As residents of hot and dry regions of the U.S. prepare to bring their convertibles out for prime driving season, those of us 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.
Road salt, brine, freezing temperatures, ice scraping, and wet boots can create big headaches for a treasured car. The ideal winter beater can take a lot of abuse of this nature while requiring minimal care and attention. With that said, why not buy something that is still fun to drive, or at least leaves you with something usable when the shell dies of natural causes? Here are five viable winter beaters you (probably) won’t regret.
1996–2001 Ford Explorer
The 302 V-8-equipped Explorers are prime for winter duty. Generous interior space, 4WD, and decent ground clearance all combine in a tidy package that will at the very least leave you with a nice V-8 for your next project when you have to retire the chassis. This breed of Explorer is also equipped with the Ford 8.8-inch rear axle, which is a nice disc-brake upgrade for many vintage cars. Keep an eye out for two-tone paint, as this denotes the higher Eddie Bauer trim level.
The TT might not leave you many good parts once used up, at least not in the same way as the Explorer, but it is a fun little sports car that won’t hold you back all winter. Quattro all-wheel drive and an available six-speed manual transmission means you shouldn’t be bored on your commute. There are collector-grade examples of Audi TTs out there, both coupes and roadsters, but there are also plenty available that have been driven and used like regular cars. Find one of the latter, do some maintenance, and have a fun year-round car.
Subaru Impreza WRX
If a real back seat is on your “needs” list, then a Subaru Impreza WRX might be right up your alley. Subarus are known for their capable winter attributes, and their permanent all-wheel-drive system has long been a distinct selling point. Not to mention that the WRX also packs decent power and a manual gearbox. Finding one that hasn’t been abused or otherwise questionably modified is always tough, but for a winter driver the cleanest example is not your target. Find one with some maintenance records and go wild.
Chevrolet GMT-800 pickups
This conversation was always going to trod a path leading to an LS-based engine. The 5.3- and 4.8-liter V-8s from the 1999–2004 Chevrolet pickups is a perfect engine to use for something else once the vehicle shell is unsalvageable, as they are cable throttle body rather than drive by wire and respond well to modifications. Pick up a slightly crusty pickup and shamelessly drive it into the ground, keeping the guts for your next project. Bonus points if you can score yourself a WT-trim with the V-8, so you get the rubber floors rather than carpet. Now you know.
1993–98 “ZJ” Jeep Grand Cherokee
The combination of a legendary 4.0-liter inline-six, Quadra-Trac all-wheel-drive, and a manual transmission makes for the perfect winter beater—and summertime light off-roader. The Quadra-Trac system utilizes a viscous coupling to determine driveline power balance. Normal output is 60 percent rear, and the system transfers to an even 50-50 if the rear loses traction, all without driver input. That system was updated over the production run of the ZJ-generation Grand Cherokee, but all model years were optioned with some form of all-wheel drive. Buyers wanting more grunt should search out a 1998 model year model, as this was the only year the optional 245-horsepower 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 was available.
Of course, there are many more beaters out there in the ether with some good life left in them. Tell us about your favorite winter car in the Hagerty Community below. We know it’s tough to already be thinking about winter, but preparation is key.