Pros: An excellent snow blower for the money
Cons: It isn't mine
There is probably no more frustrating thing to review on Epinions than MTD snow blowers. The problem is the MTD make blowers under at least six different brand names (Troy Built, White Outdoor, Yard Man, Yard Machines, Bolens and Club Cadet). They also market "Gold Series" Yard Machines which appear to be the White Outdoor machines sold under the Yard Machines brand name, and are common on-line at stores like Amazon. They also make custom series machines for big retailers like Wal-mart, Lowe's and Home Depot. All of these different outlets demand different model numbers and often different colors. For example, last time I looked, all the MTD Home Depot machines were black. And, needless to say, every model year gets a new number.
All of this makes it virtually impossible to find a review on the actual model you are trying to buy, either from the professional review sites like Consumer Reports, or from us gifted amateurs over at Epinions. Even the retailers get confused, and you will often see the green-and-yellow Yard Man machines and the white-impeller White Outdoor machines mixed indiscriminately with the black-and-red Yard Machines.
At the MTD site, you can only find information on the core machine from which all the clones are derived, which often has a different model number from any of its numerous relatives. However, despite this apparent confusion, MTD make few, if any, machines with exactly the same specs. Changes between model years are rare and usually minor. If you match the machine to the one that looks the same and has the same features, then it is probably the same machine. For example, according to the MTD site, the widely sold "Gold Series" does not even exist. However, the Yard Machines Gold Series 31AE6GLF722 is an exact match in both appearance and specs to the White Outdoor SB 626 Model 31AH6GLF790 (Electric-Start 2-Stage Snow Thrower 8.5 HP, 318cc 4-Cycle Engine, 26" Clearing Width etc...)
Which brings us to this model.
This is a Yard Machines Electric-Start 2-Stage Snow Thrower with an 8 HP, 318cc 4-cycle Tecumseh engine with a 26" clearing width, 6 forward/2 reverse speeds, and a 12" impeller. It is available in the standard black and red, or a stylish all black (from Home Depot among others). It costs around $800, and I cannot even begin to tell you how many different model numbers are really this machine. On the MTD site you will find it under model number 31AS6FEF700. Following the H&G guidelines, the EF700 is a descendant of the EF640 and I believe this is the correct place for this review.
I can tell you however, that it is not the one photographed above. Epinions has used the same photo for all the Yard Machines. This photograph is either very old or, more likely, one of a smaller machine. While they are similar, the larger Yard Machines have an extra black bar framing member between the handlebars, just above the top of the engine. In all other regards, specs, engine, controls and so on, it is identical.
Let me also tell you that I do not own this machine. It belongs to my next door neighbor, and I have Brand X. I also have a bad case of snow-blower envy.
This machine comes with an electric start. Just plug it in and push a button. However, it starts easily via the D shaped pull handle, and it is usually easier to pull start it than to drag it through deep snow to an outlet.
The handles have two hold down levers, one engages the wheels, the other the impeller/auger. The auger locks in place, and releases when you release the gearbox lever. This makes it easy to adjust stuff while you are moving, like to swing the chute or scrape ice off your goggles.
A turn-handle half way down the left side spins the chute from side to side, a full 180 degrees. It would be nice if it would go a bit past 180 sometimes, especially when you are near an already cleared area, but mine won't do that either, so I suppose it is standard. To alter the height, you have to stop moving and fiddle with locking turn-screw on the chute. This can be a pain in close quarters when you are trying not to blow snow on your already-cleared neighbor's driveway and need to make frequent adjustments. However, this is once again standard on machines in this price range.
The chute itself is a marvel, and one I greatly prefer to my own. It is open almost the entire length from base to top. This really helps it get rid of the hard packed goop instead of blocking up constantly, like mine does. On the rare occasions it does block, there is a nice sturdy black plastic prodder clipped on the back of the scoop, which is ideal for clearing jams without sticking your hands somewhere stupid.
The scoop itself is a good 26" wide and a full 21 deep, more than adequate for a small to medium-large driveway. The big impeller/auger is of heavy steel and notched to cut into the hard stuff. It pushes the snow into the fast spinning thrower. The 8 HP motor has plenty of power. On the soft white midwinter snow, this will throw it 50 feet or more (Mine is lucky to get 20 feet.... grumble.) Even on hard packed ice, it gets a good 20 foot toss. Wet slush does not get far, but it is still easier than doing it by hand.
Like all machines of its type, it is a hefty, heavy, noisy beast of a machine, and a fair amount of brute strength is needed to maneuver it, especially in tight corners. There is a locking pin on one wheel that if removed, frees it from the drive train. This effectively changes it from two wheel drive to one wheel drive. One wheel drive is supposedly easier to steer but harder to keep straight. I have never used this, but I suspect it may make handling easier for a smaller lighter person. Perhaps you can even get your wife to help out... No... Not likely is it...
The MTD blower has a friction disk drive system that tends to stop the auger when the load gets too much or the snow is too hard packed. If all else fails, it has shear pins in the augers, like all other two stage blowers.
My neighbor's machine is black, he got it at Home Depot a season or two ago, and he paid about $800 for it. He lives on the corner lot. Since we both live opposite a school, we are required by law to clear our sidewalks within 24 hours of a storm. Since we live on a busy county road, we get a lot of snow plow activity, and thereby hang's a tale.
Any snow blower will clear white fluffy snow. Some are more work (mine), some are less work (his), but they will both do the task. However, the big test is the hard packed two feet high mess where the driveway meets the street. My blower won't touch it and I have to dig out by hand. His clears it away no problem.
When snow falls lightly over a long period, the snow plows pass often and fast. Instead of getting a 3-4 foot high pile at the curb, they throw the snow/sludge up and over and onto the sidewalk. My blower cleans this mess unwillingly, blocking constantly, and blowing it a few feet at best. His plows through without stopping and can blow the stream as far as the side of his house. In the time I spend blowing my sidewalk, he clears the entire block.
The most recent snowfall of this year, we got a sleet-storm. It snowed for about 24 hours, and then we got wet sleet for about another 12 hours. After the storm passed, instead of having 2 or more feet of snow, it had compacted into 16 inches of rock hard ice.
My snow blower would not touch it. I could not clear the driveway at all. I tried to use my blower but it chopped through three shear pins in 4 inches. I had to stop since I ran out of pins. I had to clear the sidewalk, but ended up digging it by hand. It took me over three hours to clear 50 feet and almost put me in hospital. I also broke my snow shovel, my ice pick and my sunglasses (don't ask). I ended up using a garden spade. For the record, I ran out of energy and could not dig out the end of the driveway till the following day. The driveway itself was left to melt on its own. Luckily, we have a four-wheel drive vehicle and the snowfall was late in March.
My neighbor's snow blower... wait for it... would not touch this stuff either. Phew!!
However, his drive train absorbed the stress and he did not shear any pins. He sent his eldest offspring ahead of the blower breaking the ice with a spade and then blew the chunks no problem. Because of the corner his sidewalk is four times longer than mine, and he has to cut through to the road in three places because of the school crossings at the corner. He was done in under an hour, and even cleared his front path for the mail lady. What a show off.
Next year, I am going to have a MTD blower.
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The Gold Series/ White Outdoor model I mentioned earlier is very similar to this model with a few enhancements. It has a built in light for early morning/late night work. It has snow chains for the tires. It has a joystick to adjust the chute, so both height and direction can be adjusted from the handlebar. It also supposedly has an 8.5 HP engine, despite the fact that it is the same 318cc as this one. I regard all these things as being desirable and not just plain one-upmanship.... Grin!
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Any snow blower is a dangerous device, and every year emergency rooms are filled with their victims.
The most important thing to note is that the spinning impeller (the one that throws the snow) will keep spinning long after you release the auger lever, and even after the engine stops. Never stick your hand down the chute. Since this machine comes with a plastic prodder, while I have to hunt for a stick, I regard it as being much safer than mine. It also blocks a lot less often than mine does.
Small stones may jam the main impeller. When you release a blockage, stress in the impeller may cause it to turn slightly. Be careful where you put your hands.
I go through about 5 shear pins a season. Changing them involves messing with the main impeller too. The cylinder probably has gas in it, the gearbox could be jammed, and the spark plug may fire if you happen to turn the impeller far enough, just as if you pulled the cord. Always make sure they key is OFF before messing with the impeller. Better yet, pull the cable from the top of the spark plug so it cannot fire. (This rule goes double for lawnmowers.)
I asked my neighbor about his shear pins. He did not know what they were. In two full seasons he has yet to replace one. Hmmmm...
This snow blower is loud, so wear hearing protection. It kicks up junk so wear eye protection. It kicks up tons of find powdery dust so either cover your mouth with a scarf or wear a dust mask. As always, dress for safety.
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