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CHOTW Special Feature: Beater With A Heater (x10)

It occurred to me after our recent missive that perhaps recommending a convertible on the cusp of winter may be less than completely useful to a subset of our readership. So, for all four of you, listen up.

You lot appear to be looking for something to drive in the salty months with zero regard but some amount of comfort. Maybe you’re living and working from your home, and though in the warmer months you’re fine walking or biking to your destination, winter means you want something with a bit more cover. That said, you don’t see this as an investment, per se: If something should happen to this vehicle – let’s say a catastrophic mechanical or electrical issue – you’ re okay with just binning it and starting over. If it begins to return to the earth, well, it was largely sacrificial anyway.

At night, if you really listen, you can hear it rusting away.

The average new car price is closing in on $38,000. With zero down at 3% APR over 60 months, you’re looking at $683 before tax and tags. Even at 0% you’re looking at $633 for the same 5 years. Instead of something with a vertical depreciation curve (at least initially), why not go full-cheap?

Are any of these used alternatives as good as the proverbial new car, where “good” means reliable enough to start in the dead of winter, engage and sustain movement, and eventually produce enough warmth such that you don’t die on the side of the road in the Bold North’s tundra? Maybe! You really only need this vehicle to sometimes work for, at most, the next seven months. That’s about the length of time we’ve been in lockdown, and look how quickly that time has passed! Piece of cake.

Parameters? Well, per CHOTW guidelines the dollar limit is $2k, and we’ll definitely enforce the “it has to run and drive” clause since your life could depend on it. I think we’ll eschew Subaru (too obvious), Pontiac (too damn many of them), and Jaguar (because duh). In fact, we could have quite easily populated three lists with 10 of each of those. All-wheel drive would be nice, but it will remain optional because people lived without it for decades.

We’re not going to worry too much about rust because, as was mentioned, this is largely a sacrificial car. But you should be sure to check underneath any of the following for excessive rust.

This is a suspension mount near a 2006 Toyota Sequoia. It is no longer attached to the gaping void above that used to be the frame.

Are you a gambling man or woman? It’s possible we won’t have a bad winter and you can run all-season tires. Somebody told me, though, the fact my deck has been covered in acorns since June means we’re in for a real freezer. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. You may, however, want to budget for some winter meats.

And that’s it. Ready? Go.

1999 Acura 3.0 CL – $1,850

You can’t usually go wrong rocking a Honda product with heated seats, minimal rust, and less than 200,000 miles. With a regular diet of timing belts and oil changes, any of them will go for a long, long time. What about the automatic transmission, you say. Don’t those go out? Sure, but this one was replaced a couple of years ago.

The interior does look very nice. That’s not always the case with Japanese brands from this time period with their weird bonded leather. These front seats appear to have been covered most of their lives, though when looking at the driver’s chair it becomes clear there are different definitions of “spotless.”

While the body has some rust on the rear quarter panels (where it seems every car around here goes crusty), overall it doesn’t look too bad. Even the headlights are clear, handy when it gets dark at 4:30 PM. Less than two-large with a new transmission – and new brakes and exhaust – feels like a good deal given the cosmetic condition.

1981 BMW 320i – $2,000

A terrible ad with no interior or engine pictures, but who knew running and driving E21s this cheap were still in the wild? The seller says the cars works “great” but has rust on the body and part of the frame. That’s okay; you’re going to sacrifice it to the winter gods anyway. The paint looks tired, but you won’t notice when the horizontal surfaces are covered in snow and ice.

Not this car’s interior. Or maybe it is. Who knows?

These are simple and relatively robust cars with fuel-injected engines that should start when the weather turns cold. There is nothing unknown about the E21 chassis at this point. If the heat works it could be fun, assuming you put some snow tires on it.

Supercharged 2004 Chevrolet Cadaver – $1,500

The body is rough “due to hitting a deer and another deer hitting me.” The interior is gross, with filth, mismatched components, and broken plastic. The seller states the shifter “takes some getting used to.”

But as big a pile as this car is – and, to be sure, it very clearly is – this Cadaver also sports a GM Performance Products supercharger kit coupled to a five-speed manual transmission. Elsewhere there are additional hotrod parts, like an intercooler, and a header and high-flow exhaust. Is it fast? Well, the huffer is said to be good for 50 horsepower, so it’s probably not slow.

The rest of the car says nothing to anyone. The Pontiac wheels make it look like a Pontiac, but that’s only because the Pontiac version of this car – whatever that was called – looks exactly like a Cadaver. And it’s white, so you might lose it in a snow bank.

Idea: Buy this, drive it for the winter, and then drop the engine and transmission into this cheap Fiero.

1998 Chevy S10 LS Extended Cab – $1,900

Everyone needs a pickup truck, or at least a friend with a pickup truck. You could be either of those! Or both! This one comes with a set of snow tires – no four-wheel drive needed – and shows plenty of rust. Pro-Tip: On S10 chassis of this era, check the frame. When the body shows this much cancer, the frame is frequently not far behind.  One positive is the truck does not appear to be sagging where the cab meets the cargo box, the latter of which comes with a nice liner.

Inside is a sea of General Motors cloth and squishy plastic and rubber. It’s familiar and sort of warm and inviting, but at 210,000 miles it’s also a little saggy. The rear jump seats are useless, but in true American vehicle fashion there are cupholders.

I’m talking smack about this truck, but truth be told if we move forward with buying a larger chunk of real estate this is the kind of rig I’ll probably be looking for. Because, as mentioned, everybody needs a pickup.

2001 Ford Explorer Sport – $1,750

It’s like a Bronco II, but weirder. By the time the second-generation Explorer came online, two-door SUV popularity was waning, ceding the market to the regular lifted four-door station wagons we see everywhere today. But through 2003, you could get a shorty Explorer, even after the blobtastic second-generation truck became the third-generation in 2002.

The interior looks clean enough to work with, and while the body is crispy here and there I don’t see any gaping holes. Have to check the frame, of course, as you wouldn’t want anything like the transfer box falling out while going down the road. I also don’t know if 177,000 miles is a lot on one of these or not, but a little four-wheel drive runabout could be fun for as long as it lasts.

1991 Honda Accord LX Wagon – $1,200

A Honda from the bubble era will almost always be a good idea. This one is no exception. Sure, it’s getting a little crispy, but according to the seller it hasn’t been stuffed. Overall it looks like “Grandma” took pretty good care of it. 110,000 miles is nothing, likely requiring little more than timing belts and oil changes (check the service records).

The interior looks very clean, inviting without being creepy. Those of us that remember cloth Honda interiors from this era will smile at the memory. Ergonomics will be nearly perfect, with comfort beyond what you’d expect in a 30-year-old Accord. Add to that a useful tailgate area, and you could drive this all year ’round, using it as a small pickup truck.

Saab 2007 9-5 – $2,000

Not much is known about this clean 9-5, other than it has almost 217,000 miles on its digital odometer and has lived with one family since new. More importantly, it has heated seats front and rear (fronts are cooled, too). It certainly looks good in the pictures, with shiny paint, a clean interior, and no obvious holes.

We’ve been talking a fair amount about Saabs lately. If this one had three pedals, I’d likely go look at it. That said, if it had three pedals, the seller would probably be asking double the $2,000 in the ad.

2005 Volkswagen Jetta GL – $2,000

It will smell like crayons. It will barf up check engine lights like a cat with a hairball problem. The seat heaters will burn a hole through the foam, the cover, your pants or jacket, and then your skin. Exterior lights will burn out with such regularity you’ll scream conspiracy. These are but some of the joys of Mk4 Volkswagen ownership.

The good news is that given gas, air, and spark this basic 2.0-liter will always start. These transmissions are fairly durable, too. When it does need parts, they’re not that expensive (just don’t take it to the dealer). It has rust and dents and the interior needs a good scrubbing, so you won’t care about abusing it through the dead parts of the calendar. The other good news is these Mk4 Jettas (and their Golf brothers and sisters) are not completely hateful to drive.

2002 Volvo S80 T6 Executive Sedan – $1,900

This Volvo isn’t too different from myriad other examples that always seem to be for sale, except for one thing: It has actual four-place seating, with a goofy rear center console that houses a DVD player and screen, some cupholders, and a drink chiller behind where a fold-down center armrest would be.

The rest of the car is pretty standard moon-shot mileage Volvo, with working air conditioning, a rebuilt transmission, and some other new parts. It’s handsome, but unassuming. Being a Volvo, it’ll be comfortable and presumably safe if you forget it’s only front-wheel drive and slide into a tree.

When that happens, you’ll probably at least have some Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter in the cooler.


All fine examples, these are. But, at the end of the day, you should probably just buy a Subaru.

2 thoughts on “CHOTW Special Feature: Beater With A Heater (x10) Leave a comment

  1. Few quick comments:
    1) I want the Explorer Sport with the spare WI license plate in the passenger door pocket for quick and anonymous getaways!

    2) The front driver seat picture of the Honda wagon has a rainbow in it. That’s a sign from God, innit?

    3) When did you suddenly go all English on us (see #2 above, just trying to fit in; with “binning” and “you lot”)

    4) Kind of a shame to slog that nice looking E21 through a Minnesota winter, eh?

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