Driving a car during winter in Russia — tips from locals

It’s not as easy as it sounds: There are several banana skins that can make taking to the roads a nightmare. Be prepared and follow our advice!

Frozen windscreen wipers, dead batteries, icy roads, crazy drivers...this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to owning wheels in Russia. Read the following tips and you shouln't be driven around the bend.

Tyres and ‘shoes’

First of all, you have to “change your shoes,” as Russian drivers say, which means swapping your ordinary tyres for winter ones. Even in Moscow, the roads become icy and if your wheels are bald then you could find your car sliding all over the place. If you venture further out into the sticks, then you might need some even tougher tyres to traverse deep snow, thick ice, and frozen mud.

Important: According to new traffic regulations, you must have a “Ш” sign (meaning “шипы” - studs) on your rear window to show you have winter tyres installed.

It’s also a good idea to consider which shoes you’re going to wear when driving. Jumping into your car first thing in the morning in the winter will be cold - unless you’ve left the engine running for a few minutes before - so make sure your treads are warm. Also, it’s worth swapping the floor mats in the car for rubber ones: The snow, salt, and rain can damage material surfaces.

Under the hood

Old car or new car, in the winter you must be aware of what’s going on under the hood. First, make sure your battery is intact. For winter, it’s better to use a power cell with 60Ah or more. Nevertheless, it’s wise to buy a battery charger - if the temperature falls drastically, you may need it to kickstart your engine. A popular method for keeping the battery charged is to remove the clamp from the minus contact before leaving the car at night - it’s useful if leaving your wheels exposed to the elements.

Spark plugs also need to be checked. If your car doesn’t start, dirty contacts on the plugs may be the reason. And if you’ve got a diesel engine, don’t forget to fill her up with winter fuel.

When preparing for the colder months, also check your motor oil - it must have the right viscosity (indicated by a code). For example, when the code reads “0W-30,” it means the oil will work at temperatures from -35 to +30 degrees Celsius. So, for central Russia, where the mercury rarely falls below -30, oil with the codes “0W” or “5W” should be good.

Russian roads are dirty, so make sure you have enough windshield washer. Before the real cold sets in, remember to drain all the washer without anti-freeze, blocked tubes are a nightmare. Careful consideration should be taken when choosing washer for winter - it shouldn’t contain alcohol or have a strong smell as it will stink your car out.

Look for a liquid with a really low freezing point, around -30 degrees Celsius. This way, you’ll know you will be safe (apart from it you venture to Russia’s Far North!)

Car care

When it comes to cleaning your windshield, don’t forget to change your wipers. For winter, it’s better to use wipers with a firm metal framing - plastic may become deformed in low temperatures and scratch your windscreen. Always leave your wipers up when leaving the car parked, otherwise they will freeze to the glass.

Using silicone lubricant on all the car’s rubber seals (around the doors, boot, hood) can also prevent damage if they freeze. A de-icer spray is also useful to have on hand.

Make sure there’s enough room in your trunk for all of these winter items. A tow rope, ice scraper, brush for sweeping off the the snow, a shovel, and some gloves are recommended as well.

Staying legal

Getting stopped by the traffic police is not rare by any means, but you should have nothing to worry about it you stick to these rules: Keep your seat belt fastened, have all of your car’s documents to hand (insurance, driving license, etc.), and stay completely sober! Your license plates should also be free of mud and entirely visible.

According to Russian law, if you’re a foreigner you may be expelled from the country after committing two or more administrative offenses. Still, it’s not common - just be sensible.

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