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Beat winter with a winter beater

Ray Smith loves cars: "I drive trucks. I drive sports cars. I drive cars that I love," he explains. He recently traded in his 2008 Mustang for a 2010 model. But this Ottawa resident isn't blind to a simple fact: driving his beloved car in the winter would just be "stupid."

Travelling in snow presents unique safety concerns for both drivers and automobiles. That's why Smith drives a winter beater -- a vehicle reserved for winter driving. While salt makes sidewalks clear for pedestrians, it's really hard on vehicles: Corrosion from salt can cause holes in the bottom of cars and brake pads are especially susceptible to damage.

What to look for
While a winter beater can take a beating, it needs to be reliable. Smith bought his 2002 Ford Sport Trac partly because his Mustang's rear-wheel drive makes it slip easily. The car is "stupid to drive in the snow because they're the type of car that [has] no traction. There's no safety to them." Since his beater is a small truck, being higher off the ground gives him better visibility.

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Ed Couto, owner of Acen Motors in Hamilton, Ont., recommends buying a vehicle with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, but cautions that vehicles with all-wheel drive may require more maintenance and use more gas. All-season tires may work on cars with front-wheel drive, but winter tires are ideal -- especially for rear-wheel drive. (In Quebec, winter tires are mandatory.)

When shopping around for a beater, Couto encourages customers to not just focus on the condition of the brakes and tires; the fuel line should be free from rust, and windows and doors need to work properly. But they don't need to be power windows or have power locks. "The less features in the vehicle, the better," he says. "Less things to go wrong." Air conditioning is frivolous -- especially when travelling in the winter -- and while leather seats look nice, they're uncomfortable in negative-degree weather.

Finding a reliable dealer
The car isn't your only important consideration -- you need to trust in the person selling it. "Regardless of the age, the car must be properly certified," says Couto. He strongly encourages individuals to buy only from dealers who are members of their local dealer association, such as the Used Car Dealers Association of Manitoba or the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted November 21, 2011
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