By on June 1, 2010

Mark Clark writes:

I’d like to ask for advice about buying a winter car. I’m replacing a 1967 Land Rover that my wife has decided is no longer acceptable. She tolerates my other car habits, so replacing her is not an acceptable option. My requirements are: 1) All Wheel Drive: Here in the wilds of Eastern Oregon where the local government does not plow the roads, two driven wheels is what summer cars are for. Don’t worry, it will get snow tires. 2) Car-like Handling: As a summer Miata driver, big SUVs are not acceptable. On the other hand, as a summer Miata driver, Elise-like handling is not required. 3) Year 2000 or newer: When your wife is height-challenged, full-powered airbags are not acceptable. Older cars without airbags are even less acceptable. 4) Cheap: Under $10,000 makes me a hero. 5) Reasonably Reliable: After a 1967 Land Rover, I’m not asking for much, but I’m not interested in wrenching in a snow storm.

Steve Answers:

The fashionable thing to do in your neck of the woods is get a Subaru. The Legacy, Impreza and Forester can easily take care of all your AWD needs in far greater comfort than your British brute. In fact so can my kid’s soapbox derby car. But seriously, I would strongly consider those models.

What else? Well I happen to be a fan of the Mitsubishi Endeavor. They can usually be had for thousands less than the Subarus in the used car market which means you can get a more recent vehicle with lower miles on it to boot. The reviews from actual owners have been strong and I’ve seen them rack up well over 200k in short order at the auctions with little discernible wear. I would cross shop that model in particular.

What to avoid? I’m a Volvo enthusiast but I have trouble endorsing the V70’s. Most folks do not change the transmission fluids because they were supposed to last for a lifetime. They didn’t, and now to replace the transmissions is a $2000+ undertaking. Quality and recalls were both on a steep and expensive decline throughout much of the 2000’s so that doesn’t help.

There are innumerable small SUV’s to choose from. But other than the Honda CR-V which handles like a minivan, none of them are truly car like. I would stick with the Mitsubishi and Subarus. Due to your height challenged wife who probably appreciates a little ride height in her journeys,  I would think a crossover styled vehicle would be the best fit.

Sajeev Answers:

You are the first person I’ve met who actually needs a Crossover! If you have other car “habits” I’d recommend making this vehicle so “bread and butter” that finding a cheap one is easy (the Internet is your friend) and parts/service will be affordable and simple.  And since simple and Subie don’t go hand in hand, think Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and a blizzard of quickly depreciating iron from General Motors: Chevy Equinox, Saturn Vue, Pontiac Vibe/Torrent and even the Buick Rendezvous. Or perhaps the Buick’s cousin, the Pontiac Aztek?

Oh yes! The Aztek is an outdoorsy lifestyle type of vehicle that’s only marred by its mind numbingly hideous styling. The more I think about it, who gives a crap about winter beater styling? The Aztek hits all the right spots: dirt cheap ownership, AWD, car like underpinnings, user-friendly interior design features for cargo and passengers and a pretty trick camping tent for when you want to out Landie a Land Rover on the camp ground. And I suspect that Aztek’s go for significantly less on the used car market, simply because of that ugly sheetmetal.  And plastic.

While 80% of me rejects the notion of a Pontiac Aztek working for anyone, 20% of me is cool with it.  And they are in charge of typing on this keyboard.  So there it is: buy a Pontiac Aztek to cover all the bases.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected], and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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44 Comments on “New Or Used: Eastern Oregon Survival Machine Edition...”

  • avatar

    +1 on Subaru Forester or Outback. Hyundai Tuscon/Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4 also come to mind.


  • avatar

    I nominate the final 2 years of the Jeep Cherokee Classic (not to be confused with the Grand Cherokee). The mechanicals are stout, they are new enough (2000 or 2001) to meet your criteria, and the price is certainly right. Find a well-kept one with under 100K, and it should last you for a good while.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with JP – the Cherokees are bulletproof vehicles. In the event something does go wrong, they are easy to repair and parts are readily available. The “Classic” model is a nice combination of options, but don’t turn your nose up at a well kept “Sport” or even the rarer “Limited” model if you come across them for the right price.

  • avatar

    In easter oregon, you definitely need a vehicle with a true AWD or 4WD. A soft-ute such as a CRV, tiburon, equinox could possibly not provide you with the necessary weight, traction, and power needed for the amount and consistency of snow you get at times.

    I second the suggestion of a XJ Cherokee. Cheap, affordable, and off-road monsters (including snow). The WJ Grand Cherokees (99-04) certinally have more problems associated with them, but their quadra-drive AWD system is nearly unstoppable in the snow… it has only got me stuck once.. and to be fair I shouldn’t of been where I was.

    They might not be in-style with the greenies of Eastern Oregon, but you could pick up a late model full size SUV – Tahoe, Explorer, etc. – for cheap. They often come fully loaded (life will love) and aren’t too expensive to keep on the road. Since they are heavy, they have excellent traction and you won’t have to be concerned with safety. Since you have a miata for the summer time, the gas mileage won’t kill you either.

  • avatar

    Do your homework on the “4×4” feature. Some “4×4”, “All-wheel Drive”, and “Full-time 4 wheel drive” vehicles will leave you walking if ONE tire breaks traction. Forget the 20-inch decals on the side, they are really “1×4” drive when any ONE of the tires spin.

    Don’t get stuck with one.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a good point – I saw a mid 00s Subaru Forrester trying to get out of a snowy parking spot in DC this winter – one wheel spinning furiously, the rest of the car frustratingly inert.

  • avatar

    What about the 3.4L engine that went into Aztek? Was it any good? I have heard horror stories about it that could only be matched by stories about 2.7L Chrysler.

    I somehow don’t notice that many Azteks on the roads around here anymore. I’m not sure whether it’s because so many found untimely junking or because now they actually blend with other crossovers on the road.

  • avatar

    But other than the Honda CR-V which handles like a minivan, none of them are truly car like

    The second-generation RAV/4 is actually much sportier than most people realize and a good deal moreso than the CR/v of the same era. It’s also very safe, quite capable and less costly to own than most Subarus will be over the long haul. If it has a problem, it’s that it’s relatively gutless, especially before they upgraded the engine.

    You might also consider the Mitsubishi Outlander. The current one is actually a pretty good car, and it’s usually very, very cheap even when new.

    • 0 avatar

      The V6 RAV4 addresses the gutlessness, and then some. But I don’t know if you’d find one for the sort of money we’re talking here.

      I looked at the Outlander too, quite liked it.

    • 0 avatar

      If I recall, the MY2004 RAV picked up the Camry’s 2.4L. A friend owned one and loved it.

      Unfortunately, car thieves loved it, too. When he was away on vacation it was pulled up onto a (also stolen) flatbed tow truck, never to be seen again. He bought a new one, of the current bodystyle, but doesn’t like it as much.

      That version of the RAV was described as a Celica on stilts.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former 07 outlander owner I’d say very nice car but you’ll struggle to find one for sub $10. Also the AWD system is similar to those described above aka I’m not sure how good it is in the snow.

      My vote (coz I just brought one) is a 2005 / 2006 Subaru Outback. Outback’s always get a lot of praise on this site (one of my reasons for considering it). If you look hard you can find the non turbo 2.5 for around $8000 up. I brought a 3.0 H6 for $9k but that’s the only one similar to that I found – in any case auto trader, craigs list (or craiglook) and a cheap plane ticket are your friends

  • avatar

    You could have a lot of fun with a Forester XT. Don’t even mention to the wife that it has 250hp.

  • avatar

    Eastern Oregon. My wife was born in Prineville, spent half her childhood in the Wallowa Valley, and her dad & sisters still live in Jefferson County. I know the area well.

    An option on the used market that might work for you is a 2006-7 Jeep Liberty CRD. My height-challenged wife drives one, and loves it. The Diesel engine offers 27-31 MPG compared to the mid-teens for the gasoline models. Since it is from an era before the two most recent CARB-mandated emissions goal-post moves it will run happily on alternative/veggie-based Diesels. I know because I brew my own.

    When we are dumped upon here in the western foothills of the Cascades my Jetta stays in the garage and we travel everywhere by Jeep. It can power through the Cascade Concrete with the best of them. In fact I have “plowed” our quarter-mile driveway just by driving up and down it with the Liberty CRD in 4WD to clear the way for my commute.

    Life might have our family relocating to Central Oregon soon, so keep an eye out for a CRD smelling of french fries near you.

  • avatar

    As replacing the wife is not an acceptable option, I would probably avoid the Aztek. The wife may decide to replace herself right out of the picture if hubby pulls in the driveway with that hideous adventure in sheetmetal and proudly proclaims: “Look honey! It’s your new ride!”

    Go for the Subie.

  • avatar

    Hey now! A former co-worker of mine (female) had an Aztek. Loved it, aside from the turn signal wiring snafu right after the warranty expired.

    I am not making this up. People actually bought the Aztek and loved it.

    • 0 avatar

      We had two Azteks, loved them both. Both were parts whores, but never left us stranded. Great for hauling kids to soccer games, etc. good size for parking in town, good fuel mileage from Chinese GM V6. With optional rear air leveling suspension, you also got on board compressor, great for inflating soccer balls or the occasional flat tire. The interior is very accommodating, great front seats, and depending upon trim level the back is very versatile with either cargo nets or a sliding cargo deck lifted from Saab wagons. Unique tailgate/hatch arrangement, can be good or bad, have to sample it for yourself to decide.

      Ugly as sin? Hell yes. Get over it.

      The 3.4L V6 eats intake and head gaskets, the chassis goes through front hubs (wheel bearings), the optional load leveling air suspension malfunctions and gives the car a nice rake when doing so. The A/C condenser is a poor design (fractures) and placed badly, as it takes many hits from gravel and road debris. Our 2004 Aztek even grenaded it’s torque converter, something I’ve never seen on a street driven car.

      I loved them, but would never own one again. Only if I got the real cheapo one without the rear air suspension, and kept a GMPP warranty on the engine, the longest one I could find. Or found a way to swap in the 3.5 V6 from the newer Malibus.

      Find a shorty Tahoe.

    • 0 avatar

      Aztek LS-4 swap FTW.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh LS motor, what problem can’t you fix? ;^)

      For all of the Aztek haters:

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I wonder if anyone ever came up with some sort of ‘plastic surgery’ kits for Aztek, to try and remove some of the ugly?

      And wasn’t there a Buick badgemate that wasn’t quite as soul-shatteringly grotesque?

  • avatar

    Okay, this is going to sound a bit like a reply to the “memories” post, but that’s because my 1968 Chevy pickup was an old Forest Service rig that was still perfectly straight and rust-free after six years and 80,000 miles in eastern Oregon. Six, 4-speed, short narrow box, heavy duty radiator and battery, and probably a size bigger than standard tires, Positraction rear end. The thing about that rig that relates to this post is that I was never able to get it stuck on muddy trails around here. I’m thinking that a Tahoe needn’t necessarily be 4wd if it had winter tires and a locking differential. Women generally seem to like the “tall Cadillac” attributes of a Tahoe.

  • avatar

    Just upgrade what you have. 2001-ish Range Rovers are well within your budget. That happens because lots of little crap goes bad on them, and nobody wants to pay to fix it. If you’re handy with these little things, or can live without them, the Range Rover is for you.

  • avatar

    RAV4 is a excellent CUV (its handling will not impress an MX-5 driver, but it will do), but it’s not cheap in the sense which Mark uses. It’s cheap relatively to the opposition when it’s new, but recently I got some trade-in quotes for my 2006 with a 2.4L engine, 78k miles, and a dent on the left door, and dealers offered me $9000. I suspect they would sell for more. I think Steve’s idea of Outlander is a sound one for the requirements. I don’t know about Subaru, they really are a different culture.

  • avatar

    If you go with CR-Vs, your price range has you getting a Gen-2 (the tall one) with around 100K. That’s not too much of an issue (with a little looking after they can double that easy). Should handle anything that doesn’t involve rock-hopping. Has lots of space (and a convenient unused spare tire well for all the emergency stuff), will get 20 MPG in the winter (closer to 26, in decent conditions). And has the bags (if it has white rear lights 2004+, it has curtain bags too).

    Besides not being a rock-hopper the biggest issue is the lack of “extra” power. As long as you don’t fill it will cinder-blocks, you won’t notice too much, but altitude and/or towing (small stuff only) can add up to rather pokey performance. The price you pay for running 4 cylinders.

    The one issue I’d have with the Aztek is the lowish ground clearance. If you are dealing with un-plowed roads, hanging too low could make you into a rather poor plow. The Aztek betrays its minivan ancestry here. Similarly, if you go Subie, I’d get a Forester.

  • avatar

    For years my last wife drove an oldsmobile bravada. We lived at
    9000 feet, in snow country, and that car would go when my 4wd Ford
    pickup with limited slip rear diff would not go. I think GM quit
    making them on ’04, and they should be cheap enough, and repair
    parts and servicing dealers should be readily available in E. Oregon.

    • 0 avatar

      @Mike: For something slightly newer, you could find a Buick Rainier, same body, Buick nose.

      I’d think any of the GMT 360’s would be a good choice.

  • avatar

    > I’m a Volvo enthusiast but I have trouble endorsing the V70’s.

    I disagree, and recommend the XC70.

    > Quality and recalls were both on a steep and expensive decline throughout much of the 2000’s

    Again, my experience contradicts this.

    It’s almost as if Subaru has brainwashed everyone. I’m flabbergasted by it. Lemmings…

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I like the XC70 as well. Another choice would be a 7-8 year old Acura MDX. Would be hard to get a well maintained one for less than $12K, but these are wonderful vehicles — a ton of room, take punishment, fun to drive for what it is, and even a bit posh inside.

      Of course both choices point you in the direction of a family, so be careful about the message you are conveying. Otherwise, I’d have to agree with the Subaru recommendations. Or maybe an Explorer — they are inexpensive used.

    • 0 avatar

      Someone mentioned the MDX. Beware of the MDX. Especially the 2001-2002. Often break their transmissions. Cough up $4000-5000 at the dealer. Less elsewhere. Often the third gear clutch fails. When the clutches start to wear out, no amount of solenoid changing, screen cleaning, filter changing or transmission fluid changing will prevent failure. Actually, no amount of transmission fluid changing from new will prevent too soon failure. There was a transmission recall but it only directed oil to a certain gear. Since that was not the way most failed, most still failed.

  • avatar

    A 2002 Subaru Imprezza WRX wagon is your only answer (if you can find an affordable one). 227 Horsepower. Rally heritage handling and AWD. Car and Driver loves them. Kelly blue book quoted me at $9915 suggested retail for one with 100,000 miles in excellent condition. I would think it would be very reliable and you’re very likely to find a mechanic who specializes in these where you are.

  • avatar

    I’ll throw in with the yet unmentioned Suzuki SX4.

    It’s a small car, handles great, has good ground clearance for the size of car and offers somewhat controllable center differential. Check reviews to see how they’ve done in your type of snow as that never concerned me. You can find used ones right at your $10k price point or below, plus they’re available with a manual transmission.

  • avatar

    Another option is Saturn Vue.

    Don’t laugh: you can, for not much money, pick up a Red Line with the Honda V6. Other than the egregiously chintzy interior, it’s a pretty good trucklet. I found it a little “big”, but those plastic panels are a really nice thing in snow/salt country.

  • avatar

    We love our 2005 Jeep Liberty. It’s the first Chrysler product we’ve owned, and at 73K miles we have not had one problem with it. I just love how underappreciated these things are. Enthusiasts love to rail on the Liberty, but they obviously haven’t lived with one. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and very solid. Feels like it was made of one piece. Fuel economy isn’t great, but probably better than your LR. Weight-sensitive airbag in the passenger seat, great visibility, plenty of room, and surprisingly good handling (has no problems going fast through these Southern California canyon roads). We own the 3.7 V6. I’d stay away from the Daimler-sourced CRD. They’re typically the ones with expensive-to fix problems (though I have no doubt there are many satisfied customers per the previous poster).

    • 0 avatar

      We’ve yet to have a genuine issue with the CRD. The CEL is on all the time (EGR sensor mis-read, a common issue on these things.) but it has no impact on driveability. (I check it with an OBD-ii scanner often anyway.)

      My sole beef with the CRD (which BTW is NOT “Daimler-sourced” as it is from VM Motori, an Italian engine maker) is the price of maintenance parts. Glow-plugs for example. The price of one is $54(!) Thankfully there are only 4 and they last 120k miles. Otherwise it has been fine.

      Hard to beat a mid-sized SUV getting 30 MPG.

    • 0 avatar

      The Liberty is one of the best-kept secrets in autodom (especially when you’re getting 30mpg:).

  • avatar

    Isuzu VehiCROSS.

  • avatar

    I second taking a look at the Liberty. The real-world MPG with the 3.7 isn’t the greatest, but certainly not the worst.

  • avatar
    Oregon Sage

    A few points of order…..
    Crater Lake (pictured?) is not in eastern Oregon, it is in the Cascade mountains on the eastern slope, known as central Oregon.

    Greenies in eastern Oregon are a rare thing. Ranchers, hunters, loggers are much more common. (Again, Bend, which does have an environmental bent is in Central Oregon, not eastern)

    Most of eastern Oregon is high elevation desert, given to modest snow, cold temperatures and regular wind. Long driving distances are also common as there are few towns with over 10k population. It is common to make the Friday night away football game an opportunity to go shopping in a bigger city like Boise (in Idaho, but the closest metro area for much of eastern Oregon).

    Reliability is a prime consideration as it is a long haul to many dealers/brands. Depending on location, consulting with the only garage in town (or the next town) might be wise. They probably wont work on anything too complicated/modern.

    These are pretty much the reverse of the prioritization that the typical TTAC reader applies.

    I was once driving a SAAB 9000 outside of Burns Oregon near dawn. Temperature was 15 below, nearest SAAB dealer was in Boise some 200 miles away. Ive driven that road in similar conditions many times, but his time I felt strangely vulnerable.

    Go Ford or Chevy if you are really in eastern Oregon. If you are in Bend or on the Idaho border though, feel free to pick up a Carrera 4, Audi, R32 or other exotica at the local emporium, just dont drive it into the interior of eastern Oregon in subzero weather without a backup plan.

  • avatar

    If you don’t enjoy the Mac like esoteria of Diesel ownership steer clear of the Liberty CRD.

    If you can tolerate the fuel economy it can be a good snow trucklet in 3.7L V6 guise.

  • avatar

    I’m sure Subaru Foresters are in your price range. Another one to consider is the Acura MDX. They are kind of big, but comfortable and high enough off the ground.

    • 0 avatar

      Avoid the 2001-2002 MDX. Transmission fails often. Frequently the third gear clutch fails no matter how much the owner maintains the transmission. Weak. Costs $4-5K to install a rebuild a a dealer. At that price range, a bad transmission will bust the budget.
      Just today, a co worker said he was looking at a Highlander or RX to replace the MDX because his MDX had too many problems. Yes, he always has it serviced at the dealer and on time. He had the usual transmission failure and repeated loss of brake power at parking lot speeds that the dealer could not diagnose. He got no “goodwill” for his repairs. The brake problem felt dangerous to him. He will not buy a Honda or Acura now.

  • avatar

    I’d reccommend an Isuzu Rodeo. I had a 1998 model that was unstoppable in snow. I believe they made them until 2004.

    Another suggestion is a Suzuki Grand Vitara.

  • avatar

    Might be a bit of a budget stretch for you, but I suggest an early Infiniti FX35. It’s on the Nissan FM platform (350Z, G sedan and coupe), AWD with ATTESA, the 3.5L VQ engine is solid. No better handling crossover out there, and 270HP will get you going. I had an ’06 and it was a beast in the snow. With modern safety features and heated seats, you will really be a hero. The only negative that I found was the resonant exhaust note. It can be a bit much.

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