Making A Case For the Winter Beater (Part 2): It’s Not Just A Car, It’s a Lifestyle

Ford Escort EXP. [Photo: Greg Gjerdingen via Flickr]

Editor’s Note: Matt Brenner is a new editorial contributor to TFLcar. This week, he’s making a case for the winter beater. Part 1 of the story published on Saturday – check that out here! He tells the story of his old Ford Escort EXP, a crock of a car that saw him through the winter in northern Michigan without sacrificing a much more precious (and expensive) daily driver.

My Ford EXP burned oil like a Batmobile-style smoke screen.

The resurrected zombie that I bought was particularly rough. I found this jewel sitting alone in a auto parts store parking lot, looking abandoned except for the $450 “For Sale” sign on it. I noticed that the car had been parked there for over a month which should have been my first clue that this ostracized heap was junkyard ready. But I was less wise back then and needed transportation while my good car rested far away from the sodium-rich streets of winter.

It was embarrassing. Quite literally I had to add a dollar per quart gas-station oil daily before turning the key. And by key, I mean a flat-head screwdriver I used to start the car. For “security” purposes, I used to hide the screwdriver in various locations in the car until one day in the dead of winter, I forgot where I hid it and was left stranded for a while. After I bought a new one, I just kept it in the open on the center console for all to see.

[Photo: Greg Gjerdingen via Flickr]

Predictably, nobody ever tried to steal the car.

The third pedal actuated a potato chip thin clutch which was too anemic to handle the petite engine output and slipped during all forward motion. I had to relearn how to drive a manual transmission all over again.

It had heat, but that comfort came at a cost. The heater core leaked, which caused a buildup of oily vapor on the inside of the windshield. Not so great for icy morning defrosting. I kept a rag and some carcinogenic spray under the front seat to clean the smeary mess each morning. When I switched from defrost to floor-mode, it dripped hot antifreeze as if the Devil himself was relieving himself on my foot. The only viable option was to crank the heat on defrost in the morning to warm the car before I drove away, then shut the heater completely off, clean the windshield, and drive to work before it got too cold to survive.

Nevertheless, it survived.

But all of that aside, this rusty coupe got me through 5 months of cruel Michigan winter. I e-brake slid it daily, did reverse doughnuts, left the window open all night during a snowstorm, and in general disparaged the car without concern. It managed to start regularly and kept me mostly warm on the way to work. And as soon as I was done with it, I sold it for whatever petty cash someone had on them. I like to imagine it’s still smoking down the road today.

Winter-beaters are the animal shelter cat of transportation. You acquire one for next to nothing, it makes you happy for a while, but then it keeps peeing in the corner, so you eventually open the door one day in the spring and let it out. And just like that, it becomes someone else’s problem.

For many of us, we will always cherish our cars and treat them like a well-loved family member. But loving something takes work. And sometimes you just need a break, so don’t feel bad for banging gears on some clapped out, brine-infested bucket of rust.

Your other car won’t mind at all.