Is there anything more fun than spending someone else's money? I submit that there is not. Well, Opponauts, help me spend mine! I'm in the market for a winter/bad weather/trailhead/muddy dog beater car, will document the hunt, and would like your input! Between you I'm sure you've owned every car that could possibly meet my requirements, and I'd love to hear your wisdom. Said requirements appear below in the time-honored "who/why/what/where/how" format.

Who: outdoorsy yuppie with a wife and a tweenage kid and a big dog, and probably another dog on the way.

Why: I daily drive an E46 M3 on stiff coilovers. It's not much good in the snow, mud, on rough roads, or even in particularly heavy rain. My dog likes going to a perpetually muddy dog park, and I'd rather not clean mud and scrapes off my M3's otherwise-impeccable leather back seat. I like hiking, backpacking, and skiing and would like something to drive to and leave at trailheads and ski hills.


What: something with four-wheel drive or AWD so it's good in bad weather; decent ground clearance for iffy roads but it doesn't have to be crazy high (I don't plan to do any serious off-roading); a wagon or SUV so there's a good back area for dogs; preferably as reliable as possible, so I don't have to think about it too much. It would be nice if the fuel efficiency wasn't awful, as my M3 and driving style (ahem) are hard enough on my gas budget as it is. In a couple years maybe I can teach my kid to drive in it. Oh, and cheap: my budget tops out at around 3k; although I might be able to swing 4 for just the right one, which probably puts us squarely in the early-to-mid '90s. Ah, my formative years.

About all I've come up with so far is a '90s Jeep Cherokee or Grand Cherokee with the 4.0 6. I'm open to all other suggestions except vans and AMC Eagles. Pathfinder? 4Runner? Volvo wagon? E34 525iX touring, if such a unicorn exists? Please, Oppo, share your knowledge with me and help me spend my hard-earned funds.

Where: the great Pacific Northwest.

How: You tell me what you'd buy in my situation, and I'll go shopping and regale you with the inevitable Craigslist horror stories.

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