The calendar may not say winter just yet, but the days of cold weather and long nights are finally upon us — which means snow and ice won’t be far behind. For those of us in the northern states, that means it’s time to break out one of the more distinct sets of rides in the automotive ecosystem: the winter beater.
For those not in the know, a winter beater is a second (or third, fourth, etc) car that exists solely to spare your primary vehicle the pains of the hardest season: engine-bashing cold starts, pothole- and frost heave-riddled roads, snowplows flinging ice and pebbles, and of course, the dreaded salt that leads to the automotive cancer known as rust.
A winter beater doesn’t need to be nice. It needs to be sturdy, claw its way through snow and ice (preferably when fitted with a great set of winter tires) — and above all else, cheap, so you don’t mind it getting beaten up or junking it after a few years of hard use. We riffled through the online classifieds and came up with this list of vehicles costing $8,000 or less that we’d consider parking in our driveways eight months out of the year so we could save our precious babies the wrath of winter.
2005 Audi S4 4.2 Quattro
A V8-powered AWD sport sedan fitted with a six-speed Getrag manual transmission is not what I’d call a totally advisable purchase for winter months, but you could do a hell of a lot worse than a B6-gen Audi S4. This one is stealthily dark inside and out, and features my favorite Audi wheels ever (called “Avus III”). These S4 models came with standard Recaro seats too. I haven’t driven one, but some tests saw 0-60 mph in under five seconds, which I expect would not be doable on a snowy road — though I’d be willing to try.
The chassis is said to be reasonably sporty and stiff (at best), but this generation’s V8 engine — which replaced a small twin-turbo V6 — is what makes a B6 S4 sing. Some things to note: the B6 S4 gets piss-poor mileage, and if the timing chain goes your wallet is in for a world of hurt, so before signing the check make sure you’re not hearing an under-hood rattles. — Nick Caruso
Original MSRP: $45,850
2010 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L
The Accord Crosstour was Honda’s crack at Subaru Outback competitor — a lifted, all-wheel-drive station wagon designed to capitalize on people’s desire for SUVs without the crummy fuel economy. It never caught on wildly with buyers, in spite of Honda reliability, ample V6 power, a comfortable ride height for ease of entry and a decent amount of cargo space, leading to its cancellation after five years.
But those buyers who did opt for it seem to love it; it’s hard to find many low-mileage examples around, at least at reasonable prices for a nine-year-old wagonoid. The unit seen here has led a charmed life for a 150K-miler, with only two owners — both of whom, based on the CarFax, kept it in California its whole life. Plus, c’mon, it’s painted Glacier Blue. — Will Sabel Courtney
Original MSRP: $37,000
1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis Limited Edition
As winter beaters go, you could do much worse than this 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis Limited Edition, in excellent condition for an SUV with 137,000 miles under its serpentine belt. Thanks to a 225-horsepower 5.2-liter V8 and four-wheel drive, you’ll have no problem tackling snow, sleet, a “wintry mix” and whatever else Mother Nature doles out over the next few months. Bonus points for the beige-and-green leather seats with red piping; this ride may be 24 years old, but its style is borderline timeless. — Steve Mazzucchi
Original MSRP: $31,850
Buy Now: $5,900
1996 Toyota Land Cruiser
By now, you’re no doubt familiar with The Legend of Land Cruiser. Toyota’s iconic four-by-four is renowned worldwide for its reliability and all-terrain prowess — exactly the sort of traits you want in a winter car. Those same traits, however, have made inexpensive used ones difficult to find. This inline-six-powered FJ80 out in Michigan may have more than 300,000 miles on it, but considering how indestructible these rigs are and how good this baby looks for that mileage, you could be driving it every winter until the next ice age hits. (And yes, this is the same rig Steve Mazzuchi chose for our “Best Used Off-Roaders We’d Buy for Less Than $10,000” story, proving just how much we love it.) — Will Sabel Courtney
Original MSRP: $40,258
1998 Jeep Wrangler Sport
Okay, fine, it has a soft top that’s less than ideal for winter weather. But c’mon — it’s a Wrangler. Facing nature head-on with aplomb is kind of its thing. A life spent in the Sunbelt means its frame should be rust-free, enabling it to withstand years of road salt before succumbing to the red-brown decay. It packs the rugged-and-reliable 4.0-liter inline-six instead of the wimpier four-cylinders found on lesser Wranglers, connected to a five-speed manual gearbox (woohoo!) and full-time four-wheel-drive. Any of the cars on this list would make for a good winter beater, but the Wrangler can be a great second car the whole year long. Just make sure you crank the heater waaaaay up come December. Or, y’know, grab a used hard top on eBay Motors.– Will Sabel Courtney
Original MSRP: $17,630
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