It won’t be long now until the winter strikes Alaska, and if the place wasn’t cold enough already, you could be set to experience temperature drops as low as −50 °F (−45.6 °C). I hope you’re ready, as the Alaskan winter runs from the 21stof December through to the 20thof March, and it’s going to be cold either side of those dates too!
And just to clarify on the importance of truck winterization, it’s been said that a 3-month winter in Alaska can add around 3 years’ worth of wear and tear to a pickup truck!
With that in mind, it’s absolutely essential that you start making steps now to winterizing your truck now – don’t delay!
Whilst most modern pickup trucks will happily continue to run during the winter months, Alaska is a completely different proposition altogether.
It’s not just a case of assuming your truck will be fine, because it probably won’t.
If you don’t winterize your truck in Alaska, then here are just a few of problems you might encounter:
- Frozen radiator and wiper fluids
- Thickened oil that could damage your truck
- Accidents due to the wrong tire types
- Battery problems
So how can you winterize a truck for Alaska so that you can reduce the harm and damage that extremely cold weather can bring to your vehicle?
Here’s my guide on how to winterize a pickup truck for Alaska, including links to any tools and accessories you will need to buy – total cost should not be any more than $150 if you do decide to purchase my recommended items that you might not already own or won’t have budgeted for.
Replace & Re-Fill all Engine Fluids
The first thing you should do is change the anti-freeze. Now most of the standard anti-freeze products on the market which have been diluted 50/50 will be fine when temperatures drop down to minus 30 degrees.
However, in Alaska you’re going to get temperatures much lower than that, so I’d recommend that you buy an anti-freeze concentrate (view my recommendation) and mix that at a 70/30 ratio with distilled water.
Many garages in Alaska will do this for you, and they will aim for a 60/40 ratio, but I prefer to err on the side of caution as temperatures have been known to drop as low as −60 °F (−51.1 °C) in very rare cases.
Whilst engine oil can’t actually freeze, it will thicken up in cold weather and cause problems in your truck’s engine. This can cause some pretty big issues if it’s not thin enough.
In Alaska it’s worth looking to use a 5-weight engine oil instead of the traditional 10 weight. It’s a thinner oil which will flow a little better in colder temperatures.
If you’re not sure what oil type you have in your truck already then, it’s best to do an oil change anyway, so you can ensure you’re using a 5-weight oil rather than a 10.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Instead of the standard washer fluid you can get de-icer fluid that will work way better in colder temperatures, ice, and snow. The Prestone Windshield De-Icer is very good and has hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon.
You can mix this into your standard washer fluid if it’s already low or drain out the existing fluid and replace completely.
When you spray this stuff onto your truck’s windshield, it has a chemical compound in it that will help to melt the ice on the glass quicker.
Fuel Filter and Water Separator
As part of the winterization process you should also check that the fuel filter is maintained and in optimum condition. You will have to replace it, if it has become worn.
The water separator should also be monitored, but I would do that on a daily basis if possible.
In winter months it’s important to drain the valve to empty out any water that has collected. This will help to prevent damage to the truck’s engine where condensation can form in the fuel tank.
Battery & Engine Maintenance
In very cold weather you probably going to have starting issues with your battery. Did you know that your battery can actually explode if started in very cold minus degree temperatures?
The colder it gets, the less power your battery has. You might hear a “lugging” sound when it gets colder in Alaska or might not even get your truck started at all.
The items and processes below will help to keep your battery warmer and operational so that it starts a lot easier in the winter.
Check Battery Cables and Terminals
An essential part of winterizing a truck for Alaska is to check that the battery cables and terminals have no cracks or corrosion, plus look out for loose connections.
Also check the fluids in the battery to see if it needs topping up and make sure that the battery is charged enough and not nearing possible end of life.
Battery Pad or Battery Blanket
A battery blanket is wrapped around your battery and will keep it warm (take a look at this one on Amazon). You should plug it in at night and keep it powered up so that it keeps your engine nice and warm for the morning.
The battery pads will sit underneath the battery and helps to keep the bottom of it warm, circulating warmth up and around.
The Kat’s Battery Pad Heater on Amazon is ideal for this type of winterization job and can typically be picked up for less than 30 dollars making it a very solid and essential investment.
Portable Battery Charger
There might be a time where no matter how careful and prepared you are, the battery is going to die on you.
That’s why I also recommend the purchase of a portable battery charger.
Just having one of these onboard your truck will give you the peace of mind in knowing you’re set for most eventualities with your pickup’s battery.
Oil Pan Heater
The next thing that I recommend you use is something called an oil pan heater.
You can choose from either a magnetic or adhesive oil pan heater depending on the configuration of your truck’s oil pan.
With the magnetic ones they should stick, or you can use zip ties to attach them.
With the adhesive models you fire up the truck’s engine for a few minutes, let it get warm, and then you stick the oil pan heater to the gasket.
You then plug the oil pan heater into the mains and leave it there for the night, so it keeps the oil warmer overnight. This will mean that your truck will start up easier the next morning.
It’s so important as most of the wear and tear your truck’s engine will experience in cold Alaskan weather is during the start-up procedure.
The warmer you can get the oil, the easier and more efficient the start.
Engine Coolant Heater (Engine Block Heater)
There are different ways of doing this.
You can use the multi-purpose magnetic heater again from the previous step, or there are plugs that are specific to all truck models you can also use.
You need to find the right freeze plug hole for your engine, then plug it in there and then into the mains.
What is an Engine Block Heater?
In the cold winter months, you’re going to see cars and trucks parked up at malls and parking lots with extension cords sticking out of their hoods.
It’s particularly common in Interior Alaska in places near Fairbanks.
Those extension cords will be attached to their engine block heater which is then plugged into an exterior mains socket.
Handy Hint: Engine block heaters are only really best for truck drivers operating in areas where the temperature falls to minus 20. If you’re in minus 10 weather, it might not be worth you buying one.
The best and most affordable engine block heater I’ve used and the one that I recommend is the Zerostart block heater on Amazon. It has very good reviews and works great with pickup trucks.
Switch to Winter Tires
Winter tires are a must-have item, and typically will need changing onto your pickup truck from late September into early October.
If you don’t already own snow tires in Alaska, then now’s the time to get them. They will help to increase your traction on the snow and ice and make you a lot safer – as will tire chains – click the image here to see my recommended tire chains.
If you do already own a set of winter tires, then make sure you check the treads are good and take a look at the tire pressure. Low tire pressure can be a killer in the snow.
Make sure that the tread is still good if you are already running snow tires on your truck.
If it’s just dry powder snow then you might not have to change out all-season tires, but with the type of snow experienced in Alaska it’s best to change to solid snow tires.
You can buy either new or used winter tires, but I would always opt for new as it will give you the most traction in the snow.
Handy Hint: If you opt for studded tires, then these must be removed from your vehicle between May 1st and October 1st in Alaska.
Protect Your Pickup Truck Bed
If you use your pickup truck for work and hauling stuff around, then it’s a good idea to protect the bed with a spray on bed liner.
Not only will it protect your truck’s bed from scratches, paint chipping, and corrosion, but it will also offer an anti-skid surface that will help when you’re pulling items in and out during freezing weather.
Frozen Door Locks
Keep some glycerine at home, and not inside of your truck as that won’t help you at all if the door locks are frozen up.
You can buy this stuff in most hardware stores and it will help you quickly de-ice the locks before you set off.
I also advise having some in the truck as well, as I’ve seen gas caps get frozen up too which is pain if you’re at the gas station for filling up with fuel.
Keep a Full Tank of Gas
Ok so perhaps not 100% full but aim for at least 75% during the winter months.
The temperature fluctuations during an Alaskan winter can lead to condensation in your truck’s fuel tank.
That condensation can then freeze up and cause blockages in fuel lines.
Another good reason to keep a fuller tank is that if you do get stuck in snow, you can keep the engine running to keep yourself warm until help arrives.
Have a Truck Winter Emergency Kit
Should the worst happen, and you do break down or have an accident in the snow, then it’s essential to be prepared for all eventualities.
That means packing an emergency kit with some essential items to help you in an Alaskan winter.
- Road flares
- Jack and lug wrench
- First aid kit
- Blanket, gloves and hat
- Sand or grit to help tires grip in snow
- Ice scraper and brush
- Small shovel
- Spare coolant
- High energy snacks
Handy Hint: I’ve put together everything that you need to buy in your Truck’s Winter Survival Kit, including links to the best prices and where to buy online.
Keep Up Regular Truck Maintenance
If you’re not the type of person who is good with trucks or cars, then always ensure that your vehicle is regularly maintained by a professional.
Before the temperature drops too far, take your truck into a trusted garage before the winter months and have them check over items such as everything detailed in this guide plus the belts, spark plugs, and hoses.
The bottom line is, your truck should be well maintained all year around, not just when it comes to winterizing it in Alaska.
When is the Best Time to Winterize Your Truck?
I’d always recommend that the point temperatures start to drop into single digits and the initial negatives is the time to start winterizing.
If you the follow the above steps and processes then there’s no reason why you won’t be fully prepared for the harsh Alaskan winter that is just around the corner.
Here are some more of those winterization tips shown above in a video format.
How to Cope with Being Stranded
By now you should hopefully have a far better understanding on how to winterize your truck for the winter in Alaska.
But what should you do if the worse was to happen and you did end up getting stranded?
Do you have a plan in place?
Here are some tips on what you should do if this should happen to you:
- Stay near your pickup truck: only start walking away if you are within sight of help. Your pickup will offer you protection against the elements until help arrives.
- Call for help: use your phone to call family, friends, or a breakdown service. Always carry essential numbers with you in the truck.
- Attract attention: earlier I reference having an emergency kit in your truck. Place the flares outside the truck to attract attention, or if you don’t have any, tie a piece of bright colored clothing out of a window.
- Clear snow near the tailpipe: do not turn your engine on if you can’t get rid of the snow around the tail pipe. You should be able to run your truck for 10 minutes every hour to help generate warmth in the cab.
- Wrap up warm and cosy: use blankets and any extra clothes you have in your pickup to make you and your passengers as warm as possible until you are rescued.
I frequently visit relations in Alaska, making at least an annual trip there every Christmas.
They were helpful enough to give me a hand with this guide based on their own first-hand knowledge, so I wanted to extend my thanks to those guys!
Having driven there extensively in the snow, I know how terrifying it can be for drivers who haven’t had to deal with these types of extreme conditions before.
But with a little preparation, there’s no reason why you can’t successfully winterize your truck for the winter in Alaska.
I truly hope that this helps you this year, and you continue to enjoy driving your pickup truck without getting into any difficulties!