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Advice on buying a car for Rochester winters

Hello, I am a college student in Rochester, NY and I am looking to buy a car. Originally, I was looking at sudans and I had really liked the Toyota Corolla. However, it is 2-wheel FWD and I don’t think it will last well in the snow we get up here. Instead, I started to look at some Subarus since they are AWD and are reliable (or so I’ve been told).

Here’s basically what I’m looking for:

  • Reliable
  • Not too expensive
  • Has a good amount of space to move my stuff to/from college
  • Probably not an SVU, I don’t really want something that big
  • Able to handle well in the snow
  • Comfortable to drive, it’s a 6 hour drive home

What cars would you suggest I take a look at?

Thanks, Joel

I have said this before only you can make a decision on what to buy.
But there are certain things that hold true: Pay for an inspection of whatever you choose-Used all wheel drive vehicles can be money pits if they haven’t been taken care of-any front wheel drive car will do just fine in winter weather with decent tires.

You logic is good, but the reality is that you’re going to have to select from what’s available that you can afford. I’ve been driving 2WD vehicles in winter weather (including the Rochester area) for 45++ years, and the most critical thing is that the vehicle is in good shape, properly winterized, AND, in that area you should have GOOD winter tires, (“good” meaning no less that 2/3 of the tread). That area gets nasty lake-effect snows.

Proper winterization means the aforementioned snow tires, “winter mix” windshield wash mix (keep the wash container filled), proper coolant, good ignition parts, and good non-icing winter wipers. I’ve found “blade” style wipers to be the best. You’ll also need a good scraper, good snow brush, and I recommend a plastic bottle full of dry sand for use on ice. I use a large Gatorade bottle. Also be sure you keep your headlights and windows clean. I don’t know if it’s a law in the NY State, but in NH you also must clear the snow from your hood, trunk, and roof before heading out (in addition to your windows, of course). Ice sheets flying off cars can and do kill others.

Others here will, I’m sure, add to the items.

In short, more critical than AWD or 4WD (great if you can afford them) is a good vehicle in good shape, winterization, and a few winter items in the trunk. And good sense. No powertrain on earth is as good as knowing when to stay home. Since you’ll be a college student, allow me to recommend that you live either in the dorms or within walking distance from your college.

Sincere best of luck in your academic career. Do well. :relaxed:


Thanks for the in-depth advice! So looking at a broader scope then of non-AWD/4WD cars, can you recommend something that would be something that’s nice and roomy, great to drive, and relatively easy on the wallet?

This is going to sound rude but the truth is we all have bias opinions when it comes to recommending cars. You might find a vehicle that no one here likes that will suit you just fine. I strongly suggest you will find articles on the web on how to buy a used car that will help you.

that is true…however i know essentially nothing about cars haha. even if i don’t like anything that is recommended or i end up liking something totally out of the box, i figured it couldn’t hurt to get a list of cars that i might like

I can just speak from my experience. I drove a fwd Golf for 12 years in Anchorage, no problems. I did have a set of winter tires on extra wheels, that was the key. Have you driven much in snow?

a bit, I’m originally from CT so I’m really used to about half of the amount of snow Rochester gets

I lived near a ski resort in Colorado, close to 6,000 feet where I lived, ski resort base (where I worked) at 7000 feet. I used a front wheel drive VW Rabbit with good snow tires on a daily basis to get back and forth to work, and for longer trips on the weekend, never had any problems in the snow.

Talk to people who live there for better informed opinions about winter driving in that area of course, but I think you’d be better off w/a front wheel drive econo-box sedan and invest some of the money you save in some good rated snow tires, on all four wheels. AWD is considerably more complex than FWD, so when choosing AWD you take on some expenses both in initial purchase price, but also in future repairs, that you don’t w/FWD.

Volvo’s right, we all have our own biases. But in reality you’re going to have to choose from what’s available in your price range. Sure, AWD is better than FWD and FWD is better than RWD (although that could be a debate in itself), but none of these criteria are more important than the car being in good shape, prepped for winter, having good tires, and having a driver that uses common sense.

I drove RWD vehicles in New England and North Dakota winters from the late '60s until, well, actually, about 2005. For the last 24 years of that period they were 2WD Toyota pickups, slightly smaller than today’s Tacoma, and that’s about as bad as it gets traction-wise. But with some weight in the back, good tires, and good sense, I never had a problem And up until perhaps the late '70s-early’80s I did so on bias ply tires, which had worse traction than radials.

Search your area for what’s available that you can afford. Whatever you find, have it thoroughly checked out by a trusted mechanic BEFORE making the purchase choice. Let us know what you find. We do care.

I grew up around the Great Lakes and you don’t really need 4 wheel drive if you have good winter tires. A basic Corolla with winter tires would be ideal, since Toyotas have some of the most rust resistant bodies. This factor overrules almost everything in the Great Lakes rust belt.

A used Subaru will cost you much more I operating costs!

Honda Element? Ugly but big and useful and now cheap with Honda reliability. Hard to beat the cockroach-like survivabilty of a Corolla but they are small. Kia Soul maybe? Or Nissan Cube? Both ugly, both pretty reliable and both are roomy for college moves.

FWD or 4WD on some but just get a set of winter tires and you should have no problems - or VERY well snow-rated all-season tires. Some labeled “all-season” are not very good in snow. rates all types of tires for all kinds attributes.

I have lived in the Rochester area for almost 20 years now. I drive front wheel drive cars with winter tires installed every November and taken off every April. There is no magic to dealing with winter up here. 1- Use winter tires, 2- Drive the heaviest car possible, 3- SLOW DOWN!!!

Winter tires and a heavier vehicle, such as a Camry instead of a Corolla, are much better then AWD and lighter vehicle. I drive a Mazda6 in the winter and use Michelin XIce tires and it is very well behaved. My Mazda3, with the same tires, fared much more poorly since it was lighter.