Ever been in an unseasonable storm? Like the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, you thought you were in for a 3-hour tour and it turned into something quite unexpected. One August my friends and I were on our annual climb of Mt. Thielsen, an Oregon mountain that looks like Disney’s version of the Matterhorn. The elevation gain from our base camp to the pointy top was approximately 4,000 feet. It snowed. Did I mention it was August?—my excuse for being ill-prepared.
Getting wet, cold weather this time of year, however, is to be expected, and we need to be ready by getting our trucks and ATVs ready. Winter can be tough on a vehicle. Traction, visibility and daylight hours are all limited. There seems to be no limit, however, to rain, fog and snow. Tire pressures drop, oil gets thick, salt accumulates and roads get slippery. We need our wipers to wipe, our lights to light and our antifreeze to not freeze.
Now unless it’s August, which it’s not, or you live in SoCal, you need to get your vehicles ready for winter. All of the regular maintenance procedures apply for winter regardless of where you live, and in some areas, they’re more important because breakdowns can be dangerous given low enough temperatures.
Therefore, make sure your oil changes, tire pressures, air filter, fuel filter and coolant levels are current. Depending on your mileage, you might be due for some of the longer-term items such as injectors, plugs, igniters, shocks, transmission service and whatever else your owner’s manual instructs.
But winter, as mentioned, adds some twists to the maintenance plot. Lower temperatures, for example, drop air pressure readings at a time when tire condition and traction are critical. In addition to making sure pressures and tread depths are in spec, consider switching to a “true” winter tire.
Yuppers, NoDakers, Mainers and other dwellers of the North already know if studded tires are the way to go in their area. Studless snow tires, such as Bridgestone’s Blizzak, are another option, especially for those who only occasionally see snow and ice. These DOT approved snow tires are made of softer tread compounds and have lots of siping for added grip in ice and snow. Studless tires are better on dry pavement and are easier on road surfaces than are studded tires.
Four-wheel drive also enhances traction and is great to have for most winter road conditions. Make sure all the drivers in the family understand basic four-wheel-drive vehicle operation, and provide the proper cautions about differential locks if your rig is so equipped. Test your four-wheel-drive system ahead of time if it’s rarely used.
Batteries need more attention during winter; they simply don’t like temperature extremes. When cold, they can produce less power at the very time when the engine is harder to start. Diesels are particularly hard to start when cold, so make sure your battery is in good shape before winter sets in.
Also hard to start is any vehicle with a cracked block from frozen coolant. Check and/or change the engine coolant in your vehicle to make sure it has the proper antifreeze levels.
One of the reasons engines start harder in cold temperatures is because oil gets thicker as the temperature drops. You can counteract this by using oil with lower viscosity grades. Check your owner’s manual for the proper range to match outside temperatures.
Diesel owners might want to consider switching to synthetic motor oil, such as Rotella T, which improves cold-weather performance while providing excellent high-temperature wear protection. Exceptional cold-weather flow properties really help with cold starts.
Wiper blades have about a 1-year life expectancy. UV exposure, being frozen to the windshield and wiping off mud splatters all contribute to the degradation of wiper blades. Aftermarket frames and blades are quick and easy to install. And don’t forget the wiper fluid, which needs to be temperature rated to levels you expect to encounter during your winter-time travels.
Seeing and being seen is greatly improved through the addition of auxiliary lights. Not only is there snow, rain and fog to worry about during winter, but the days and nights are longer, which means more driving in the dark. Adding driving lights and fog lights to your vehicle can make a big difference to improve vision, reaction times and stopping distance.
Check your owner’s manual for winter driving information specific to your vehicle. And above all else, be prepared.
Riding out the winter
Winter Survival Kit
• During the winter months your vehicle’s emergency kit should include a first aid kit, water, food, flashlight, window scraper, tire chains, bag of sand, flares, small shovel, jumper cables and blankets.
• Window treatment products such as Rain-X fill the microscopic pores in your windshield, creating a slick barrier that repels rain, sleet and snow. Raindrops bead up and blow away. Application of Rain-X is much like wax: Wipe it on, let it haze and buff off the excess.
Let it Ride!
• All of the ATV manufacturers say the same thing: Make sure your engine coolant has proper antifreeze capabilities and keep riding. Those who will be switching to snowmobiles or wintering in Australia can prepare their ATVs for storage by making sure everything is clean and dry. Drain the gas tank or add a fuel stabilizer. Remove the battery and store it in a dry area, preferably connected to a battery tender. Stuff a clean rag in the tail pipe and park the ATV indoors in a level area.
• Block heaters on diesel engines are a very convenient thing to have. Your truck starts easily, runs better and the heater/defroster works right away. The downside is that these heaters can waste energy if left on all night. Dan Judy Automotive in Salem, Oregon, recommends buying a 30 amp, commercial-grade timer and setting it to come on about 2 hours before you plan to start your truck.