By on January 17, 2020

1983 Chevrolet Blazer

Some people have it rough. Just the other day, the affordable town of Vancouver was hit by three or four inches of snow, plunging the bucolic enclave into mayhem. High-end cars wearing low-profile rain slicks couldn’t make it out of their driveways. Buses lay paralyzed across intersections. Employees were told to stay home. Hashtags blossomed like the daffodils due out in a month’s time.

We’ve talked winter here before, and winter beaters for sure, but what about the ideal winter vehicle?

Just think — this could have been you:

Scary stuff indeed.

So, as a big winter storm gathers itself in the Great Plains, headed for Midwest and Northeast residents who’ve been having a pretty easy go of it thus far, let’s talk not about the winter beater (which may also serve as a daily driver) you do own, but about the one you would own. If you had your way. If finances complied. If things were better.

Said winter “beater” would take up residence next to your spring-summer-fall vehicle, ready to serve double duty if called upon. Perhaps on some off-road excursion, or when society breaks down and we’re forced to live in the woods. (While beater is a derogatory term under normal circumstances, signifying a tired vehicle pressed into the inglorious task of soaking up road salt until the moment of death, here it’s simply a word.)

Image: FCA

If you’re like yours truly, you may be thinking about that snorkel-equipped Suburban the English fellow drove in Dante’s Peak, which had a water-fording depth of eighteen feet or nearabouts. However, as tough as that old BOF 4×4 would be, a 1980s cabin heater would have an awfully difficult time warming up all that real estate. And scraping ice off that expanse of glass? Hardly a fun task. Corey suggested the driver in the top photo should have taken their G-Wagen to work that day — a model which could be in the running for this exercise. Assuming modesty isn’t a concern.

A coworker once waxed poetic about her one-time winter ride, one you simply never see in northern climes anymore due to the ever-lurking Rust Monster: the featherweight Suzuki Samurai. Capable, efficient, yet hardly the vehicle you’d want to mingle with freeway-bound F-350s in. And we’ve grown used to being coddled.

While I could mention the rugged, do-anything Gladiator here, long legs and a bad back leave me wondering about exhaustion during long journeys. It’s desirable, cool as hell, and capable, but for this QOTD, I’m going with something that’s had a few years to reach near-perfection.

I’m choosing the Toyota 4Runner. Right-sized and ready, body-on-frame but refined, and still a looker that stands apart from bland, bulbous crossovers. 4Runner, I love what you (could) do for me.

What’s your pick?

[Images: General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota]

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55 Comments on “QOTD: Building a Better Winter Beater?...”

  • avatar

    As a former 4Runner owner, I’d take the 4Runner again. Maybe not as a daily driver, but as a weekend warrior truck and my snowmobile. With the right tires, it’s built for whatever junk Mother Nature can throw at it. They’ve gotten way too expensive given their age and features, so maybe a nice off-lease one would be the way to go.
    And to the dumb(blank) with the Aston Martin in Vancouver…REALLY??? REALLY??? $200,000+ car and you’re thinking, sure, it can make it in the snow! More money than brains I guess. If you can afford an Aston, you can afford a winter beater. I do love the expert snow removal that took place where the dog and person are standing and how it looks like that road wasn’t even touched.

  • avatar

    My older brother, Michigan born and bred, lived in Victoria for a few years. An inch or two of snow – he said – would shut the city down. And he would be the only guy out there using his old winter driving skills. His job, as a news cameraman, meant he didn’t get to stay home.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    I live in the South


  • avatar

    I love it when people who don’t “do winter” try to “do winter” It’s ok guys, nobody expects you to manage in snow so stay home, build a fire and have a couple of hot toddies :)

    I finally got a set of winter tires for my AWD crossover, so bring it! I’m ready

    • 0 avatar

      …now all we need in my neck of the woods is cold. And snow. Where is it???

      • 0 avatar

        Well, according to this article, Vancouver and heading east

        • 0 avatar

          I hope so. While I can’t lie and say that last Sunday’s C7 top down day wasn’t fun, I am jonsing for a big dump of snow
          And a few weeks of real winter.

          • 0 avatar

            Me too, now that my car is appropriately equipped it would be a cruel joke on me not to have any winter to speak of

          • 0 avatar

            UPDATE: As of 10PM we have about 8″ and still falling in southern Wisconsin. I have a 40 mile round trip to make on Saturday. Now we’ll see what winter tires are all about :)

          • 0 avatar

            UPDATE 2.0: I completed my 40 mile trip in very snowy conditions and I’ve got to tell you everything you’ve heard about the superior drive-ability of winter rated (M+S 3PMSF)tires over all-season tires is true. My Escape (4WD)felt firmly planted and under control at all times, even when I started to slip a bit recovery was almost immediate. Even stopping saw an improvement.

            If you live somewhere that sees a fair amount of snow, do yourself a favor and get the proper tire. If you can’t have two sets of tires at least get the tires that are winter rated (M+S 3PMSF)that you can use year round

  • avatar

    I’m there. 2007 mazda6, 223k miles, stick, blizzaks. For a mid Michigan town with no hills, perfection. Less than a grand ‘invested.’

  • avatar

    I’ve driven so many beaters that my current car is usually my winter beater.

    But back in the early aughts, when I had a a modified 86 Monte Carlo SS tucked away in the garage, I drove a 1991 Buick Park Avenue during the winter months. No winter tires but FWD plus all that weight on the nose made for a pretty comfortable ride in the snow. Never got stuck or lost control.

  • avatar

    A timely question ..I’m reluctant to buy winter tires and steelies for my Impala. I went through the whole seasonal switch, store them, aggravation/ pita with the 15 Mustang . The 05 Mustang is sleeping for the winter.

    I’m on the hunt for 5-6 year old low KLM, GM, full size regular cab 8 foot box. I could use it year round for landscaping etc..Most of what I’ve seen so far is high milage , with the rust monster showing its face.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    That first picture and most of this ‘article’ could be an advertisement for Subaru.

    If you are looking for ‘cheap and cheerful’ a Suzuki XL7. BOF a v6, 3 row seating and available manual transmission.

    Personally, with no budgetary constraints I would pick a (new) Suburban.

    • 0 avatar

      My brother has owned his ’02 since 2010 or so, Base XL7 with the third row deleted (uselessly small anyways), rare 5spd+2.7LV6, part time 4wd, converted to manual hubs. Great little truck although it’s needed a good bit more love than say my ’96 4Runner. Big items have included a timing chain tensioner replacement (12 hr book time!), heater core, driveshaft (bad CV joint). He finally got it Krown rust-proofed, but not until a hole had rotted in the frame (welded up himself). Aeesome rig though, surprisingly competent on twisty backroads, very palatable MPG (up to mid 20s), and capable offroad.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    My K5 Jimmy was an absolute tank in the snow. Never had an issue with it in the white stuff and that includes mid-winter trips over Snoqualmie Pass and the occasional Eastern-WA ice storm. It was also good at fording the occasional snow melt situation. That would absolutely be my go to in the snow.

    That said, even the little Pontiac Torrent I owned in Buffalo was good in the snow. Of course, it’s almost always bare and wet there after the salt trucks get done, but by in large it took a lot to get it loose when I tried to throw it around in a parking lot.

  • avatar

    My awd SRX with Blizzaks is pretty good, although it doesn’t have the ground clearance to be a true blizzard beater.

  • avatar

    If money is no object, but I just need the ultimate winter car that’s older, you can keep the Suburbans, Jeeps, and Explorers. I’ll go a different route.

    I’ll take the early 2000’s Audi Allroad. Air suspension for the times you want to go up, quattro to get you anywhere you need to go, and heated leather seats for the smug, warm butt feeling as you pass cars in the ditch

    • 0 avatar

      “… and heated leather seats for the smug, warm butt feeling as you pass cars in the ditch.”

      I didn’t have the heated leather but I did have the feeling of smug competence among the incompetent.

      Right up until one of those 4WD = ignore conditions morons charted a course for the ditch that intersected the back of my 92 Taurus that I was feeling so smug in.

      A car in the ditch doesn’t make me happy anymore. It makes me tense up and look at my mirrors.

    • 0 avatar

      And the Allroad could also end up in the ditch if not fitted with proper (i.e., winter) tires.

  • avatar

    I never had an issue with my Acura Integra on good winter tires.

    In the last picture they are going “Mountain Climbing”… You can tell by the Safety Jeans and the Technical Leather Jacket.

  • avatar

    It almost never snows here. When it does two inches is enough to turn traffic from the usual awful to a three hour nightmare and six inches closes everything. Read as, if you can’t get through it in a FWD on all seasons then the car in front of you is stuck too and a snowcat wouldn’t get you there any quicker.

    But driving elsewhere, winter tires are everything and if you clear that hurdle lighter is usually better than heavier. Usually because if there’s dry pavement under the snow and it isn’t too deep then more weight (ground pressure) can cut through the snow and get to it.

    As little as I like Subaru they’re the official car of ski country for a reason.

  • avatar

    Western New York winter is not kind to cars. I put my beloved cream puff 2007 Honda Accord EX-L V6 away in November and bring it out again in late April. In winter I drive a 2006 CR-V. Before I bought it in 2018, the CR-V had accumulated 132,000 miles in the Washington DC suburbs. It gets the Krown treatment in the fall and runs around on Blizzak tires. AWD doesn’t hurt, and not just in the snow–If I want to explore a muddy “seasonal limited use road” in the spring it comes in handy there too.

  • avatar

    If I’m being honest, I’d probably get a used Ghibli Q4.
    If I was living the Yukon Cornelius lifestyle out in the mountains I’d get a GX460.

  • avatar

    Meh, I have plenty of vehicles that do fine in all of these conditions, the only 4×4 I probably wouldn’t take out in a snow storm is my scout, those OEM bumpers are a pain to find among other parts.

    Both H1s and H2s can take a hit from a sliding car with no damage on my end.

  • avatar

    Unimog. If not that, then stick with my Blizzaks.

  • avatar

    Up here on the northern Prairies (long distances on straight roads) you need to be able to deal with snow, wind and ice. Getting the most of the limited traction available means a drive system to all four wheels that manages torque. And no matter how good your tires, you will lose traction at some point. At rest the simpler AWD systems will probably get you going but the last thing you want at speed is loosing traction on one axle before the system figures that out and you are already pointing at the ditch.Yes the systems are getting better but I’d rather be in control of where that torque is going and when. So for years I’ve enjoyed that smug feeling of passing those poor souls (unless I’m stopping to give them a ride or pull them out) with my truck in 4hi (and no you do not need to worry about driveline wind up on ice driving in a straight line). Yes you do need to pay attention and not leave it in 4hi when the roads are bare, but that confidence of a locked diff when everything has gone pear shaped is priceless. So if I get to pick my “beater”, make mine the G wagon, (locking center, rear AND front diffs on the fly makes me smile as I’m typing this)

  • avatar

    It would be hard to beat my ’95 F 150. I woke up this morning to 4 inches of fresh snow. It was more than up to the task. The heater and defroster are better than in any other vehicle I’ve ever owned. It hasn’t needed winter tires. The off-road tires I have work great. It has plenty of ground clearance. In 4-wheel drive I have yet to encounter snow it couldn’t handle.

  • avatar

    My old winter beater was a 97 Explorer. It never left me stranded at least in the winter). It has since gone on to the big parking lot in the sky at only 213K mile(broken timing chain…thanks 4.0 SOHC design flaw). We now have an ’06 Lexus 330, quite the step up as a beater (butt warmers!). Of course we have had no snow, so no way to really test its “beaterness” yet.

  • avatar

    I too have a 4Runner (4th gen with a V8). I find it only okay in the snow, and I think it really does come down to tires. I’ve got all seasons, and often find myself sideways on the highway in winter. Maybe I should just slow down. Nah… I’ll get some Blizzaks.

  • avatar

    I’ve had FOUR cheap/used Highlanders; blizzaks… they do very well.

  • avatar

    When you say “winter” I say “tank turn.”

  • avatar

    Previous generation Tahoe with appropriate tires. That is what I will likely buy when we move to ski country. And I can use it to tow my vette to great driving roads when we explore the country.

  • avatar

    “Winter beater” for me means I have to rinse the salt off the underbody aero covers and the suspension of the Highlander after the one time every couple of years, on average, when it snows. Although it stayed parked through the entire snow event we had this week because I had no need to drive anywhere.

    But if I lived somewhere where there was actual winter, it would be a crappy older Subaru with a stick on Blizzaks. The stick gets you 50/50 torque distribution, the Blizzaks + AWD mean the car can get through any conditions except sheet ice with no trouble, and the older Subaru means I don’t care if it rusts or gets hit.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the correct answer…beater money and snow performance

      A ~2004 or similar era Outback 5MT with mechanical rear LSD, heated cloth seats, and rusted rear fenders. Pick up a set of lightly used snow tires and steelies for $300. You’re good to go. Plowing optional.

  • avatar

    “…the affordable town of Vancouver…” Hilarious!
    I live here and I was told to stay home that day too.
    As for a winter “beater” I think my version of a beater is different than other peoples.
    If money was no object I’d rake a G-Wagon. Since it is, I’ll take an older Forester circa 2000. Great in the snow, reliable, good storage, good visibility, and not so precious that if some clown plows into me it wouldn’t be too heartbreaking to lose.

  • avatar

    I’d like to take an older RAV4 and put on a one-inch lift kit and winter tires and see how it does. Maybe a brush guard on the front along with some rally lights because I live in a dark era with too many forest rats. (Deer)

  • avatar

    The best winter vehicle I’ve driven is the R50 Pathfinder. I had a ’98. It was compact and communicative, with a torquey and responsive engine. Cable-operated throttle, manual transmission, manual transfer case, and a rear LSD means it always does exactly what you tell it to do, the moment you tell it, with no electronic delay or interference. Exactly what you need to have fun on winter roads. 31″ Cooper studded winter tires on 15″ rims ensured good traction and the ability to go through anything without any risk of pothole damage, ever.

    It was so good I convinced my buddy to buy a ’99 when he wanted a beater camping vehicle a few years ago. Since then, his MT B8 Audi S4 barely leaves the garage in winter except for the odd highway trip, despite having superior grip (Hakka 9s). He likes the Pathfinder so much he recently bought a nice MT ’02 Pathfinder with low mileage just to store until his other one dies or completely rusts out. He knows he’ll never be able to buy anything that good new or relatively new again.

  • avatar

    You can bring back the old ‘four on the floor’ :)

  • avatar

    Vancouver tends to be mild so when snow comes it tends to be laden with moisture and gets icy real quickly. Winter in Vancouver/GVRD is usually just a rainier part of the year.
    Buying a winter beater for those of us who experience harsh winters is a waste of time and money since the “beater” will usually not start or run reliably in extremely cold weather. I don’t tend to see old vehicles on the road once the thermometer gets bellow minus 20C.

  • avatar

    For the last 15 years one of the winter cars has been a Saab with Blizzaks and it pretty much unstoppable. It was -34 this week and it started without being plugged in. The Swedes know how to make a car that can handle winter.

  • avatar

    Best thing I’ve had, or driven in winter, was my ’88 S10 Blazer, with the 4.3. It wasn’t fast, but in 4WD, it was pretty much unstoppable with the otherwise pretty sad(Mostly due to the noise) Goodrich tires it came with. I don’t remember the names. The thing had a couple of minor issues out of the box, and then it just didn’t break. In 1993, we bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and while it was a lot more comfortable to ride in, it wasn’t the Blazer’s equal at all in the snow. The Blazer went to a friend of mine, who drove it and drove it until the area above the windshield rusted out to the point you got soaked in even light rain. It had, on the original short block, over 420,000 miles and wasn’t using any oil when it went to the boneyard. It had been through 2 trans rebuilds, 2 times it was stolen and the interior trashed, getting sideswiped by a flatbed truck (We had just sold it to him and it looked great inside the rear quarter, which was sliced open about 2″ from just behind the driver’s door to the rear wheelwell. If they made one now, with more power and just a little bit more room inside, I would be very interested. It was my 2nd most problem free vehicle. The title of best belonged to my ’82 K5 Blazer, which had, over the almost 5 years I had it, a battery and a headlight. That’s it!

  • avatar

    I drive a beater year round! A 2004 Jeep Liberty. 160k miles, I had it since new when I moved to Anchorage. It then moved to Texas and WA state. I promptly purchased Toyo studless tires when winter approached. I’m never going back to studded, these new tires are great! People say my vehicle isn’t a dependable one but you sure see a lot of used ones on the road of the same vintage. Knock on wood.

  • avatar

    The only beater with a heater I owned was a ’98 Pontiac Transport SWB FWD with traction control. I paid $1900 for it, drove it for a year, and sold it for $1900.

  • avatar

    The storm gathered..and hit in the midwest. You know, right here in the plains. Super high winds and little snow…like most of this winter, cold and the occasional blizzard. Big whoop. #Snowmageddon2020MyAss.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Got about 8 inches of beautiful fluffy white powder in my part of the GTA yesterday.

    Had to help push a nearly new Accord in the supermarket parking lot. Think that it was more the driver’s lack of winter driving experience than the conditions/car.

    Saw one car on the highway without its lights on. Instrument panel lights should never be part of the running lights. They should only come on when the full lighting system is turned on.

    As usual some idiots in ‘bro-dozers’ racing along the highway at high speed having to make multiple lane changes, and spraying the windshields of cars driving behind/beside them.

    Noticed that vehicles with large openings in their grilles, such as new Hyundai SUVs/CUVs allow a noticeable amount of snow to gather against the rad. Wonder how this might impact the cooling/heating system.

    The most noticeable issue was with coupes/sedans with low front air dams or low road clearance. Many get hung-up on windrows are end up ‘plowing’ so much snow with their dams that they get stuck behind it or that their front tyres end up riding up in the snow and not being able to make contact with the road.

  • avatar

    I run snow tires all year. Just turned 500,000 on my S-10. In those years you folks have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicles. I did throw sandbags in the back today. (2wd)

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t your snow tires wear pretty fast running them year round?

      I think most of the guys here are pretty sensible in their automotive choices, but if you can afford hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicles and you like cars, why not?

  • avatar
    Big Smoke

    You only need snow tire, 2-3 seconds before impact.
    You can use your Stan Smith tennis shoes all year.
    But I call those people Citiots.

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