Winter driving your MX-5
As darkness creeps in and winter descends, many of us will be packing our MX-5s away until next April.
However, there are plenty of reasons to keep driving your MX-5 through winter, and with the proper preparations and precautions, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Maybe it’s an only car and you still need to get about, or maybe you just want to smile as that communicative chassis begins to move around beneath you at much more manageable speeds. Or maybe you just want to make the most of the crisp, sunny days that winter can bring. After all, there are few things more enjoyable than being the wheel of an MX-5 with the top down, and the heater cranked to max on a brisk winter’s day.
Careful preparation will make the most of your winter adventures.
- Make sure that the boot contains winter safety essentials – an ice scraper, a first-aid kit, and the usual blanket/hat/gloves/torch/emergency food pack.
- MX-5’s are light and can be more likely to become stuck, so make a plan in case you unexpectedly strike heavy snow. Carry a telescopic shovel, some kitty litter or salt in a bag to melt the snow, and a tow rope. It shouldn’t be too hard to find somebody to tow you out if you become stuck, but they likely won’t have a tow rope themselves.
- Have the battery tested and replace it if there is even a hint of doubt as to its condition – the cold will exacerbate any existing issues, plus the added drain of the heater, fans and lights will place extra strain on the alternator.
- Carry a set of jumper cables – thankfully, the MX-5’s boot mounted battery makes jump-starting easy.
- Consider fitting winter tyres to a set of spare wheels and mounting them for the worst of winter – used sets of standard MX-5 wheels (the narrower the better) can be bought cheaply on Gumtree, and a decent set of winter tyres will transform your experience. The rubber used in summer tyres is not designed to work when the temperature gets much below 2 or 3 degrees, and they simply won’t grip in an emergency. Even a used set of winter tyres will be better than a new set of summer tyres.
- Religiously check all tyre pressures, and get a full wheel alignment. You don’t want the odds stacked against you before you even hit the road.
- Thoroughly wash and clean your MX-5 before you drive on gritted roads, and carefully apply a layer of good quality wax to the paintwork to help protect it. You may need to re-apply several times during winter, but the effort will be worth it.
- If possible, consider having the underside of the car sealed (or re-sealed) before driving on gritted roads.
- Check and make sure that the soft-top drain tubes are not blocked.
- Apply Vaseline to the seals where the door glass meets the roof – this will help to repel water and will keep the seals supple in the cold.
Behind the wheel:
The cold, sunny days will be rewarding, and when the weather turns they will be met by the joys of piloting an MX-5 in low-grip situations. You just need to approach it with care and respect.
- Take your time. It’s easier said than done, but allow plenty of time to reach your destination. If it’s particularly foul then reconsider your need to drive. If you do drive, do not become rushed or pressured under any circumstance.
- Regularly clear any built-up snow from the soft-top roof of an MX-5. The metal frame wasn’t designed to hold that weight.
- Give your MX-5 plenty of time to warm up before you drive. Oils don’t protect until they reach their optimum temperature. True, modern oils have a much wider operating range than older oils did, but you never want to put load on stone-cold components if it can be avoided. This will also allow time to remove any ice with your scraper, and to ensure that the windows are properly demisted. You don’t need to wait until the engine is fully warm, however. A good rule of thumb is to slowly drive away when the temperature gauge has moved the thickness of its needle above the ‘C’.
- Be particularly careful raising or lowering a vinyl soft-top roof if it is particularly cold, as the vinyl will shrink around the frame. The vinyl will rip if it’s too cold – only lower once the heater has warmed up the cabin of the car, and raise the hood as soon as you finish driving for the day.
- Always keep the fuel tank full – this will put more weight over the rear wheels which will help with traction, and it will avoid condensation building up overnight and freezing over the fuel pickups.
- When driving on slippery surfaces (and in general, too), absolute smoothness of all inputs is key. Drive as if there is a glass of water perched in between your legs, and you wish to avoid spilling it.
- Never become distracted; you could find an unexpected patch of ice around the next corner.
- If possible, try to find a wide, open and private space where you can find the slow-speed limits of your MX-5 in the ice and snow. Practise braking to a stop, turning into a slow slide and powering out of slow turns. We’re not encouraging you to go hooning about and you’ll need to find a private location to do this, but you’ll will be much better placed to avoid an accident on the road if you understand how your MX-5 will behave in an emergency situation and what its limits are. They may be surprisingly low.
- Sometimes, the Torsen LSD fitted to earlier MX-5’s will not lock when the car is stuck in snow. Consider a few light clicks of the handbrake; this will increase friction at the rear, and could encourage the LSD to lock and send more drive to the other wheel. Remember to release the handbrake as soon as you are free.
- And finally, during winter, thoroughly wash your MX-5, including the underside to remove any built-up grit. Consider investing in a high-pressure cleaner, and spray the underside after every major drive.