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Vehicles require special cold weather attention

Greg Sanches, Fort Wainwright garrison safety specialist, provides winter preparation tips for vehicles during the Chiller Thriller winter orientation class Oct. 14 at Fort Wainwright.
Greg Sanches, Fort Wainwright garrison safety specialist, provides winter preparation tips for vehicles during the Chiller Thriller winter orientation class Oct. 14 at Fort Wainwright.
The class, sponsored by the Wainwright Garrison Safety Office and Army Community Service Relocation Readiness program, presents tips on surviving an Interior Alaska winter. The next Chiller Thriller winter orientation classes will be Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 at the Last Frontier Community Center from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (Photo by Sheryl Nix/Fort Wainwright PAO)

By Trish Muntean
Fort Wainwright PAO

Winter and the challenges it brings are not too far away, and just thinking about what Mother Nature has in store for us can be scary. Being prepared for what is ahead can take some of the fear away.

Part of being prepared is winterizing your vehicle and the sooner it gets done, the less chance of getting caught out in the cold with vehicle problems.

Peter Burger, automotive instructor at the Auto Craft shop on Fort Wainwright, said there are several things that need to be done to prepare your vehicle for the extreme conditions of a winter in central Alaska.

The basic equipment that helps a vehicle start even at minus 60 includes a block heater, a battery blanket or pad (one fits around the battery, the other sits underneath) and an oil pan heater.

All of these plug into a three-way cord, which is what is plugged in at the outlets seen around post and at local businesses.

This equipment can be installed at local garages, dealerships and the AAFES car care center. The Automotive Skills Center on Fort Wainwright does not do vehicle winterization, but does offer classes, advice and assistance. Fort Richardson’s center also offers assistance and advice to customers trying to save some money doing it themselves.

For many newcomers to Alaska the question is “When do you start plugging in your vehicle?”

If the battery is well maintained, the oil is thin enough and the fluids in the radiator are of the right mix the car doesn’t have to be plugged in until it is below freezing.

A well-maintained vehicle might even start at sub-zero temperatures without being plugged in, but if it is difficult to start, it needs to be plugged in, no matter what the temperature is.

Alaska officials suggest vehicles should be plugged in when temperatures drop below 20 degrees to help mitigate air pollution.

Burger recommends the vehicle be plugged in about two hours before the car needs to be started, and once it is started allowing the engine to idle for about 10 to 15 minutes before the vehicle is driven.

Drivers should use the oil recommended by their vehicles’ manufacturer for extreme cold weather. For radiator fluid, a 65/35 mix of antifreeze to water should work for temperatures as low as minus 60, Burger said.

The next step in preparing a vehicle for winter is to put on winter tires. Burger says there are three primary types of tires to choose from for winter driving: snow and ice tires without studs, studded tires, and European high-performance tires.

The two most common types are snow and ice tires with and without studs.

Studless winter tires have deeper and wider grooves than an all-season tire, and studless winter tires are softer as well, allowing better road grip.

Studded tires can increase the grip of a winter tire on packed snow and ice. The studs actually dig into the surface under the tire and are legal in Alaska from midnight Sept. 16 until midnight April 30.

Just because there are winter tires on the car doesn’t mean the tires can be ignored until spring. Tire pressure must be checked on a regular basis.

The best time to check tire pressure is in the morning before the car has been driven more than a few miles. Once the tires have “heated up” the reading won’t be as accurate, as the outdoor temperature will affect the reading.

The tire’s inflation will go up with higher temps and down with lower, about one pound per square inch for every 10 degrees in Fahrenheit temperature.

Burger said tires should be inflated per the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications, not the tire pressure on the side of the tire. This information can be found in the owner’s manual.

Do you know how to change a flat tire? It is much easier to learn now than when it is minus 40 and there is little light alongside the road. Have a friend show you or stop by the auto craft shops for instructions.

Be sure the necessary tools can be accessed. If the spare tire and jack are under the vehicle it might be difficult, if not impossible to get to them with snow and ice around them.

Be sure there are good windshield wipers on the vehicle. Being able to see the hazards ahead is important. There are windshield wipers just for driving in severe weather conditions.

The next step in preparing the car for winter is to look under the hood.

Check the battery. The terminals should be clean and the connections tight. Inspect belts and hoses and replace as needed. Check the fluid levels and make sure that the vehicle has the right fluids for extreme temperatures.

No matter how prepared you are, put an emergency kit in the car, just in case. The kit should include sand or kitty litter for traction, an ice scraper, extra washer fluid, a set of jumper cables and a small shovel. Maybe include a set of tire chains and road flares.

A coffee can survival kit is recommended. Instructions (courtesy of Fort Wainwright’s Army Community Service) are provided here.

If the vehicle breaks down, these emergency supplies will also come in handy: extra winter clothing (to include hat, boots, gloves and scarf), a cold weather sleeping bag or blankets, and a flashlight with spare batteries.

It is also a good idea to have a first aid kit, energy bars or dried snacks, and drinking water.

A basic tool kit is a good thing to keep in the car no matter what time of year it is. In winter months an old throw rug or blanket to kneel on will be useful.

For more information on preparing for winter please check out the websites for Fort Wainwright Safety Office ( and Fort Richardson ( or the American Red Cross of Alaska ( All provide good information on preparing for winter.


Coffee Can Survival Kit

When you have collected all supplies place them in the coffee can, reseal with lid, then cover with a stocking cap and carry inside your vehicle.

If you have a three-pound can, you will still have additional room for first aid items, aspirin, a small radio and anything else you need to help you feel safe.



– Two- or three-pound metal coffee can

– 60-inch length of twine or heavy string

– Three large safety pins

– Two tea light candles

– Three pieces of brightly colored cloth, 2 inches wide by 36 inches long

– Packages of instant soup or bouillon cubes, tea, mixed nuts and dried fruit

– One pocketknife, reasonably sharp, or scissors

– One pair of cotton socks

– One pair of cotton glove liners

– One sun shield blanket or two large green or black plastic trash bags (to reflect body heat)

– Two packages of matches

– One mini-flashlight and batteries (keep separate)

– One stocking cap


In an emergency:

– Tie the bright colored cloth to antenna or door handle to make sure rescuers will be able to spot your vehicle easily.

– Punch three holes around the rim of the coffee can, equal distance apart

– Cut the twine into 3 equal pieces and use to suspend can

– Place candle on coffee can lid under suspended can. (Suspended coffee container can be used for melting snow)

– Tie string to safety pins and pin to car roof interior to suspend can over candle

– Water from melted snow can be used to mix with soup and beverages for food.