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Cold weather hacks: The winter driving tips you need

Starting a car in the cold (and other winter driving tips you need)

First, let us be clear: This article is not intended to explain how to winterize your vehicle for cold weather — that is an involved process that requires a significant amount of time and effort, but which you only need to conduct once as winter sets in with occasional maintenance and upkeep.

See our handy guide on that, because winterizing a car is of critical importance in many parts of the country (and globe).

What we’re talking about today is the everyday winter morning car routine that comes with driving when it’s cold and often snowy outside.

For those of you who have never known the misery of sitting on a stiff seat while gripping a frigid steering wheel as you try in vain to see through a frosted-over windshield, good for you. For those of you who live in regions that often freeze between the months of November and March, read on. (Especially if you, like certain authors, lived in lovely Los Angeles for 12 years before resettling in such icy environs). Assuming you can count on your car starting in the morning, here are a few quick and easy ways to make driving a cold car less unpleasant this winter.

East coast city in winter with snow on the ground and on top of apartment buildings with cars on the road.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Avoid dead batteries

Get a trickle charger

A solar-powered car battery trickle charger ensures you won’t walk out to a car with a dead battery, which is great because jumping a battery in sub-zero temperatures isn’t great. Neither is paying for a tow then getting to work late. Trickle chargers connect directly to the car’s DC plug port (aka the cigarette lighter) and provide a small, steady stream of power to the 12-volt battery, ensuring it won’t drain down even with extended disuse and in cold weather. Just keep in mind the fact that the solar panel needs sun, so the next tip on our list will work at cross purposes unless you position the charger in a side or rear window.

Cover the windshield

Before it snows

If scraping ice and snow off of a windshield first thing in the morning is your idea of a good time, then you can skip this step. But if spending 10 minutes half-asleep and elbow-deep in a pile of winter accumulation that chose your car’s looking-through thingie as its new home sounds not-so-good, then simply plan ahead. If you know it’s going to snow, cover your windshield before the first flakes fall. You can use a canvas painters tarp secured in closed doors, a thick sheet of plastic, or better yet, use a purpose-built windshield cover. These covers can be installed in seconds and removed just as quickly, whipping even a thick pile of snow off the glass and freeing up your view. And hey, if you want, you can put a larger tarp over the whole car. Just remember that snow load adds up — don’t outsmart yourself and trap your car hostage under a snow-laden tarp so heavy you can’t move it.

Warm up your seat

Start the process indoors

Frigid car seats suck. And even with your car’s built-in seat warmer, it can take 10 or 15 minutes before your legs and back are not effectively subjected to an ice block when your car has been out in the cold all night. Invest the $25-$35 it costs to get a decent warming seat insert, but — and here’s the big secret — don’t put it in your car! At least not overnight.Most warming seat pads designed for use in cars are also suitable for use in chairs, thus most can be warmed using both the DC power of a car battery or an AC outlet. Warm your heated seat pad up inside before you leave the home, plop it down on that icy seat in the car, and there you have it: a nice warm rear from the get-go.

winterize car windshield dashboard
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Warm up your wheel

Use Hand Warmers

You know those little hand warming packets you used to use on ski trips? The ones that magically heat up when exposed to air? Well, they work in cold cars as well as they do on bunny slopes, mister. And many are reusable, with their heating properties easily restored after a good boil in a pot of water. If you can’t stand grasping that icy steering wheel with your bare hands, tuck a hand warmer into your palm for the first five or 10 minutes of the drive. You won’t feel the icy sting of the wheel, and soon the steering wheel will be warmed up even if the rest of the car is still cold.

Get an engine block heater

Get your car started right

For about $50, give or take a few bucks (some cost less than $30, for example), you can install an engine block heater under the hood of your car and never have to worry about a cold, slow startup again. These plucky little devices connect to a standard power cord and can warm up your car’s engine long before you even turn the vehicle on. That means a reliably quick start thanks to heat flowing from the vents in seconds — it can even reduce the emissions your vehicle produces. All you need to do is plug the heater in a while before you intend to get on the road. The only real drawback here is that — let’s be honest — you’re probably going to need to pay a mechanic to do this for you.

Move (back) to Los Angeles

The City of Angels

Los angeles
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The city of Los Angeles is the most populous city in the state of California and the second most heavily populated city in America. It is spread across approximately 500 square miles of land, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, by mountain ranges on its eastern outskirts, and by various other cities and counties to the north and south. Home to the famed Hollywood and much of the United States’ film industry, the city is both an international business and tourist destination. The city boasts an elevation of more than 5,070 feet, miles of sandy beaches, and an average annual temperature range between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Or, in other words, it’s basically never cold as hell, so the whole winter morning car routine involves just getting in your car and turning it on and whatnot.

Steven John
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
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