Winterizing your Vehicle
Winter Driving - driving in cold weather brings a whole set of challenges. Visibility can be reduced, traction can disappear, and in the event of a breakdown - your car cools down quickly and will not provide a lot of shelter other than keeping you out of the wind. In general if the conditions are really bad, you might want to postpone your travel. But for when you need to get around, let’s review how you prepare your vehicle for the winter.
Keeping your car moving…
1-engine prep: flush the radiator and add fresh anti-freeze. Change the oil to a lighter weight (the lower number indicates thinner oil so 10-40w is not as thin as 5-40w).
2-visibility: wiper fluid not just water in the windshield washer reservoir. A good windshield scraper is a smart idea but even a credit card can be used as an expedient. I heard rumor that spraying your windshield with WD 40 will prevent frost from forming and melt frost on the windshield but I personally have not tried it.
3-traction: a good set of snow tires or tires designed for slippery conditions, it might be time to replace tires with worn out tread. Snow chains for additional traction (make sure you understand how to install them properly so they don’t come loose while driving). You should only use chains when the surface of the road is covered by snow pack or ice. Take them off when you get back to open road (where the road surface is clear of ice or snow). You can put salt or sand in your trunk. The extra weight will give you more traction in a rear wheel driver vehicle but it can always be used to help get you out of a slippery spot.
4-recovery: Does your vehicle have a winch? You might be able to self-recover if you slide off the road. If you don’t have a winch, having some heavy duty tow straps and clevis’ may allow another vehicle to help you out of the snowbank. You might need a snow shovel to help dig the car out.
5-signals: road side flares, chem lites, battery operated flashers, reflectors (triangles) or even fabricating a road side pile of branches and brush will alert other drivers you are in need of assistance.
Prepare for the elements
1-proper clothing for the weather. Even if you are going to a dinner party, you want to have the appropriate clothing in the car in case you get stranded and have to leave the vehicle. Warm boots, extra socks, snow pants or overalls, a thermal fleece, a winter shell, a good hat / hood / balaclava, gloves or mittens. Plan for the worst and you will always be ready.
2-a sleeping bag, extra blanket, a bivy bag, or space blanket. If you can’t leave the vehicle, you might not be able to run the engine for heat – so you will need to bundle up inside the car and wait out the storm. Note – even if the car is in running condition, you should always make sure the exhaust is free from obstructing snow. Running your vehicle with a clogged tail pipe can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
3-chemical hand warmers: these are lightweight and usually last eight hours or more. A box of 40 HotHands is under $30 on Amazon as of this writing. You can toss a dozen in the glove box and you will have a source of heat without having to rely on the car engine. I have sprinkled three or four in a sleeping bag when I was in a unheated building. They make a world of difference.
4-emergency rations and fluids: if you didn’t pack a hot thermos, you may wish you had. But regardless have some food and fluids in the vehicle you can consume if you get stuck for an extended period. You might only need some power bars but since the car has space and a few extra pounds of food won’t bog you down (it’s not like you have to carry the extra weight), having a small box of food is a great idea. It is also nice if you have a method of heating the food without a flame (like the meal heater in an MRE) – warm food and liquids can be a big pick me up in the cold. Remember, your body burns a lot of calories to stay warm – feed your body!
1-your phone’s GPS – assuming there is coverage, send a drop pin to your friends or family so emergency services know where you are. You want to conserve battery power if you don’t have a charger. Text messages use less power than voice calls and require less bandwidth. They will work when the network is weaker or even if the network is overloaded.
2-let someone know your travel plans – if you have a friend or family member that you have notified in advance that you were out in the storm, it means that someone can start looking for you if you don’t arrive on time. If you advised them of your route and when you expect to arrive, that might just mean that if you are hurt or cannot make comms, they still get someone looking for you. Help is on the way….
3-car radio – also all areas have emergency broadcast stations on the radio but you can also bring a hand crank powered weather radio if your car battery goes dead, you can still hear the weather reports (which you probably should have checked before you went out in the storm…)
I want to stress that in bad weather – if you don’t have to go out, don’t. But if you find that you get caught in a winter storm, you will be much happier if you equipped your vehicle in advance.
De Oppresso Liber