I remember a girl visiting me in Alaska one time and she asked why we drove electric cars and trucks, due to the cord hanging out the front grill of almost every vehicle. We did plug in our vehicles during winter, but it wasn't to recharge a battery cell, but to keep the batteries and fluids warm, or we wouldn't be able to start them. Farther north, along the coast of the Arctic ocean, they leave their vehicles running 24/7 because if they turn them off, they won't start again until Spring.
While this Polar Vortex 2.0 we're experiencing in a portion of the country currently isn't nearly that bad, there are a few lessons which can be adapted from truly cold climates that will help ensure your vehicle keeps operating when you need it most.
Keep it indoors. Yes, your garage will be about as cold as the driveway, but it will protect your vehicle from the wind. This will protect some of your more delicate parts and electronics from much more frigid temperatures than what is reading on the thermometer (also known as “wind chill”). So clean out that garage and park your car where it belongs! If your vehicle still has trouble starting due to the cold, plug in a small heater and place it in the engine compartment or directly underneath it to warm up the fluids and the engine components.
Start your car and let it run for a few minutes to warm things up before you shift into gear. They call this “warming up” the car for a reason! It allows fluids to begin to flow freely, plastic parts to warm up, and things to begin running smoothly before you subject it to more stress by driving it. So start it up, run back inside the kiss the spouse and kids goodbye, grab a couple more swallows of coffee, and head back out to your nice, toasty (and road-ready) car.
Make the shift to winter fluids. If you don't usually winterize your car you may be completely unaware that colder temperatures can require special fluids to operate well. Usually you want to use a less viscous (thick) engine oil, and windshield wiper fluid and coolant with a lower freezing point. You should also keep your fluids topped off, including your gas tank, and include anti-freeze or anti-seperation additives as necessary. Condensation (water) inside a gas tank due to cold temperatures can ruin your day real quick!
Check your car. Check the hoses, wires, tire pressure, wiper blades, battery, and other components that you SHOULD be checking on a semi-regular basis. These are particularly susceptible to extremely low temperatures. Some can cause break-downs without advanced notice and you'll be very cold while you wait for a friend, or tow truck, to show up.
Keep an emergency kit in your car. If you already do this but aren't used to arctic-type temperatures, it can be helpful to add a couple things such as a down or wool blanket, extra hat and gloves, maybe an entire change of warmer clothes (coat and pants) if you don't usually “dress for the weather” due to working in a climate controlled environment, some instant heat packs, and snow or waterproof boots. If you're getting snow, don't forget something to provide traction in case your tires start spinning. If you don't normally keep an emergency kit in your car, make sure you have a jack, spare tire, tire sealant, some water and snacks, road flares, flashlight or headlamp, leather gloves, basic tools, and other necessities.
And remember to take it easy on the roads. Road conditions can change rapidly in shifting cold temperatures, causing pot-holes or bumps where there normally are none, and of course bringing the dreaded black ice. Leave extra space between you and the cars in front of and around you, and allow yourself some extra time to get to work in case of other drivers having trouble. Or that one guy who always seems to drive 20 mph right in front of you at the slightest hint of adverse conditions.