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5 winter beaters to endure the cold months ahead

As residents of hot and dry regions of the U.S. prepare to bring their convertibles out for prime driving season, those of up north and in the Snow Belt have to start thinking about off-season storage. When you don't want to subject a car you care about to the elements, that's where a winter beater comes in real handy.


Read the full list over on 

Pit Crew

I'll stick with my 1978 K5 Blazer that I've had for 36 years.  It has got me thru many a snow storm safely.  

Pit Crew

Nissan X-Trail


Having driven one across Canada helping a friend move, and subsequently falling in love with the little machine.


The flavour I drove had a 5 speed manual, AWD, and got spectacular fuel economy loaded down with two people, a dog, and one person's entire belongings. The number of storage compartments inside is astounding and they can be had cheap. A-1 winter beater material.

New Driver

I own an 02 Dodge Dakota 4x4 4.7 engine.  I find it quite useful year 'round but quite capable in the snow.  

As with most 4x4/AWD vehicle the driver has to be more alert than usual because of ice under the snow and others who don't usually drive in the snow.

Advanced Driver

You are electing to totally ignore the (un)dependability aspect of some of these. Most are old and totally used up?

And how does the TT even fit in? Has anyone ever worked on any of these "once decent when new" vehicles?


It's been a minute since I heard anyone call the LS-series engines from Chevrolet any but dependable. You are right tough, most of these are used cars, and that is the point. No reason buying something nice that will be subjected to the worst driving environment and conditions. They aren't supposed to last forever, just a handful of winter seasons. The concept of the article was cars that were comfortable, left you with something usable when they rusted away, or are otherwise fun to drive.

Hmmmm.   Winter beaters listed are all 4 wheel/all wheel drive, not a fan.  Yes with 4WD/AWD you can go anywhere but there is a danger.  They travel so easily in the snow that it is easy to get in trouble and not know it until it is to late and then you do a little unplanned off roading.  I prefer a front wheel drive with 4 good snow tires.  It will get you almost anywhere and if it can't get you there you shouldn't be there anyway!  FWD will generally go well in the winter nastiness but will usually give some clue when you begin to exceed the current traction limitations.  So that is my take, get a front wheel drive!!

Advanced Driver

Sister had a '93 ZJ with 4.0l inline 6.  A reliable engine, but prone to cracking exhaust manifolds with regularity.  She replaced it with a 2004 (WJ) Grand Cherokee with the same 4.0l inline 6.  It has proven to be a very reliable driver in 16 years (other than 2 driver door glass window regulators and trans output speed sensor).    With the gravel and calcium chloride being used in Oregon, the rust issues are not quite as severe as with the harsher salt applications.  The sheet metal is still all in very good shape, but the winter rims (alloys) have lost all their clear coat and look pretty bad.  Changing the shocks last year was a nice chore, as all the lower bolts were rusted.  Nothing a cut-off wheel couldn't take care of though.

Intermediate Driver

My 2004 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport 2.5L 4 cyl rocks. Even though it has ABS brakes I seldom have to rely on them when the 5 speed manual is able to get me out of so many jams. When I encounter sketchy road conditions I simply take my foot off the gas and drop down a gear and that car is immediately starting to slow down. It's kept me out of many rear end collisions. I can't say the same for the auto transmission vehicles following me, however, especially when other motorists around me want to tailgate.


My best winter car was my 1988 Honda CRX SI. I put snow tires every year and it had FWD, so it rarely stuck. When it was, it was light enough for me to push it out without help.

Pit Crew

Audi TT with winter tires will go almost anywhere.  Only when the snow on the road is really deep do you really need the higher clearance of an SUV (although many supposed SUVs have a pretty low clearance as well).

New Driver

My winter vehicle is my 2008 Cayman S Sport.  I slap a set of Blizzaks on her and can go thru snow up to 4" deep and ice.  If there's more than 4" of snow, no need to go anywhere.  Her reward for winter duty is track days and car shows during the summer.


My favorite was a 2001 QX4 I owned from new for many years.  In AWD, the power solely went to the limited-slip rear, and would bring in the front with about a 2 second delay on detecting wheel spin from the rear.  So you could fishtail out of a 90-degree turn from a stop sign, and then the fronts would bite and on you would go.  Great fun.  4WD was a button away if the crap was really deep.

Intermediate Driver

Gods gift to winter driving 1999 Tahoe.  I drive it exclusively Nov-April and it shares summer duties.  Had since new, I removed all the chrome to stop trapping brine on the fender lips, I have been ahead of rust since day 1 and it looks fabulous even after 269,000 miles.  A real workhorse and still a good looking truck.

Intermediate Driver

I drive a 2000 Chevy Lumina as an all-around beater.  It was purchased in South Florida back in 2017.  I live in New Hampshire and use that car for Walmart "door-ding" runs, pharmacy "up-front" old lady parking and it glides along in snow as if the snow was not there.  The heater blows nice and warm, and during the summer the a/c is perfect.  The high speed on the blower quit, but hey, it is what it is.  The headliner is falling apart, but a $450 professional repair job is too much for me right now.  I take care of the car and out of all my cars, it is the ugliest, but I love driving it the most.  Funny how that's the way sometimes.

New Driver

I will keep my 2011 F-150 4X4 as long as it lasts.  Currently no sign of anything but some surface rust because I wash it routinely during the winter, and desalinate each spring.


You have not lived or experienced life to it`s fullest until you have driven a 1977 AMC Pacer station wagon in the winter.


Except for the Chevy truck they are all money pits. 

GM for years have had the best winter beaters. They are cheap to buy used, cost little to fix and there are tons of cheap parts for them. 

You don’t have to have 4x4 to drive in snow. 

Some of the prime winter beaters have been the Vega, not pretty and uses oil but always would run. You use used motor oil in the engine. Chevette. Will run for ever and if the timing belt breaks easy and cheap to fix. 
Cavalier will run for SAE for Cobalts and the HHR. 

The S10. Will run for ever and tons of parts. If you just have to have 4x4 they have that too. 

the Barrett’s and Grand Am were honorable mentions. 



For your reader in Ontario, I have another idea, about 3 years ago I bought a 2005 GMC Yukon for $5000 out of CA, I live in Nebraska. I bought from a private owner. It cost me about $1000 more to have it shipped but had no rust, even the stickers on some of the parts on the underside were readable at 150,000 miles. I love the vehicle it is the third one I've bought from CA. I might add if you want them to last do a rust proof yourself, at least on the inside of the rocker panels and fender wells. You will get a few more years out of the vehicle. (I use to be a rust proof dealer) 

Pit Crew

My 2007 Honda Ridgeline with good winter tires.  Starts at -30, and still drives like a new vehicle.  No need to "use it up", because it will never die if you change the fluids and filters once in a while, they don't seem to die.

New Driver

Land Rover LR3

Intermediate Driver

I have two winter rides.


First is a 1992 Explorer for the deep snow/harder going and the second is a 2017 VW Sportwagen AWD with a 6 speed stick for the normal/commuting duties.


I used my first "winter car" in 1972, before anyone else was doing it. People thought I was nuts to have two for winter.

New Driver

Like others have said, tires are key. I've had many vehicles that went great in the snow with proper winter tires, but for sheer fun, the best was my VW Beetle. Nearly unstoppable, and light enough to throw around at will. I used to get up early on snowy days so i could play around a little on the way to work in the morning. Good times...

Pit Crew

I am guessing that I am not the only one with this issue as a car guy living in the snow belt. I care too much about my cars as an enthusiast.  20 years ago, I bought an AWD GMC Syclone to be my year round driver while my Corvette sat in the garage.  It was low mile rust free SoCal truck, that I couldn't bring myself to drive it in the winter.  More recently I bought an AWD Sports Sedan that wasn't as collectible, I still couldn't bring myself to drive it in the winter and it sits my garage with my Syclone in the winter.  I do have a sacrificial lamb as my beater, but I still keep it cleaner than most people keep their car.

Pit Crew

Picked up a GMC Sierra Denali this year with the 6.2, so I am looking forward to that this winter. Used to drive a 2007 Grand Prix GXP with the 327 V8 but that got handed down to my oldest son 3 years ago. It was a fun car! Had paddle shifters and 303 hp.

Pit Crew

Hard to believe no one has mentioned Ranger 4x4 pickups. I have an '05 4x4/4.0L with 182K, purchased from the original owner (my SIL), and it runs like a champ, has had no engine or trans work done. We get a lot of snow most winters here in W. Central Wisc. I've put a set of Blizzaks on it each winter, a little weight in the bed, and don't have any issues on unplowed rural roads, or anywhere else for that matter. 4x4 Rangers are not easy to find in decent condition in this area, so they bring premium prices. Our "good car" is a '16 Outback, which - with decent snow tires - is at least as good as the Ranger when the snow is deep. Subi's are generally good winter  beaters, but you have to be careful as to which year you buy and how it's been maintained.

Pit Crew

Another to add to the list an old Jeep JK, TJ or YJ. Get one with a hardtop and you have a fun, reliable winter vehicle which also brings loads of smiles bombing through the drifts or just roosting around. Then when the nicer weather comes around, take off the top and have a convertible for the summer. 

Advanced Driver

I live in New England, and buy ALL my vehicles from somewhere else.  There is absolutely no point in buying something used here to replace a vehicle that is rusting out.  The last few, in order:  CA, CO, NC, TX, CA, FL.  The additional cost for shipping is more than made up in maintenance cost/longevity.  My current truck and winter-beater, a 2007 RAM, came from NC in 2014.  Still trouble-free.


we use the oldest sh!+ box we got.  No undercarriage wash down. Been lookin for something for yrs, almost invented my own. A 500 - 2,000$ S.B. (aren't they all) suffices. The nice cars stay garaged 9 mo (even less these daze, even the cycle is comin out in March as the climate changes). Right now its an ol chebby p/u. Tona bricks on the axel, double ck the heater, wipers, good ta go Dec - March (the NE usa).

Pit Crew

I’m gonna give you a strange one, I reside in NY, and since I was in my early 20s I’ve always had a beater, and a garage princess, I used to commute to NJ daily, and drove my 79 Grand Prix which I bought new at 18, and my 80 Grand Prix which replaced the 79 after a drunk hit it, and killed my cars in the salt and potholes of the cross Bronx expressway, so when I bought my 83 Riviera, I said no more, and bought a 70 Ford Fairlane for the commute, but that caught fire and got replaced by a 76 Grand Prix, which I loved, so my mindset was no more destroying my nice cars, later in the 80s I began selling used cars, and acquired dealer plates, sold cheap cars under 80,000 miles, well I discovered the FWD Ford Taurus, what a great snow car, welll low and behold, I’m not a dealer anymore, I have an AWD 2018 E43 in my garage, and much to the laughter of my peers, I just picked up a, gasp!! 2006 Ford Taurus, 79,000 mile one owner car, I’m in love w it, and I will tinker w it and in the spring I will use my Benz again, but only when I want too, ironically traveling on the Cross Bronx again, but heading to Cape May


All these suggestions are what only the rich kids would consider winter beaters. Definition of a winter beater: <$1000, have good heat and be impossible to get emotionally attached to because some knucklehead is likely to slide into it if I don't wreck it myself.

Intermediate Driver

This article got me thinking about such discussions back in the 1970's.  I live in Michigan - plenty of winter weather - and salt!  Back then, the ideal winter beater was a Olds Toronado - with snow tires (on front wheels, of course).  Most of us just settled for rear snow tires on our then current regular cars.  A couple of winters I drove my MGB/GT on Michelin XAS radials - never had more fun driving in winter than that - could toss it all over and snap it back - traction not bad either!  Unfortunately, the salt did a number on the MG.  Fast forward to early 2000's - on a snowy day, I test drove both a Jeep Grand Cherokee with 4.0 I-6, and a Ford Explorer V8 - the Jeep could drive circles around the Explorer - which was terrible for AWD in the snow, even with comparable tires.  Alas - the salt did a real number on most of these vehicles back then - tough to find a good one...mechanical - electrical - body...nowadays.

Advanced Driver

I am a huge fan of the AWD Buick Rainiers for Winter driving.   I personally have a soft spot for the V8 versions which go like crazy and go through just about anything.   I will admit the 2005-2007 V8 has the DOD/AFM (Displacement on Demand/Active Fuel Management) issue, but that can be corrected with a $200 tune, or the Range Technology DOD plug in.   Just tune it before the stuck lifter occurs.   I actually now drive a 2007 Tahoe LTZ for winter service