Frost resistance as a business: what is car tuning for the Far North
Long, expensive and complicated11 july 2023
The life of a car owner in the Arctic Circle is a saga of the confrontation between man and nature. The harsh Arctic climate significantly complicates the operation of the car in urban conditions, and on a long route, it can become a deadly threat. Adapting the car to the Polar Region has become part of everyday life and a profitable business for a number of Russian companies.
The main enemy of a car in the North is extreme cold. When the temperature drops below –35°C, problems begin: oil in the main units thickens, rubber elements become 'oaky,' struts freeze, and heat losses increase significantly. When the car is operated at temperatures below –40°C, the load on the engine increases by 25%, which significantly reduces
its life and trouble-free operation duration. If a car enthusiast leaves his iron horse outside in the cold at least overnight, in the morning, the battery can say goodbye, going to a better world with a more favourable climate.
To combat cold weather in the Polar Region, a car blanket made of non-combustible materials is used, which reduces engine heat loss during operation; engine oil, antifreeze and brake fluid for cold climates, the battery travels with the owner, and a portable garage is put on the car. This is a tent made from windproof and low-burning fabric that can maintain an acceptable temperature inside for about 10 hours. A heat gun is also a good idea to have at your disposal, which allows to 'defrost' the car in some enclosed space. Some car owners glue on a second layer of glass, creating an artisanal glass unit to reduce heat loss and weeping. The underside of the car is also reinforced with non-combustible fabrics. A common practice in cold weather is the continuous operation of the engine, which is not switched off for many days in a row. All this creates a constant demand for components and consumables for the vehicle fleet of circumpolar territories, which, taking into account the development of the economy of the AZRF, needs its suppliers.
It is important to note that the Polar Region is not equal in terms of natural conditions, and it is much easier for car owners in Murmansk than in Salekhard or, even more so, Tiksi. However, the basic rule works everywhere: the further you are from the city, the more carefully you have to take care of your car.
Car tuning for the Far North
It would be quite deceitful to call the work of companies preparing cars for Arctic conditions as 'tuning.' Rather, their projects can be defined as a comprehensive modification of cars to meet Arctic parameters. For example, the Russian division of Arctic Trucks, located in Krasnoyarsk, refining the Toyota Tundra pickup truck, changed the geometry of the body in the front part, widened the wheel arches, added spacers front and rear shock absorbers, put new bumpers and tyres 37 × 12.5" on aluminium rims. Other projects include winches, autonomous heating systems, and the shock absorbers and suspension components in cars are often replaced. Thus, Arctic Trucks prepares vehicles not so much for expeditionary conditions and off-road but for comfortable civilian driving in the Arctic. The additional off-road capability, reinforced body and power units make it possible to travel off-road without any problems, which is suitable, for example, for management personnel for inspection of remote sites.
For real polar off-roading, more substantial modifications are required. For example, Saiman Motors offers customers the installation of additional tanks, protection of important components on the underbody, autonomous heating, sleeping modules, changing the vehicle's firmware, etc. It's already a specialised expedition upgrade that allows travelling to the tundra for several months. Such vehicles are often ordered by companies to transport tourists to remote regions, by travellers themselves or by local companies whose facilities are located at a great distance from civilisation. The most popular for 'Arctic tuning' are Japanese off-road vehicles, UAZ Patriot and... native UAZ SGR (usually called as Bukhanka). In a situation where vehicle reliability and the ability to repair the vehicle with improvised means are critical, complex engines become more of a burden than an advantage. Nevertheless, the share of the domestic fleet as a basis for tuning passenger cars is very small. Specialised vehicles, on the other hand, are a different matter.
In fact, the second main direction of automotive tuning for the Far North is the modification of special equipment, mainly trucks, excavators and cranes. This requires substantial modifications that significantly enhance the operational characteristics of the vehicles. For example, the 'Northern Pack' of SpetsDorAuto company includes the replacement of plastic tubes of pneumatic system and power supply system with copper ones, installation of fuel line heating unit, insulation of driver's cabin with liquid coils with tosol cooling agent and an additional layer of thermal insulation, gluing of the second windscreen, etc. The company's main focus is not on off-road capability and survivability but on preserving the life and health of the driver in extremely cold conditions, together with ensuring the performance of all key units. Among the 'tuned' cargo vehicles in the Arctic, there are many products from domestic factories.
Surprisingly, there are no companies among the AZRF residents that specialise in car tuning. In 2021 in Yakutia, Voskhod opened a car service station in Tiksi, and there are several petrol stations and roadside service networks. On the one hand, the reasons for this are understandable—delivery of spare parts to the Polar Region will increase their cost to a cosmic value, there have never been many good specialists in repair and tuning, and the need for tuning cars mainly arises among enterprises and travellers, while the average Polar car owner continues to drive serial cars.
However, along with the development of infrastructure in the AZRF, logistics prices in the region should drop significantly, which will open up promising niches for car modification directly in the Far North. Perhaps 'Arctic tuning' will become more common on the ground, and there is a need for it.Read more Arctic roads: tundra vs. man Silent permafrost subversive activity