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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
franimal007
Intermediate Driver

When we were young, me and my friends would see who got the most obnoxious car....I had a Mercury MX, I called it the MX Missile. I leaned but it was dependable and actually fun in the snow. My other friend had a Torino, very rusty, we had more fun in those cars than our classic cars!!! My other friend worked for a used car dealer and we would get them every year, there was like 5 of us who bought them every year....you know a change of pace! LOL
Mikeonthebike
Pit Crew

I had my beetle in south florida and the heater was not good enough even for the 50 degree temps you got once a year. And it smelled bad when in use, too, so the vw is a poor choice imho. Or maybe my sublethal carbon monoxide poisoning is clouding my opinion.
MisterCarGuy
Pit Crew

I have had a few of salt beaters. The best ever was a 1965 VeeDub with rear snow tires. 40HP, manual transmission and skinny tires - nothing ever stopped me. Two memories are as crisp as a December morning. The first, I was down the Jersey Shore with college friends when it started to snow. I decided to head north to my home by the GW Bridge up the NJ TurnPike. With such little Horsepower, I seldom passed sports cars so it came as a shock, as the snow got serious, that I caught a Porsche 911 driving at least 10 mph below the limit. He was straddling two lanes to keep the Porker out of the weeds. I flashed my 6 volt high beams (like that was gonna work) and after deciding he wasn't having any of it, I took him on the shoulder and motored away. He gave it the old college try to keep up but his "summer" tires were nolo contendre. I'm pretty he had a few sphincter moments since I saw in my read view mirror his headlights swing and away as he inched his speeds up.

The only negative to my '65 was the lack of heat and windshield defrosters. The anemic wipers were no help either but I drove it through 13 winters and it never failed me.

The other memory was a Christmas Eve night that I went to my girl friend's house - about 13 miles away - to give her a present - actually a BIG present - an engagement ring. She tried to talk me out of coming over but my VW had the goods and I made it safely to her house and back and she and I are still together!
Spuds
Advanced Driver

65 Baja Bug,those BIG rear tires with chains,I would drive past all kinds of stuck 4x4 trucks in blizzards.Plus everything MrCarGuy said.Worse car ever,2000 VW Jetta,couldnt even get it to turn the drive wheels in ice,sorry joke of a winter car.
Kewina50
Intermediate Driver

Hello Fellow Motorists! Reading this article made the hair on the back of my neck to stand straight up! I recall putting the good stuff away for the winter and bangin' around in $100 dollar cars (about $1000 equivalent today). While it's hard to argue with the content of the story, I must say for me that the best winter beater solution was to get the Hell out of rusty New York State and go to a no snow, no salt place. I get pretty good bang for the buck on the insurance too! We drive 'em year 'round in this neck of the woods. I know it's January but, before I take a ride I must mow the lawn! Hang in there guys! Longer and warmer days are on the way!
RG440
Instructor

Yeah !!! Thanks !!! When living in Traverse City, I always said their summer was “The 4th of July”, only to hear as the leaves were rolling behind the vehicle “Where’d the summer go”…
Kewina50
Intermediate Driver

Hi! As a former denizen of the same latitude as Traverse City, your "Summer IS the 4th of July" comment is pretty much right on! What happens is the summer weather actually gets quite nice in the rust belt. You become seduced by the great weather and your vow to get away from the cold and salt falls off the list. Then winter rears its ugly head and you're forced to take shelter and ride it out all over again. (I'm guilty.) I bugged out almost 40 years ago. Bought a brand new car then. Still have it. ZERO corrosion! Salt be damned! thanks for the comment!
RG440
Instructor

Yeah, but, think of all the winter beaters you will be missing out on..
. Next Up""…….
AWD HEMI Chargers and sixes…give me the best snows ya got please and let it snow…Move over GTA, I can see an upcoming Mad Max movie having a winter scene with Tina Turner navigating the HEMI only to fade into a drone shot of her writing “adios” in the snow with the thing….think of all the police auctions coming up with all the bruised, beat and battered AWD vehicles becoming available as winter beaters !
Smithsonite
Intermediate Driver

No, no, NO! You cannot ruin an American RWD classic with road salt!! BLASPHEME!!!
RG440
Instructor

Sorry, it’s already been done by the previous owners thus becoming “The American RWD Winter Beater”
Passitbob
Pit Crew

Hey everyone,
Great story’s and suggestions. I lived in the Frozen salt incrusted souther Adirondacks for 30 years. I worked at an independent VW/Audi shop for a few years. For a couple winters I drove a Volvo 960 wagon. The boys at the shop and Art the owner broke my balls hard about owning that Volvo. One day Art and I were going up to the ice races on the lake at Wells N.Y. We were driving on a back road to Wells, the road surface was hard packed snow with some sand on it. He was in his A6 Quattro wagon and I was in my 960 Wagon. We both had good Nokian snows on all 4 wheels. He tried to lose me but I stayed a couple feet from his rear bumper the whole way. Both front wheel drive and rear wheel with snows on all corners can do well in snow.
TG
Technician

My current beater is a 94 full size Blazer. It has served that role since before it was quasi-collectible and was just an old truck. One issue with most of the above options is ground clearance. It doesn't matter 2x4, 4x4, which end the drive wheels are on... if the snow is above your bumper you aren't going anywhere.
As far as which end the drive wheels are on, I drove my 5.0 mustang in the snow for years (provided it was below bumper height) by adding weight to the back, so RWD vs FWD really isn't a big factor in snow-worthiness
JonMiller
Intermediate Driver
TGJ
New Driver

When I was in high school, living in a hilly town in Connecticut, driving a 1936 Ford Coupe with a slightly hopped up '40 Flathead (and snow tires), snowy days and slick roads were an invitation to have fun. I spent many a day and night just driving around looking for, and finding, folks who had fallen victim to the snow, and helping them back on the road. Never once did my old Ford ever slide off the road or get stuck.
1956meteor
Intermediate Driver

My winter car is a 2006 Impala bought from an impound auction for 1000$. I am on winter # 3 with it, altho with covid raging, I have been home alot more the past two years.
WyattBowman
Intermediate Driver

I have a 2012 Charger R/T. I bought it 3 years ago in February and it needed tires badly so I just ordered snow tires cause that was the season. It was on 20" 300c wheels (looked awesome) and the tires I ordered had verrrrryy short sidewalls, but they were blizzaks. The car rode lower than stock due to the sidewall height and plowed snow everywhere but man was it unstoppable until you hit the brakes... then it would actually stop! I have a set of all seasons for summer now and have since sold the 300c wheels with the blizzaks on them. Now the winter setup is 18" police spec steelies and 225 wide Cooper snows, and it rides, handles, and stops even better than it did before (sidewall is a beautiful thing)! I can drift at decent speeds with good control and can even wind up the steering to give a good flick for transitions and not spin out. Can't recommend the combo highly enough!
Uniquecoaches03
Intermediate Driver

I drove my 1960 VW Beetle thru several Illinois winters. Never ever got stuck. It would plow thru deep snow like it was related to an Arctic Cat. It had fantastic heater channels and new heat exchangers with a 1776 dual port engine. that thing would dang near set your ankles on fire from the heat coming out of the small vents in the footwell. I purchased a small coleman heater that ran off of a small bottle of propane. I screwed the base right to the passenger floor board.I would go out about 10 minutes before heading off to work and light the fire on that radiant heater. !0 minutes later there wouldnt be any snow or ice on the windows and always had a warm bug to leave the house in.
aquaman811
Pit Crew

Two of the best cars I had for winter driving were my ‘95 Saturn SW2, 5 speed manual & dedicated snow tires. Only the low ground clearance would stop it. Next best was my ‘98 Buick Park Avenue Ultra. A beast in the snow.
motorsledge
Intermediate Driver

Well, now that we're a month in with two to go I see plenty of opinions on this subject. Once upon a time I lived on a hill and had an '11 Hyundai Sonata that I installed Michelin IceX winter tires and steel aftermarket wheels, without the requisite tire pressure monitor sensors on all four corners. Come to find out, without the TPMS functioning correctly, the traction control cannot be turned off to keep momentum up enough to make the hill to my home. The POS just kept cutting power as soon as any slip was detected, just as you would expect, slowing the car when you wanted to keep it moving. The best laid plans of mice and men...so much for electronic driver assistance!
Allis128
New Driver

Fiat 128 for me, too. Michigan, northern Ontario, Alaska, upstate NY, a mountaintop home in Arizona, middle of nowhere in Wyoming, freeways and backroads of northern California, Seattle and all the surrounding mountains--if the Jeeps would stop pulling out in front of me and then putz along (especially at 11,000 ft!). I did get high centered once in my own driveway in Arizona, but it's easy to talk the neighbor's kids into a little push for something that small! Only complaint was 13" wheels and no really great ice/snow tires available. Don't even miss power steering when parallel parking on snow! The worst as far as staying calm, was remembering what the conditions are when starting up on a hill during the first rainy day in the fall in Seattle (and stopping at the bottom of the hill!). Greasy from 3 months of no rain. 🙂
Sylver91
New Driver

I've always had small compact beater sedans for winter beaters. Mostly bought from auctions or as-is dealership trade in. Had a mix of FWD, AWD and RWD over the years then would flip them and buy another beater.

 

I was lucky enough to find an Chevrolet tracker in decent shape which has become a very versatile little machine both in the snow and offroad. Perfect balance of RWD and 4x4 when needed. 

Air_and_Water
Instructor

When you accelerate weight transfers to the rear. When you climb a hill weight transfers to the rear. Because of those two laws of physics I'd run away and hide from front-wheel drive cars on hills in my old Beetles back in the '80s, usually without dedicated snow tires (which would've made them practically unstoppable). The only reason I don't drive my '66 around in the snow today is because of the salt. Tossing them around in the slippery stuff is the epitome of fun.

Slinging a Microbus around is just as fun and has the added bonus of looking completely ridiculous! 😄
SS396
Intermediate Driver

I lived in Maine and the best winter beater I owned was a 1960 Cadillac Sedan deVille 6 window 4 door. It weighed about 5,100 pounds and had bias ply summer tires. That beast would go anywhere in the snow!
HubieDo12
New Driver

In about 2000 I bought a 94 Chev caviler with about 68 M and a bad engine for $400.00 I put in a very low mile engine for $300. I live in North central Wisconsin and am a union bricklayer who works all over the US winter and summer. I drove this for over 9 years as a work car getting 36-38 MPG while most of the other members were driving new pickups averaging 10-12. I drove it back from Chamberlan SD in an 80 below wind chill and another time from Lincoln Nebraska I just got out of Lincoln before they closed all freeway entrances the other 9 men in the crew were stuck in Lincoln for 2 more days. I counted 32 semis' in the ditch on the way home. I drove the conditions and had no problems. What a great car!
flynfink
Pit Crew

VW Fox Station wagon was the best one I had when living in snow belt. Snow tires all around, always started, heater worked, and as long as you didn't high center it, always went. Fun drifter too.
1951greensedan
New Driver

I got an all wheel drive 2013 retired cop car. It starts all the time and comes with a bull low low gear I have yet to get it stuck. BONUS everyone gets out of the way cuz they think its the cops
mikeb63
Pit Crew

This article brought to you by Alexander Graham Bell.
Bartman442
Pit Crew

20220125_144443.jpg

I saw this winter beater at the local ski hill yesterday.

Bogartsboss
Pit Crew

I just want to hear about the Fiat 128 wagon. I haven't seen one in years, thought they ahd rusted away.
BTW I had one from new - an Excellent winter car.
Rayfelins
Pit Crew

2000-2001 S10 Trailblazer with dedicated snow tires. Goes anywhere in up to 10 inches of snow, and the Trailblazer package has heated leather seats and Bose radio/CD player. 235/75R15 snow tires make it a bit of a tank in inclement winter weather.
Rayfelins
Pit Crew

And parts are easy to get
Northernthrux
New Driver

It was the how does a snow plow driver get to work Ad that made me chuckle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUnEbNgHFco. Indeed my dad’s own personal experience in the early 1960’s in the mountains of West Virgina. Leave the Impala in the garage and take the Beetle.

wegweiser
Pit Crew

Growing up in Erie County PA in the 70s, we always had at least two VW beetles. My dad would put the license plate on whichever one actually ran, from day to day, during winter. Other winter beaters of his included old Scouts, V8 Jeep things, and a Wagoneer. I remember my dad bondowing flattened out coffee cans over the rust holes, in order to eek out one more sketchy state "safety" inspection and PA winter. The aforementioned vehicles helped preserve the family BMW 2002, 320i, but there was nothing on planet Earth that would have kept their Fiat 124 coupe from turning into sand.
VWSTU
New Driver

I'm with the Ze Germans. In college I had a 1969 VW Fastback (Type 3) that had been rebuilt by a mechanic at the corner Sunoco about 1/2 a mile from my house. He'd rebuild air cooled VW's that had blown an engine or been in minor accidents. He'd mix and match parts from cars that had been totaled resulting in reliable and cheap VW's for sale. It was his side hussle. I bought the Fastback from him for $1300, which was most of my savings from working part time, my Senior year of high school. I guess that was a lot then but the car was solid and always got me where I had to go until the engine seized 3 years later due to my lack of changing the oil.

In 1977 during my freshman year at Quinnipiac College (it wasn't yet a University), I commuted and left the campus for home during a snowstorm. There was already several inches on the ground. There weren't many early dismissals in those days and so I could only leave after class.

There's a large hill coming out of the parking lot running up to the main 4 lane highway (CT Route 10). The hill hadn't been plowed and there was no such thing as pre-treating with the salt in those days so off I had to go after all the "rich" kids with their new Camaros, Firebirds, and Mustangs finished trying to get up the hill and slid off to the sides instead.

Once they were finished, I shifted to 1st gear, slowly engaged the clutch with minimal gas and slowly drove up the hill at 10 mph. I had Sears Weatherbeater snow tires on the rear. I think Sears had them made by Uniroyal. Between the snow tires and the engine weight being over the rear wheels I was always able to get where I had to go . Once I got to the light at the top of the hill, I turned left onto route 10 which was snow covered but plowed by the state and drove home without issue.

Yes, when driving slow, there wasn't much heat in an air cooled VW but once I got on the plowed road and could drive faster than 25 mph, there was plenty enough heat and defrosting driven by the engine's cooling fan. Not like a modern car but enough. Of course, it's winter and you had to be dressed appropriately, not in short sleeves! 😆
Maestro1
Technician

When I lived in Boston and Chicago, I had a '67 Volkswagen Beetle that would get through anything. It finally died, I moved to the Left Coast and don't have the issue anymore.
Ragster
Detailer

I remember a buddy with a VW Bug would pick me up on the way to High School..1967-68 and I think he just gave me a ride so I could scrap the inside of the windshield of frost...cuz the defroster..(...what defroster ? ) ..was very inadequate on those older VWs .Yes...it would go thru the snow....
jaysalserVW
Advanced Driver

I used to drive a stock 1967Volkwagen Beetle in the Dallas, Tx, area day or night; rain or shine, snow and ice---wait. Did I say "snow and ice"? I used to laugh like a maniac as I passed those big automatic cars spinning in the ice at the stop lights. I merrily made my way safely anywhere I wished to drive. No chains! And, don't think that I was freezing inside my "small German capsule"--no sir, I was warm as I could be. Our children who sat in the back seat, used to beg me to turn the heat down--the vents at the base of the back seat were "burning" their legs! Hey--the German Engineers designed the Beetle to drive under the worst European cold conditions possible!