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AWD or 4WD for Economically Challenged

I travel between Cleveland and Buffalo regularly, and this includes winters. I’m in need of having a relatively reliable car that will do well in our winters. Practicality and price are my two biggest factors. I would like very much to keep the price as low as possible (under $5000). Subaru? RAV? CRV? Help? Thank you!

Anything with AWD and good winter tires will get you anywhere you want to go on any public road.
Pick up a Consumer Reports New Car Previuew at the local book store, pick your favorites, and spend a weekend test driving. The coices are myriad.

Thanks for the quick response. But, I’m in need of a used car. I’ve got about $5000 cash and can’t really afford to take on debt (would maybe take on $1000 - $2000 if I believed that that’s what it would take to improve my odds).

Had an irrational love feeling towards Subaru, but I’ve read so much about head gasket issues that I wanted to see if anyone could suggest a best bet for older model somethings.


4-cylinder Subarus of the '96-'02 vintage do have a much higher than normal rate of head gasket failures.
However, if you can locate one of the relatively-rare 6 cylinder Subaru Legacy or Outback models (beginning with the '01 model year), you can take comfort that these engines are essentially bullet-proof, have no unusual incidence of head gasket problems, and they utilize a timing chain, rather than a timing belt that has to be replaced every 105k miles. The six-cylinder model gets about 1-2 mpg less than the 4 cylinder model.

All of that being said, when buying a used car, the most important factor is how well it was maintained.
Proper maintenance by the first owner is actually more important to the second or third owner than the make and model, in terms of a predictor of how many problems you are likely to have with a car. As a result, I would not buy a used car unless it came with full maintenance records that I could compare with the mfr’s maintenance schedule.

But, whether you can get maintenance records or not, having a finalist for purchase checked over by your own mechanic is vital. He can detect collision damage that you might not notice, and he can also spot developing problems that are likely to explode in your wallet after purchase.

And, do NOT rely on Carfax to tell you anything significant about the car’s past. Those reports typically omit more information than they include.


Thank you! That was invaluable!

The hard part is going to be taking my time to do it right. Don’t know if anyone noticed, but summer is here and my kids need rides everywhere. ( :

Thanks again.


Is there a specific number/letter combination that goes with the Outback/Legacy that would tell me that it’s a 6-cylider? If I’m understanding you correctly, it is not every Outback or Legacy from after '01. Thank you.

You’ll probably need to read the advertisement to find out which engine it has.

Have you tried this drive in a car with 4 winter tires? A front-wheel-drive car with 4 good (Michelin is one brand) winter tires can do quite well, I used a VW GTI for 12 years in Anchorage and never got stuck.

In the crowd I hang with, there are some like you who drive inexpensive awd cars for just the same reason as you. They must travel many miles in the winter and don’t have a large budget.

You must be ready to give up some comfort and the best economy, but far and away, the most popular cars for reliable, cheap and functional winter use in this group of awd users are CRVs and RAVs. They have become the first choice of those who drive used awd cars. Many buy them at 100k and run them to past 200k with good success and minimal problems. Subarus are not as popular used in this group. They tend to be more expensive and have more problems used, though they ride and handle better. The Escape was an option for a few at a cheap price but fell out of favor because of reliability issues when going that many miles.

I would focus my search on these two makes and include an extra set of winter tires on rims. If you drive with these tires only in the winter, you add nothing to your tire expense over the life of the car and experience much safer driving year round as you can specialize for the seasons. If you want to go with one tire type year round, all terrain tires do quite well at the expense of summer ride and noise. You can’t have it all on $5k.

awd will get you going but winter tires make a BIG difference in stopping and handling on wet, snow and on ice. a good fwd car with winter tires might be the way to go but keep an open mind to what you find out there. might be worth it to get a second set of wheels and mount winter tires on them. they doo wear out quickly if used on dry roads for long a long time they our a very soft tire.
ps best do them in a set of four.s i used to a have 85 VW GTI and lived in Omaha and had snows on the front and all seasons on the rear the car was very tail happy around corners, lots of fun!


According to edmunds, $5k will buy you a 97 CR-V, if you’re lucky. And you’re looking at about 200k miles at that point already. You can get an 02 Escape with 4wd for that price

I’m truly blown away by the kindnesses of this forum! (Maybe I need to use forums more?) Thank you all! G-d Bless!

Bscar2…hense the closing comment, "you can’t have it all on $5 k. "

AWD and 4WD cars have extra mechanical parts, and as older used cars in the $5000 range that means more repairs, perhaps expensive repairs, and more maintenance costs. In your price range just get a good FWD (front wheel drive) car. Keep the size small to conserve on gas.

In the winter put “winter tires” on the car. You can make that drive easily with winter tires. In the midst of a blizzard no one should be on the road, but once the troopers open it up you’ll be as good to go as anyone else, even those driving AWD. A FWD with winter tires is as good or better than a Subaru AWD with all season tires on snowy winter roads.

Old Subaru’s are gas hogs for the size of the car. You won’t get good mpg out a $5000 used Subaru.

I’m with Uncle…the only consistently reliable cars for $5k tend to be 2wd cars and trucks. In my experience, the exceptions more often include compact pick up trucks which were less expensive to begin with. You still walk a tight rope as 4wd cars and trucks are on the $5k market for a reason, and it’s often for unreliability. So, you may get a truck/car that does go better in snow for $5k, but take the chance on breaking down at the worse possible time. I would put the limit at $10k for awd/4wd reliability, and that’s no guarantee.

If you had to choose, snow tires are the best thing for snow.
AWD is going to cost you. I’d stick with snow tires for $500

“snow tires are the best thing for snow”

That may be true, but many of us have to deal with icy roads much more often than we have to deal with snow-covered roads. Hence, a modern WINTER tire, which is effective on both snow and ice is what is recommended nowadays.

The term “snow tire”, which implies a heavily-lugged tire, is inferior to the modern, highly-siped WINTER tires which are compounded with special types of rubber in the tread area. These special rubber compounds remain pliable in low temperatures, and help to provide superior traction.

Modern WINTER tires are the best for the combination of snow and ice that is typical of extreme winter conditions.

Uncle Turbo or dagosa,

Can you get specific for me? I’m planning on taking a '96 RAV4 with 150,000 for a test run. I have a mechanic who will take a good look at it for me. The guy wants $3,995, which is where it should be on kbb.

I know that there’s a risk; life has those. I can only do my best to avoid the inevitable. I don’t have the 10K to spend, so I need to minimize my risk as best as possible. Step 1: avoid the Subaru. Step 2: Spend the extra on the winter tires and avoid the AWD.

Any other specific suggestions as to make/model?


(P.S. By putting this in parentheses, I feel less stupid as if not everyone can read this: FWD is four wheel drive and not front wheel drive, correct?)


FWD=Front Wheel Drive
4WD=Four Wheel Drive

And for the vehicles you’re looking at (Rav4, CRV, etc) 4WD = AWD. Honda uses “4WD” for what most others would call “AWD”.

If your menchanic’s good, he should know what to look for.