You don’t have to buy a new car to get a vehicle that is winter ready.
Is the thought of spending another winter trapped in your home while the snow-covered roads blanket the landscape seem depressing? Well, you’ve got two options: strap on a set of snow tires and a pair of winter wiper blades on your current ride, or purchase a vehicle engineered to thrive in the wintery stuff.
If the cost of a new ride is way outside your budget, check out our list of the best used cars designed to handle the snow and whatever winter throws at you.
The Best Used Cars for the Snow
Sure, you could throw some money at a new Volvo V90 Cross Country or a fancy AWD Tesla — but why do that when there are so many remarkable used vehicles on offer for a lot less coin?
There’s no shortage of online resources waxing poetically about the best cars for snowy antics, but what about the best pre-owned vehicles for snow driving?
Now we’re talking. Below are some of the best winter whips the used car market has to offer.
Jeep Compass: 2007 to Present
This compact SUV is one of this American automaker’s first crossovers. Depending upon the model year, the Jeep Compass came equipped with a 2.0L, 2.2L, or 2.4L engine, all powerful enough to get you over and through any snow drifts you might encounter.
And thanks to over 8 inches of ground clearance, this comfortable, family-friendly vehicle is a genuine beast in the snow. And used Jeep Compasses are relatively affordable.
It might be tempting to seek something newer or more advanced like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or the Jeep Renegade, but the Compass is similarly utilitarian when the cold weather hits.
Subaru Impreza WRX STi Sedan: 2006 to 2012
If safety is the deciding factor in your hunt for the best snow vehicles, the odds are that a Subaru is already on your shortlist. Rather than opt for a mundane Outback, Forester, or Crosstrek, how about this more unexpected offering? Consider the Subaru Impreza WRX STi instead.
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.
These advanced features, plus its stock top speed of 149 mph, should not come as a surprise since the Impreza WRX STi’s legendary roots trace back to World Rally Championship winter 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 2009
German engineers know winter performance is a must-have when designing their vehicles. Clearly, a pre-owned Audi A8 will set you back much more than a set of snow tires and a pair of winter wiper blades for your current car.
But, there is no denying that if you are looking for comfort and performance in the winter, it is hard to beat Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system, a litany of high-tech features, and a sumptuous interior with a high level of refinement.
Here are the features worth noting that will keep you safe on wintery roads:
- Stability control
- Heated side mirrors
- Rear fog lights
- Heated retractable headlight-washer nozzles
- Heated windshield wipers
Find an A8 with the cold weather package to get the coveted steering wheel heater, heated door and center armrests for the front occupants, heated rear seats, and adaptive windshield wipers. Skiers and snowboarders will appreciate the trunk pass-thru portal built into the rear center armrest.
Acura TL SH-AWD: 2003 to 2012
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 engineering feat also makes it one of the best used cars for the snow.
The beak of the TL isn’t pleasing to everyone’s aesthetics, but the 3.7L V6 churns up 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which means that it has the strength and traction needed to conquer nearly any snowy road. If you can find one at a suitable price, you’ll find them great for winter driving.
Toyota Yaris: 2005 to 2020
The Toyota Yaris probably isn’t your usual first thought when you think of capable 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 end up sliding it into a ditch, it’s only a Yaris. Likely, it will survive the encounter, and you probably won’t spill many tears for it.
Infiniti G35x: 2004 to 2008
If you can find an Infiniti G35x reasonably priced and in good condition, 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.
Acquire a good one, and it’ll treat you markedly well, particularly in the winter months. The x designation signals that it is an AWD version, and that’s what you need to tackle whatever winter throws at you.
Ford Freestyle/Taurus X: 2005 to 2009
The Ford Freestyle is a great compact SUV for winter driving. Not only is it comfortable and fun to drive, but it also has a practical AWD system that will get you where you need to go.
When it was rebranded as the Taurus X starting in 2008, it received a revised front fascia, one-touch folding second-row seats, and an available power liftgate. At the same time, the Freestyle’s 203-horsepower engine and CVT were replaced by a 263-horsepower V6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
It offers a confidence-inspiring driving experience if you want SUV performance without dealing with the size of modern-day oversized SUVs. With plenty of room for passengers and cargo, it’s one of the best used cars for the snow.
Toyota Matrix AWD: 2002 to 2008
An obvious choice is a RAV4 AWD, but the Toyota Matrix AWD is just as capable and more economical. When equipped with all-wheel drive, the Toyota Matrix is one of the best cars appropriate for snowy and icy conditions.
What makes it better than other vehicles? Well, that mainly comes down to its reputation for reliability, versatile nature, and affordable price point. 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.
Honda CR-V: 2006 to 2016
The Honda CR-V AWD should be on any list ranking the best cars for the snow. This compact crossover offers the best of both worlds.
It rivals any sedan in terms of practicality and predictable driver experience but also adds the cargo space and safety of an SUV. All in all, it is one of the best used cars for the snow, wrapped into a manageable and unintimidating package.
Though the CR-V does have occasional issues, at the end of the day, it’s still a Honda, so these issues shouldn’t be too expensive or terminal. Whether it’s utility, comfort, driver satisfaction, or value, the Honda CR-V pretty much has you covered.
BMW 330xi: 1997 to 2005
Winter driving enthusiasts looking for the best used cars for the snow can’t go wrong with BMW’s all-wheel-drive variant on its popular 3 Series sedan or touring model. While you might find it hard to find a low-mileage option, these older models are relatively affordable compared to their modern-day counterparts.
In terms of winter handling, they stay composed and easy to drive in the worst winter weather. With the AWD system and a solid set of 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake-rated winter tires, you’ll find the BMW 330xi or 335xi can get you virtually anywhere you want to go during the winter.
How to Make Your Small Car Perform Better in the Snow
Generally speaking, when it comes to driving in the snow, drivetrain, ground clearance, and weight all matter. However, this does not mean that small cars cannot perform in the snow. In many cases, they can outperform larger vehicles that haven’t been designed to be driven in the snow.
In fact, Mark Cox, director of the Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo., once proved this point to a class of police officers. He showed that their police pursuit cars, mainly Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs, could perform better in snowy conditions than their SUVs.
This was proven by racing them around a snow-covered track. When properly prepared for winter driving, the pursuit car beat out the SUV.
Tires, Tires, Tires
If you are going to drive in the snow with a small car or sedan, the most important thing you can do is put four snow tires on it. After all, the tires transfer your car’s power to the snowy surface and provide traction. Without grip, your vehicle, regardless of size, is not going anywhere.
Cox sums up the importance of these specialized tires perfectly:
“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
High ground clearance can help you on roads covered with deep snow. However, that tall height also comes with a downside, as it means that the vehicle has a higher center of gravity, making it harder to stop and easier to roll over or slide off the road.
Explaining the danger of high centers of gravity, Joe DeMatio, an editor for Automobile Magazine, noted, “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.”
In addition to putting snow tires on your small car, you will need to winterize it with winter wipers and washer fluid rated for freezing conditions if you want to maximize your car’s winter performance. These wipers are made of synthetic rubber that will not freeze and crack in frigid temperatures.
They also provide more downward pressure to the squeegee part of the wiper so that they clear rain, snow, and ice better.
New Battery and Radiator Fluid
Before driving in frigid temperatures, inspect your car’s battery. If it is not rated to handle sub-freezing temperatures, then replace it. Look for a battery rated at -32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. This advice applies to your radiator fluid, too.
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. And add an emergency kit, just in case.
Drive Safely This Winter With the Best Used Cars for Snow
This fall season, prepare for winter by shopping around for one of the best used cars, SUVs, and trucks for snow. Whether commuting or heading out to the ski slopes, these vehicles will ensure that you can reach your destination safely — no matter what winter weather conditions you encounter.