It didn’t take me long to realize that driving a car I actually like through a Michigan winter is a recipe for heartache. My poor XJ still has scars from last year’s salty mess. After months of soul searching, I have no choice but to drive a car I don’t like. And boy does that suck.
I lie awake at night in a cold sweat thinking about it. The snow. The ice. The salt. The rust. My three mostly-rust-free old Jeeps sit outside in the driveway, freshly wrenched-on, oblivious to the fact that they’re in grave danger. I must save them. But finding a winter beater is driving me insane.
Michigan cars are some of the most hideously rotted-out husks of metal you’ll see anywhere. I can go weeks without laying eyes on cars with clean, hole-free rocker panels. And it’s all because Michigan takes an extreme approach to salting their pothole-ridden roads during the snowy months.
Is there going to be a dusting of .0001 inches of snow? Not to worry, your roads will be smothered in a solid half inch of salt! Think you can save your car by parking it? Nope. Even the moisture and salt in the air rusts cars out in Michigan. The only hope is to keep your cars in the garage.
And that’s precisely what I plan on doing with my Jeep J10 and my beloved old XJ. But what will I drive in the winter? The answer: a winter beater. If I ever find one.
You see, the problem with shopping for a winter beater is that I’m being forced to buy a car I don’t like, and that really stinks. Here’s what I mean:
Have a look at the two-door Jeep Cherokee below. I want it badly. While the paint and blacked-out lights are questionable, I’m not picky when it comes to two-door, five-speed XJs. They have my heart.
But I can’t buy that XJ. You know why? Because I couldn’t live with myself. I’d be overrun with guilt. Every time I drove that XJ on the slushy Michigan roads, NaCl would assault (a salt) my Jeep’s underbody, bringing it one step closer to the grave, and that would just feel so wrong.
I don’t want to destroy cars I like. I’d rather destroy cars I don’t like.
“Why not buy a cool car that’s already rusty?” you might be asking. It’s a good idea, and I’ve tried that. The problem there is finding a car with the perfect amount of rust. No, the perfect amount of rust isn’t “no rust.” It’s somewhere between “unsafe to drive” and “patchable in an afternoon.”
If the car is not rusty enough, I’ll feel terrible for letting the Michigan winter have its way with my classic AMC-designed 2-door XJ, but if it’s too rusty, I’ll be worried about my seat falling through the floorboard or my unibody cracking in half.
I’ve failed at this whole “winter beater shopping” thing before. I went to go look at a five-speed XJ in hopes that I could have a decent winter beater. I got there and the thing was pristine — straight from California, not a spec of rust. So naturally I bought it, because I have a problem.
But then I realized: “Great, now I have three cars that I can’t drive in the winter.” And so the search continued.
I’ve been looking at rusty Jeeps in Michigan for months, and pretty much every single one is rusted to the point where I’d be afraid to drive it. I lightly tapped one Jeep’s frame rail with the back of my flashlight, and the flashlight went right through! The cars that are only slightly rusty command a premium, and why would I pay a lot of money for a car that I’m killing?
It’s gotten to the point where I’m not even looking at Michigan Craigslist postings anymore. I’m fully planning to buy my beater in another state. Which is absurd, because beaters aren’t supposed to require this much thought and complication.
I’ve decided that the only way for me to win out here is to buy a lightly rusted car that I don’t care about. Something like an old Honda or a cheap Saturn. One that’s in decent enough shape that an I-75 pothole won’t crack it in half, but at the same time one whose inevitable disintegration won’t weight down my conscience.
It’s a hard realization to come to, and considering how many times I’ve told people “The most important thing is to drive a car you love,” I feel like I’m blaspheming.
So to you, dear Jalopnik readers, I ask: What is a man to do in such a dire situation?