If you decide to buy a snow blower used from a private party, try to buy a lightly used and/or extremely well-cared for and maintained machine. I encourage people to stick with Ariens, Toro, or Simplicity (Simplicity Signature PRO and Heavy-Duty models only). Simplicity Signature Pro models are very expensive, professional-grade equipment. Simplicity Heavy-Duty, Ariens, and Toro are more modestly priced. If maneuverability is an issue, try to find one with an axle release handle or trigger(s) on the handlebar.
Older Ariens and Toro machines are sturdier, with heavier-steel tractor drive, snow box, impeller, and augur components. However, when you buy an older machine you are more likely to have to replace a slew of wear-and-tear items. Any of the following may need attention: friction disc, wheel and augur drive bushings, flange bearings, impeller main ball bearing or kit, pinion shaft, pinion and sprocket assemblies, friction plate bearing assembly (very expensive), speed fork, and augurs. Owing to recent increases in parts prices, repair can become extremely costly very quickly.
For example, the augurs (also called "rakes") can become frozen to the axle shaft owing to accumulation of rust. Upon an impact, an augur will not break its shear pin(s) and spin freely as intended. This can result in severe damage to the augur(s), augur gearbox, and even the impeller shaft. Sometimes, the augurs can be freed using a high heat torch without removing them, but this is a labor intensive process that more often than not will fail. However, if the augurs and axle have to be removed and/or replaced, the entire augur assembly and augur gearbox must be dismantled. The cost of parts and labor make it prohibitive to perform such a fix.
For Ariens, I do not recommend buying anything that precedes the 1979 Ariens 724 and 824 owing to the non-intuitive design of the controls. These can be dangerous because the clutch is released to engage drive and pulled up to stop the machine. Hence, there is no safety release. You can find out more about the vintages of Ariens snow blowers in Article 17 within this Library.
Note that earlier Ariens (prior to 2000) have a round transition from the impeller outlet to the base of the chute. This transition refers to the flange on which the chute rotates. The round transition has tight steel fabrication to make a smooth connection surface for the snow to travel through from the barrel to the chute. Further, since the chute has a round base, this results in a smooth and direct round-to-round connection to the chute. Later Ariens employ a square transition with some steel "folds" in the flange that can catch snow. This creates a non-matched, non-contiguous square-to-round connection to the chute. The much smoother round transition has fewer obstructions than the later square transition and is much less likely to clog.
Beware of actual age. Many machines appear to be of newer vintage than they really are. One tip-off of age is the engine. If it has an original engine that has a flathead design with the valves adjacent to (to the side of) the cylinder, it probably dates to the early 2000s or before. If the engine has a Tecumseh Overhead Valve (OHV) design, where the valves are located over the top of the cylinder, it dates to between 2001 and 2007 at the latest. If it has a Briggs and Stratton (B&S) OHV engine, it is generally newer than 2006 or 2007. These are rough year estimates. The best indicator of actual build date is the Tecumseh serial number or Tecumseh Date of Manufacture (DOM) number or the B&S Code, each of which can be deciphered to give you an actual DOM. You can find out how to interpret Tecumseh numbers in the first few pages of the Tecumseh Basic Information manual, but somehow you need to have an idea of the decade of the machine (the first single digit is the year of manufacture; the next three digits give the day number within the year). For B&S, the first 6 digits of the Code give you the DOM year, month, and day in the format, YYMMDD.
For example, many 924-Series (model #924xxx) snow blowers, with either the black or bluish decals on the control panel, may look very contemporary, but can actually date to the 1980s or 1990s. Two example sets of photos are attached. The first four photos are of a 1993 Ariens ST824, model #924082. The Ariens sticker just gives a sequential serial number and does not indicate the model year. The engine numbering, stamped into the top of the engine shroud, shows a serial number of 3145D that indicates a DOM of the 145th day of 1993, or May 25, 1993.
The next four photos are of a 2002 Ariens 824 that I refurbished, model #932101. Again, the Ariens sticker does not indicate model year. The engine DOM number 1353D indicates a DOM of the 353rd day of 2001, or Dec. 19, 2001.
924-Series snow blowers with the lower-set control panel (about 1/2 way up the handlebars) date to the 1980s. Refer to the next 4 pictures of a 1984 Ariens ST824, model #924050. The engine DOM number 4177D indicates a DOM of the 177th day of 1984, or Jun. 25, 1984. This early-80s snow blower has a short, squat, wide chute that matches early 80s machines.
The following 4 pictures are of a 1989 Ariens ST824, model #924050. The engine DOM number 9271D indicates a DOM of the 271st day of 1989, or Sep. 28, 1989. Note that this late-80s snow blower has a somewhat taller chute, which came in the latter part of the decade.
Compact Ariens snow blowers are not as robust as their full-sized counterparts, but are acceptable choices for buyers who want a smaller machine that is easier to handle and store, but with a 24-inch cutting width. Note that the lower snow box height and augurs and smaller impeller restrict compact snow blowers to less snowfall depth (up to about 12 inches) and snow intake. The next 4 pictures show examples of compact Ariens 932-0xx Series and successor 920-0xx Series that are suitable to light-duty snow blowing. The first is a 1998 ST724, model #932022, with Tecumseh flathead engine. The second is a 1997 ST724, model #932027, with Tecumseh flathead engine. The third is a 2002 ST724, model #932035, with Tecumseh OHV engine. The fourth is a 2007 ST624e, model #920001, with Tecumseh OHV engine.
Both Toro's full-sized and compact snow blowers feature good quality construction. Again the same rules apply to Toro as Ariens. The engine and date codes are most reliable for determining age. Most Toros up through the early-to-mid 2000s feature barrel-style augurs that match snow intake capacity (Stage 1 - Intake) to the impeller (Stage 2 - Throwing) to help prevent clogging. This design prevents overloading the impeller and outlet to the chute, which in turn could cause clogging. Later Toros, made after about 2000 are somewhat lighter in construction. Instead of barrel-style augurs they employ a channel in the snow box that reroutes excess snow at the impeller to regulate snow intake and help prevent clogging. We are less impressed with these new Toro snow blowers, which tend to rust out more quickly and clog more readily than their earlier counterparts.
The next three pictures show several mainstream Toro snow blower models with different capabilities. Note that all of these snow blowers feature Tecumseh flathead engines, dating them to years prior to roughly 2000.
The first Toro picture is of a 1989 Toro 824 Power Shift, model #38540. Toro's premium Power Shift model is unique in that it has drive wheels that can be shifted backwards to the rear of the traction drive (and returned forward) to provide more down force on the snow box at the front of the machine. This design is intended to offer better snow clearing in very adverse conditions, something which is most valuable to professional users. However, in practical application, this feature is not particularly valuable to the typical homeowner, since it makes the machine very heavy to lift up and turn (when in the rearward wheel setting), and offers little advantage in clearing snow under most conditions. Also, it adds complexity to the controls, since the integrated Power Shift mechanism has many parts that can be costly to fix. The Toro Power Shift is a good choice for the commercial user or the sophisticated homeowner who needs great cutting power.
The next Toro picture is of a 1997 824 XL Power Throw, model #38083. It employs the same sturdy construction and snow box as the Power Shift, but omits the Power Shift feature. It's a bit lighter and much easier to operate overall with greater reliability. The wheels are set a little rearward of the forward position on the Power Shift, providing a good balance between performance and weight at the handlebars. This is a very good, traditional snow blower.
The last Toro picture is of a 1996 Toro compact 724, model #38072. Despite its compact design, it is well-constructed with reasonably heavy-gauge steel and fairly sturdy augurs and impeller. We like this model because it is so easy to work on. It can be dismantled in short order and fixed rather easily. The only quality drawback is that we find many of these with peeling paint, particularly the green, Toro-made, Lawn-Boy versions, which are identical to their Toro counterparts except for paint color. For the buyer who wants a good quality, compact snow blower, the compact Toro is a good choice. It is noticeably lighter than its full-sized counterparts and much easier to maneuver and operate. However, its compact size limits the amount of snow it takes in and throws at a time, meaning that it takes longer to complete the job. Again the barrel augur is designed to match intake capacity and prevent overloading the impeller and outlet to the chute, which cause clogging. Also, the snow box height is lower so that it cannot be used in excessively deep snow. Therefore, the owner will likely go out more frequently during a storm that delivers a lot of snow.
Finally, the last picture shows a 2001 Simplicity Signature Pro 970M, model #1693654. It's obvious how sturdy and well-designed this snow blower is. Note the C-channel steel control platform with cast-iron handles! The big Tecumseh 9 HP OHV engine is consistent with its age. The many features include the differential trigger release (under the handle), remote chute deflector, amber safety headlight, and ultra-heavy reversible skid shoes. The sturdy serrated augurs and impeller chew up and throw snow with ease. This is a professional-grade snow blower for the most serious snow clearing. It is the best snow blower money can buy and comes with an equally staggering price. 'Nuf said.
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