SF To Tahoe: ideal used auto?
October 8, 2007 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Need to get from SF to Tahoe to snowboard on a regular basis: recommendations for a relatively affordable used car to handle the snow/ice?

I got addicted to snowboarding last season (despite the poor snow) and am going in on a house next season. I'm also in the market for a new (to me) car. So, logic and fairness say that I should buy my own AWD-type car so that I can go up whenever I want, without having to mooch off my friends for rides every single time.

So: recommendations? I've been perusing A4s and Jettas, but there must be others. I'm hoping not to spend more than $9000. Because of my garage, I can't look at SUVs.
posted by soda pop to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Used Subaru Impreza or Impreza Outback?
posted by iamabot at 8:29 PM on October 8, 2007

Dirt-cheap 4wd compact pickup (say, a mid-90s Toyota or Nissan), parked outside and only driven in ice and snow. Then you can spend $8000 on a nice daily driver.
posted by box at 8:35 PM on October 8, 2007

You'd be better off renting if you're only buying a car for this reason, or paying for gas. That said, there's very few days you can't go in a FWD car with snow tires and chains. The rules are mostly to protect you from native Californians that skid off roads after a light rain, though chain control is strictly enforced by the CHP when in effect.

If you must, go Subaru as the iamabot said.
posted by kcm at 8:37 PM on October 8, 2007

As box said, if you can find one, and it will take a LOT of looking, mid 90's Toyota pickup or even 4runner is a good find.

Gas will wreck you with a 4wd though as will tires and general maint, it's about 20% more a year I'd say.

Long term, as long as you don't care about putting on cables, used honda civic will last you longer.

With that said, I have a Subaru for the dog and the half dozen times a year we go off road and actually have AWD serve a purpose...all in all we could get by with less.
posted by iamabot at 8:43 PM on October 8, 2007

As a born and raised Tahoe local. A Subaru with snow tires would serve those needs quite well. The CHP would think you are a local nine times out of ten coming up the mountain.
posted by Widepath at 10:17 PM on October 8, 2007

Disclaimer: I live in W. Kentucky, US

In my region, we usually do not get heavy snow. We do get wicked ice. Pickups, especially 4WD, do not fare so well; however, I think that is due largely to driver incompetence and poor load-balancing combined with over-confidence in the supposed abilities of one's vehicle.

My car is a 1998 Pontiac Grand AM [Quad 4] manual. I played "ice taxi" many times for cohorts stranded in their SUVs and pickups. The Jeep Grand Cherokee my ex- and I had got to stay in its playpen garage while the Grand went to work.

Knowing that my car is an anomaly at >340K miles, I shop-ahead/look at manual-transmission-equipped Subaru wagons or Toyota trucks. Fishtailing can be solved with weights like concrete blocks, bags of sand, or stranded cars. ;)
posted by bonobo at 10:30 PM on October 8, 2007

Best answer: I'm a fellow boarder from SF, and together with my two-planking husband I've been making regular weekend trips to Tahoe for years.

We owned a series of beaters we referred to as ski cars, usually at least 10 years old. The best have all been Subarus. We had an old Justy that wasn't much more than wheels and a tinfoil shell, but it got us up and back on a single tank of gas (not premium). Under $5,000, it was the ultimate in cheap 4WD transportation, and was small enough and used enough to park on the streets in The City.

We've had a few other Subarus, all of which have been great, and one of which we still have.

We had an old Audi Quattro one season, and they just don't age as well as they should. In fact, we've found that generally speaking, Audis don't age well, and are certainly not the best value for the money. So if you're going to go with an older car, keep that in mind.

Check craigslist. And good luck!
posted by nadise at 10:52 PM on October 8, 2007

By the way, 4WD is key because it means the CHP waves you through chain checkpoints. On days when chains are required on all vehicles that aren't 4WD, the traffic can be miserable, but the scene on the shoulder just before the chain checkpoint is worse.
posted by nadise at 11:05 PM on October 8, 2007

Audi and Volkswagen aren't really tops in reliability and they're pricey for something that will become a beater car. nthing the Subarus mentioned above.
posted by junesix at 11:15 PM on October 8, 2007

Subaru Outback. Go to a place like Durango and they're all over the place; they're great in the cold weather. My brother has one and it's been awesome for him up there.
posted by azpenguin at 11:31 PM on October 8, 2007

My mom's Subaru Outback Wagon always worked great going up to Tahoe (I am so jealous of you!) - in the winter and the summer.
posted by radioamy at 7:27 AM on October 9, 2007

nthing the Subaru (Impreza, Outback, or Forrester) suggestion. There are a lot of them in snowy areas for good reason.
posted by andrewraff at 8:02 AM on October 9, 2007

Frequent Tahoe snowboarder here. I drive a Subie and it works great for me.
posted by special-k at 8:08 AM on October 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great endorsements of the subaru! See you on the slopes.
posted by soda pop at 2:54 PM on October 9, 2007

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