Here’s Why My Crappy Old Car Made A Brilliant Case For The Winter Beater (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: Matt Brenner is a new contributor to TFLcar. This week, he discusses why owning a crappy old car during the winters can actually be a brilliant idea. His old Ford Escort EXP may not look pretty, but it saw him through the tough roads of Michigan in winter.

Love can sometimes be exhausting.

When it comes to having a passion for your car, keeping your ride flawless can be a significant undertaking. We park far away from minivans and shopping carts. We have bins of special detailing towels that we wash separately and squirrel away from the rest of the laundry. We check fluids, tire pressures, and filters regularly. And probably the oddest thing some of us do is talk to our cars.

It’s winter time, so forget about your car ever being clean for the next six months. [Photo: Matt Brenner]

It sounds weird, but I have literally patted the front seat of my car after winning an impromptu race and said, “good job”, like I was praising my dog for shaking hands.

Despite having this visceral connection with our cars, occasionally some of us in the Great Lakes area get a small but much-needed vacation from the labors of vehicle conservation.

Ford Escort EXP
Ford Escort EXP. [Photo: Flickr]

Here in the state of Michigan, we get about five months of cold, harsh winter. And with winter comes absurd amounts of rock salt, tossed on every road surface to battle the ice. The problem with rock salt is that it hates cars. It slowly eats away at them, infiltrating every crevice. Despite automakers’ attempts to thwart this, the salt wins every time.

The only defense for a car enthusiast is to park your baby in the safe womb of your garage. Pull the cover over your pride and joy, and let it hibernate until old man winter has had enough.

To satisfy our need for transportation during this frigid furlough, some of us buy these special little stand-in cars known as winter beaters.

Winter beaters are automobiles in the sense that they have some likeness of a powertrain, four round things that remind you of tires, and (if you’re lucky) a heater. Think of a rusted out 1987 AMC Eagle station wagon, or a retired cop car. Perhaps a 2001 Honda Civic that’s been to the moon and back. All perfect candidates to haul your frosty-butt back and forth to work while your other car is peacefully sleeping in the garage, dreaming of racetracks and 6-piston Brembo calipers.

Pretty soon, older cars end up looking like this. [Photo: Matt Brenner]

But these cars are immeasurably great

Owning a winter beater is one of the few times a car aficionado can drive completely worry-free. Door dings? Who cares! Car washes? Just a waste of time. Synthetic oil? Not a chance! Just four dissimilar tires, rust, an oil-burning motor and five months of an “I can go anywhere I damn well please” mindset.

One winter when I was in my early 20’s, I acquired what was left of a 1986 Ford Escort EXP for whatever pocket change I had on me. The car, which had once caught on fire before my tenure, was a repulsive masterpiece of automotive ingenuity.

The two-door EXP was Ford’s attempt at a sportier version the Wonder bread dull Escort. The “sport coupe” variety that I owned had cheesy and completely ineffective spoilers. It also had some ornamental bits tacked on that added to simulate a veneer of performance. It was powered by a 1.9-liter mouse on a treadmill. At the time, it barely eked out 105 horsepower and was mated to a slushy, cable-actuated manual transmission. The only saving grace was the ergonomically placed e-brake handle which allowed for sweet drifting on wet roads.

Overall, the car was about as fun to drive as reading a 500-page book on basket weaving.

Come back tomorrow, January 27, for Part 2!