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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
turbone
Pit Crew

Sadly, this is true. But also almost every car in the Rust Belt has this issue and after 10yrs most have a chassis rusted beyond redemption. This might have been avoided (or delayed) by spraying the underside with a rust inhibitor and giving the underside a good pressure wash in Spring. I live in the PNW and the major cities have gone back to salting the roads when it gets icy. But I live in a rural area and we are lucky if the plow gets to our street during snow season.
stickman88
Pit Crew

The best winter car I ever had was a 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado. Big V8 FWD it was a tank in the snow, would go up any hill and through any unplowed road.
joetunick
Intermediate Driver

I think the car is incidental. What is more important is driving skill. If you understand how to drive in the snow/ice then you know how not to out drive the car. Certainly AWD/FWD etc can help but a winter "beater" is just something you don't mind the salt eating and that starts when it's cold. In addition, I think tires are very key. Tall, skinny, knobby tires are the trick. My best winter cars were 1. 1974 Opel wagon, which I drove to Alaska during the winter and 2. 1982 Citation X-11, which I drove in upstate NY for many winters. Both cars had tall, thin tires with aggressive treads. My third favorite was a 1984 S-10 4WD, ext cab, V6 5-speed. Again, tall skinny knobby tires. This vehicle was great because it didn't have enough power to get you into trouble.
bblhed
Instructor

Presently I am sacrificing a 2007 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD to the salt demons, I also have an unlimited wash pass that includes undercarriage on it to make it last a little longer. It is also my parts getter, Home Depot runner, appliance hauler, and then it gets to go to Florida to take the kid to camp. basically it is an all around beater, not just a winter beater. When all that traction and room is overkill I use a 2005 Scion xA that I bought new 240,000 miles ago as a beater. Honestly I never expected the Scion to last the 13 years that its factory battery did yet I drove it 125 miles yesterday without thinking twice about it.
gmw
Pit Crew

I had a '72 Ford station wagon as a winter rat while I was in college. It was so rusted that there was nothing left behind the rear wheels so the snow and ice would get thrown off the rear tires and collect on the wiring for the taillights and pull the bulbs out of the housings. I went to the drug store and bought two "Mini Boggan" plastic sleds and bolted them behind the rear wheels to act as mud/snow flaps. They worked well to protect the wiring for the rest of the winter.
I had some old Pontiac cylinder heads in the rear of the Ford wagon to help with traction. I was doing a slide by my friend's house and bounced the car off of the snowbank and heard the sound of plastic breaking. I didn't think much about it but I later noticed that one of the cylinder heads was missing. We found the cylinder head in my friend's front yard when the snow melted in the spring!
Those were the days when my friends and I all had winter rats. We drove them in the winter, figured out ways to destroy them in the spring, and then had them hauled to the crusher.
RG440
Instructor

That’s Great ! Good thing the snowblower didn’t find that head ! I always used my winter rides as doner vehicles for my summer rides. Parts is Parts is Parts and oh yes, Rust is Rust. Always had a copy of Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album, cassette or cd on the dash of the winter beater…
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I had a '97 Mitsbishi Eclipse GSX that just pulled through the snow. After a blizzard I was the only car at the hardware store, everything else was a 4 wheel drive suv or pickup. My Subaru WRX and Legacy GT Wagons did great in the snow but snow tires elevated the Legacy GT to the ultimate who cares if it snows vehicle. It was unstoppable unless of course you were hitting the brakes.
Zephyr
Instructor

You all make an excellent case for moving to the Sunbelt.
Corvetteman
Pit Crew

All you guys in your fancy European and **bleep** cars.. how about a 4 wheel drive Selec-Trac 1991 or 2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport with all BF Goodrich KO2 tires and a 6 inch lift..... also include a WARN Winch 9000 just for laughs...Winter in northern Ontario is just a blast!!! Yahooooo!!!!
AH3K
Intermediate Driver

'73 Saab Sonett III... always started, great heater, and with 70% of the weight on the FWD, I climbed Vail Pass in 15" of snow WITHOUT chains. Apparently, my girlfriend was so impressed, she married me... yeah, that has to be it.
gtokdx1
Detailer

In my early 1980's College years in Western PA, when I'd park my 71 Chevelle for the winter, I used my $750 1971 Jeep Wagoneer with 4 random, but circumference matched snow tires on white Jeep steel rims. Other than having to strap the left inside quarter panel to the right side due to rust, it was a tank.
Corvetteman
Pit Crew

Any Jeep is OK!!!
SteelyDan
Intermediate Driver

70 Saab 99- first car I put on the road, bought from a Swede in NJ who took euro delivery every other year on a new ride when he went back to see the fam. For Maverick money, this car had warm cloth seats, side defrosters, rear seat heat vents, rear window defroster vents, THE FIRST HEATED SEATS, FWD, & freewheeling trans. Four snows and this buggy went every where. Followed by a '75 Wagonback, 80 Turbo, 84 Turbo- never a problem getting to the slopes. Really miss them!
Mermanp
Pit Crew

My best all around beater was the 67 Belvedere wagon that was handed down to me. 15” Snow tires got me through streets that were not plowed. All you need is good snow tires and a stick shift, knowing how to drive in the snow goes without saying.
MattLaube
Intermediate Driver

I had a 63 Mini Cooper that never got stuck except if the snow was too deep the oil/trans pan would "plow" and eventually get bogged down. It was great on ice once you got it chipped out of the tundra.
My 91 Volvo always starts, will grill meat with the heater and it has over 250 k on the weak geared odo. ( it has broken a few times so actually it's a guess). My 62 Comet 260 v8 with drum brakes, bench seat , 2 speed auto trans .and the most over boosted power steering known to man was THE WORST ! ...but it only cost 150 in 1983 so I loved it !
ParsGuyDave
New Driver

So after reading this article, and the comments, I’m not sure where I fall in here. Learning to drive outside of Buffalo NY in mostly late 70’s and early 80’s rear wheel drive GM boats, my first car, which I HAD to drive because of lack of funds and common sense, was a 66 Plymouth with a 440 and 4 speed. Usually riding on old police tires I could grab at the local Mobil station. Everything is a good beater when you know how to drive it. Oh, and I never got it stuck….. no lie.
Tinkerah
Engineer

I'm thrilled my Rattamaro made the cover photo!

hughesrj
Pit Crew

I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canda - nice snowy winters. My favourites have been a 1963 Valiant 2door hardtop - slant six automatic - managed to completely pack engine compartment with snow from deep drifts and it still kept going. Second favourite was 2002 Toyota Echo, standard, with 4 studded snow tires - unstoppable.
leusgs
Pit Crew

2007 Honda Ridgeline. Not worth a lot anymore but runs like new and you could drive it to Alaska tomorrow.
Cookies
Pit Crew

I had a 81 GMC Jimmy four speed 4 WD..taught my future wife how to drive a manual with it..last year I had it the rear drive shaft fell off on the way to work…had some wrenches on board, removed it from front box, locked the hubs and made it front wheel drive…two weeks later lost rear brakes from rusted line..no problem, put a nail in the line, crimped it, eureka, I had pressure! By the end of that winter I had towels in the front wheel wells to keep the snow out…loved that truck!!
JGeske
Instructor

Words of wisdom from a current Wisconsinite and former Yooper with way too many winters seen: don't rely on any vehicle whose gas door has some sort of electric or mechanical release. The weak springs that pop them open when a button is pushed/lever is pulled will not overcome an iced shut fuel door. Good old fashioned pull it open with the fingers works no matter how icy. If you are in the winter with a latched fuel door, I recommend carrying some sort of spray de-icer with you, you're gonna need it at some point. Since it is harder now to find a good old non-latched fuel door, I carry the de-icer and also installed a more robust flat spring on my fuel door.
JGeske
Instructor

Further note: if you go through a car wash in winter, as soon as you get out, pop open your fuel door and wipe the edges of it and the inside surface of the fuel port free of water, or else you are just asking for a frozen fuel door.
BillyBuick
Intermediate Driver

Excellent Advise
BillyBuick
Intermediate Driver

Best winter car for traction is 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee
mrhammered34
Intermediate Driver

when I was working as a mechanic for the airlines my winter beater of choice was a two wheel drive standard cab Chevrolet S10, with a couple 100 pound bags of sand in the bed it was still a crazy drive one hundred mile round trip to the airport.
eastenddriver
New Driver

back in the 1970's in Vermont, after losing a Porsche to salt, I would buy a clapped out SAAB 2 stoke each fall and have it sprayed with used engine oil and drive it till the first good spring rain. Started up no matter what the temp as no crankcase oil to freeze and the FWD and skinny snow tires would handle just about any road plowed or not. Regrettably no more neglected SAAB are to be found , now Subaru take there place

SteveNL
Detailer

I live in snow country where lots of salt is on the roads. I also suffer from an apparently incurable disease that causes me to fall in love with my cars & trucks. I need a winter beater that's dependable but impossible to love.

The car that most fit the bill was a 2006 Subaru Outback, although the car didn't really fulfill the dependable part. In fact, the car never broke down or left me stranded on the road, but all sorts of parts that should never have gone bad did. And let me interject that I am still meticulous in servicing and caring for the cars I hate.

The Subaru needed a new clutch when I bought it with 65K miles. Then it needed a front CV joint, then a front strut started leaking requiring me to replace both front units, then I discovered that lower control arm bushings were torn, then both rear axle bearing hubs started rumbling, then my front anti-sway bar center link bushings went bad, then my front rotors warped and I broke all four rusty ten mm bolts that hold the caliper bracket onto the steering knuckle .......there's more, but I can't remember it all.

Just the same, a Subaru Outback with snow tires on all four corners is a very stable car in snow. While driving it in salt, I never felt the slightest tinge of regret. I sold it with 105K miles when people began warning me to expect head gasket problems. I don't know why people like those cars.
mkp20000
Pit Crew

So based on the list of suggestions, its wide open! Good points made in comments. If it's down to single digits then just know your locks can likely freeze, windshield will ice up, a weak battery will become a dead battery, and questionable tires in the summer become downright dangerous in the winter. Which car you choose is important but probably not the most important. For any winter driver it's critical to keep up with maintenance. Above all that, any winter beater depends on the driver. Leave earlier than usual, keep speed DOWN, drive carefully, and silly as it sounds...dress for winter! California winters generally have no comparison to what you hardy souls in the mid-west and east routinely endure. But having made many comparably icy treks across the snowy +7000 foot elevation Sierra Nevada mountain passes, my favorite observations are seeing someone standing on the side of the highway, blankly looking at their low-slung 20-inch rimmed sports car, wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt, basketball shorts, and soccer sandals, wondering why they slid off the road and can't get over the summit. Happens far more than one would believe.....west-coast city folk!
stanger351
New Driver

This is the rare question that shouldn't be answered "Miata" ... and the answer should be "Jeep". No ones WANTS to drive it, until the white stuff is accumulating, and suddenly its the belle of the ball.
Wayneweikel
Pit Crew

I think the question is really what is your goal in the snow... if it is just to get from place to place safely, my AWD Masda3 and previously my BMW 325IX are great and stable choices.... but if you are asking which is the most fun, my 1979 Toyota Celica... manual, RWD, and light enough to push yourself if you got in trouble. I'd be sideways around every single turn, and most of the straights!
JBaguley
Intermediate Driver

I loved winter driving in my 73 Dodge Challenger despite the toll it took on the body and frame. Grand Rapids got tons of lake effect snow each year (as does Traverse City), making slow speed corner turn drifting a frequent event. The Challenger turned well and stopped fine, but with so little weight on the rear wheels, getting started was always an iffy proposition, especially uphill. Alas, seven years of Michigan salt followed by 10 more years of Houston humidity basically dissolved all the metal parts, returning the car to the soil from which it came.
SFSGM
Pit Crew

I can ell you that a 1976 Dodge Coronet patrol csar is NOT a good candidate for winter driving. 🙂
SFSGM
Pit Crew

Ooops, hit send before spell checking.

Roadwolf
New Driver

your "winter-beater" should be a more reliable car then your summer "shiner".
Best of all is a good 4x4 which you failed to mention.
janedon
Advanced Driver

I don't get people choosing cars that are Low to the ground--Unless where they drive there is no accumulation of snow to mention--
DaveB
Detailer

The Volare!!!. My submission and an un-killable leaning tower of power engine. I had so many memories of that car.
Z-ONE
New Driver

Back in 1988 I ordered a new Toyota Supra turbo and with the first Wisconsin snowfall I quickly realized this sportscar wasn't going to cut it in the winter, so I parked it in the garage and bought at the time "Lessor" at least less expensive back then cars, mainly because of the rust issues with salt, my first winter car was a '78 TransAm and believe it or not did well as others have suggested with a couple bags of rock salt in the trunk! My second winter car was a '86 Fiero which was fantastic on ice because of the rear engine center of gravity and considering that I paid less than $2,500.00 for those cars back then VS. $32K for the Supra, made sense!
RG440
Instructor

Had one myself for a winter ride, slant six four speed, three plus overdrive…left the energizer bunny in the dust !
gunrocker
New Driver

I live on top of a hill/mountain top in West Virginia and my DEDICATED snow machine is my heavy 1999 Ford Explorer SUV. Loaded with a 302 V8, AWD posi traction, and 4 studded snow tires nothing has ever stopped this beast, snow, ice, it has handled it all. No other vehicle set up here is able to go where I live, and I can't remember how many stuck vehicles I pulled out with it. Beats my 1998 Nissan 4WD too!!!
digger
Pit Crew

I know it all depends on where you live. But ground clearance might come into play
RS255
Pit Crew

For 2 wheel drive Saab 99 or c900 hands down all the rest of you are dreamers. Front drive ,motor over transaxle, equal length halfshafts ....so who else has that . I have pulled stupid ugly vehicles (SUV) that were AWD out of ditches with a little Saab , you dreamers just don't even know just how good they really are , maybe the best car ever made for all around everything and I could argue that all day.
espo70
Advanced Driver

I don't know if its technically a beater, but my 7 yr old 117k mile Subaru Crosstrek keeps my Mustang from doing the dirty work from December to April.
JSievers
Instructor

The best winter car I have ever driven, by a large margin, was my wife's 1985 Honda Civic sedan with snow tires on all four wheels. It was a veritable mountain goat and unstoppable when the going got tough. On one occasion we passed a struggling VW Beetle in 10" of fresh snow while driving up the mountain to go skiing. Amazing.
bobbieduvall
Pit Crew

Sorry everyone, but the best winter beater of all-time, is the car John Candy and Steve Martin drove in the movie, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles". That burnt out, melted heap of plastic and plastic. The 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country.
RG440
Instructor

Yeah but the radio still works good !
cozmojav
Pit Crew

Those of you who own/ have owned an AMC Eagle know how great they are/ were in the snow. I don't even have to ask.
RG440
Instructor

Would love to have one today all meat-ed out…
Rjp
New Driver

A shout out for the Land Rover LR4.
I have not seen any harsh road conditions this vehicle can't handle.
It's heavy enough to plow thru snow banks and make it up a snow and iced driveway. Interior comfort is also amazing.
I would invite watching the YouTube videos on how this vehicle handles everything from desert conditions to mountain snow trails
Casey
Intermediate Driver

I agree with the inclusion of the rear-drive American Iron. A good winter beater, yes. And the absolute best for donuts too!
Edwardsg
Intermediate Driver

Anything low on power, good heater and tires. Must always start, and I’m good.
Icing on the cake was posi.
A good driver can do well with pretty much any car. Give a bad driver posi, and they will find objects to bounce off of on both sides of the road.
Just imagine if they did driver tests on a frozen lake to certify for year round driving in some states.