I’ve been a subscriber for several years, and have the following feedback on the “Don’t Get Stranded In Winter” article from your Jan/Feb 2009 issue.
The primary purpose of the holes these go in is to drain the sand (from the cores) after the engine block is cast. Protection against freezing is a secondary purpose, and should not be relied on. Also, while steel plugs corrode more readily than brass, brass brings its own problem: copper and its alloys have a stronger tendency to grab electrons than iron or aluminum, so brass freeze plugs increase the rate at which the water passages in your cylinder block corrode (although with the plug being much smaller than the block, this is unlikely to be the limiting factor in engine life).
Engine block heaters:
The article mentions that block heaters are a problem for off-grid people due to their high power consumption. There are fuel-burning block heaters available (e.g. the Espar Hydronic series, and the Webasto BlueHeat coolant heater, both of which have gasoline and diesel models), although they cost more than electric block heaters. These have no “outside the vehicle” connection required, so in addition to not draining an off-grid power system, one of these will let you run your block heater when you are away from home with no electrical outlet available (e.g. out in the bush on a hunting trip).
Winter specific “must-have” items:
- A bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt, or kitty litter (good for added traction).
While salt is used for de-icing pavement, it takes time to work, and the resulting slush gives even less traction than the original packed snow. Grit is a much better solution. Also, some of the “traction sand” available is so fine as to be virtually useless – you need fairly coarse (1/16″ to 1/8″) sand with sharp-edged grains (i.e. not the rounded grains from river-bottom sand). With kitty litter, you need the conventional (clay-type) litter, not the newer clumping or “pearls” type. Finally, don’t carry a bag of it – after you’ve opened the bag and used some, it can’t be re-closed properly, so it’s likely to spill all over the trunk of your vehicle. Instead, save and dry out some empty washer fluid jugs, and fill them with the grit.
- Jumper cables
Be sure to get a set that is both heavy-gauge (able to handle the current needs of a starter motor) and long enough to reach (you can’t always get the helper vehicle “nose to nose” with the dead one) – the 10 gauge 8 foot cables commonly included in automotive emergency kits are vitrually useless. I carry a set of 6 gauge 16 foot cables (long enough to reach even if the dead vehicle is parked “nose-in” with other cars on both sides) in my car, and 2 gauge 20 foot cables in my work vehicle.
Also, not all vehicles have a good ground easily accessible and within cable reach of the battery (last connection is made to a ground, **NOT** the negative battery terminal, on the dead vehicle, since a spark can ignite hydrogen gas). I have a “cheater cable” – simply a battery cable with the battery end replaced by a jumper cable clamp. Attaching this to the negative terminal of the dead battery provides a good electrical connection far enough away to avoid igniting the hydrogen gas. Finally, some jumper cables have a retractable “tongue” on their clamps for side-terminal batteries (used on GM vehicles), or you can get side-terminal adapters (look like a large spade lug with a tapered throat). Good to have even if your vehicle has a top-post battery – the other one might have side terminals.
Willowdale, Ontario, Canada