They say Spring comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. Well winter in Boston comes in like a sheet of ice scraped from God’s windshield and doesn’t leave until the black and brown remains of the last storm are scraped from the streets and melted on the sidewalks. We’re approaching, at dangerous speeds, that time of the year when those of us who keep our vehicles exposed on the streets and at the mercy of a vengeful mother nature dig feverishly through their toolchests to find something that might break 3 inches of ice accumulated over the windshield wipers, clear the foot of snow burying the exterior, and give traction to the rear wheels so they can pull out from the tire-shaped ice-sculpture trapping them in place.
Yes, it’s an exciting time to be a car-owning Bostonian. We wait in quiet expectation for Jack Frost to come for our cruisers with all the elements of a west-coast governer’s portrayal of Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin.
Luckily for us all, Park and Pray has some suggestions on surviving the weather to come:
- Gas-Line Antifreeze/Antiwater – The popular brand for this is HEET, but there are competitors out there. It is simply an antifreeze for your gas tank, keeping small collections of water from turning into fuel-system kidney stones and bringing your car to an unpleasant, lurching stop on the highway. Although not all cars need this, my old Saab would constantly die on me in the colder months if I didn’t put a bottle in with every tank of gas.
- Cooling System Check – Speaking of antifreeze, is that what’s in your cooling system? If you took short cuts over the summer and used water, it’s going to freeze up and damage the car. Remember, 50/50 split antifreeze/water. If you’re bringing your car in for any other service, have the station flush and refill it for you (should be free).
- Ice Scraper – The ‘hammer’ of the cold-weather tools, you’ll need a good, long-handled, sturdy as hell ice scraper. This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, but those clear plastic scrapers from 1970 keep your hands against the snow when you’re scraping it away and break too easily. Finding one with a brush on the back is a bonus for pushing off snow before scraping the ice.
- Snow shovel – Your second blunt instrument in the battle against the white stuff. If you’re new to the area: yes, you will be digging your car out from snow not only from the sky, but also thrown at it by snow plows and overzealous sidewalk shovelers. Strong plastic can be better than metal to avoid accidently damaging your vehicle while freeing it from an icy grave.
- Blanket – Any veteran of a cold-weather state knows to keep a heavy blanket in the back of the car just in case. Go to Marshalls and spend the $8 if you don’t already have one so that when the roadside assistance team finds your broken down car, they also find you inside instead of a human icicle.
- Oil Viscosity – Many cars, especially older ones, like to have a lighter weight oil in the winter. Check your manual. (mine likes 10W-30 in the winter, 10W-40 in the summer). If you’ve got a synthetic oil in your car (Castrol GT1, etc) this shouldn’t be required as synthetics are supposed to work well in all weather.
- Chains/Studded Tires – These are legal in Massachusetts from November 1st through April 30th, so if you really need to be on the road regardless of weather, they might be a worthy investment. I wish more people in the city had them, especially when I watch their cars sliding into mine while trying to pull out of an iced-over parking space on the hill.
- Know your snow emergency laws – They’re different for Boston and Cambridge.
- Parking-Space Marker – Don’t throw out that old A/C unit! It could be the perfect space saver for after you’ve cleared your parking space of snow, but be sure to get it out of the street within two days. Boston requires these to be removed 48 hours after a snow storm has ended.
- Insurance – A few people I know temporarily up their insurance coverage for the winter months because of the tendancy for people parking to slide into your car while getting into and out of a space (especially in places like Beacon Hill and Charlestown where you may well be parked on a hill). Depending on your policy, this may be easy enough to be worth it (Progressive lets you make adjustments right on the website at any time).
Finally, if any of the above makes you cringe, store your car! Seriously, all of these issues and warnings can be ignored by finding a nice family outside of the city with space in their garage and paying $50/month to keep your car there. Check out the Boston Craigslist Parking listings for some bright ideas.
Good luck out there!