Snow capable vehicle for under $5k

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Apr 7, 2008
My teenage son will soon take our beat up '02 Civic as his own so that means that I need to find a replacement vehicle. Since we will be moving to Vermont full-time within 2-3 years and we have a long steep driveway not to mention that the cabin is on a class 4 road that is not plowed, it will need to be awd or 4x4. Buying a new car is not an option at this time but since we are still in Florida I would like to find a local rust free car to take up north. I have scoured CL to see what is available in the market to get a general idea of what would work for me and I came up with three potential options. Option #1. Subaru Forester or Outback around 10 years old. Great cars and there seem to be quite a few available but they all seem to be at or around 100k in mileage and due for a timing belt. Not a deal breaker but worth noting. Option #2. Mid to late 90's Toyota 4runner. I previously owned a '96 and they are absolute tanks but getting hard to find in decent condition without a million miles on them. Option #3. Late 90's to early 2000's Ford F150 4x4. Surprisingly hard to find here in red neck country but persistence can pay off. So with a $5000 budget, which option would you prefer? A suggested 4th option would be welcome too.
Ford Escape 4wd, lots of them made, from 2000 to the present, durable and popular for NY taxi cab service, lots of ground clearance, should be ez to find one for $5,000.
#4 Jeep Cherokee with the strait 6, and 4wd.. supposedly they can't be killed.. there are a few years where the heads crack.. so you may want to find out what years(if you even consider a Jeep Cherokee)even when they do crack.. i don't think they are really that hard to replace..
out of those options....I would go Subaru ! probably better gas mileage than the yota, and easier to find. IMO, I would go JEEP ! Than again I'm a bit biased......I will always have a JEEP or around.
I would be looking at a 4runner like you listed. Nice 3.4l motor and I think it would be a little more off road capable than the Subaru, at the expense of gas mileage. Not knowing how bad the roads can get, I would go for the 4runner.
F-150. Living in the country, a pickup truck is a must-have. I don't know what I'd do without a pickup. If the roads aren't plowed, you'll also need the higher ground clearance. In the city, a Subaru would be great, but being out in the country I've had to plow through drifts in my truck that would be over the roof of a Subaru.
I'm a Subaru fan. Find one with maintenance history and watch out for head gaskets as previously mentioned. If you can find one where the HG was already replaced by a dealer or competent shop, you'll be in great shape. If you can find a Jeep Cherokee 4x4 4.0 that spent its life in Florida and is rust-free, bring that with you. Bring five of them and resell them. I'll take one.
Find a rust free Jeep Cherokee XJ with an automatic transmission. Mechanically, it will last forever. Get it rust checked so it doesn't rust in half.
Ford Ranger with the 4.0 and good tires. Check for rust is a must on all pickup trucks. The Escape is a great option as well. Most importantly, either it comes with good tires or you buy new ones because winter driving is all about being able to stop.....
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4 snow tires for that Civic. $500 or less. Take it from a Vermonter. Flat landers drive AWD vehicles with all-season tires and frequently end up in ditches. Natives drive rust bucket sacrificial cars with 4 Nokian Hakkapellitta snow tires and laugh as they stop to help those flat landers in ditches...who always say something like, "but I have 4WD!"
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Is your road not plowed by the county, or really not plowed at all? If not at all, you will need to do it, or get a snowmobile to go in and out. You pretty much need a sled to be able to get in an unplowed road in my area 99.9% of the time. I think we had this discussion before, if you are not up there most of the time, you will need someone to plow for you, or get a dozer or something big and heavy. 2' of snow with 3 layers of 1" ice in it, sitting for a month is hard to bust through! Well beyond a pickup plow or even most Ag tractors. If you can plow right to the gravel everytime, almost any fwd car with snows will get up a decent slope. If not or you get lots of icing, I'd look for a real 4wd of some sort, or an AWD with a centre dif lock. Many of the AWD cars need some front wheel spin to engage the rears and you don't want that when you are tiptoeing on the gas to climb a sheet of ice... Our driveway is 1/4 mile of basically two 10-20% slopes, and the Tracker with snows hasn't failed us yet, but also, its only one or two days a year I can't drive our fwd car in either. Plowing to the gravel is the key for the fwd car to work as well as it does.
12"+ of snow hasn't stopped my FWD Escape. I'm not sure you "need" AWD or 4x4. I'd put more emphasis on ground clearance.
I've owned and driven regularly an 85 Jetta FWD, 90 Bronco II 4x4, 92 S-10 4x4, 94 Jeep GC 4x4, 99 Silverado 4x4, 02 Explorer AWD, 06 SAAB 9-7x AWD. Live on 1 mile of Twp dirt road usually last plowed, then 1/2 mile of private road up steep grades that we maintain. Up to 2-3" all are fine even up the steep hills once you figure out how to drive. Problem is more snow needs more clearance, so out go the cars. The AWD by nature doesn't dig thru the snow like the 4x4 does to find dirt/buried cinders/stone for traction. Best out of the lot was the 94 GC (put 264k miles on it). If the hills turned to ice and the snow was not ridiculous deep, you could navigate thru the snow covered fields. S-10 was pretty close and plowed with that for years. Silverado has too wide of tires and just floats sometimes but gets around decent. My sister has had many Subaru's and over time I've gone to retrieve them in snow/ice. When they start hunting for traction, they're done like most AWD I've experienced but infinitely better than most cars. The tires are so often overlooked, and important. I'm as guilty as the next guy for not always having the correct tires.
I will say that my ford ranger is the worst thing i have driven in the snow. No offence to any ford ranger owners as i own one myself and love it but My front wheel drive toyota has way better control in the snow. It depends on what you are looking for a suv or a sedan. You probably want good mpg, reliability, and simplicity. During the winters i plow snow with my 78 chevy k20. I live in the country in ny and some places can get pretty bad without the roads being plowed. A subaru may cut it in a foot of snow but when the snow starts to pile and it freezes the front of your car becomes a snow plow. A truck or suv with some ground clearance makes a big difference. Also important is a rear locker. My truck has a locking rear end so its like 3 wheel drive and it makes a huge difference. I know some toyota land cruisers have a rear e locker. Just as important are snow tires. The proper tires make such a big difference. It may be cheaper to buy snow tires in florida idk? Dont underestimate some 4wd cars though. Many can send power to the wheels that have traction with advanced traction control systems.
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Originally Posted By: joegreen
I will say that my ford ranger is the worst thing i have driven in the snow.
Nothing that 250-300 lbs of sand properly staged in the bed can't take care of. I've owned four of them and used one as a commuter for almost 200K on a 130mi/day commute. Passed many 4WD's in ditches. In later years, I didn't even bother putting snow tires on it.
For that money, look for a nice 1985-1995 Chevy Silverado K1500. With older 4x4' have to watch out for front end's that need rebuilt (new half shafts, ball joints, tie rod ends, control arm links, etc. etc. But for $4000-$5000, you should be able to find a low mileago that doesn't need that work for awhile, find one that's recently had the front end rebuilt, or do what I did, and bought a K1500 for $2000 and then spent $1800 for a new set of tires, new ball joints, tie rod ends, brake lines, control arm links, pitman and idler arms, shocks, etc. etc. She rides like a new truck now. Have $4k in a real capable 4x4.
I think buying a southern car is a great idea. All three of your choices are good. If you will ever even consider a plow the F150 is probably best. If you value seating for more passengers the others are a better bet. 4 runner is probably more capable for deep snow and towing but Subaru probably gets better mileage and a more comfortable ride. You're on the right track, all could be good options depending on your need.
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