Well, folks, sweater weather is quickly becoming full jacket weather. That means there are only a few weeks left of workable outdoor temperatures. The parts of the globe that see snow can likely expect that horrid white stuff to cover the ground in less than a month, which makes now the last chance to finish up anything on your projects before hunkering down. If you’ve taken the advice in this weekly series, you probably already took care of all your winter prep. If you haven’t, this week’s helpful article is for you. The advice is simple: start prepping now.
Every year, we run effectively the same advice around this time. If you don’t have your winter car ready for cold weather, you’re going to have a bad time. The simple fact is that when you put off things in warm weather that you know are on your list, they inevitably become immediate needs as soon as it’s too cold to want to address them. I’ll give you an example from a winter beater past. You may be aware of the E83 X3 I pulled from a field a few years ago and made into my winter beater. What you may not know is that I spent most of that summer and fall fixing up the old girl to be a reliable winter daily. However, during those repairs, I noticed a few things that were a bit more involved. I decided they could probably wait until spring and held off on tackling those projects.
Naturally, those future problems became current problems pretty much as soon as the weather turned cold. I’m not even joking, it was on the way to my fiance’s family’s Thanksgiving, just an hour’s drive from our house. What I had noticed in my repairs was that the fuel line press fitting to the back of the fuel rail had a tendency to pop off the flared barb under high pressure. As a temporary fix, I had fiddled with the retention clips inside the line and thought I’d secured it at least to last a few more months. Boy, was I wrong. On the way to her family’s house, about halfway there, the fuel line popped off the back of the rail and the car died. It was just below freezing outside, mixed rain and snow, and miserable. The only choice I had was to call a tow truck and have it brought back home. There was no dealing with it at the little gas station I’d managed to limp it into. All we could do was wait for the tow truck and spend that Thanksgiving at home, covered in fuel. (It had leaked all over the ground and in the process of pushing the car the rest of the way into the gas station parking lot, I ate shit on the slippery gas about three times. Not fun.)
See, the reason I held off was because I knew the easiest way to replace the line would be to remove the fuel rail, intake manifold, and throttle body assembly so that I could properly route and secure the new line. It didn’t have any present vacuum leaks, so I decided to save that big job for the spring rather than address it then. That decision ended up forcing me to replace the line instead of enjoying turkey and fixin’s. So, there I was, on Thanksgiving day, layered up in my garage feeding the fuel line out of the engine and replacing it, all without taking off the things that would have made the installation much easier. Why? Because I didn’t have all the parts. I had decided to wait, remember? All I had was the fuel hose, which was a bit of a silver lining to all this. At least I’d had the forethought to buy the broken part.
What could I have done differently? Well, I should have addressed the problem when I found it rather than put it off. Ordinarily, I follow my own advice here. When I talk about preventative and proactive maintenance, I stick to that code myself. With the winter beater, though, I tended to be a “fix it as it breaks” kind of person. The problem with that is the only time I really drive my winter beater is in winter, so when I notice those problems tends to be, well, winter. This is precisely where this week’s advice comes from, so pay attention.
Winter beaters are a necessary part of car enthusiast life above the snow belt. Of course, when I say winter beater, I just mean something that you don’t mind covering in salt every year. It doesn’t have to be a complete shitbox, but the cheaper the better. With European cars, shitbox and cheap tend to go hand-in-hand. Naturally, that means you’ll probably have a few things to address before it gets too cold to want to. If you want to keep your nice car out of shit weather, here’s the first piece of advice: start driving your winter beater regularly now.
The best way to find problems is to encounter them. You can start with a bit of a look-over, but most faults aren’t going to be immediately noticeable unless it’s a broken CCV hose or visible fluid leak somewhere. The easy stuff, like brakes, tires, wiper blades, etc. are a given. Sure, you can see those, but they should have already been addressed. I’m talking about stuff that might be on its last leg but hasn’t given any signs of failure yet. The best way to find them is to start driving that winter car regularly now, and driving it hard, so those problems present themselves when you still have agreeable weather to fix them.
So, get out there and start driving it. Ideally, you’ll drive it where you intend to drive it all winter. Work, the grocery store, maybe a few random errands here and there. You don’t have to store your fun car just yet, but it’s a good idea to go ahead and start picking the winter car so you can shake it down.
With a few miles under its belt before the season, you’ll probably find a few things wrong that you forgot and maybe a few new things. Perhaps a new light on the dash? A rattle or misfire might be your problem. Maybe you’re lucky and nothing presents itself yet. Don’t be fooled: grab your Schwaben Professional Scan Tool and run a full diagnostic scan once you’ve put some miles on the car. Anything that might be hiding will show up in the scan.
This is your diagnostic step. Make a list of all the things that seem to be failing, ready to fail, or showing up on the list of fault codes in your scan tool. Whatever seems to be wrong, go ahead and order those parts. Anything you can address with what you have on hand, go ahead and start.
If you haven’t done the basic maintenance, like oil, filters, tires, brake pads and rotors, or maybe a cooling system refresh, you’re going to want to add those things to the list, too. The idea here is to set yourself up with a car you don’t have to touch other than opening the door and driving all winter. The more you do on the front end, the better your chances of a painless winter commute in the car you’ve chosen to be the salt sponge.
When the parts arrive or start arriving to address those faults, make a plan of attack. Go back to your list and start looking for things that need to be done in a specific order or at the same time. Make a group or two of projects that you can complete in a day and pick the day or afternoon that you will complete them. Put it on your calendar, put it on your bathroom mirror, or put it somewhere that you will see it. You need to constantly remind yourself that these things need doing before you rely on the car. Trust me, you’ll forget if you don’t and then you’ll end up exactly where I was: stranded on the side of the road on a holiday.
Stick to your plan. If you told yourself that this Saturday you are going to be in the garage, make sure you’re there and doing what you set out to do. When you create that sense of urgency, you subconsciously commit to seeing it through to completion. That means that if you run into any hiccups or get stuck on something, you’ll find a way to work through it rather than give up and say “I’ll get back to it.” You need to remember that time is running out to tackle these projects, so if you wait, you won’t finish. Just work on one problem at a time, see it through, and move onto the next one. If you stick to your plan and schedule, it may mean that you give up a few fun things with friends and family, but it will also mean you won’t miss those things later when you’re out there in the cold fixing something that you could have fixed now.
By this step, you should have addressed all the issues you’d found that truly need fixing. With your winter car squared away, now you really need to start driving it. If I was a betting man, I’d say one or two more things might pop up, especially if you were pretty deep into a project that involved a good bit of disassembly. Maybe a new vacuum leak popped up, maybe you didn’t fully install something correctly, maybe nothing. The only way to know for sure is to go back to driving the thing every day. Anything you find annoying or broken now will be ten times more inconvenient later, so don’t ignore that stuff.
If you do find something, go back and repeat the above steps. Take care of it now instead of suffering for it later. Trust me, its better to be inconvenienced when you’ve scheduled the time for it than not.
If you don’t find anything, great! You’re ready to drive your car all winter and rely on it. You may encounter a few things throughout the winter, but hopefully, you’ve tackled all the preventative stuff, regular maintenance stuff, and big problems the car may have that affect its drivability.
Remember, all of this is geared towards future-proofing your car. It’s always better to plan for something and deal with it on your time rather than dealing with something in an emergency when you haven’t budgeted the time. Winter cars are fantastic because they take the abuse this season brings so that your fun cars don’t have to. However, all that depends on how proactive you are. Anything you ignore now could, and probably will, become an issue that takes your winter car off the road when it’s too cold to work on. Any amount of time you waste now is going to come back to haunt you and your fun car that you’ll inevitably have to drive instead of the car you should be driving during the winter. So, take this advice: get started on that winter car now if you haven’t already, and save yourself some future headaches this winter by having a car you can rely on for transportation rather than problems.