Home » Never Too Early To Find A Winter Beater: 2000 Pontiac Grand Am vs 2001 Nissan Sentra

Never Too Early To Find A Winter Beater: 2000 Pontiac Grand Am vs 2001 Nissan Sentra

Sbsd 9 1

It’s time for the Thursday edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today is September 1st, which means autumn is just around the corner, and the more winter-prone parts of the country are mere weeks away from potential snow. So today we’re looking at a couple of rusty-but-trusty beaters with heaters. First, however, there is the small matter of a couple of Fiats to settle:

Screen Shot 2022 08 31 At 5.41.23 Pm

Wow. Only a two-vote difference. I’m guessing that’s because they’re both awful, no sane person would bother with either one, and you all just flipped a coin? Yeah, I thought so. For what it’s worth, in good condition, I’d rather have the 850, but between these two I think the 1100 is the more viable project.

Now then: If you’ve never experienced a winter in the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, you have no idea just how miserable it can get. That first snowfall is fun; it makes all the Christmas (or sometimes Halloween) decorations sparkle, and the kids have a blast with sleds and snowmen and whatnot. But by mid-January, the magic is gone. The temperature hasn’t risen above zero in a week, you can’t tell who anyone is because everyone is just a parka with feet, and you’re sick to death of keeping track of whether it’s a plow day on your street or not. A cool car is the last thing on your mind; you just want it to start reliably, not get stuck, and possess a heater that can cook you medium-rare.

With those criteria in mind, I present to you these two cheap piles of shit. Both run well, both have their share of rust, and both cost just $1,200, which seems to be the floor for a winter beater these days. Let’s see what we’re dealing with.

2000 Pontiac Grand Am – $1,200

01616 Gei1vcq8tcjz 07k05c 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Woodbury, MN

Odometer reading: 239,000 miles

Runs/drivers? Yep

Well, it was bound to happen eventually – a $1200 Grand Am has found its way to Shitbox Showdown. I’m surprised it took this long, actually; our pal Mr. Gossin is right, these things are everywhere. And really, you can do a whole lot worse for a cheap beater. In fact, if pressed to choose the official Best Cheap Shitty Car In America, the GM N-body, along with the slightly smaller J-body and slightly larger W-body, might just take that crown. Not because they’re great cars, but because they’re great at being cheap cars, and that’s a totally different set of criteria.

00q0q H6rw7w66d8rz 07k05u 1200x900

This Grand Am is equipped with a 2.4 liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder, a descendant of Oldsmobile’s Quad 4 engine (one of my personal favorites). It’s a solid runner and has decent fuel economy. Backed by a four-speed automatic, as this one is, you can’t expect a whole lot of performance, but it’s good enough.

00n0n Eee6elfs1nqz 07k05o 1200x900

The seller says this Grand Am runs well, has good tires, and new front brakes. It has a pile of miles on it, and a couple of dead power windows, but you aren’t likely to roll the windows down in the winter anyway. It has a little rust, but really not much at all. But just to be safe, double check those rear suspension links.

00202 8nsvnyssv5kz 07k067 1200x900

Honestly, for a cheap winter ride, this is just about ideal. Front-wheel-drive automatics are not much fun in spirited driving, but they’re brilliant in the snow. And if there’s one thing General Motors knows how to do well, it’s heaters.

2001 Nissan Sentra – $1,200

00j0j Kisgfuauwsuz 0ci0t2 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: St. Paul, MN

Odometer reading: 260,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed it does

Just can’t bring yourself to choose a GM car? Rather trust something Japanese? We’ve got you covered. Here we have a fifth-generation Nissan Sentra sedan, the pride of Aguascalientes, Mexico. What? You didn’t think most Japanese cars sold in America actually came from Japan, did you?

01212 F30exoxnqvsz 0t20ci 1200x900

This particular Sentra is equipped with the base 1.8 liter four, sending what power it has through a four-speed automatic to the front wheels. Again, it’s not what you’d want on a twisty back road on a nice summer day, but on a snowy Thursday morning in St. Paul, it’s just the ticket. And it gets great mileage.

01515 Im1copezofyz 0t20ci 1200x900

It has even more miles on it than the Grand Am, at 260,000, but these cars hold up the “runs forever” reputation of Japanese small cars. The seller says you have to fill the gas tank slowly; not sure what that’s all about. Blocked vent line maybe, making the auto-shutoff on the pump kick in? But it has good heat and functional air conditioning, which is always nice for defrosting the windows on cold mornings.

But there is one potentially fatal flaw on this car:

00m0m Dwozzqmxdq7z 0ci0t2 1200x900

Zowie. That’s a lot of rust. The entire dogleg area behind that rear door is just gone. And the rocker panel isn’t far behind. The Sentra uses a beam rear axle on long trailing arms, and that rust is making inroads into where I imagine the mounting points must be. The underside structure of this car might not be long for this world. Choose this car, and you’ll probably be looking for another beater next winter.

Either one of these would be a decent sacrificial winter ride to keep your “nice” car out of the snow and salt. It’s not a glamorous role in the automotive world, but it is a noble one, and we should appreciate the sacrifices of cars like these, fighting the battles of winter to get us around. Which one is your choice?

 

QuizMaker

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit

53 Responses

  1. As someone who drove a beater J-body for a long time. I am now of the mindset that a reliable daily is likely a better alternative. The Cavalier was a great runner but with almost 300k miles the front subframe finally rotted away when I hit one of the midwest’s famous winter crop, the giant pothole.

  2. Well, neither is a viable option.
    These wouldn’t pass a safety inspection without some investment in repairs. You won’t find a body shop willing to repair the sentra, and if you did it would run you more than the purchase cost.
    The Grand am is a no go based on a likely non-functioning driver’s window. A working window is absolutely essential for things like drive thrus, toll booths, and the all too important not getting murdered by the police.
    The window issue is likely a failed regulator which was a common failure with these. When I checked over a decade ago the part was like $400 and you won’t find a good one in the scrap yard.
    With the window fixed the Pontiac would be ok, but in my area near Toronto there are hundreds of much much better cars for that kind of money.
    Honestly, I’m shocked at how terrible these choices are considering the budget.

  3. I always wondered, and never had occasion to ask – what is the “acceptable” fuel consumption for such winter beaters for you Muricans? All these cars have “bigger” engines from my European perspective, and I’m just curious how many dino juice is needed to run them that is still considered “good mileage” (I love that expression). BTW, here in Europe I consider something around 8 liters/100 km to be acceptable (not good though).

  4. I always wondered, and never had occasion to ask – what is the “acceptable” fuel consumption for such winter beaters for you Muricans? All these cars have “big” engines from my European perspective, and I’m just curious how many dino juice is needed to run them that is still considered “good mileage” (I love that expression). BTW, here in Europe I consider something around 8 liters/100 km to be acceptable (not good though).

  5. Even if the Sentra was rust free, I’d be taking the Grand Am any day of the week. In know it’s a GM product, but that Grand Am would be way more comfortable as a winter beater snooze fest. Maybe I’d take the Sentra if it was a manual, but yeesh, what a rust bucket!

  6. As someone who lives in MN and has broken down in MN when it’s -20F outside I will tell you I do not understand the concept of a “Winter Beater”. When it’s that damn cold out you want the most reliable car you can when you’re on a country road, at night, in the dead of winter.

    Ever tried jumpstarting a car when it’s -30F outside? Brrrrrrrrrrr. I’m of the “Winter is coming, might need to buy a new car.” train of thought.

  7. I waddled up to this mornings breakfast buffet ready to vote Nissan, until I saw the first picture. That looks structural I thought, by the last picture I realized you can’t open all four doors on this at once, as the car will likely collapse on itself without them in place to support what’s left of the unibody. Never have I ever thought I’d say a Pontiac was a good idea.

Leave a Reply