Winter beater: great idea or wasteful money pit?
WINTER beater — if ever a term belonged in a Canadian dictionary, this is it. Say those two words to anyone standing in a Tim Hortons line and you’ll instantly share the same image of a battered, slightly rusted 10- or 15-year-old sedan being driven through the worst of our winters by someone with a north-of-$50K prestige vehicle parked safely in a hermetically sealed garage.
Most drivers of winter beaters brag more about the prowess of their salt-and-slush-ready wheeled warrior than they do about the Bimmer or Lexus collecting winter dust. But are there solid and sustainable reasons to support divesting ourselves of all the comfort, technology and safety that our new ride can provide just when we need it most?
It’s easy to peg the additional costs of acquiring a used vehicle for winter use. If you can fit all your driving needs into a compact sedan (and that’s not always possible for every owner), all you have to do is scan any number of online buy-and-sell ads to be overwhelmed by choices. If you stick to something that is four to eight years old, with less than 150,000 kilometres on the odometer, you’re likely to start at the $7,500 mark to purchase one of the top two entries in this class: the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. If you can settle for some also-rans, you can still find a good selection in most markets for less than $7,000, but the days of a cold-season chariot for less than $3,000 are long gone, unless you’re a wrench whiz and have the tools and skills to rebuild a lost cause, or have an extremely generous family member looking to divest himself of some gently used wheels. You can often find lower prices at small urban or rural retailers, thanks to lower overhead.
A pre-purchase inspection is a must when considering a candidate for winter duty. Corrosion is still the main killer of Canadian vehicles, and while a little surface rust isn’t too much of a drawback, any weakness in main body panels, sub-frames and suspension components can be a sign to pass on to the next entrant. Getting a thorough fitness examination by a qualified tech can help reduce your risks.
No matter what price range you’re in, you’ll most likely have to make some type of an investment in prepping your winter beater. A set of new snow tires and rims will set you back $1,000 for the average passenger car. A pre-season maintenance service will provide a $100 hit to the wallet, not to mention what else a thorough and trained tech might find that’s in need of repair.
Most vehicles in this class have a limited-lifespan timing belt on their engines. It’s a favourite service item for many consumers to skip because of the high parts and labour costs, but heading into cold, damp driving conditions with a past-its-expiry-date timing belt can lead to major engine damage if the engine misfires (a common occurrence in winter).
If the ignition system — along with crucial fluids and filters — needs attention, you can add at least another $500 to your prep-work tally.
While insurance premiums for a lower-value auto are less than those for a newer, more expensive ride, proper coverage for both won’t be a cost-neutral affair. You can take advantage of multi-vehicle discounts, and some reduction for removing road perils and collision coverages from the hibernating auto; unfortunately, these won’t balance out the additional premiums for a second or third auto on your policy.
The biggest benefit to a winter beater is extending the life of your fair-weather pride and joy, thereby increasing its trade-in value. If you can extend the enjoyable life of a primary vehicle by two or three years with the use of a winter beater, it’s easy to calculate the number of monthly car payments you’ll save. If you add this to your balance sheet, you might make an empirical case for embarrassing various family members in your new (old) wheels.
But other benefits are a little harder to peg. Having a “never winter driven” tag on your primary vehicle at trade-in time can bring higher values (especially when added to a lower odometer reading), but this factor is subject to the whims of the market and is often unpredictable. You will also appreciate the lower maintenance expenses on a three-season vehicle that isn’t subjected to the worst of winter.
Of course, the most immeasurable benefits of driving a pristine car the rest of the year are the boost in pride of ownership and the shiny chrome caress to your ego.
Winter beaters are a fact of life for convertible drivers in Canada
One of the largest demographics of winter-beater owners is drivers who own convertibles. They seldom have any choice but to look for a winter beater, unless they live in the wet and seldom snowy regions of our West Coast.
Ian Black, senior meteorologist for CBC, is one such driver. No surprise that a weatherman would choose a fair-weather ride (small European convertible) to get the best out of our varying seasons. His winter beater is a 2010 Toyota Venza, which comes in handy for a young father of two hockey-playing children. He chose it for its hockey-equipment compatibility and sure-footed winter handling, along with great fuel mileage from its fourcylinder engine.
When it comes to winter prepping, Black is as spot on as he usually is with his forecasts. He leaves nothing to chance, making sure the Venza is equipped with good-quality winter tires and he swaps out the batteries on his family’s small fleet (the other 12-month vehicle is a Toyota Camry) every four years, before they let anyone down on a frosty morning.
During a brief chat, he made sure to note that getting his winter ride on the road at this time of year doesn’t mean he’s expecting any severe weather. Although in our region (Eastern Ontario), we did get some pretty mean flurries just a few days after Black’s Venza hit the roads. What kind of weather detection is he using?
A used Toyotoa Corolla may just be the perfect winter warrior; driving it will also help preserve your summer ride.