It’s been a pretty mild winter so far in the USA, but that’s not to say there aren’t places getting hit with snow. Maybe you already bought a winter beater just to be on the safe side, but perhaps you decided to risk it given the mild forecasts. And maybe you’re seriously regretting that call because your pride and joy has become a rolling salt lick. Don’t worry; it’s not too late to save your car from the perils of winter.
The following 10 cars aren’t pretty, they aren’t glamorous, and for the most part, they aren’t fun at all to drive. Some of you might prefer to walk through blizzards than drive these cars, but with a decent set of tyres (preferably dedicated snow tyres) they can pretty much get you through winter’s worst conditions without getting frostbite. More importantly, you can find them on short notice just about anywhere in the U.S. for $1000 or less.
The Ford Taurus is without a doubt the most common sub-$1000 car you can find on Craigslist, even before you factor in its Mercury Sable twin. They’re boring but comfortable, they offer decent ground clearance, and they’re stupid cheap to maintain.
Newer Subarus hold their value insanely well, but the old Legacy is a common sub-$1000 find. Such cars are likely rusty with a bazillion miles and possibly in need of a head gasket, but they offer all-wheel drive with a manual transmission option. If you absolutely must have some fun driving in the snow, this is your car.
Thank the scores of high school and college kids who lusted after Grand Ams then either wrecked them or riced them to the point of absurdity. As a result, Grand Ams are second only to the Taurus as the cheap beater king of Craigslist. If you find one that has an engine knock, don’t worry because they all do. Just keep it filled with thick oil and bump it through the winter. Some kid will buy it in the spring.
Before you go berserk over considering a minivan, think about front-wheel drive donuts with six people along for the fun. Beyond that, if you’re just looking for a winter ride, you might as well pick something with a bit more utility. Rip the rear seats out and fill it with speakers, or turn it into a camper van. They’re cheap and available everywhere, and they actually handle snow really well.
While it’s odd to call the Golf rare, in the context of this list it’s probably the hardest car to find. If you do see one close by, don’t expect it to be a gem for $1000 but the odds of it surviving the winter are certainly in your favour. They might run badly, but they never quit, and they’re arguably the best little car for executing pinpoint handbrake turns.
Here’s one for the rear-wheel drive faithful who prefer to use their right foot to steer just as much as the steering wheel. With two tonnes of body-on-frame mass and V8 power, ‘Vics are exceptionally adept at ploughing through snow with just all-season tyres. You’ll struggle to find newer Crown Vics under $1000, but the older ex-cop cars and grandma’s rusted daily driver are still plentiful at this price.
These S-10 Blazers go cheap because the bodies tend to accumulate more rust than the Titanic, but the frames usually hold together. That combined with GM’s bullet-proof 4.3-litre V6 and available four-wheel drive make it the cheap small SUV of choice compared to the Ford Explorer and Jeep Cherokee, neither of which are as good or as easy to find under $1000.
The only practical hope for truck shoppers going sub $1000 on a running/driving truck is the F-150, and only because Ford built a bazillon of them. Even then, most of the F-150s at this price point are going to be two-wheel drive and quite rusty, but nabbing a 4WD for $1000 isn’t out of the question. They handle the snow well, and replacement parts are as plentiful as they are cheap.
If the Taurus is just too boring, look for one of the supercharged Park Avenues. They’re big and they look pretty terrible, but the supercharged V6 delivers a surprising amount of thrust. Not that you can do much with that in the snow, but when the road is dry it’s nice to have some horsepower to play with. Even the non-supercharged Park Avenues have some gutsy low-end pull, and they’re all well-optioned cruisers with long-haul comfort.
The front-wheel drive 850 is up there with the Golf in terms of rarity, and dipping to $1000 will admittedly be tough. Thing is, they’re cheap not because of condition, but mileage. Most American buyers get spooked when a car goes past 200,000 miles, but Volvos have a rep for turning that much with ease. If you can be a bit patient (and especially if you can stretch the budget up a few hundred bucks), the 850 could be the nicest winter hack on this list - possibly nice enough to keep even after the snow disappears.
What else would you recommend for CTzens on a winter beater budget?