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How-to: Winterizing Your Jeep 4WD or Dodge Ram Truck!

4WD Mechanix Magazine 1999 XJ Cherokee in the high desert winter

Our fleet of 4x4s works hard in the winter. At northern Nevada's high desert country, the '99 XJ Cherokee poses on a 5-degree F morning, sparkling in the frosty, 4,400-foot elevation air! Winters can get to -25 degrees F; summer reaches 108-degrees F.

  Jeep and Dodge Ram truck owners see 4WD as the best antidote to icy highways and severe winter weather. Winter is also a time to volunteer your 4WD's services—through 'search & rescue' and other types of community needs.

     I learned to drive and four-wheel around Carson Valley, Nevada—and the Eastern Sierra. After school work at full-service gas stations involved year-round vehicle care and maintenance. Early on, it was clear: Seasonal maintenance and preparedness pay off.

     Your Jeep or Dodge Ram truck earns its keep in winter. Given the tasks demanded and the need for reliability, winter requires preventive care and maintenance.

Tires and traction tread make the difference!

The right tires and the right tread type make a difference! These Toyos have been on the XJ Cherokee for six winters and many trails! Note the tread pattern for all-season use.

     Avoid excessive vehicle wear in the winter months. Winterizing can keep your Jeep 4WD or Dodge Ram truck in top form—throughout the year!

Mopar MaxPro 15W-40 motor oil for the 5.9L Cummins

95% of engine bearing wear takes place during start-up! The Dodge-Cummins engine works best with 15W-40 Mopar MaxPro oil. In sub-zero weather, this viscosity begs the use of an engine block heater.

  Note: With the block heater working through the night, the engine coolant reaches the 120- to 140-degrees F point prior to startup. The Dodge Ram's block heater was factory installed, a cold-climate option.

Use of a block heater

For me, winter preparedness begins with an engine block heater. This can be factory, dealership or aftermarket installed. On the XJ Cherokee's 4.0L inline six, the block heater neatly replaces a freeze plug. I installed this system in just over an hour.

Careful wiring of the block heater cord

Under-chassis wiring on a 4x4 requires protective shielding and careful routing. Here, a 110V cord from the block heater rises safely from the undercarriage. This heater is aftermarket. Block heaters are available from Mopar, Kat and others.

The nightly plug-in chore

The 110V cord is readily accessible—even in blizzard conditions! Note the use of a grounded, safety plug and a properly grounded extension cord. Attaching 110V current to a wet or ice-covered vehicle is dangerous. Hook the cord to the vehicle first, then to the wall outlet current.

Use of a Battery Tender

This is a permanent access plug for a Battery Tender. The greatest load on a battery is a cold start after the battery has set in cold weather. High surge alternator current, coupled with low battery state of charge, damages the battery. "Sulfating" is an issue created by battery draining, heavy starter draw and high recharge current.

Battery Tender lead

Since the Battery Tender gets a workout every cold season, I use the accessory "hard-wire" approach. The fused pigtail provides ready access to the plug at the grille. Use convolution tubing to protect these leads.

Battery Tender plugged-in at Cherokee

Here, the hard-wired lead on the XJ Cherokee exits the front of the grille. Accessible in the worst of weather, this pigtail accepts the Battery Tender lead.

Dodge Ram 3500 with winter hookup!

The '05 Dodge Ram 3500 4WD Cummins model gets hooked up, too! The dual OEM batteries are now over seven years old and still test in top condition, thanks to the use of a Battery Tender each winter. The vehicle sometimes parks for weeks on end. Starts are instant with the fully charged batteries. A second cord (yellow) is the OEM block heater, which protects vital engine bearings.

  Note: This diesel/Cummins 5.9L engine works well with recommended 15W-40 weight oil. In sub-zero weather, the engine block and oil are 120-plus degrees F after a night on the block heater. Block heater gets turned on the evening before planned use of the truck...The Battery Tender draws little current and is plugged-in whenever the truck gets parked, staying on until just before the next engine startup.

Battery Tender for a single battery

This Battery Tender has worked every winter for years! The device holds a peak charge on the battery without boiling out acid/water, preventing damage and sulfating. Battery Tender notes that this can extend battery life 3-5 years—my experience has proven this, especially with batteries that set for long periods in cold weather!

Two-battery Battery Tender

The two-battery Battery Tender holds the charge on the dual batteries in the Dodge Ram 3500 plus an additional battery. 110V draw is negligible. Continual protection, readiness and dramatically extended battery life can more than pay for this device!

Thermostat must be in peak condition for winter!

Most associate overheating with summertime driving. Actually, the most dramatic range of temperature cycling takes place in winter! Worn thermostats stick open or stick in the closed mode. Either way, this can be brutal on the engine...To protect the Dodge Ram's Cummins 5.9L diesel, we turn to Mopar's Genuine Cummins replacement thermostat.

Caution: Don't compromise with a "cheaper", brand-X thermostat. Value your Cummins or Jeep engine. Genuine Mopar parts deliver long, reliable service!

Inspect belts for fraying, cracks and weak areas.

Belts and hoses are important year round. Using the defroster on an air-conditioned model will cycle the A/C compressor; winter places as much load on the drive belts as summer! Inspect and replace belts when signs of wear are present.

Belts and hoses must be in top shape!

Belts and hoses must be in top shape for winter. Temperature cycling creates a huge load on these parts. This new Mopar drive belt for the 4.0L Jeep engine provides the reliability required!

Mopar anti-freeze meets your Jeep or Ram truck needs!

For winter, the need for anti-freeze protection is high on the list. Mopar Anti-Freeze/Coolant is our choice. Anti-freeze and coolant at a 50/50 mix (not pre-mix type) has historically provided a -34 degree F level of protection plus somewhere near 260 degrees F boil-over protection—when used with the right radiator cap.

Warning: Always check coolant concentration at the radiator—with the engine cold! Remove the cap carefully. Also check the concentration at the coolant recovery tank—with the engine cold! Use a common anti-freeze hydrometer.

   Quality anti-freeze/coolant has a five-year/100K mile lifespan under optimal conditions. For winter, make sure that both the radiator and coolant recovery tank have sufficient protection for your climate. 50/50 or -34 F protection is the minimum—even if you live in the tropics. This will deliver the boil-over protection required for your Jeep or Dodge Ram truck engine.

Checking engine coolant

You can see the coolant level at the side of the recovery tank. Look inside (with the engine cold!) for rust, scale and debris. Check the coolant/anti-freeze protection at both the radiator cap filler and the recovery tank. Use the recommended coolant!

Checking the cooling system at the radiator filler neck

Pressure testing the cooling system for leaks and weaknesses is a good idea. This will turn up loose clamps, hose damage, a leaking water pump seal or a bad cap.

Radiator cap tests off the radiator

The cap tests off the radiator once the engine has cooled down completely. Cap must hold recommended pressure to assure the right boiling point protection. The combination of anti-freeze/coolant and radiator cap pressure raises the boiling point. Strive for at least 260-degrees F protection.

Warning: Make certain the engine is off and completely cooled down before running a pressure test. Do not start the engine with pressure testing equipment in place.

Use Mopar winter wiper blades!

Mopar offers year-round and special winter wiper blades. In a climate like ours, these Mopar winter blades offer shielding from snow, sleet and ice buildup. See your Jeep® or Ram Truck dealer for details!

Windshield wiper tank protection

303 Windshield Washer tablets lower the freezing point. 303 Wiper Treatment will keep blade edges supple and help prevent wiper skip. Make sure the windshield washer tank has solution with ample anti-freezing protection.

Caution: Use a windshield washer solution specifically designed for cold temperature use. Washer lines and tanks can freeze and crack, just like the radiator or an engine block! Make sure the windshield washer system has protection for winter.