw. This prevents the snow from choking the machine, especially if the snow is dense. Also keep in mind that even if you get just a few inches of snow, it can quickly get blown into much larger "drifts" that your snow blower needs to be able to cut through or else you are wasting your time.
You don't want a two stroke machine unless you are thrilled with the idea of mixing gas and oil in subzero temperatures before you can run it. Clouds of black smoke are another pleasant thing you get with a two stroke engine. I can't even imagine really needing to use the snow blower and finding out that I have to go to the hardware store because I ran out of 2-stroke engine oil.
This MTD machine really has all of the features you would want if you get moderate to high amounts of snow, but don't have a massive area to clear (if you have an acre to clear, then buy a bobcat).
This machine has a four stroke 8.5hp Tecumseh engine, which means it has plenty of torque for helping to break up light ice and move large amounts of wet snow.
The unit offers electric starting. Just plug an extension cord into the unit, set the choke and push a button. Sure beats yanking a pull cord in sub zero temperatures or fighting to start a motor in cold conditions.
This unit has large "snow tiger" inflated tires. This really helps if you ever have to move the unit any distance off of pavement or move it through heavy snow before you start to clear with it. This is far better than the little wimpy "mower wheels" that the lighter weight snow brooms employ, they just get stuck over and over again.
The unit ships in the crate with oil in the engine. All you have to do to assemble it is attach the snow chute, elongate and lock the handle and hook up the control arm for the snow chute, it took about 15 minutes from the time I opened the box till I had the engine started. This is especially nice if you are forced to put the unit together in cold temperatures (who wants to fill an engine with oil or spend hours doing assembly when it's below zero outside). The unit weighs 200 lbs in the box, but the unit itself weighs about 190 lbs assembled, which is one of the lightest weights for a snow thrower in this class. Just make sure you have help with the delivery if the driver won't be able to help you unload it, or if you are not able to handle moving a large heavy box.
There is a little bit of vibration when the unit is running, which should be considered normal since it's powered by the heavy duty 8.5 horsepower Tecumseh "Snow King" motor. The unit also produces about as much noise as a large lawn mower. My audiologist tells me that lawnmowers cause more hearing damage than iPods, so I would recommend wearing some ear protection when using this machine. The unit moves very, very quickly if you set the six speed manual transmission above speeds "1" or "2". I primarily employ the low speeds for normal clearing and use the faster speeds for moving the unit from one location to another. The two speed reverse is nice too as it gives you a little more power if, for example, you need to backup the unit on an incline. I find the unit very manueverable for such a large unit, but smaller persons might disagree with me. You do have to employ a bit of muscle to turn the unit around in a tight area, so smaller folks might have some trouble in this department (I'm 5'10" 200 lbs). The unit has two controls on the mower style handle bars, one controls the auger operation and the other one propels the unit. There is a separate control arm that you spin around for directing the snow chute. One nice thing is that if you engage the auger and then start the unit forward, the auger stays engaged until you release the gas.
The snow clearing ability of this unit (which is what you buy it for) is impressive. It has a 21 inch intake height which allows you to tackle much larger snow packs than is possible with the smaller "snow brooms" that have 4 to 10 inch intakes. An adjustable snow chute lets you throw the snow wherever you want in a 180 degree arc in front of the machine, and man does it throw that snow, launching it as much as 30-40 feet up and away from your clearing area in a large arc. The wide clearing width means that you don't have to cross over the same area again and again; a single pass is enough for sidewalks or large sections of your drive. The unit features a heavy duty "ice augur" that is capable of chopping through packed snow and ice, just don't expect fantastic results if you try to crush solid ice with it, it will just get bogged down. The unit has "shear bolts" on the augers that are designed to snap off if the auger hits something especially hard (rocks, cats, etc), although it comes with a few extra shear bolts, it would be a good idea to pick up some extra ones so that your snow throwing fun isn't cut short by hitting something solid. The unit also has adjustable "shoes" on the sides that let you adjust the height of snow clearing. The default position is to scrape the blade along at roughly ground height, similar to what a shovel will do. At this height you will want to move slowly to let the machine do its job. If you simply want to blow off a ton of snow quickly, then lower the shoes and you can go to town.
All in all this is a very impressive unit. It is light years ahead of the small two stroke or electric "snow brooms" that run into trouble clearing more than a few inches of snow. While this unit can tackle pretty large jobs it certainly isn't going to clear out weeks worth of snow, if the snow drifts are extremely large you will need an even larger and more powerful machine that has "drift bars" on the sides that help push the drift into the path of the augers... that, or rent a front loader.
The only real drawback to this machine is the size of it. It's a good size unit, and weighs close to 200 lbs. You will need a good size area in your garage to store it in, or you will need a good cover for it if you are going to leave it out in the elements year round.
I can highly recommend this machine; it's absolutely the "King" of the middleweights with amazing features and great performance for its price. Home Depot sells the unit for $699 plus freight; I bought the unit from Northern Tool Company for $799 with freight included and no sales tax. This makes the unit about $200-$300 or so more expensive than most light duty machines, and gives you something that can definitely handle some serious snow.
I'm going to close this review with a word of caution. Thousands of people visit emergency rooms every year due to snow blower related injuries. For Pete's sake, don't stick your hand into a snow blower to clear a jammed chute, even if you've stopped the machine. Snow and ice build up can jam the motor and when you start to clear it you can lose fingers or wind up without a hand. Like most units this one comes with a snow clearing device that bolts right to the machine itself, if your unit doesn't have one of these, use something like a broom handle to clear a jam, never ever clear a jam with your hand.