Winter is here! Hopefully your firewood is stacked, your long johns don’t have too many holes, and your hot chocolate supplies are stacked high and dry, but what about your 4x4? Whether you are putting it up for winter to reduce rust or digging it out for winter to go snow bashing, you’ll want it properly prepped.
We admit our blood is thinner than most due to our southern California habitat, but with 66 percent of our editors being native to snowy climates (Alaska and Pennsylvania) we’re not total newbs to winter, rust, and snowsuits. And even though you may think it’s sunny flip-flops–and–shorts weather here all year, it’s not so. In fact, winters in the desert can be chilly to say the least, especially during night runs, but nothing like those northern states, of course.
Before the white stuff hits your highways and mountain trails, do a little prep and get ready for it.
Keep Heat In
Adding heat is great, but if your 4x4 is open-topped you’re just warming the woods, and not doing a very good job of it. We wrapped our Jeep in a new Bestop Supertop soft top to help keep the heat and repel the winter wet and white stuff.
Start Warming Up
A remote start for your truck or 4x4 may seem like a gimmick, but when you crank up that engine from inside your house, let it warm up slowly in the driveway, and then have clear windows and a warm cab before you ever finish that first cup of coffee, you’ll be sold. Plus, it’s better for your engine and works just as well with the A/C on in the summer. Bullydog Security offers remote-start kits for many vehicles built after 1996. Bullydog has systems that allow the vehicle to be cranked over from up to 400 feet away.
Information: Bullydog Security
We often see old 4x4s that do not have their heaters hooked up. When asked, the owner explains how it leaked and he just bypassed it. Replacing an old heater core can be simple or a chore depending on your vehicle, but bypassing it can have problems year-round. We swapped a new core from Quadratec into our old ’73 Jeep in a few hours, with most of the work involving finding and replacing rusty bolts that hold the heater ducting in place. The heater core is a small radiator that hot coolant is plumbed through, and then a fan forces air through to heat the cabin. The heater can also be used to expel engine heat if overheating is an issue on hot summer trail days, but that is much less comfortable than warm winter wheeling.
In the winter keeping warm is a priority, especially for those of us living below the 35th parallel with low-viscosity blood. Clothing recommendations are decided by your own individual tastes, but the two brands we stand by are Carhartt and Columbia.
Carhartt makes some of the toughest work gear you can get your hands on. Thick, heavy Carhartt jackets, coveralls, and (our favorite) hooded sweatshirts are all prerequisites for winter trail wheeling in many parts of the country.
The Columbia Sportswear line of outdoor gear uses high-tech materials to keep you warm. The new Omni-Heat jackets are lined with tiny silver reflective dots that bounce body heat back at you for greater warmth.
Information: Columbia Sportswear
800.MA.BOYLE, (800.622.6953), www.columbia.com.
Not everyone wheels in the winter. We can’t blame ya if you’d rather park the 4-by in the shed and hole up in the house in front the fireplace with a hot cocoa and a few issues of 4WOR. Or maybe you use the winter months to repair and upgrade your wheeling rig while waiting for summer to return. Either way, keeping the battery fresh is important to having it ready to wheel come blizzard or spring. Eastwood has a new line of Battery Sustainers designed to keep batteries charged for extended periods. Controlled by a microprocessor, this 10-amp unit can charge a dead battery, desulfate an old battery for renewed life, and maintain a battery without overcharging for immediate use.
Don’t Be a Weak Link
If you live between Arizona and Alabama you may have never seen these before. They are what winter dwellers call snow chains. They are great for adding traction and in some states are even required for treacherous winter driving over high mountain passes. We ordered up a set from Quality Chain, which offers sizes compatible with our 35-inch tires. Test-fit tire chains at home instead of along the road in a blizzard, as some may need to be cut down to fit your applications. Putting chains on your power wheels will help with acceleration and stopping; putting chains on your steering wheels will help steering. If you only have one pair, put them on the front of your 4x4 and shift that transfer case into 4x4.
Information: Quality Chain Corp.
The heat in your engine can keep you alive, but you need to protect it for optimal engine cooling and low-temperature operation with the best mixture of water and antifreeze. We’ve heard of engines cracking from owners who forgot to add antifreeze before a cold winter night. Don’t let that happen to you. Grab a Prestone coolant tester and it will tell you your minimum safe temperature. Then simply add coolant as necessary. This is also a great time to double-check old hoses. If they are hard and cracking, soft and squishy, or bulging like they may burst, it’s time to swap in new ones.
The worst part of winter in our book is the short amount of daylight. The lack of sun can reduce your energy, make you grumpy, and make it much harder to drive, especially if your lights are old and dim. We ditched our ancient yellow bulbs for some new KC 7-inch replacement bulbs. Though designed for ’97-’06 Wranglers they worked just fine in our ’73 CJ5 and doubled our forward visibility with the flip of a switch. The KCs have clear hard-coated Lexan lenses and better reflector optics than stock lamps, and they plug right into the stock headlight harness.
Information: KC HiLites