Don't Get Stranded In The Cold
For most of us, by the time this issue hits newsstands, winter will be looming on the horizon. Sub-freezing temperatures. Snow. Ice. Blizzards, Nor' easters, 30 inches of standing snow. Not pleasant weather to be working on the Jeep. Even worse, it's dangerous weather to be stuck in a broken-down Jeep.
Now is the time to do your maintenance for the winter. Whether or not you take your Jeep wheeling in the winter, breaking down for a simple maintenance item is not only dumb but dangerous. We've compiled this checklist of the more common items so that you'll be well-prepared when winter rolls around shortly. Remember, your Jeep will likely have special needs that you'll have to keep in mind, but this will get you going.
Maintenance (What to do before it's cold)
1. Make sure your cooling system is in good shape. If you are in doubt about the mixture of antifreeze to water in it, drain the liquid and replace it. Also, if the coolant has been in there more than a year, drain and replace it too. Believe it or not, snow driving is hard on the cooling system, and you want everything working in top form. Between higher rpm, higher engine loads, and the occasional snow jammed in the radiator, the system has its work cut out.
2. Check hoses while you are messing with the cooling system. Check them for bulges, cracks, or anything out of the ordinary. If there is any doubt, replace them. Heat-cycling in the cold is rough on rubber, and if your stuff is worn then it's that much more likely to burst.
3. Get under the Jeep and grease everything with a zerk fitting.
4. Check driveshafts for play. Do this while the Jeep is out of gear with the wheels chocked on level ground. If any of your U-joints are going bad or seem questionable, replace them.
5. Check your accessory drivebelt(s). If any are cracked or glazed, replace it and keep the old one under the seat as a spare, just in case.
6. If you drove your Jeep during the spring or summer, check your axles, transmission, and transfer case for water. Just look for chocolate or strawberry milk shakes, especially if you've done any stream, river, or pond crossings, you should replace those fluids.
7. If you swap to winter tires, now is the time to do it. If not, check tires for wear, dry rotting, and tread depth. Anything under 11/44-inch is dangerous in the winter and should be replaced.
8. Lubricate all door and tailgate locks with a good graphite lock lubricant, not WD-40 or anything else oil-based. The inside of the locks will attract dirt, which will attract moisture, which freezes.
9. Spray the rubber door, tailgate, liftgate, and even hood seals with a silicone-based spray. If rain, sleet, or snow finds its way to your seals and then freezes overnight, you'll have problems getting into your Jeep or, in some cases, be locked out entirely.
10. Check clutch and brake fluids. If they are really dirty, it means there is a lot of moisture in them. Have them power bled or get a friend to help. Get new, clean, moisture-free DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid in there.
11. Brake pads and shoes. Now is the time to make sure they are OK. Don't wait until after the first blizzard to check.
12. Emergency/parking brake: Make sure the cables are OK (no rust, fraying, or anything), and the system works as it's supposed to.
13. Any electrical connections that are subject to the weather - such as headlights, turn signals, stoplights, winch cable controller, electric fan connectors, and the like - should get some dielectric grease applied to them. If they use road salt where you are or where you go, the connections will corrode much faster in the winter and, in some cases, cause other problems.
14. If it gets really cold where you live or you drive in really sloppy conditions, get some of the "winter" windshield washer fluid. Drain your washer reservoir either through use or other means and run your washer pump for 10-15 seconds to get the summer swamp water (or whatever was in there) out of the lines from that last mudding trip.
15. Vent lines are easy to forget in the winter. But once you get done driving down the highway to the trail and you start plowing your axles through the snow, the vent lines will rip out if they aren't attached firmly. If they aren't in good shape or attached at all, the melting snow will find its way in as the hot axle cools. Granted, snow alone probably won't hurt, but one dunk in that frozen lake or ice-water stream could mean a world of hurt for your expensive gears and lockers.