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The 10 Best Used Cars for the Snow

What Are The Best Used Cars For Snow Driving?

The Subaru STi is one of the best cars for the snow

So, you don’t want to spend another winter trapped in your home while the roads are covered with snow? Well, you’ve got two options: slap a set of snow tires and a pair of winter wiper blades on your current ride, which can be very effective,  or purchase yourself a car that was actually engineered to thrive in the wintery stuff, and the most cost-effective way to go with this second option is to buy a used car. Sure, you could throw some money at a new Volvo V90 Cross Country, or a fancy All Wheel Drive Tesla model – but why do that when there are so many amazing and inexpensive used vehicles on offer? There’s no shortage of online resources waxing lyrical about the best cars for snow driving, but what about the the best used cars for snow driving, for those of us on a budget? We’ve got you covered. Below are our best winter vehicles that you find on the cheap.

What Are The Best Used Cars For The Snow?

Jeep Compass 2007 to Today

Jeep Compass Front Quarter

This compact SUV is one of this American automaker’s first crossover. Depending upon which model year you get, your Jeep Compass will have a 2.0 L, 2.2 L, or 2.4 L  engine, all of which are powerful enough to get you and your crew over and through any snow drifts you could ever hope to encounter. Making this comfortable, family-friendly vehicle a genuine beast in the snow is its high ground clearance of over 8 inches. Generally, they’re quite affordable and they’re some of the best vehicles for snow driving too! It might be tempting to seek out something newer or more advanced like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or the Jeep Renegade, but take a punt on this older model, and you won’t have any regrets.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi Sedan 2006 to 2012

Subaru Impreza WRX STi Sedan Driving

If safety is deciding factor for you on your hunt for the best snow vehicles, odds are that a Subaru is already on your short list. Rather than opt for a Subaru Crosstrek, Subaru Forester, or Subaru Outback, how about this more unexpected offering? This sporty sedan is not just safe; it truly comes alive in the snow thanks to its driver-controllable differential and symmetrical all-wheel drive system. I suppose these advanced features plus its stock top speed of 149 mph should not come as a surprise since the Impreza WRX STi’s roots trace back to competing in winter rally races. Oh, and let’s not forget that this hawk-eyed ride is downright pretty enough to kiss goodnight each evening.

Audi A8 2002 to today

Audi A8 Side On

Okay. I’ll admit that even used, an Audi A8 will set you back much more than a set of snow tires and a pair of winter wiper blades for your present car will. But, there is no denying that if you are looking for comfort and performance in the winter, it is very hard to beat what the Audi A8 offers.

Proving that this beautiful sedan was made for the snow is its ski bag that is a sack that normally sits out-of-sight behind the rear seat. When deployed, you slide your skis into it from the trunk so that they go through the back of the rear seats where they then rest. However, since they are in the bag, your seats stay nice a dry.

It is these types of details that make the Audi A8 a top snow car. Additional features that will keep you safe on the wintery roads include all-wheel-drive, stability control, rear fog lights, heated retractable headlight-washer nozzles, and heater windshield wipers. They’re great cars for snow driving.

Acura TL 2003 to 2012

Acura TL Cornering In Snow

Available with Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, the Acura TL automatically adjusts its power system to transfer its power to its outside wheels while turning to help it maximize its exit speed. This handsome sedan’s SH-AWD, 305 horses, and 3.7 L V-6 that is capable of twisting out 273 lb-ft of torque means that it has the strength and traction needed to conquer nearly any snowy road. If you can find one at a price that suits you, you’ll find them to be one of the best cars for winter driving.

Toyota Yaris

2014 Toyota Yaris

The Toyota Yaris probably isn’t your usual first thought when you think of capable and good winter cars but given that it’s virtually unkillable, it’s a wise choice. Unlike other offerings on this list, it doesn’t come equipped with AWD, but a more vanilla FWD. When it’s shod with winter tires, this lightweight car can comfortably navigate through the snow and ice without any difficulty. Besides, if you do end up sliding it into a tree trunk or a ditch, it’s a Toyota Yaris, so not only will it probably be fine, you probably won’t spill many tears for it if it isn’t.

Infiniti G35x

Infiniti G35x

If you can find one of these for a reasonable price that hasn’t got any faults, then snap it up immediately. Unfortunately, these gems don’t often turn up with a cheap price tag, so you’ll be left at the mercy of a high-mileage model. Make sure you know what you’re buying before you part with your cash though. If you find a good one, it’ll treat you very well, particularly in the winter months. The “x” designation signals that it is an AWD version, and that’s what you really need to tackle anything the winter throws at you.

Ford Taurus AWD/Taurus X AWD

Ford Taurus X AWD

You’re going to be looking for older model Ford Taurus units because you’re not going to find a new one turn up on the used car lots for a price tag that seems affordable yet. Still, an older model is exactly what you want for the winter. Not only is it comfortable and fun to drive, it also has a practical AWD system that will get you where you need to go. The great thing about this is that it offers a confidence inspiring driving experience without you having to sit in an oversized SUV. It’s one of the best cars for the snow.

2014 Ford F-150

2014 Ford F-150

Winter driving enthusiasts looking for the best used cars for the snow will instantly be drawn to the dominant silhouette of the legendary Ford F-150. It has long been lauded as one of the best vehicles for snow driving thanks to its four-wheel drive system, huge power, ride comfort, and safety features. These safety features include advanced packages like traction control anti-lock brakes, and stability controls. Which is exactly what you need to tame the winter weather. If you can find a 2014 model for a reasonable price, it will serve you in good stead in the ice and snow.

Toyota Matrix AWD

Toyota Matrix AWD

The Toyota Matrix might not be an obvious choice, but the Toyota Matrix AWD should be! If you can find one that is. When equipped with All Wheel Drive, the Toyota Matrix is one of the best cars in snow and icy conditions. What makes it better than other vehicles? Well, that’s mainly down to its versatile nature and affordable price point rather than its actual ability. Still, when it comes to the crunch, the Matrix can battle the elements with the best of them – and it will keep doing so for many a year. It’s a cheap car, and a fine investment in the long term.

2006 Honda CR-V

2006 Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V should be included on any list ranking the best cars for the snow, and for good reason. This compact SUV seems to offer the best of both worlds: it rivals any sedan in terms of practicality and drive experience, but also adds in the cargo space and hauling power of an SUV – but all wrapped into a manageable and unintimidating package. It can get you from A to B in the city and A to Z in the wilderness, from gentle cruises to epic adventures. Now, they have been known to have issues occasionally, but at the end of the day you’re driving a Honda, so nothing is terminal. We highly rank this one as one of the best cars for the snow. If you can find a used one at an affordable price, do not hesitate in snapping up this bargain!

How To Make Your Small Car Perform Better In The Snow!

Generally speaking, when it comes to driving in the snow, size and heft matters. After all, it is the weight of your ride that pushes it wheels into the snow allowing the vehicle to gain traction and keep on moving.

However, this does not mean that small cars cannot perform in the snow. They can, and, in many cases, they can outperform cars and other vehicles that have been actually designed to be driven in the snow.

Small Cars Are Some Of The Best Cars In Snow

In fact, Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, recently proved to a class of cops that their police pursuit cars, mainly Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs, could perform better in snowy conditions than their police SUV and heavy police cruiser by racing them around a snow-covered icy track. When properly prepared for winter driving, the pursuit car beat out the SUV and the cruiser.

Wheels, Wheels, Wheels

If you are going to drive in the snow with your little car, the most important thing you can do is put four snow tires on it. After all, it is the tires that transfer your car’s power to the snowy surface, and it is your tires that provide traction. Without traction, your car, regardless of its size, is not be going anywhere.

Cox sums up the importance of these specialized tires perfectly when he said, “The bottom line is that, with the right snow tires, any car is drivable in winter. There used to be the idea that some of the performance cars were not suitable for winter use, but that’s just not the case and we see all the time that if you replace those summer racing tires with winter tires, you can drive anything.”

The Ying and the Yang of High Ground Clearance

Of course, high ground clearance can help you cover roads that are covered with deep snow. But, this high ground clearance comes with a downside as well since it means that the vehicle itself has a higher center of gravity, which makes it harder to stop and easier to roll over or skid off the road. And it is the vehicles that roll over or skid off the road that often times end up being left by the roadside to be buried by the snow.

Explaining the danger of high centers of gravity, Joe DeMatio, an editor for Automobile Magazine, said, “SUVs tend to make people feel invincible because they have traction and ground clearance, but they don’t stop any better and have a higher center of gravity, so they’re easier to roll…  invariably the vehicles you see on the side of the road or in ditches are SUVs much more than cars.”

Winter Wipers

In addition to putting snow tires on your small car, you will need to replace its normal wipers with winter wipers if you want to maximize its winter performance. These wipers are made of synthetic rubber that will not freeze and crack like a normal wiper will at cold temperatures. Also, they provide more downward pressure to the squeegee part of the wiper so that they are able to clear rain, snow, and ice from windshields.

New Battery and Radiator Fluid

Before heading for colder temperatures in your small car, get its battery checked. If it is not rated to handle sub-freezing temperatures, replace it. This is the same with your radiator fluid. It needs to be rated to at least -32 degrees F.

Preparing for the Worst

Finally, you and your small car must prepare for the worst. Make sure you keep blankets or a sleeping bag, gloves, a phone charger, jumper cables, and an ice scraper in your car before you start using it to drive in the snow.

What About Anti-Freeze?

Do you know the proper details for winter anti-freeze? Driving in the snow requires more than winter tires, All Wheel Drive and some safety features. You should also be familiar with the properties of anti-freeze: what it does, and how it affects your drive.

A Winter Road

Good winter time heat in cars comes with proper engine coolant. Keep good attention to your car or trucks radiator ethylene glycol anti-freeze and it will keep you warm and toasty, along with a clean and defrosted windshield all cold season driving long.

 Auto Owners It’s a Myth that 100 % Glycol Ratio is Best:

Yet is a misconception of many that the stronger (or higher a percentage compared to the water ratio in your antifreeze) the better. Some people run 100 % glycol ratios all year round thinking its best – best for preventing wintertime block freezup and damage as well as better for summer time hot weather drives. Sadly this is not the case.  A 50 / 50 water /glycol mixture will serve most drivers well.  In summertime the boiling point of a good mixture is higher than a straight glycol or even full water setup.  In most cases – sans the North Pole or Edmonton northern Alberta in January – the same mixture should more than cover freez-up. Stated in another way the ideal mixture is a 50 /50 ethylene glycol / water mixture.  If the solution is too weak ( more water/ less anti-freeze) it can lead to July  summer driving overheating,  At low speeds or extreme driving and hauling  this is especially the case.  At the other extreme, weak coolant mixtures can freeze during frigid temps possibly cracking the engine block resulting in major repair bills – if that freezing coolant does its damage via expansion.

Make Sure to Examine the Label of any Antifreeze You Buy – It Should be Rated to Minus 34 Degrees F.:

Yet when purchasing anti-freeze and winter time rad coolants it pays to examine labels and purchase the correct product.  It autumn or fall season now and you might well want to stock up before jack frost or ultra cold winter weather with long lines at the auto counter at Wal-Mart arrive.  When purchasing winter season antifreeze products buy only ethylene glycol-based product with rust and corrosion inhibitors for full year round cooling system protection.   Read the labels carefully and with care.  Expert licensed mechanics as well as automobile factory trained service techs and writers will tell you that the bottle in your hand contains a coolant liquid that is not up to standard if the label indicates that the content’s half and half solution of ethylene glycol and water will not provide total protection against freezing to minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit (equivalent to – 36.7 degrees C.). The expert’s rule of thumb is as simple as that.

Drive Warm & Safe This Winter With The Correct Antifreeze in Your Engine:

This fall season check your anti-freeze in your radiator or have it checked professionally.  It’s easily done.  Ensure that you have both adequate levels of coolant and an adequate percentage of glycol in the juice of your rad. By doing so you will be doing driving comfort and safety come this winter driving a favor.  Drive toasty and safe in a warm truck, car or crossover SUV with a clear and defrosted windshield. Even the safest cars won’t protect you unless you take some pro-active measures yourself!

Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them, but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. I founded GearHeads.org and then built and ran AutoWise.com until selling it to Lola Digital Media in 2020. I look forward to watching AutoWise grow as part of the AllGear group.