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10 Winter Hacks That Can Help Get You Out Of Deep Trouble

Published January 14, 2016

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Anyone can write of list of things to put in your car before winter. We’ve written a list of hacks for winter circumstances for which you weren’t prepared.

We’re not going to tell you to put a pair of socks and a vanilla-scented candle in your glovebox or wipe shaving cream on your windshield (who makes up this stuff?). What we have here are solutions to real problems for which you often can’t be prepared. All of them use the resources most people have around them to solve the problem at hand. And isn’t that the true definition of a hack?

To start reading all 10, click on the NEXT box below.

Note: some of the procedures described are for home mechanics with moderate to advanced skills. If you have any questions you should read the disclaimer on the last page.

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One – Windshield Washer Hack

In winter it seems like you run through a gallon of the stuff in about a week. Any life is impossible, and totally dangerous, without it. Streaks block your view and driving becomes a white knuckle experience even on a clear day. In a pinch you can make windshield washer fluid from chemicals found around almost every household. Keep in mind that the windshield washer fluid you buy at the store is really made of just three components: alcohol, water, and blue dye.

So if you can live without the blue dye, all you need is tap water and alcohol to mix up a batch. Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol is the choice of professional window cleaners to keep their wash water from freezing, and is a product found in most medicine cabinets. Used  pure as a window wash is not encouraged, as it’s flammable, but it won’t freeze until -130 F.  A more sensible 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl won’t freeze until it gets to -5 F and is a much safer mixture (before sure you check the percentage on the label of the rubbing alcohol and account for it in your mix). Other options include diluted household window cleaner (i.e. Windex), and if you’re in a real pinch, a mix of Vodka and water. There are resources on the interweb that offer more complete information on those solutions.

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Two – “Dead” Battery Hack # 1

If your battery worked perfectly well the day before and then refuses to release enough current the morning after an exceptional cold night, it’s in a sort of suspended animation (but definitely not dead). It’s so cold that the molecules inside your battery that need to interact to generate a charge are so slow and lazy, they barely generate a spark much less a crank. Hack #1 is to switch off your car after you first attempt to start it, and turn on a single small item like your dome light. The battery should be able to provide enough juice to power the bulb in and doing so, the molecules start moving around, bumping into each other, and heating up your battery. Give it a few minutes and try starting it again.

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Three – “Dead” Battery Hack #2

If the dome light trick didn’t work, go outside and raise the hood of the car. Jiggle each of the battery cables to make sure the connections are tight. Since the battery posts and the clamps are of dissimilar metals that can expand and contract at different rates with temperature, potentially causing a gap in contact, which will severely reduce the amount of juice the battery can push down the battery cable. If either is loose, clean and tighten the clamps and try again.

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Four – “Dead” Battery Hack #3

If the first two hacks don’t get your car started, you’ll have to go to more extreme measures. It’s likely that your battery got so cold that there’s hardly any molecular motion inside, and the entire battery needs to be heated up. The best option is to remove the battery from the car and bring it into the house (away from pets and kids) until it’s no longer cold to the touch. Reinstall and retry. (At this point your significant other will point out that you could have jump started your car off of theirs. Explain you were just feeling “MacGyver” this morning to avoid embarrassment).

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Five – “Dead” Battery Hacks #4 and #5

Two alternate versions I’ve heard of but can’t testify to their effectiveness is a hair dryer (make sure you’re using an extension cord that’s rated for outdoor use and plugged into a GFIC outlet), but I have to think that could take an hour or more. Another was a recommendation by a mechanic on the Denver AAA website, who suggested dumping hot water on the battery. We can’t recommend either method as we’ve not tried them, and unless you really (really) know what you’re doing you’re far safer just removing the battery from the car and bringing it into the house.

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6 – Windshield Wiper Hack

Okay, say you’re driving and your passenger side windshield wiper blade breaks off. You now have the bare blade scraping against your windshield. the problem is, you just can’t driver without the wiper in front of you on. So here’s what to do. Don’t bother putting a sock or glove on the wiper/wiper arm because it’s just going to fall off at some point and you’re back at the beginning. Pull over and get under shelter, like a gas station awning, and remove the entire wiper arm assembly.

At the base, on many cars the arm connects to the wiper motor by a series of splines and is only push-fit together, on others there’s a retaining nut of a fairly standard size which you can probably borrow a wrench to remove (your car’s tool kit may even come with pliers, which should do the trick). First, release the retaining clip, then take out the wrench for your spare tire jack. There should be a flattened end on one side. Place a block of something sturdy but won’t mess up your car to use as a fulcrum (a small piece of 2×4 would be ideal, but there won’t be any. Look for something similar). Use the block as the fulcrum and slip the flat end of the wrench under the wiper arm. Move it around a bit to try to loosen evenly until the wiper arm comes free.

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7- Frozen Lock Hacks

Frozen locks are one of the most common yet easiest solved winter car problems. What’s happened is that water has gotten into your lock cylinder, probably during a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle, and it’s now in the freeze phase. There are two basic solutions: heat or alcohol. Heat because it will thaw the frozen water and is basically accomplished by heating the key and sliding it into the lock. Nicely warm will do it, no need to heat it to glowing. The other solution uses the lower freezing point of alcohol to dilute and thaw the ice. Back to vodka, you could blow a little through a straw into the lock, or squirt in mouth spray (does anyone still use Binaca?) or even hand sanitizer.

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8 – Frozen Windshield Hack

What’s the advice you always hear when told what to do to clear ice off your windshield and you don’t have an ice scraper? Use a credit card!, right? Are you insane? What happens when you crack or split your credit card?  You have no access to the ATM,  “no pay at the pump”, and your girlfriend’s buying dinner until the credit card company sends you a replacement. Use the Blockbuster card you insist on still carrying in your wallet, or the club card for the grocery store you shop at every week and know your member number by heart. And if this situation is truly, honestly a one-time-only, “I promise I’ll go buy an ice scraper right away” circumstance, you can idle your car for a few minutes to speed along the process. But just this once, because we’re all responsible for the Earth.

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9. Frozen Parking Brake Hack

If you grew up in an area where snow and cold are commonplace in the winter months, you learn not to set your parking brake in certain situations – primarily when it’s above 32F outside during the day, so the roads are wet and slushy, and then drops below freezing a night. If you’ve set the parking brake in those circumstances you may wake to find them frozen. If that’s the case, you have a few options. First, if you’re just outside a garage space that’s available, you can push the car by lifting the rear axle with a wheeled floor jack of appropriate capacity and let it thaw inside the garage. Other solutions we’ve heard of include using a propane gas hand torch (like a BernzOmatic) or even a hair dryer (using an outdoor rated extension cord and plugged into a GFIC outlet, of course) but we’ve used neither ourselves, so we can’t vouch for their efficacy or tendency to burn down your car..

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10. Overnight Parking Hack

If you have to park outside, do so with your car facing East if possible. This isn’t some Feng Shui thing, what you’re looking to do is have your frozen windshield meet the first rays of morning sunlight, thus starting the thawing process at dawn. A study done in Canada stated that facing your car into the morning sun raises the temperature of your windshield by three degrees Fahrenheit, which is a pretty good start considering you didn’t really have to do much to make it happen.

Here are more (non-winter) hacks:

9 Neat and Nifty Car Hacks You Just Can’t Live Without

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Disclaimer

Proper service and repair procedures are vital to the safe, reliable operation of all motor vehicles, as well as the personal safety of those performing repairs or maintenance procedures.  Safety procedures and precautions (including use of safety goggles, proper tools, jacks and equipment, and proper exhausting and ventilation) should be followed at all times to avoid personal injury, illness, death or property damage, and to avoid compromising the safety of the vehicle or third parties.  The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for the professional advice of a qualified automobile mechanic who has personally inspected the vehicle for purposes of diagnosis or repair.  You should always seek the advice of the automobile manufacturer, the dealer where the automobile may have been purchased, a qualified mechanic or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding automobile safety, maintenance, or repair.  You should not delay, avoid or disregard the advice of the manufacturer, dealer or qualified auto mechanic because of anything you may have read, seen or heard on this site.

ALTHOUGH THIS MATERIAL HAS BEEN PREPARED WITH THE INTENT TO PROVIDE RELIABLE INFORMATION, NO WARRANTY, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IS MADE AS TO ITS ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS.  NO LIABILITY IS ASSUMED FOR ANY LOSS, INJURY TO PERSONS, PROPERTY OR OTHER DAMAGE RESULTING FROM EITHER THE USE OF OR RELIANCE ON THE MATERIAL PRESENTED OR THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE MATERIALS.  WITHOUT LIMITATION, NO WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR ANY OTHER WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IS MADE WITH RESPECT TO THE MATERIAL ON THIS SITE.  IN NO EVENT WILL EITHER GEAR HEADS AND ITS PARENT COMPANY OR AFFILIATED COMPANIES, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, DIRECTORS, AGENTS OR REPRESENTATIVES BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, DIRECT OR INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, COMPENSATORY, PUNITIVE OR OTHERWISE, ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF, OR ANY RELIANCE UPON ANY MATERIAL PRESENTED OR THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE MATERIALS.  WITHOUT LIMITATION OF THE FOREGOING, THE MATERIALS CONTAINED IN THIS WEBSITE, INCLUDING GRAPHICS, TEXT, LINKS, AUDIO OR VISUAL MATERIALS, ARE PROVIDED SOLELY ON AN “AS IS” BASIS.  YOU ARE VIEWING THE MATERIALS AND USING THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE MATERIALS AT YOUR SOLE RISK.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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