Getting your Jeep ready for winter means prepping it for emergency events as well as driving in less than ideal weather. While some auto enthusiasts' vehicles need to be stored away during the winter months, Jeep owners have a reliable vehicle that can be as practical for winter emergencies as it was for cruising the beach, as long as you've taken the necessary steps to prepare your Wrangler.
Taking the appropriate preparation steps for winter will help to prevent mechanical problems, allow for better performance in poor weather, and most importantly, help to keep everybody safer on the road.
Although your 4x4 Jeep is a much better vehicle for snow than most, we recommend starting here to ensure that you’re putting your ride in the best condition to be prepared for any inclement conditions that may arise.
If you’re planning on spending an extended period of time in extremely cold temperatures, it may be worthwhile to change out your engine oil. Using winter-specific oil, which is less viscous, allows for better engine operation in sub-freezing temperatures. A fuel additive such as Heet can even prevent water in your gas system from freezing up, though this is typically only necessary in the most extreme environments.
Maintaining a clear view out of your windshield is a part of winter driving that cannot be overlooked. Some Jeep drivers may prefer a winter mix of windshield wiper fluid, which will prevent freezing or other adverse effects. While you’re under the hood, make sure that your antifreeze levels are also sufficient; water freezing in your engine can lead to immensely detrimental (and expensive) damage. Although typically only required every 30,000-40,000 miles, Jeep drivers may prefer to flush the coolant system if they’re heading into a particularly nasty winter. Again, this decision should be made according to your particular geographic locale.
And, though it might seem obvious, make sure that you have enough gas in the tank before setting out into the snow. Getting stuck in a snowstorm with no fuel sounds like the beginning of a horror film, not a fun winter day.
Component Checks and Jeep Winter Tires
In driving school, many of us were taught to perform a complete walk-around check of our vehicle before each drive. While this is about as common to see as a blue moon, dangerous winter conditions warrant a thorough check of several components of your Jeep. It’s said that you should never cheap out on things between you and the ground: Boots, mattresses, and most importantly, tires. You don’t necessarily need snow tires to drive your Jeep Wrangler in winter conditions, but you do need to ensure that your tires are in proper condition. The tread should not be worn, there should be no damage to the rubber, and tires should be inflated to the recommended pressure level. Don’t forget that cold weather will naturally lower your tire pressure. If you do change out for winter tires, ensure that they are installed properly. While you’re down there, ensure that your brake pads and rotors are in good shape as well.
Although not a necessity, some will recommend getting a good set of rubber floor mats for the inside of your Jeep. These will help to protect your interior from any snow, salt, and slush that makes its way in, not to mention the year-round mud that gets tracked inside (if you’re treating your Wrangler right!).
Use a voltage tester to check and make sure that your battery has enough juice (and is hooked up correctly). Test headlights, taillights, and hazard lights to ensure they are working and bright enough for low visibility conditions.
Finally, check that your engine heater (if applicable), cabin heating, and windshield defrosters are all working and in good order. Being stuck in the cold or unable to melt frost off your windows are just two more potential winter hazards to prepare for. If you haven’t replaced your windshield wiper blades in a while, make sure that they perform properly as well.
Emergency Kit and Tools
You’re stuck in snowy weather, you can’t walk to safety, and help is not immediately available. This is a worst-case scenario, which means that there is no excuse not to be prepared. Keeping a simple emergency kit in your Jeep will give you peace of mind that you can tough things out for a while if you do end up stranded. Non-perishable snacks, drinking water, flashlights, blankets, road flares, and a shovel all make a good winter addition to the items that (should) already live in your Jeep.
Bags of sand, gravel, cat litter, etc. can also be used under your tires for increased traction (or to help a fellow motorist get unstuck!).
As we’ll see below, keeping your Jeep clear is critical for protecting its exterior. More importantly, you have to be able to see out of your car to drive. A simple snowbrush/ ice scraper tool will allow you to take care of any accumulated snow and ice on your vehicle (just don’t use a scraper on your mirrors, as it can cause scratches).
Body Care and Protecting Your Jeep Soft Top in Winter
Somewhat ironically, the salt and anti-ice put down to keep the roads safer in snow can actually do more damage to your Wrangler than the icy weather itself. States in the northern U.S. are more notorious for having vehicles with rust on the undercarriage, due to driving on roads that have been treated with salt. Your city or county is (hopefully) going to take care of the roads no matter what, so there isn’t much to be done in terms of preventative measures if you absolutely must drive in the snow. Getting your car washed more frequently, however, will help to clear corrosive debris off your car, greatly improving the long-term looks and integrity of your car’s body.
This isn’t to say that ice and snow play no part in harming your Jeep’s exterior. Having a garage or carport is a great way to protect your vehicle; for those of us that don’t live in a place with covered parking, it’s crucial to prevent snow and ice from building up on the exterior of the Jeep. Accumulated snow can freeze quickly as temperatures drop overnight, solidifying on top of your Jeep’s roof, windows, and sides. As the sharp ice chips away, it can severely damage the paint and exterior of your ride. If at all possible, keep any cars parked outside cleared of fallen precipitation before temperatures drop below freezing.
The items discussed up to this point can often apply universally to all cars, not just Jeeps. Something that is quite unique to Jeep Wrangler soft tops in the winter, however, is operating the roof piece. Make sure that you do not attempt to install or remove your soft top in freezing weather, as this can lead to the window panels being damaged quite easily.
By checking your fluids and components, preparing an emergency kit, and caring for your exterior, you can go the extra mile to make your Jeep safe and capable for any winter weather.