Unless you enjoy a hefty workout with a shovel, a snowblower is one piece of machinery to put on your “consideration” list. “Clearing snow by hand is a slow process in cold, sometimes frigid temperatures, so the goal is to get inside by working quickly and safely. That’s where a snowblower comes in,” says Tom Werner, senior product marketing manager for Toro, one of the country’s largest snowblower manufacturers.

But don’t wait until there are eight inches of snow blanketing your driveway to start shopping. The biggest challenge for consumers this year is availability. As with other motorized equipment, inventory is tight, Werner says. Snowblower manufacturers are constrained by supply chain component shortages, ocean freight backups and a lack of truckers to transport goods to stores.

Here are other aspects you need to consider before shelling out the money (about $500 to $4,500 on average, depending on type) for a snowblower.

Assess your environment. Jake Woltman, who works with online retailer Snow Blowers Direct, asks every customer: How much snow do you average per year, and what’s the consistency? Is it powder-like or wet and heavy? How wide, long and steep is your driveway? What other areas do you want to clear, such as a path in your yard for a dog? Are surfaces paved or gravelly? How far do you want to get the snow from your driveway? Your answers can help guide your decision between the two basic types of snowblowers:

  • Single-stage: These have a rotating rubber paddle on the front that grabs the snow and throws it out a chute. Depending on the model, it can clear eight to 12 inches of snow down to the pavement. Many models allow you to fold the handle down for storage. Single-stage blowers make contact with the ground, so they should not be used on unpaved or gravel surfaces. They are lighter than their two-stage counterparts, but users must push them through the snow.
  • Two-stage: These gather snow with a heavy-duty serrated auger that chews up the snow. A high-speed impeller then throws the snow out of the chute, as far as 50 feet away. Because they are bigger and more powerful, they are good for large driveways; heavy, wet snow; snowfalls of 12 inches or more; and big drifts. Two-stage models don’t touch the ground, so they can be used for clearing snow on gravel or grass. These machines are almost always self-propelled, essentially driving themselves through the snow. The downside is they are heavy (some weigh up to about 300 pounds) and take up storage space.

Get what you need to do the job. “The biggest mistake I see is people overbuy, purchasing a two-stage blower when a single-stage will do,” Werner says. “Think of it this way: ‘Do I need to buy a pickup truck, because once a year I buy a load of lumber, when 90 percent of the time an SUV works for my family and dogs?’ Instead of preparing for the worst, why move at half the speed and deal with noise when 90 percent of the snowfall can be removed with a smaller, lighter model?”

Battery-powered models are an option. Until a few years ago, snowblowers either came with an electric cord or were gas-powered. Lithium batteries are a game-changer, says Paul Sikkema, whose independent website, movingsnow.com, advises consumers on how to find a snowblower. Sikkema prefers battery models. They are relatively quiet, require little maintenance and don’t emit smelly fumes. Still, they may only run for 45 minutes or so before needing to be recharged. Although battery-powered options mostly remain limited to single-stage snowblowers, manufacturers such as Toro plan to roll out two-stage models with up to three batteries.

But gasoline still provides more oomph. Gas snowblowers power through thicker snow, throw the snow farther and, with sufficient fuel, give you plenty of run time. The biggest issue is … gasoline. Some consumers aren’t comfortable storing cans of gasoline at home. And gas has all sorts of additives, Sikkema says. Although blowers can operate on 87 octane (up to 10 percent ethanol), you can’t use fuel with any higher percentage of ethanol. If your gasoline does contain ethanol, you should add a fuel stabilizer (Sikkema’s go-to is Sea Foam) or after about 30 days, the fuel will gum up your carburetor and the machine won’t start.

Evaluate what you’re buying. Thanks to the Internet, you can find buyers’ guides, setup videos and other relevant information on manufacturer websites, as well as on unbiased sites, such as Snow Blowers Direct. Sikkema has his own YouTube channel with helpful videos showing him reviewing and assembling snowblowers.

Note added features. Snowblowers come with some nifty features. Some have a joystick on the handle to adjust the chute, so you don’t have to lean over the blower to do so. Electric buttons make for a one-touch start. Newer models have lights in case you’re blowing in the dark, and a few even boast a heated handle that warms your hands.

Be safe. Just because a machine is hefting the snow doesn’t mean you can ignore personal safety precautions. Dress appropriately. Avoid long scarves, draped sleeves or baggy jackets that can catch on the machine. Wear good gloves, preferably ones that are waterproof, and slip-resistant shoes. Check the wind direction before you start. There’s nothing worse than getting a face full of snow or realizing the snow has covered an area you just cleared. If you notice bumps in the snow, first make sure they aren’t bricks or newspapers. “And if you get confused or have any problems, simply take your hand off the machine, and it will stop,” Sikkema says. Finally, if the blower clogs or jams, never — and I do mean never — stick your hand down the chute. Use the clean-out tool provided with the blower or a broom handle.

Stick with brand-name products. To ensure you can get replacement parts and service, buy from a trusted, known brand, such as Ariens, Cub Cadet, Toro, Husqvarna, Honda or Ego. “I always recommend going to the local dealer first if you want a specific model or brand or if you just want to grab a blower and push it around,” Sikkema says. “Not only can a dealer help you find the right machine, but they can assemble and show you how to run it and help you with any warranty issues.”