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. Of course, it also means a renewed battle with that timeless, corrosive adversary: road salt. How best protect a beloved car from the scourge that is this chemical foe? Oil-coating or other rust-proofing protectant is one option, but some enthusiasts decide to come at the problem from another angle entirely.
Enter the winter beater, a machine burdened with the often thankless task of enduring salty roads for several months on end, year after year. These stalwart gladiators risk oxidization so that other, more cherry cars may live.
We recently asked you, the Hagerty Community, to share vehicles that you felt were great winter beater candidates. Your responses were swift, numerous, and shockingly varied. Without further delay, here are six categories (and one bonus group) that cover the most popular types of vehicles you choose to offer up to the sodium-chloride demons.
For many of you, the logic of winter beater selection is fairly straightforward: Get the weight of the engine over the driven wheels to best press them into the snow for optimal traction. This strategy, coupled with the fact that this layout is generally (current hellish realities notwithstanding) very affordable in the late-stage used market, has all the makings of a solid winter beater. Among the responses that included these types of vehicles, there were a few predictable ones, like the Ford Focus SE wagon. One user shares of his fleet of Chevy Cavaliers employed over the years. Yet even in this humble category there were a few surprises, including a Fiat 128 Wagon and a low-slung Plymouth Breeze.
It should come as no surprise that a brand known for permanent all-wheel drive would be common fodder as winter beaters. The svelte but low-riding Subaru Legacy received a handful of shoutouts, as did the Outback and Forester. We’re particularly jealous of a commenter by the name of wdb, who enjoyed a 2005 Impreza STi during many a snowy month. Their remarks about this rally-bred ripper sum it up best: “I prayed for snow when I had that car. It was so much fun that it should have been illegal.” Thank goodness it’s not.
Deutschland is no stranger to snow, and a handful of German vehicles were mentioned in your responses. On the more practical side, user AGC1962 had plenty of good things to say about their 2003 BMW X3 with six-speed manual and snow tires. Audi’s 5000 also popped up as a solid winter machine, no doubt thanks to its robust quattro all-wheel drive system. By far the most surprising vehicle on this list was the Volkswagen Beetle, which received more than a handful of mentions. An air-cooled machine with no radiator may not sound like a good idea in the winter, especially given the famously rudimentary heating system; nevertheless, a few of you crazies were adamant that a rear-engine, rear-drive Beetle made for a staunch snow chariot. (On a mildly related note, those of you sliding Beetles through the snow sound like a lot of fun.)
If Germany is no stranger to the white stuff, Sweden is one of snow’s dearest friends. Accordingly, the Volvo and Saab crowds were out in force in the responses. User Tomcat59 has employed many a Saab for winter duties, including 95 wagons, 99s, 900s, 9000s, and a pair of 9-3s. On team Volvo, ecuriekansas put it plainly: “Any 240 or earlier Volvo. Accept no substitutes. Having had 122S and 240 winter cars, they are sturdy, warm and you can stuff a small planet in either car.” Hauling ass with Pluto in the boot sounds like a grand old time. Associate Editor Grace Houghton can confirm—she rocks Hakkapeliitta winter rubber on her 240, which has transported all manner of furniture and random flotsam. Long live the brick.
The workhorses of the vehicular world don’t call it quits when the snow flies. An assortment of pickups came up in the responses, from Nissan Hardbody pickups, to Ford Rangers and Toyota Tundras. While a 4×4 system is a big plus for this category, it’s not mandatory, as evidenced by those of you loading the beds with salt or sand to boost traction. Trucks wear the most visible scars of how harsh the salty roads can be—cabs and beds rust away in what seems like no time at all, but so long as the frame remains somewhat intact there’s use left in these brutish beaters.
Rear-drive American iron
We’re casting a wide net here—the ties between a 1949 Dodge Meadowbrook and a ’65 Corvair Monza four-speed are only so tenable—but the variety and sheer number of winter beaters of this ilk was noteworthy. 1951 Chevy two-door? Check—216 cubic-hamster engine and all. ’77 Plymouth Volaré two-door? For the paltry sum of $150, to the salt you go! Camaros of all types, including the ’68 pictured above with a hood held down by a rope? That’s good for at least a full winter’s service. A good set of tires and a bit of weight in the back proved sufficient for many readers. If it works, it works.
Bonus: Cheap, warm, and well-tired
An underlying theme to many of these responses was that many were simply the right price at the right time, which makes sense. A winter beater is not a forever thing, after all; more than one of you noted that you drove your sacrificial lamb of choice until it simply rusted out from under you. At which point you would simply rinse and repeat as needed. Provided it could heat a cabin, fire up in sub-zero temps, and be fitted with proper winter tires, just about anything works in the snow for you brave and industrious souls.