Check the tire treads for traction
Brauer says it's critical to make sure the tires on a winter beater are rated for rain and snow, and that they have plenty of tread life. If not, you should plan to immediately buy a new set of winter tires. They are designed to withstand colder temperatures and maximize traction due to their deeper tread. If you do, factor that into the purchase price.
Of course, many people won't invest in pure snow tires, says Visnic of Edmunds.com, so it's likely that the winter beater you're considering won't have them. "Budget an extra $600 for snow tires, adjusting the cost into the maximum price you've decided to pay for the vehicle," he says.
If you live in a moderate climate, Visnic says your beater should at the very least have all-season tires. "If you look at the tires and have to question if they have enough tread, then they don't," he says.