I wrote How to Winterize A Car for Alaska a couple of years ago when I was faced with my first winter in Alaska. Being from Arizona where I thought 50 degrees was cold, I was in for a rude awakening that first winter. In 2014 though, it wasn’t one for the winter record books, but it was still cold to me! I have a 2009 Toyota Scion tC, which is a little front-wheel drive car, that honestly has no business being in Alaska in the winter. That car has been my ride all around the U.S, and then some! It still has a hard time in the cold. Is this your first winter in Alaska? Here’s how to get your car ready from someone who has been there! These are easy actionable tips to winterize your car whether you live in Alaska or other extreme cold conditions.
Disclosure: This post not only has some amazing tips on how to survive your first winter in Alaska, it also Affiliate Links that I earn commissions from. This is how I pay for my travels and this blog. Thank you for supporting me! I appreciate it.
Over a a few beers and glasses of wine with long-time Alaskans, this checklist was created. I had NO idea I needed to do so many things to get my car Alaska Ready! It seems like Alaska is the Land of the Subaru and people look at you funny if you don’t have an All-Wheel Drive or 4-Wheel Drive vehicle. I still don’t! I work through this list at the end of summer, beginning of fall… so roughly end of August through September. You don’t want the first snow to fall and you haven’t even started getting your car ready.
Here’s How to Get Your Car Ready for Alaska or other cold climate. (Warning, it’s not cheap!)
Invest in Winter Tires
You have a couple decisions to make on this one. You can buy used or new – personally, I would go new, especially if this is your first winter. You want all the traction you can get! You also have to decide if you want studded tires or not. Studded tires have little metal studs sticking out of them. In Alaska, salt is not allowed to be put down on the roads to melt ice or snow. If the salt were to get into our waterways it would mess up the salmon. Don’t mess with the salmon!!!
For those newbies that live up in the mountains or in remote areas of Alaska, even if it is Hillside in Anchorage, go with the studded tires. Just remember that you have to remove your studded tires from May 1st to October 1st. I chose not to go with studded tires, but went with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires.
You can go to a local tire dealership, just call early to get on the waitlist to have your tires put on. Seriously, it can take up to 2-3 weeks! I purchased tires through Costco and had them in 10 days. I had a choice between the Michelin X-Ice or the Blizzaks. I heard such good reviews about the Blizzaks so that’s what I ended up buying. It also helped that Costco had a $80 coupon for when you purchase four tires – they rotate between all the different tire brands starting in October.
NEW Info: In late 2017, Costco created an online tire appointment site… Alaskans everywhere rejoiced.
Look at the pattern on the Blizzaks – kinda weird, right?
Newbie Tidbit: Summer tires go on in May, winter tires go on late September, early October. Yes, you read that right – two sets of tires! Some vehicles can get away with one set of tires for both seasons, but most drivers in Alaska have two sets.
It’s no secret that you should have your oil changed on the regular. But did you know that if your car originates from the Lower 48 that you need to have it changed to oil that handles the cold easier? Me either!! But boy, is that one of the first things long-time Alaskans will tell you to do. I’ve used a Groupon for Meineke in Anchorage a couple times. I was in sticker shock when I was calling around for prices for an oil change. In Arizona, I could have it done for about $25. In Anchorage, I was quoted over $90! Meineke was able to get me right in and didn’t try to sell me on everything else. That’s a win in my book!
This is the Meineke Groupon that I used. A basic oil change is about $20 and a synthetic one is $59. They also price match tires and will put on your winter tires for you, but they couldn’t beat the price on new tires I was able to get at Costco with that coupon I mentioned.
Under the Hood
For the Love of Winter, Gentlemen Start Your Engines!
Honestly, I had never heard of an Auto Remote Start System before I moved up here. It connects your battery and engine together. You press the remote and voila your car starts automatically. You want your car to warm up at least 10-15 minutes before driving it if you don’t have a garage and it is parked outside. What is weird AF though is when you see all these cars in the parking lot and no one is in them. It takes a few times before you realize what’s going on. 🙂
I had the Auto Start installed by Safe & Sound in Anchorage. Awesome guys working there! I also couldn’t find the right size battery for my car so they ordered one for me and had it installed at the same time. Oh yeah, you need a battery that can withstand the cold too. Sorry, forgot to mention that. If you don’t change out your battery expect it to crack when temps dip down to zero. I wish I didn’t know this from personal experience, but I do. SIGH.
Side Note: Your battery will last about 2 years, so make sure you have that in your budget.
Newbie Tidbit: Turn your defrost on high for both your front and back windshields so that as the car is heating up, your windows are getting some love too.
What the Heck Is An Engine Block Heater?
I remember vividly the first time I saw a car with an extension cord sticking out of the hood. I couldn’t fathom why in the world it was there! People plug in their cars!!! I kid you not! You will see places for people to plug in everywhere from the mall to random parking lots in little towns. Now, it hasn’t been cold enough in Anchorage to have one, but if you live in Interior Alaska, especially anywhere near Fairbanks, this needs to be on your list.
I had already shelled out a shit ton of money getting my car ready for my first winter, so I didn’t get an engine block heater. I’ve heard that we can be in for a doozy of a winter this time (two years so far with minimal snowfall). If that happens, I will buy one, especially if I don’t end up parking in the garage!
Side Note: It’s been 4 winters in Anchorage. I bought an engine block heater last winter, but have never used it. Unless you live where it will be colder than -20 degrees for long periods of time, you can hold off. The coldest it was in Anchorage for a week was -10 degrees. To be honest, I just didn’t go outside in that coldness. Nope.
Battery Chargers and a Backup Battery Charger
I probably used my Weego Battery Charger at least a dozen times my first winter. Sadly, someone lifted it out of my bag at the airport when I went home for the Holidays. I will be reinvesting in this bad boy this winter though! It is small enough to fit in my bag and can charge up my cell phone and laptop, but get this, it will also charge up my car! I felt safer when I had my Weego with me. 🙂 Let me just say, I typically have to charge my battery a few times each winter and am grateful to have a portable battery charger with me.
Newbie Tidbit: I’ve also used a Jump Starter with a Compressor for when your battery needs a slow drip of juice to come back from being frozen over. Yep, been there too. :/
Winter Emergency Bag for Cars
I also recommend having a Winter Emergency Bag for your car. You will be glad you packed this if you are ever stuck in a snow storm or go off the road.
- Zero degree sleeping bag
- Hand warmers
- Down coat
- External battery charger for cell phone
- Extra Long Jumper Cables
- First Aid Kit
- Tow Straps
- Food & water
- Battery Charger for car
If you want a look back on that first winter in Alaska, read this post. I cringe every time I read it and remember how upset I was. I seriously thought I was going to die in a snowdrift that first winter. I was terrified of winter and being stranded with no one to come and help me.
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Roshan Kumar says
Hi thinking of taking a travel therapist job in Alaska and perhaps staying on through the winter in either Juneau or Anchorage. Though in truth it is Alaska and hiking I am coming for. I am considering trading in my car for a AWD SUV/Crossover since I will be carrying my home along with me in my car. Trying to be environmentally conscious I would like to get an hybrid. Are hybrids AWD common on Alaskan roads ?
You will see hybrids in Anchorage, I don’t know about Juneau. Most people have 4WD with Subaru being the most popular manufacturer up here. If you are driving up through Canada there will not be any places really for you to charge up the car and you will be solely on gas. Once you hit Anchorage then you will have more options. BTW, the hiking is spectacular!!!