Best Winter Cars for Every Budget

Winter is now fully engulfing most of Canada. That means cold temperatures, slippery roads, and the bane of the car enthusiast: road salt.

That's why thousands of Canadians have chosen to park their nice cars for the winter and pick up something a little more suited to the rough and tumble and corrosion of winter driving.

Enter the Winter Beater. That's the car that will get you through until the roads clear up in April. Or May. Or maybe by June.

There is an art to picking the proper winter beater. You're looking for something that won't break before spring, while requiring as little maintenance as possible. If you're in a province with motor vehicle inspections, you want to make sure the car you pick has an inspection valid until winter is done. And no matter your price point, you want something that will keep you comfortable until the sun decides to start warming things up again. Snow tires are a must, as is working heat and a semblance of safety.

We've found 10 of the best examples of the winter beater on the autoTRADER.ca listings, in five different price ranges. One for every winter budget to give you an idea of what's out there for winter car – or truck – options. While many of them are all-wheel drive, front and even rear-wheel drive are just fine too. As long as you have winter tires.

Below $2,000

At this price point, you're looking for road legal and not falling apart. But you can do better than that. Winter tires are a must, but some of the features that used to be luxury car only have now filtered down to the sub-$2,000 range.

Like this 2002 Honda Accord, for sale in Etobicoke. It's an SE model. That means heated seats! Yup, heated seats for $1,200. It's a four-cylinder with an automatic transmission which means a minimum of winter fuss and good mileage. It's also got nearly new snow tires to get you around this winter. Basic transportation, but that's all you really need when you're sitting in a frozen wasteland.

If you're looking for an SUV, they can be hard to find in this price range. The massive popularity keeps prices higher. But here's a 2006 Buick Rainier. It's got all-wheel drive and an inline-six, plus it's got winter tires and heated seats to keep you comfortable and on the road. 


Open up the budget to $5,000 and your choices get much better very quickly. There are more SUVs, and more cars with snow tires. Even luxury cars, like this one.

It's a 2004 Infiniti G35X. That means Nissan's award-winning 3.5L V6 and all wheel drive, in a luxury sports sedan wrapper. This one has had lots of new parts, but a little rust and some dents make it perfect for winter. And it does come with winter tires.

More SUVs show up in this price bracket. Like this 2002 Ford Explorer, for sale in Winnipeg. It's got a 4.6L V8, leather interior with heated seats, and a recent safety certificate. More importantly, it's got real four-wheel drive with a button for high and low range, plus automatic 4x4. It doesn't have snow tires, but it leaves room in your $5,000 budget to buy a set.


Step up to the $5,000-$10,000 range and you really open up the options. To some vehicles that it seems unfair to call them beaters. But that's too bad for them, because we're looking for winter cars.

Like this 2011 Subaru Outback wagon. It has Subaru's all-wheel drive plus four snow tires on winter wheels. The Outback 3.6 uses the more powerful 3.6L flat-six engine and the Outback model gets around 75 mm more ground clearance than the standard Legacy to make sure you don't get caught in the snow.

It also has heated seats, heated mirrors, and that heated windshield wiper area that Subaru does to stop the wipers freezing to the glass. 

In this price range, good pickups are plentiful. Check out this 2005 Ram 2500 SLT. Big ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and four doors. It will go over or through just about anything winter has to offer. Plus there's room left in the budget to get a snow plow. Make your money back plowing driveways and towing other drivers out of snowbanks. 


If your winter car budget cap is closer to $20,000 then there is no need to sacrifice. You can pretty much have it all in your winter car. And if you're spending this much on your winter car you probably weren't considering rusty 1990s economy cars anyway.

So here's a fun winter car. A 2007 Audi S4, for sale in Calgary. This generation S4 gets a 4.2L V8 that put out 339 hp and revved past 7,000. It's also got a six-speed manual gearbox. This one comes with an aftermarket exhaust. That's so people can tell where you are when visibility is bad. Ready for winter fun, it comes with good snow tires on a second set of wheels.

If you're looking for a little more space, here's a 2011 Volvo XC90. Leather interior with heated front seats, space for seven, and a smooth inline six. And if anyone knows winter, it's the Swedes. It's also got all-wheel drive and your choice of remote start or winter tires. We'd take the winter tires.

$20,000 and up

If you've got an even bigger budget, then the sky is the limit for your winter vehicle.

How about this 2014 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon. 577 hp, 590 lb-ft of torque, and all-wheel drive. It's the perfect car to get you and four other people to the ski hill with room for your gear for the weekend. It's also got heated seats for your backside and an Alcantara wheel for your fingers. Look up top and there's already a rack for your skis, tobaggan, or to bring home the Christmas tree. After all, the S stands for snow, right?

If you're looking for something even bigger, with more deep-snow friendly capability, look no further than a Lexus LX570, like this 2009 model. It's based on the legendary capability of the Toyota Land Cruiser, but then gets more luxury bits.

Why more luxury bits? Well sure a button to raise ride height is great for getting you over that snow bank. And a limited slip center differential that can also lock will help get you through the worst conditions winter has to offer. There is even crawl control to help you get down slick driveways.

But on top of those you're going to want leather heated seats, a power tailgate, and a nine-speaker stereo to listen to when you're stuck behind the inevitable accidents that happen when people aren't driving like it's winter.


So those are 10 of our best choices for your winter beater this year. If they're gone, or if you don't like the same ones we do, then it's still a good place to start. And stay out of the snowbanks, even if you don't mind an extra dent or two.