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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

7 types of effective winter beaters, according to you

We're only a few weeks into the real thick of it up here in northern Michigan, but old man winter has made himself comfortable. With the arrival of the snow and ice in many regions comes necessary precautions, whether that be in the form of plowed roads, dedicated winter tires, or adjusting one's driving style.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/lists/7-types-of-effective-winter-beaters-according-to-you/
136 REPLIES 136
CJinSD
Instructor

A good winter beater has to start when you turn the key. Not much consideration for this quality is evident on the list.
olde_blue
Pit Crew

Besides reliability in starting, the doors and locks shouldn't be prone to freeze, not should the parking brake handle. The defroster must work well, and wipers be robust and easy to clear of ice. Fuel injection is nice, or a manual choke. Diesel is very bad. Extra points if your winter beater can ultimately retire as a parts car for your nicer vehicles. My choice: two wheel drive 1993 Suburban. With over 250 lbs of gasoline behind the rear axle and a locking differential, it goes well.
MikeD
Pit Crew

Make sure you place 50lbs of sand in the trunk of your rear drive American iron. Ask me how I know.
sclin10
Advanced Driver

Or in the front of your Corvair. I learned that from experience.
avideo
Detailer

An extra 50 lbs. of sandbags or rock salt works great in VW Beetles too.
When I used to commute over the Golden Gate Bridge many years ago; the extra weight helped keep my VW Beetle in it's lane rather than being pushed into another lane by the high winds the bridge area is noted for.
61Rampy
Instructor

One year I used an old 283 Chevy block. Front AND rear engine!
Rider79
Technician

I used to put 200-300 pounds in my 1977 Dodge's trunk; 50 pounds is not enough to make a real difference in the front-rear weight bias in a heavy car. I know from both practical experience, and from running the numbers.
copler
New Driver

Living in Chicagoland for 30 years.... Absolute best snow car ever - 1984 Saab 900 turbo with the 8-valve engine, fitted with snow tires. Doggy of the line got it going... after the lag she took off! Quirky awesome winter beast!
Rick
Pit Crew

Many people tell me that a Rear Wheel Drive vehicle with snow tires is preferable to a Front Wheel Drive vehicle. Does anyone agree?
VancMike
Intermediate Driver

In the PacNW (or any hilly country), front wheel drive is handicapped when going up a hill when the weight transfers off the front, back to the rear. My Seattle-area daughter learned to back her Saab up her long, steep icy driveway. An all-wheel drive Acura eventually replaced it.
MATTMERICA
Technician

I don't know about that - FWD drive in Pittsburgh was preferable to anything RWD, and there are legit hills in the 'Burg
Tsaxman
Advanced Driver

I had a 2002 Cadillac STS. The V8 sitting over the front wheel drive made that thing impervious to even Michigan's worst snow accumulations. After it was taken out of service permanently in a murder-suicide by a 6-point buck, I bought an AWD BMW, which survived the winter of 2013 and the massive blizzard we had.

Worst case scenario is typically only one or two days a year where you might have to work from home; and if the snow storm is that bad, a lot of businesses, schools and offices are closed anyway.
Eric
Hagerty Employee

yes, all day long

mchalewj
Intermediate Driver

Only if your "all day long"s are spent in Florida. Rear wheel drive and a light rear end make a recipe for poor traction. You Tube is full of videos of vehicles sliding on ice and snow--watch sometime. 2WD pickups do the poorest. 4WD do the best. Watch sometime. The worst snow cars when I lived in Pennsylvania in the 80's were the RWD Monte Carlo and Grand Prix. But everyone back then had an old Chevette for winter driving because of its light weight, low horsepower, skinny tires, and throw-away pricing. I since then moved away from snowy winters and can drive anything I want all year long.
TG
Technician

You can always add weight to the back end of a RWD vehicle. I think the big advantages of a properly weighted RWD vehicle is that it won't crawl you into more snow than you can back out of, and the loose vs tight handling characteristics provide the same advantage on the snow that they do on the track
topside
Advanced Driver

Well, it can certainly be entertaining: lurid tail-out slides, opposite lock cranked in, at relatively low speeds is always fun. As a constant diet at higher speeds, maybe not so much, unless there's a wide run-off...
Huntz-Hall
Intermediate Driver

Yup, I did that for years before I got a front wheel drive car. I had a 1965 Mustang coupe with 289 four speed & had snow tires for winter. I always wanted to see how far I could go with it in 6" plus snow. I pulled out of the apartment complex I lived in & it had been snowing most of the day & early evening so got out on the boulevard and drove through @ least 6" of snow. After a while I noticed it didn't steer very well so came back to the apartment & parked the car. I walked around the car to check it out (wow my feet were cold from going through that much snow) and I found that my right tire was flat! I'd still be out there if the tire hadn't gong down, that car was a beast!!!
RG440
Instructor

Yeah, seeing that 68 Camaro brought back memories to me also. I always bought a winter beater for Michigan winters and parked the summer ride. Well the winter of 1977/8 l parked my Challenger ( 70 burnt orange with burnt orange interior) and picked up an ass packed slant six 1968 Dart when the famous blizzard of 78 hit. After outfitting a cage to protect the gas tank and mount visible taillights the beater was ready. It was a factory 13” wheel car so I left the front ones stock and put brand new 15” snows on the back. LET ME TELL YOU, THAT CAR WAS A BEAST. It would climb over unplowed drifted roads. I think it was the entire weight of the back end on the axle and the light front end that made it an enclosed cab snow-Mo-bile. I was doing the 70’s version of door dash (free) for friends and neighbors after the snow kept coming. Passing stuck 4x4’s left and right and continuing on where they were stopped…..after every one was dug out, we would pull the trunk lid off the thing ( 4 bolts ) and go sledding for the evening ( FAST ) on it. After done we would put it back on and slam it shut like coming out of the showroom. The cars frame and springs were bent up but the trunk worked enough to get the lid off. Ahhhh….the memories..Thanks for the article !
OHCOddball
Advanced Driver

Most definitely Rear Wheel Drive! Front wheel drive and AWD is OK until you lose traction, then it's a quick trip into the ditch as you plow straight off the road. With rear wheel drive, a quick blip of the throttle and you are straight again, maybe not in the lane you intend to be in. Posi doesn't help a lot unless you have one wheel on ice and the other has some traction. If both wheels are slipping it is going to be going sideways. Our 93 T-Bird had posi and you went up the hill near our house sideways in the winter most of the time. Drove for years with RWD and snow tires with weight in the trunk. Trucks are useless in winter unless they have a LOT of weight in the bed. I drove Chevy S10's for years (put 320,000 miles between two) and always had weight and snows. Never got stuck or off the road because that is how I learned to drive in winter (Illinois).
dcx
Pit Crew

I'm a lifelong Buffalo native. In a word, no. Rear wheel drive is white knuckling and praying all the time you are on a snowy and slushy road. I don't care what kind of tires you have.
joetunick
Intermediate Driver

You go into an icy curve. In front wheel drive the wheels have to power the car and have traction to steer. Even letting off the gas the front tires have to brake and steer Who wins? In a rear wheel drive the front tires don't share services. Proper technique keeps the rear end from passing your front end. 

 

Just the same, there's good and bad attributes for each drive configuration. I don't think it's exclusively one or the other.

Rider79
Technician

If possible in that icy (an icy curve, not necessarily a snowy curve) curve, push in the clutch, or shift to neutral; that relieves all four tires of braking and driving needs, allowing whatever traction there is to be used for cornering.
Daves1800
Pit Crew

Snow tires are the single biggest single determinant of either motive or stopping traction.
MisterCarGuy
Pit Crew

I couldn't afford a Chevy S10 Blazer 4X4 so I got a RWD with LDS. I put on killer snow tires and it was a very good in the snow. It lacked ABS so it was not easy to brake hard in the rain but for snow, RWD and LSD and snow tires was surprisingly good. Also, I have a 1994 BMW 318 with LSD. I was on the pit crew at Daytona one year and on thew way home, to NJ from Florida it started to snow heavily. I had 4 really good Pirelli snow tires and with the 4 banger's low power and the LSD and snow tires all around, I had an easy trip home.
MustangJim
Instructor

I have had both and with good snow tires either is fine, just different. You have to adjust your reaction to the skid.
Rider79
Technician

No, not in general. Of course, adding snow tires to a FWD makes it even better.
JAG
Detailer

Anything can be a good winter beater with the right tires. Only problem is deep snow, then a low car becomes a problem. Ahhh the good old days when a 68 Camaro could be treated like that!
Boeingpilot
Pit Crew

I’m going to take exception to early (read rear wheel drive ). Volvos. Having had two 144Ss and one 164E, I can state that even with real snow tires they’re awful in the snow.

While I was in college I used to keep my complete collections of tools and what ever weight I could find in the trunk to help it out. But I remember many a time I just wasn’t making up a hill in the snow.

Loved those cars, but always thought, what the heck were the Swedes thinking (and wishing I had a FWD Saab instead )
MATTMERICA
Technician

You are completely correct, the volvos are awful in the snow
Oldimpala
Detailer

I owned a '92 244 as my first out of college car.

120lb of tube sand in the trunk and snowtires, it was incredible. I moved to Buffalo for work, at the time, in the southern half of the city. What locals call the "snowbelt." It never got stuck; I regularly plowed past 4WD SUVs (S10 Blazers and the like) where folks would get stuck. Plus, throttle on oversteer (whatever throttle a 240 had, at least) was great to maneuver out of the way for issues.

That brick got totaled by a person who wasn't paying attention, and failed to brake. "Upgraded" to a FWD Infiniti G35. It was terrible in snow. Added snows. It was passable, at best.

Switched to a proper RWD German sedan, and later 4-Matic Benzes. That 240, though, could hang with the best of them up to the Blizzak equipped W213 Wagon I have today. But, that also has enough electronic nannies on it that it mutes the vast majority of issues the 240 would have killed me with 20 years ago....

I miss that 240. Everyday. Unless I'm merging on a highway. 🙂
442xcar
Intermediate Driver

Ah, I remember her well. A clapped out Green on Green 1972 Buick Skylark 2 door. Plenty of ventilation from numerous rust holes, compliments of many Michigan winters. The rattle can 01's on the doors and a Mercedes Benz hood ornament told everyone to get the hell out of the way.......
RichL
Pit Crew

I had good experiences with my 1963 VW beetle in the snow. When I was home from college for the Christmas break I twice worked as a fill-in mail carrier driving my '63 beetle. I never had a problem with it in the snow. In fact, one carrier got stuck in his driveway on one of those Christmas Eves and I was called on to deliver the mail on his route (after I'd already finished a route for a carrier on vacation). No big deal. I went right through the (sometimes driving) snow with no problems. Then, later that evening, I went to my girlfriend's house to celebrate Christmas with her family. No problems then, either. (Well, not entirely. Backing out of her parents' driveway I caught ice and slid into the door of a car parked across the street from said driveway. Fortunately very little damage was done. I've not experienced any car that could navigate with any degree of safety on a sheet of ice unless, of course, you have spiked snow tires on it.)
So, count another vote for the Volkswagen beetle (early years, that is).
dcx
Pit Crew

I went through a few Buffalo city winters with the old VW Beetle, which I hated. That car is a rolling death trap. No heat unless you replace the heater boxes every couple of years, and the rest of the car rusted just as badly. The motor mounts broke easily, so the engine would slide a bit and not mate with the tranny/shifter well. But it was great in the snow when the rear wheel drive cars would slip and slide. It was the only car that I could get out from being stuck by myself. After releasing the clutch, you could gun the accelerator with your right foot and stick your left foot to the ground to push at the same time.
Bunka
Detailer

I had a 1961 VW beetle and your comment about putting your foot on the ground brought back memories. My battery was very weak, 6 volt, and I used to open the driver's door, push the car down the alley and once I got it going fast enough I'd jump in depress the clutch turn the ignition on, put it in gear and let the clutch out. Started every time. Sort of a one man push start. Of course you couldn't do that in the snow and you had to be young and in fairly good shape. Over six and a half decades later and I still had to get out this morning and shovel. However I can now afford to get a new battery before it dies.
Air_and_Water
Instructor

Every car from that time period rusted away in just a few years. If you didn't have decent heat from a Bug that was built from '63 onwards then something was wrong with it, and likely the thermostat was removed. Early heaters gave them the reputation of no heat, then yahoos removing the thermostat that "wasn't needed" did the rest.
Allis128
New Driver

"How does the tow truck driver get to work?"
Air_and_Water
Instructor

"Snow plow". If I remember correctly that was VW's first TV ad in the U.S.
PJducatisti
New Driver

In the 50s, I had a '30 Model A coupe. With knobby truck tires mounted, and equipped with the timing control on the steering column, I could her each cylinder fire and never got stuck. Such fun with clearance and traction.
Dond
Intermediate Driver

2000 Audi TT quattro manual transmission, anti-lock brakes. My god its fun in the snow (drifting). Never get stuck, starts every time, seat heaters and is cheap on gas. Give it a spray of anti-rust on the underside of the chassis and you're good for the winter.
hoser48
Pit Crew

My wife will vouch for her 2011 Subaru Legacy. 28 miles a day to work and 28 miles back through Lake Erie lake effect storms for 8 years with no problems.
merlebalke
Advanced Driver

When we lived in Madison, WI in the late seventies my winter beater was a Dodge Dart, don't remember the year. I do remember driving to the office one day when the driver side outside mirror fell off. We had lots of snow those years and subsequently huge piles of snow at the end of our driveway. For fun I liked to bounce off the snow pile as I pulled into the drive, until the day I ended up with a huge dent in the driver door. Eventually had it towed away for scrap, don't recall if they gave me $50 or if I paid them.
RG440
Instructor

I had a 68 Dart as a winter beater and a 72. Used both of their trunk lids as sleds and just bolted them back one hen done. One on the drivers side and one on the passenger side. The fastest those two Darts lids went in their lifetime. The 72 had a way better sledding design ! Used it a couple of times for hauling firewood then put it back on and slam it…. Always had Mopar, American Iron, Rear Drive A, B and C bodies for the Michigan winters. Either had slant six or 440’s. Loved those 440 winters….go for 1/8 of a mile warm up and you had a hair dryer blowing heat out ! Loved That !
RG440
Instructor

Fastest those lids went Backwards in their lifetime with one Slender on the passengers side and one slender on the drivers side. I remember the guy pumping gas one time ( yeah, stations use to do that ) asking me “how on earth did you get these scratches here?” Sledding and hauling firewood, the answer….
topside
Advanced Driver

The Breeze reference is probably me, haha. Yup, a bit low, but under 5" of snow it's fine. With proper winter tires, the little guy is unfazed. 303,000 miles so far - at this point it's almost a science experiment - it may outlast me. I tried a Taurus one winter as backup intel, but the Breeze was better at everything but high-speed highway use. Plus the dang Taurus' latches & locks would freeze in winter; that's absurd.
Not applicable

Although I now have 3 Subarus, I fondly remember my 1994 Buick Park Avenue when the snow flies.
Studenorton
Instructor

1953 Jeep MB38, with wide Chrysler wheels swapped off a police car, never had to drive through snow because it would hop up and go on top of it. Heater really put out, but with a canvas top and doors you were never tempted to get in without full winter gear already on. It was the ideal ride for the 55 MPH days, because 56 would un-babbitt the bearings.
buellerdan
Advanced Driver

I can relate to that last pic. One of my winter beaters in the early '80s was a 6 cylinder 1967 Camaro with Powerglide. Drove it until the nylon cam gear lost some teeth. Sold it for $100 not running.
911Guy
Pit Crew

For decades Subaru has battled systemic rust issues resulting in giant lawsuits, class action ones that made it to the Supreme Court even. My axle snapped, recalled after the fact, and it nearly cost me my life. Watch Hoovies’ recent video on the Baja, if you want a current example. The notion that Subarus are good winter vehicles is one you might want to think about carefully; your family and loved ones will thank you.
911Guy
Pit Crew

Look up case # 97-597 (Oct. 1997) as the specific one that involved me.