When shopping for used snow blowers, invariably, they are older than they appear. It is hard to distinguish age. However, the Build Date (or DOM) on various machines can be found on the product label.
Here's some insider information that may help you.
On all Husqvarna-made machines, the first 6 digits of the serial number identify the build date in the sequence of MMDDYY. Husqvarna also makes Poulan Pro, Jonsered, and some Craftsman snow blowers, among others. Look for the distinctive snow box with slanted corners (or 5-sided face when viewed from the front). Many Husqvarna-made snow blowers feature rounded handles that curl outward and back to the handlebars. For Craftsman made by Husqvarna, the first 3 digits of the Model Number are 917. Refer to the 4 pictures below of snow blowers manufactured by Husqvarna.
On MTD-made machines, the first five characters of the Serial Number identify the Build Date. This is somewhat harder to interpret. For example, if the Serial Number is 1I251B10267, the first character, 1, identifies the Decade. The second character, I, identifies the month where A through L represent January through December. The next two digits identify the day within the month. The fifth character, a digit, identifies the Year within the Decade. So, 1I251 gives a build date of September 25, 2001. MTD also makes Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, White Outdoor, Yard-Man, Yard Machines, and most Craftsman snow blowers. They also make specialty brands (for Ace, Tractor Supply (Huskee) and others). MTD-made machines can be spotted by the square-faced snow box with half-moon side profile and the narrow flat metal panel or molded plastic panel at the top of the handlebars. The first 3 digits of the Model Number are 247 on Craftsman made by MTD. Refer to the next 7 pictures of snow blowers manufactured by MTD..
On Murray-made machines, there is a Date Code that is usually 4 digits, where the first digit identifies the Year (you need an idea of the decade, mostly 1990s) and the last 3 digits identify the sequential day within the year. For example, if the Date Code is 5240, the first character, 5, identifies the Year. The last 3 digits identify the sequential day within the year, nnn of 365. So, 5240 gives a build date of the 240th day in 1995 or August 28, 1995. Murray also makes (or made) Noma, many John Deere, Simplicity Medium-Duty (not Signature Pro), and many older Craftsman snow blowers, among others. (Note that Simplicity does not provide date information on their equipment.) Murray-made snow blowers are distinguished by their waterfall handle/dashboard design. The first 3 digits of the Model Number are 536 or 502 on Craftsman made by Murray. Refer to the following 7 pictures of snow blowers made by Murray.
Early John Deere machines were made by Ariens. They feature the Ariens 924-Series traction drive and telltale Ariens tear-drop snow box and wide chute, but the handlebar design is unique to John Deere. Refer to the first picture below. Ariens also made some early 2000s John Deere machines based on Ariens' 932-Series, with Ariens' signature square snow box. Note that Ariens does not provide any date information on their labels, while John Deere did offer a DOM. The second and third pictures below show a 2001 John Deere followed by a 2001 Ariens 932-Series on which it was based..
The best full-size, two-stage snow blowers are (1) Simplicity Signature PRO, (2) Ariens, (3) Toro. Simplicity Heavy-Duty is roughly comparable to Ariens and Toro. I do not include the Simplicity Medium-Duty because it is entirely made by Murray.
All of the other brands are made by Husqvarna, MTD, or Murray, and they are noticeably inferior in quality. Compromises range from thinner gauge metal for the snow box and traction drive, thinner and lighter augurs, weaker impeller, less robust friction drive, and smaller worm gears (augur gearbox) to flimsy controls, unreliable differential triggers, and smaller axles. For example, Husqvarna uses half axles on each side of the worm gear to hold the augurs. Believe it or not, the augur axles do not go all the way across to the sides! Most "power steering" triggers use light cables to operate releases (mostly plastic) that are located external to the machine, i.e., in or adjacent to the wheel, instead of releasing the differential. These are prone to seizure and failure. The Ariens DLX release is not designed as an 'add-on' like those I just described..
Older Ariens were built like tanks, as were some others like Jacobsen (now gone), but there is risk associated with wear-and-tear on internal parts like cast aluminum components (prone to fractures), carrier assemblies, pinions, axles, bushings, bearings, fittings, brake parts, friction disc, etc. Often when you get inside these older machines, the parts list needed for repair are so costly, it does not make sense to fix them.
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