Winterize my car or buy another?
August 18, 2019 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of bringing my 2008 Toyota Yaris from the west coast to New England. It has 220k miles but still drives fine. However I'm worried about wear since I have no experience driving manual in snow/ice, and parking would be uncovered. OR should I get another (more reliable) car once I've relocated?

Reasons to bring old car:
- I got it last year and feel financially invested in the repairs I've gotten done (axel replacement, emergency brake, new tires)
- it has all the basic functions I need in a car currently, which is mostly city driving (though phone charging capabilities would be nice)
- insurance is cheap because I'm not concerned about aesthetic maintenance
- I'd pay $1.5k on shipping instead of around $12k+ on a new (used) car (I'd ship because I am not comfortable driving cross country by myself)
- I'm on a tight-ish timeframe

Reasons to get a new car (I'm interested in a VW Golf):
- not spending $1.5k on shipping a car worth ~ 2.3k and that might struggle in the winter (I have no solid evidence of this, just that I think it's only lasted this long because it's been used in temperate areas like California and Washington state where salting the roads isn't really a thing)
- I'd feel safer having a more reliable car (for driving longer and rural distances like the 2hr drive to Boston, if I get caught in a snow storm, phone charging capabilities, etc.)

I'd like for whatever I choose to last another 3 years; at that point I'll probably look into selling whatever I have due to more relocation. I'm still pretty new to cars so I'd appreciate thoughts on the situation!! Thank you all!
posted by bruschetta_cat to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Ooh, I would not recommend the Golf if you take the new car route, unless maybe you get snow tires. I am experienced in New England snow and ice and had a miserable four years with a Golf (2012). It was fun to drive much of the year, but terrifying (to me, anyway) in the winter. Snow tires on the Yaris may be just as good as a Golf.
posted by dayintoday at 5:31 PM on August 18, 2019

I live in Vermont, we have serious snow and I know people who have Yarises or Fits (sort of similar weight/profile). They are light cars which can matter in snow. I guess I'd ask yourself if you're going to have to be doing driving at sort of odd/weird hours (most roads are plowed well most of the time for people who are commuting, highways are nearly always plowed except in extreme snowstorms) or if you're going to have to do a lot of driving either on back roads or at off times when plows might not be out? Salt is an issue but you can get our car washed regularly and it's less of an issue. By the time salt becomes an issue, your Yaris would be old enough to consider selling anyhow. Also parking uncovered means shoveling out and scraping and all of that, and that might be nicer in a car with, say, heated seats.

If you keep the Yaris, get a really good set of tires (I suggest snows but people here Have Opinions about snow tires) because a light car and normal tires and a driver who isn't super comfy in snow isn't really a good combination. That said, it's a learnable skill. THAT said I don't think I'd pay to ship a car worth that much. Would it be possible to find someone to just drive it for you (I've done this for people in the past, but not lately)?

The state car of Vermont used to be a Subaru Forrester but lately it's really a Honda CRV. If you're in Southern New England you will be fine with a regular front wheel drive car. If you'll be in Northern New England, you might look into something with all wheel drive.
posted by jessamyn at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

That's basically what used to be a Toyota Echo north of the border, right? I've known a handful of people who drove those in snowy places in Canada with similar road conditions compared to New England, and they were fine with snow tires. They hold up pretty well in places where the roads are salted - they're nearly indestructible little cars. That said, I occasionally drove one around that age during Southern Ontario winters and it wasn't enjoyable - I remember the ABS being kinda sketchy. Also, maybe this is just my quirkiness about cars, but I wouldn't recommend that someone new to driving in New England winters drive an older, very light sub-compact with such a high centre of gravity.
posted by blerghamot at 6:23 PM on August 18, 2019

Put snows on it and drive it 'til it dies. Get someone to give you some winter driving tips once you're here or take a winter driving course (for instance). A skilled driver in snow is going to matter more than the particular car (tho anti-lock brakes can help). That's pretty much the New England way. I'm frequently in LA and love road trips and am a great, safe, and experienced driver, so if LA - Boston could work and you want to explore someone driving it here for you, meMail me.

Jessamyn is right about salt and about shoveling being the real bane of car ownership in New England. It sucks. Clearance might be an issue if you're in areas with frequent heavy snow and where parking might mean you are ramming up and over into spaces. The front fender can become deformed but I've only rarely heard of fenders coming off because of snow. IMO, all the more reason to not spend a lot on a new car until you understand the realities of your particular winter driving situation.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:26 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Any used car you buy in New England is likely to have gone through [n] New England winters. Your Yaris has not. You know all its mechanical foibles.

The nomenclature is weird in the US: the Yaris sedan is an entirely different model to the Yaris hatchback. The sedan version is light and the steering can feel a bit soft in unploughed snow but it's also ultra-reliable. You can solve a lot of problems with good tyres and lessons. Or keeping something heavy in the boot.
posted by holgate at 6:38 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think road salt would destroy your car in 1 winter so I would say take your existing car and see how it goes.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:39 PM on August 18, 2019

I have driven nothing but very small/light, 4- or 5-speed cars in snow and ice, and your driving is more important than your car. Nthing get tips or lessons in winter driving -- using a higher gear than normal to start on snow or ice, forex, and remembering to steer into a skid are basics you'll use your whole winter life.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:44 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to much of this question but as the first owner of another 2007 Yaris (manual. hatch, USA, blue) I will say that this damn car has been rock solid and dependable and cheap to operate. I've had no mechanical problems since day one with only consumables replaced such as belt, fluids, tires, and wipers. It is rather insane to be honest.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:32 PM on August 18, 2019


though phone charging capabilities would be nice

What? I just use a magnet mount and cord that runs from a cig lighter adapter. I mean, I guess having a dedicated USB port in the dash is important but that's a few hours (tops) DIY project if you wanted one. Google it for examples.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:34 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Keep the car you like, PUT SNOW TIRES ON IT and put two big 30-50 pound weights in either side of the trunk. Kitty litter works, as does sand or salt -- tossing handfuls under the tires will help you with traction if you get stuck, and the weight helps with traction in other ways.

The manual/standard is a plus, not a minus: you can shift down and grind away if you have to.

I re-learned driving in Saskatoon in a 20 year old Mazda Protege and that thing was a tank; I never got stuck.

And yes, take winter driving lessons if they're available.
posted by jrochest at 8:01 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone! This has been hugely helpful. I'm leaning toward winter tires on my old car, and I'll just figure out the rural/long distance driving later. Uncovered parking is now my main concern haha.

As far as comments people have made (sorry, I'm not sure how to reply directly)
@blerghamot and @holgate - if it's helpful to know, the model is a 2-door hatchback (so not an Echo, at least not the US version)
@RolandOfEld - I tried plugging in multiple adaptor things into the cigarette lighter and none of them worked; I thought that was a function of the older/basic models and either I never brought it up to my mechanic, or my mechanic told me that some cars just don't have that capability? It's strange I can't remember.
posted by bruschetta_cat at 8:11 PM on August 18, 2019

I tried plugging in multiple adaptor things into the cigarette lighter and none of them worked
That sounds like potentially a blown fuse to the 12V cigarette lighter port. That'd be a very cheap and easy fix - you can probably even find video instructions on YouTube.

Separately, I have to say that, to me, paying $1.5k to ship a car worth barely that much strikes me as deeply irrational.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:18 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

That sounds like potentially a blown fuse to the 12V cigarette lighter port. That'd be a very cheap and easy fix - you can probably even find video instructions on YouTube.

Agree, agree, and agree. Fuses are dirt cheap and it's worth checking.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:38 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Either you buy a used car from an owner you know (yourself) or you buy a used car that has spent many a winter in NE from an owner you do not know and do not know how they maintained the car. $1500 to ship is nothing to sneeze at, but if you car is reliable and you like it, it can easily be adapted to the snow with tires and weight in the trunk. I have a 4WD pickup that I add a box of sand to the back of the bed in the winter to help with traction.

As for the charging, does the cigarette lighter work to get hot to light a cig? If it does, you can charge a phone. If it does not, replace the fuse as mentioned above. Then charge away.
posted by AugustWest at 8:42 PM on August 18, 2019

Hi all, I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to comment too much, but I did want to add information that might be relevant.

- I found a shipping carrier whose cost is closer to $1.2k and my parents are willing to chip in $500 (yay, thank you parents!)
- my timeframe is actually pretty tight (I said tight-ish above, but really it's tight) and would likely result in the car being sold cheap (needs to go within a week so). On the east coast, I'll only have 5 days to purchase a new car, or else be car-less until the December holidays.
- If it's not too much of an aside, I hope my situation and choices are now more understandable and less irrational-sounding. Unfortunately this timeframe has created only less-than-ideal options!!

Overall, I feel much better about things and will probably keep my car. I will check out the fuse-- thanks for the words, everyone! Much appreciated :)
posted by bruschetta_cat at 9:13 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just to further reassure - I drove a Yaris with all-season tires (i.e. not snow tires) living in Western Massachusetts (i.e. just south of Vermont) for three years. One of those years was, like, among the snowiest winters for the last 20 years. I parked outside for two out of three winters. I had to drive over a small mountain on my way to/from work.

Driving in snow, even in a Yaris, is definitely a learnable skill. I grew up in New England so I was familiar with driving in snow, but I didn't really have much personal snow driving experience before I bought the Yaris. I got stuck in the snow once in my driveway (low clearance), and almost-stuck once on a very poorly-plowed, slushy city street (probably could have done it with snow tires).
posted by mskyle at 4:58 AM on August 19, 2019

I drove a 2002 2 door Toyota Echo Sedan in Ontario winters in Kitchener from about 2007-2017. From 2007-2015 I drove with only all-season tires all year. I got used to passing other cars, including SUV's and Subaru's, that had ditched themselves thinking a heavy vehicle meant they needed no skill/attention. But, I've been driving in snowy weather for decades (and passed my driver's license test in not only the first snow of the year, but in a blizzard). I noted a definite improvement in the last two years when I switched to all-weather tires. So long as the roads you're driving on are plowed at least enough that ground cleanace isn't an issue, this is definitely do-able.

Be ready to brake early, don't brake hard, and take the corners *much* slower than you think you need to until you've had at least a year of experience driving in the snow and/or test cornering in your car in an unplowed snowy parking lot.
posted by nobeagle at 7:18 AM on August 19, 2019

Agree with the opinions that suggest that your Yaris with full snow tires will be fine, but I also chimed in to add to the winter driving suggestions.

Just two things come to mind in addition to what others have said. #1 - take some time in a snowy parking lot to get a feel for how your car performs in snow. #2 - you own skill and experience and comfort at the wheel are important factors, but don't forget that you should also be considering the other drivers on the road. Assume they have no idea how to drive in snow and ice and you'll be safer. Even in Quebec, where you should be able to assume that almost everyone is experienced, for the first week after the snow flies, it's amazing how bad everyone seems.
posted by mikel at 9:05 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm puzzled by people advocating adding weight to the trunk of a front wheel drive car like a Yaris. That's great advice for a rear wheel drive car, but you're not going to see any handling or traction advantages from doing so in a front wheel drive car- if anything, the extra weight will increase your stopping distances. (This advice is based on the assumption of an ABS equipped vehicle and rear tires with good tread...)
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 7:22 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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