Piston Slap: Five Points of Light, Winter Driving Edition

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap five points of light winter driving edition

TTAC Commentator Craigotron writes:

I recently moved from Wyoming to Washington D.C. (and I grew up in northern Michigan) and have been tasked with preparing a brief five point “Winter Driving Tips” article for a local news outlet feature. I was asked since I’m the resident automotive enthusiast and my winter driving credentials (I don’t think I’ve ever owned anything that hasn’t been RWD…) here are pretty good; this is the first warm place I’ve lived in… well… ever. They thought I’d be a good person to help prepare the neighborhood for the next Snowpocalypse.

I’d love to ask the best and brightest for some input. I’m making sure all the obvious stuff is there: keep up on maintenance, understand how your car works, jumper cables, keep your tank full, kitty litter. What would you add to the mix?

Sajeev answers:

Dude, stop trying to change the subject: did you get headers for your Lexus LS400 yet? Winter driving is irrelevant if you choke a Lexus down with stock manifolds. Consider the wicked sound of a 4-cam V8 a force field that no snow can penetrate.

Forgive my indifferent demeanor, for I am a native Houstonian. A Southern Boy that lived for one year north of the Red River (Detroit, which may not count), and didn’t own a vehicle at that time, really shouldn’t comment. But logic dictates that I structure the Best and Brightest’s conversation to those aforementioned Five Points.

1. Maintenance: service your fluid (coolant) according to the owner’s manual, at the bare minimum. Have a plug-in voltmeter for the cigarette lighter, to measure the strength of the battery and replace if anything looks out of the ordinary. Brakes should be up to snuff, especially on older cars with rear drums that could be doing almost nothing due to neglect/lack of adjustment.

2. Tires: if you have room for a spare set of wheels, get a separate set of snow tires and change them before wintertime. Don’t spend too much money, there are decent wheels at the junkyard for damn near any vehicle: like Ford Taurus hoops for your Ferrari Testarossa. (same bolt pattern, or so I’ve heard.)

3. Necessary supplies: Jumper cables, a cheapie set of Chinese sockets, hand-crank flashlight, blankets, mittens, multi-function pocket knife, chains, sand/kitty litter, lock de-icer, spare fuses, ice scraper, compressed air pump, spare belts, enough food and water for a couple days stranded on a blizzard-ravaged highway…Best and Brightest, a little help?

4. Stuff you overlook: Polish or replace a cloudy headlight, knock-off replacements are cheap and easy enough to install. While bulbs do not completely die, after 2-5 years of use, they might need replacement. On non-HID cars, remove the bulb, examine its filament and look for imperfections on the chrome, even the slightest change can knock out your light output. With HIDs, you can usually tell weakness when comparing them to a new car with HIDs: if they look dim, replace them proactively.

5. Long Term Upkeep: what do you do to keep the cold weather from destroying your ride? Waxing the paint is obvious. Window tint and a windshield sun visor are not. How about oil on the undercarriage? Pouring water in drip rails, drains, etc to freeze them solid and keep road salt out?

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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3 of 90 comments
  • Mr.harsten Mr.harsten on Jan 06, 2011

    My additions that I've used for years (FWD, manual): If you're going up hill in snow (and have enough speed), I try to put the car in a +1 gear than I would normally use, assuming that wouldn't drop the RPMs to low to maintain power. In a higher gear, there is less torque to the wheels at the speed, and I find that it gives less of a chance of starting into any tire spin. On a hill in snow, that's your worst enemy. Conversely, heading downhill in snow I lay off the brakes as much as possible and maintain safe speed with a gearing of -1 per my usual. I don't generally engine brake going down hills, but make an exception in the winter. And a warning for the nanny-systems. If you're using traction control of the engine-limiting variety, be mindful of how much throttle you're actually applying. You don't want to get to, say, the top of a hill, hit an area with good traction and launch forward.

  • JaySeis JaySeis on Jan 06, 2011

    My winter driving means carrying an ax (to cut away trees that block the highway and if they are bigger than a foot in diameter, that means waiting for a road crew) and might I suggest a 10mm. Ax is handy as well. Being in D.C., it's probably the other drivers you've got to deal with. Also..good shoes and gloves. Stepping out in penny loafers and bare handed, well..your might as well be naked.

    • APaGttH APaGttH on Jan 06, 2011

      The axe is also great for when the zombie apacolypse begins.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird In 1986 the Yugo was listed as $3990, which was the lowest priced car in America at the time. The base Hyundai Excel was listed at $1k more at $4995. I knew someone at the time who purchased a base Excel hatchback in red with a four speed. I think he added an aftermarket stereo. He was trading in a Renault Alliance that he purchased a few years earlier for about $5k.
  • SCE to AUX Good summary.I still think autonomous driving should be banned until some brave mfr claims Level 5 capability, and other distractions like games and videos should only be available for stationary vehicles.As for the A/C, I just turn a knob in my Hyundai EV.
  • MrIcky My bet is flood.
  • Lou_BC "A Stellantis employee recommended the change after they had a near-miss with an emergency vehicle they couldn’t hear."I was at a traffic light and the car next to me had the stereo cranked. My whole truck was vibrating. A firetruck was approaching lights and sirens. They should have seen it since it was approaching from their side. Light changed and they went. It was almost a full on broad-side. People are stupid. A green light at an intersection does not mean it is safe to go. You still have to look especially at a "fresh" green. Idiots run the light, an emergency vehicle is coming, or it's icy and vehicles can't stop.
  • Lou_BC My kids drove around in a 2 wheel drive Chevy Colorado crew cab I bought off a neighbour when they were moving to Alberta. We kept it 4 years but sold it recently due to various engine codes popping up and the engine sounding more tired. It was one of the inline 5's known to have soft valve seats. All I had to repair was new front brakes and rotors, a wheel bearing and a battery. Both kids wrecked a tire clipping a curb. My oldest backed into it with his pickup which required a grill and headlight replacement. We bought a 2008 Corolla as a replacement for my 19 year old. It came with 4 new summers and a set of decent winter tires on rims. We'll run that until it looks like it will implode/explode. My oldest currently has 3 Cherokees (2 for parts), an F150 "Jelly bean", and a Mercury Grand Marquis. Insurance is very expensive for young drivers. That's why beaters can save some money. I haven't put them on my new truck's insurance since that would add around 90 per month in costs. I'll add my oldest to it temporarily so he can use it to get his "full" driver's license.