Preparing Your Bus for Icy Weather

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassador, Paul SZ

Gone are the carefree days of summer that promised an easy-breezy Buslife journey. Now, as the winter rolls in, so do the cold frosts. Whether you’re in the Norwegian fjords or the hinterlands of Alaska, snow and icy roads are inescapable. If we don’t want the weather to get the better of us, we must prepare our VWs for the threats of snow and ice. From the how-tos of driving on icy roads to the small tips and tricks for keeping warm, this article is the Buslife winter survival guide you didn’t know you needed.

How to keep your interior cozy

Insulation

It might seem obvious, but the importance of good insulation can never be stressed enough. It’s the difference between waking up to the ghostly sight of your own breath condensation in the morning and waking up well-rested and warm. Wool, board, and foam insulation are the most viable options for VW Buses, the pros and cons of which can be found in A Full Guide to Your VW Bus Renovation.

Heating systems

While it’s totally possible to survive winter without a heater (admittedly you do have to be a little crazy), an efficient heating system will truly be the V to your W Bus. Especially if you’re not impressed by your vehicle’s insulation. There’s a number of different heating options to explore; the diesel heater, the 12v electric heater, a propane-powered air heater, and the oh-so-adorable mini log burner. Below, we have recommended some of the most trustworthy heating systems on the market for VW Buses.

Diesel heater: Espar Airtronic D2 Air Heater

12v electric heater:  Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater

Propane heater: Propex Air Heater

Log burner: Kimberley Small Wood Stove

Find out more about keeping your VW Bus heated in Tips for Keeping Warm and Dry article.

heaters4you.com

Winter Buslife accessories

You can never be too prepared when it comes to keeping yourself and your bus warm during the cold spells, so make sure you pack all the extra winter warmers you can get your mittens on. Blankets, hot water bottles, and hand warmers will make winter Buslife a (warm) breeze. The best accessory, however, is window covers. When the windscreen is wrapped with an insulated cover from the inside, it traps a layer of warmth in between which prevents the window from frosting over. As you can imagine, Buslife days are so much more enjoyable when they don’t start with a sulky windscreen scrape.

Don’t neglect your pipes

Whilst keeping yourselves warm is essential for surviving winter Buslife, it’s also vitally important to keep your pipes toasty too. In freezing temperatures, the water in your tank, pump, and pipes could easily freeze leading to many winter woes. Not only could it mean you are without running water, but it could also cause significant damage to every part of your water system from your tank to your tap. In order to keep your water system sailing smoothly, you have to give it more attention than a golden retriever puppy.

The main way in which you can keep the water running is simply by keeping your VW Bus’ inside temperature at a cozy 18 degrees celsius or above. This combats the threat of frostbite for the most part. But it’s recommended to take extra precautions like wrapping the pipes and hoses with heat tape just in case. 

If you have done all you can to try and heat your bus but, for whatever reason, it just isn’t enough, then your best bet is to drain your tank completely. Yes, that means you’ll be out of water which isn’t ideal if you’re knee-deep in the snow somewhere in the Swiss Alps. However, it’s better than having to repair your water system further down the line.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Give your engine some love

When outdoor temperatures drop, your engine also dips below its normal operating temperature, which can sometimes make it tricky to start. In the automotive industry, this is rather cleverly known as a ‘cold start’. It was a major problem for vehicles from the early 20th century. However, starter motors were later introduced to give the engine the encouragement it needed to start in imperfect conditions. Yet, engine problems do occur occasionally (especially in icy conditions) and it’s best to know what you’re facing if they do.

If your engine is stuttering but not starting after a cold spell, don’t panic. It’s likely that the dip in temperature has caused a higher engine compression, an imbalance air-fuel ratio, or more viscous engine oil. Nothing that can’t be solved, we promise!

The best way to resolve the problem is to wait until temperatures are more optimal for starting the engine. But if you have a date with a snowboard on a playful mountainside and just can’t wait for a snowflake longer, try these tricks:

Starting fluid

Dose your engine with a vile of starting fluid. Of course, adding any kind of chemical to your engine should not be done without caution. Read these steps to using starting fluid to ensure you do it properly and remember not to rely on it too heavily.

Jump leads

Give your VW Bus a boost with some jump leads. Every Buslifer should carry these leads with them everywhere they go, but if you don’t own any it is likely someone else will so just ask around. A quick zap and you’ll be back in action.

Glow plugs

If you own a diesel vehicle, carry spare glow plugs and replace them if necessary. Glow plugs will heat the fuel and air as they contact the engine to encourage better fuel combustion. 

Service your bus

Replace the coolant and engine oil. If these vital engine liquids have been stewing in your VW Bus for a year or more, it’s likely they have gathered dirt and dust which makes them less efficient. By draining them and replacing them with fresh liquid before jack frost arrives, your engine has a greater chance of maintaining a stable temperature.

Don’t lose your cool over icy windows 

Another obstacle to contend with during the winter months is the icy build-up on your windows each morning. And despite how much extra time we give ourselves to defrost the windows, the process always seems to feel long and languishing. 

As tempting as it is to take the easy route, don’t pour boiling water onto your windscreen. It may clear your field of vision quickly, but it could mean going straight to the vehicle repair shop for a brand new windscreen fitting afterward. The glass expands when it’s heated and contracts as it cools, causing it to crack. Here are some safer and more effective steps you can take instead.

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, VWT3 SCS

Turn on your heaters

The best way to clear your icy windscreen is by slowly heating your car by turning on your engine and blasting your blowers on full heat. This gradually and safely melts the frost and allows you to scrape it with ease.

Spray de-icer

For a quicker fix, simply spray de-icer onto the icy sections of your windows. As the liquid freezes at temperatures far below freezing, it instantly melts the ice and gives you gin-clear views of the gorgeous scenery from your VW Bus. Be wary of where you spray though because this nasty stuff can attack your car paint and leave you with unwanted rust.

Concoct your own de-icer mixture

Mix two parts of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar with one part water and voila! You made your very own de-icer.

Let the ice thaw

This might not be the miracle solution you were hoping to hear, but if time is on your side, simply wait for the ice to thaw on its own. Letting nature take its course is always the safest solution for your VW Bus in order to keep it so handsome and hunky.

Top tips for icy windows

  1. Ensure your window wipers are switched off before the car starts. This will avoid the possibility of them snapping from the resistence of ice as they glide along the window.
  2. Install durable wiper blades to give you greater peace of mind that they can keep your window clear even with the heaviest snow or ice.
  3. Keep a bowl of cat litter on your dashboard to absorb condensation circulating through the van. This can greatly reduce the amount of icy build-up when temperatures plummet. 
  4. Don’t forget to wrap your windscreen with that trusted window cover! Again, this prevents ice build-up and the potential spurt of anger that might ensue from having to scrape it off every morning.

Treat yourself to some new treads

If you know you will be driving somewhere with guaranteed snow, swapping your regular tires to winter tires is a must. In fact, in most countries, it is a legal requirement that can result in fines and driving bans if not abided by. Winter tires have a deeper tread and, therefore, a stronger grip on the road’s surface when driving. This makes the vehicle safer, more sturdy, more reliable, and more fuel-efficient when navigating icy roads.

For those traveling to Narnia, or somewhere else equally snowy but more easily reachable, add snow chains to your tires too. Like winter tires, the chains give the vehicle a better grip and greatly decrease the chances of skidding and/or crashing that beautiful VW Bus of yours.

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassador, The Tonio Project

All you need to know about driving on snowy and icy roads

Once your VW Bus is all kitted out for its snowtastic adventures, there’s nothing left to do but drive into your winter wonderland, right? Well, not exactly. Your VW Bus might be prepared, but are you? Driving in snow and on icy roads comes with its own set of skills that you must know before you hit the road. Here are the rules of the icy road:

Plan ahead

Before you set off on your journey, there are certain precautions you must take to make sure you won’t hit any bumps, or shall we say icebergs, along the way. 

  1. Check the weather forecast to avoid facing potentially dangerous conditions like hail, snowstorms, icy roads, strong winds, or extremely cold temperatures.
  2. Plan your route well in advance of your drive to ensure the roads you plan to take are safe and unobstructed. For the best chances of safety, stick to main roads only.
  3. Check traffic updates to see if there have been any accidents or other hold-ups along the route you plan to take.
  4. Ensure your vehicle is prepared for the drive by filling your tank, and double-checking everything from your lights to your windscreen wipers are working properly.

Driving precautions for icy conditions

When driving on snow or black ice, there’s an increased risk of danger. However, there are certain driving techniques you can employ to stay as safe as possible.

  1. Pull away in second gear rather than first because it provides greater resistance to propulsion and a more steady rolling start on icy roads.
  2. Avoid harsh acceleration as it can spin your vehicle out of control. Instead, keep your foot light and nimble whenever it touches the accelerator
  3. Choose lower gears when driving. You will have more control should you skid on icy patches or have to break suddenly.
  4. Lower your gears one by one as you slow towards a halt to give you more control over your vehicle.
  5. Begin to slow your vehicle to a halt sooner than your normally would. Obviously, stopping distance is longer on a road that provides less traction.
  6. Leave plenty of space for the vehicle in front of you to allow for more time to brake.
  7. Keep your eyes peeled for the quality of driving of other vehicles around you and have patience with slow drivers.
  8. Don’t slam your brakes in icy conditions. Your wheels are programmed to lock during an emergency stop which could cause skidding on ice or snow.
  9. Lift your foot off the accelerator and keep the car pointed forward if you hit black ice. However, if your back end spins, turn the steering wheel towards the direction in which the back end is pointing.

Safe travels!

Yes, there’s a lot to take into consideration when preparing to drive your VW Bus towards the snow and ice. However, you can never be too cautious when it comes to road safety, right? Plus, many of the precautions and additional daily tasks involved in winter Buslife become second nature before you know it. Happy winter adventures!

Emily Draper
Author: Emily Draper

Having visited over 70 countries across all seven continents, it's safe to say Emily has the voice of a true traveler. She has lived with the Hare Krishnas in Chile, an Amazonian tribe in Peru, and a retiree named Jerry in a Wisconsin trailer park. Now, Emily has embarked on the coolest adventure yet: across Europe in her self-converted bus.

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