Preparing For Winter Wheeling Season
At this point the first snows have already fallen for the year and we are already seeing some winter weather and high country trail closures. With that comes a new level of excitement about getting out and off-roading in the white stuff. Even if you’re not too keen on the idea of running the trails in the snow there are some basics preparedness tips and tricks that everyone should know and implement.
Growing up in the Colorado Mountains I have lived through and seen my fair share of bad winters. It’s a yearly occurrence when we see huge pileups on the interstates due to bad weather conditions and it’s not uncommon for vehicles to get stuck and stranded sometimes for days. On March 13th 2019 our home town of Colorado Springs, CO experienced a storm that the media proclaimed as the Bomb Cyclone. Now to be honest, no one had every heard that term before and as frequently and drastically as the weather changes here we paid little attention to the panic the news was trying to put forth. The number of times the news has reported a huge storm or large snow fall and we see nothing but a dusting puts a bit of lack luster in the minds of the average person here. Despite the warnings, we came into work that morning like any other, no snow in sight. After all, we are an off road shop and if anyone knows how to deal with driving in bad conditions it should be us. By 10am it was starting to snow pretty hard and by 10:30 it was a full white out with level 2 hurricane winds. Roads immediately iced over and with near zero visibility every one in the city and most of our state decided it was time to head home. Heavy traffic, no visibility and bad road conditions, what could go wrong! Every interstate in and out of Colorado was shut down, over 40,000 people went without power for days and thousands of vehicles were stuck and abandoned, many for a week of more. Unfortunately, one man lost his life. This type of situation can happen at any time and especially when you go to the high country.
I have a 4 wheel drive!
We often hear this statement, “I have 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive, I’ll be fine.”, and while yes, you do have an advantage, this is often just the beginning to a bad day in the snow. Unfortunately, on our roads we have to share them with other drivers, many who don’t have 4 wheel drive vehicles, many who don’t have the capability your truck, Jeep or SUV may have in the snow, and many drivers who have no business being on the roads. Most of the time when we see stranded Jeeps and SUVs it’s because the less capable vehicles in front of them got stuck and now there is no place to go. Yes, I know, your monster jeep on 40’s can go over them but let’s keep it civil. Having 4wd tends to put a level of misplaced confidence into the minds of their drivers and while many have been driving for years, our experience shows that many don’t know how to navigate adverse road conditions.
Prepare before it’s too late!
Warn industries has a slogan that should be at the core of every off roader, GO PREPARED! Planning ahead for bad situations should always be at the heart of every off roader’s mind before heading out on their next adventure, or even taking your daily trip to work. Let’s break down a list of essentials:
Especially important before the winter season, a basic vehicle maintenance check up should be done on your vehicle. If you have the skills to do it yourself great, if not, find a quality shop to do a vehicle checkup. Tires should have good tread, proper inflation and be the proper type for winter conditions, brakes should be in good condition, have your suspension checked and an alignment done. Functioning windshield wipers and a full washer tank. Engine and drivetrain should all be functioning and within the fluid change intervals. Check that the 4wd functions and axles are all in good condition. This is the basic stuff that unfortunately many overlook until it’s too late.
Let’s Talk Tires
Deep powdery snow, icy roads and thick wet snow all present different challenges than wheeling in the summer. Picking the right tire not only provides added traction and durability but also provides a greater level of safety for you, your passengers and those around you both on and off the road. Choosing the right tire can often feel overwhelming and there is always the constant debate of function vs form. Not all tires are created equal! Determining your use is the first step in choosing the right tire for your vehicle. For some, a dedicated winter tire may be the best bet, adding studs or chains for extreme conditions but they will need to be switched out come warmer weather. This is a great option for people who live in heavy snow packed areas. For most of us though, we are lifting our trucks, Jeeps and SUV’s and running larger more aggressive off road tires so for that consideration we will focus on the majority of our readers.
Mud Terrain Tires are by far the first thought when it comes off roading. The aggressive style and larger lugs give your truck that Off Road prowess that we all want, but is it the best tire for snow and ice? Mud terrain tires are designed to claw forward though thick mud, the larger voids help the tires claw down to solid ground to gain traction. This is helpful in deep thick snow but counter productive on ice or snow packed roads. Mud terrain tires, due to their design have incredibly aggressive forward traction but they lack in the lateral or side to side traction. Due to this, we recommend either finding a mud tire with heavy siping (small cuts in the tire tread) or looking at an aggressive all terrain tire if your vehicle sees more street than trail.
All Terrain Tires are the most common among the Overland crowd and daily drivers and for good reason. While we like the aggressive look of mud terrains, many all terrain tire manufacturers have begun to design much more aggressive looking tires with aggressive side walls without compromising the performance. All terrain tires such as the Falken Wild Peak AT, Toyo AT3 and the BF Goodrich KO2 are great choices for your daily driven Off Road vehicle. For winter, looking for a tire with a 3 Peak snow rating will get you an aggressive tire that works great in the snow and on dry ground, on the road and on the trail. For winter tires, this will be our recommendation but if you need a more aggressive off road tire we have those options as well.
Don’t forget to keep your air pressure at the right level and a proper wheel alignment will keep you tracking strait and keep your tires from wearing out prematurely.
Recovery and Safety Equipment
If you are venturing off road during the winter you are far more likely to get into bad situations where recovery equipment can be the difference between driving out or walking out. Off roading in the winter should be done with friends or in groups for safety, there is safety in numbers. Basic recovery kits will include a tow strap, shackles with vehicle recovery points, a shovel, a jack and basic tool kit to do repairs. In addition we recommend a tire repair kit and air source in addition to a full size spare tire and wheel. If you have a Winch, this is a great addition and tool even in the summer months. When it comes to recovery gear, you get what you pay for. Our recommendation is to look at it as an investment and buy the best you can afford. One time getting a tow out of a ditch will cost you more than a good winch. We like the Warn Winches for their reliability. ARB tow straps or a Bubba Rope are great for recovery, soft shackles and Agency 6 fairleads, hitch shackles and recovery hooks. Make sure to carry at least a basic first aid kit and extra cold weather gear should always be in the vehicle during the winter. That extra pair of gloves or coat may be the difference between surviving or not. Some sort of signal light to alert others that you are there especially in bad weather and visibility.
Being prepared for the worst is always a good practice whether you plan to go off road or just being caught is a storm on your way home. Come by the shop or give us a call today and we would be happy to go over your winter vehicle safety checklist. We carry a wide array of off road tires, suspensions, recovery gear and all of your off road accessories and overlanding parts. Our full service offroad shop can take care of you maintenance and builds from suspension installations and diagnosis, alignments, wheels and tires and any of your vehicle accessory installation needs. Above all, remember to stay safe and enjoy the ride.