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Woof, it’s the tail end of winter in Ohio. The beginning of winter is usually mild (thanks, global warming) the end… brrr. Late January to mid-March sees temps below freezing and, of course, something will go critically wrong with one of my cars. So if you find yourself trying to wrench with frozen fingers like I do, here are some tips to make your experience less miserable.

Wear layers!

This is a good tip for doing anything in cold weather. Just recently I decided to take a crack at replacing Tiburon’s rear struts. It was barely 25 degrees out, the warmest high temperature we’d had in weeks. Yet, I was mostly comfortable. How? Layering, duh!

Underneath my oversized thrift-store jeans I wore a pair of leggings – tights or long-johns would also work. My feet were clod in my heaviest boots and big wooly socks. I wore a heavy long-sleeved t-shirt, chunky hoodie, and heavy wool hat. Wattpad-esque clothing description aside, the goal is to have layers that keep you warm but aren’t so heavy as to not be able to move around easily. If you get hot, take off a layer. 

Kneel or lay on something nice.

The ground is a cold, hard place in winter. Removing the struts on the Hyundai involved taking off a wheel and undoing a few nuts underneath the car. But, once again, it wasn’t so bad because I put a barrier between myself and the ground.

In this case, it was a large piece of cardboard. That cardboard worked well to insulate my body from the snow and ice, and surprisingly, it stayed mostly dry while working on the car.

Wear gloves and warm those tools up!

For me, my body heat stays fine – I’m midwest born and raised. My hands, though? Yeah no, my fingers get numb pretty quick when working in the cold. Wearing gloves, even thin nitrate latex gloves, go a long way to sealing in some of your body heat.

Metal tools can act as a heat sink; touching them is miserable. Ice cold tools stored outside can be especially hard to handle in cold temperatures. Consider leaving your tools inside, or doing something to warm them up (safely) before you hammer away at your repairs.
Maybe hit them with a hair dryer or a heat gun (briefly!) or leave them near a heater. Just don’t let anything get too hot because they can burn you, too!

Take more breaks, don’t be a hero.

I think we all move slower in the cold. Don’t rush! Give yourself more time than you usually would while doing a task. Try doing a little bit, then when the cold gets too intense, take a break. Go inside, watch a YouTube video, read some Car Bibles articles, drink a cup of warm cocoa, then come back out and do a little more. I promise, no one will judge you for it!

If you can, of course, heat your workspace.

If you’ve got access to a heated garage, use it! Remember, the cold makes metal contract, whereas heat allows metal to expand. Working in a warm garage, on a warmer car in theory should make the vehicle easier to work on. But not everyone has access, to that, so, whatever.

If all you’ve got is an uninsulated shack, you might still be able to warm it up dramatically with a space heater. Just be careful to read the instructions and make sure you’re not subjecting yourself to fumes. If you’re running an electric heater, keep in mind that those use a lot of power and shouldn’t be run of the same dinky extension cord you can use for Christmas lights.

Another step that might be worth taking, if you’ve got a shed or workspace with walls but not insulation, is to see what you might be able to do to make it trap heat better. Hanging moving blankets or even just stuffing rags or towels into holes and cracks could improve a structure’s heat retention.

Remember, frostbite and hypothermia can set in sooner than you’d think. And working on cars can be frustrating enough anyway – adding substantial physical discomfort makes it a lot more brtual. The goal is to get the job done, safely and comfortably. If conditions are dangerous, if it’s too cold or snowy, maybe put it off to the side and try again another day.

Good luck, stay toasty, and share some more cold weather tips in the comments!

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