For future reference, and for anybody interested, I will be listing some of the preparations we have undertaken, starting with the car.
Roads are to be expected to be of varying conditions, theoretically up to virtually inexistant, but we have tried our best to avoid the latter category through intense research on the web (forums, blogs, youtube videos). Especially in Nothern-Kazachstan we are expecting very remote roads in conjunction with severe cold (theoretically below -30°C) and constant snow. This requires a couple of preparations and considerations (including considering the conditions under which to abort the trip).
Car: Audi A4 quattro 1.9 TDI Avant.
The four-wheel drive + generally relatively robust Audi should do for what we are intending.
This is an issue, as normal winter diesel may cause issues around -20°C, because paraffins will flocculate and hinder the flow through the filter and/or the fuel lines. The constant fuel circulation in Audi/VW cars combined with the heating through locating the fuel filter very close to the engine results in tests showing that these cars would still run without problems in temperatures aournd -30°C with ordinary winter diesel (the flow of which is guaranteed down to -22°C in Germany/Austria). Other vehicles, as Opel, had shown issues with the cold already at -18°C.
I have been also consulting with an engeneer at Audi’s through an official contact channel. I was advised that that the operational limits for which the car has been desgined are reached with temperatures exceeding -30°C . Fuel additives, if available at all for lower temperatures, are risky, because they – I am told – thin-up the fuel, which, however, also serves as lubricant for the pumps and nozzles in advanced, modern diesel engines. (In addition, some of the better additives require use at temperatures over 0°C, which – obviously – only works, if you dispose over a heated garage). In countries like Russia, Polar Diesel is being offered. This may work at temperatures of -40°C to -50°C. Anyway, Audi advised that this fuel does not meet the standards required for their engines (though it remains unclear, whether this meant “formally” or “substantially”, I interpreted it rather as “it may work, but no guarantee”). Audi advised further that there wasn’t a market for diesel passenger cars in Russia and Scandinavia, implying that these fuels are intended for larger machines such as trucks.
There are no standard heating devices available to overcome this problem, unless one would set-up a highly individual solution. In this case, it might be far more advisable not to use a Diesel car at all. In our case, we will seek to avoid driving in conditions where temperatures will drop below -30°C. We will carry onboard at least 20l of Polar Diesel for emergency cases.
Tyres: Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 studded tyres (205/55 R16)
Tyres are another issue. Firstly, it would be a mistake to believe that “winter tyres” equal “winter tyres”. The rubber composition of each tyre shows optimal perfomance in a certain temperature range. Winter tyres for the central European market need to show best performance in a temperature range which is completely different from those designed for arctic conditions. Consequently, standard winter tyres will perform much worse in low temperatures than arctic tyres. Moreoever, each tyre is a compromise of trying to optimise its performance in different driving conditions, which would require conflicting design concepts. Central Europe knows mild winters, in which snow often becomes watery and a high-risk of aqua planing results from these conditions. Nordic winters involve black ice, hard snow surface and similar conditions. Nokian, one of the most prominent nordic tyre manufacturers, provides an instructive video:
Moreover, road conditions to be expected in Russia, Kazachstan and the other countries are fairly different from those in central Europe. Studying hours of Russian dashcam video footage of road accidents, it becomes quite clear that black ice – occuring unexpectedly even for locals, apparently – is a major threat. Addistionally, hard snow surfaces will be typical rather than exceptional. Therefore, in my assessment, studded tyres are a very good investment. They will significantly reduce the risk of loosing control over your vehicle (albeit this will obviously not prevent other cars from crashing into you, to be honest).
Videos on black ice:
Several indepent crash in safe-looking tunnel:
Standard Black Ice Videos (note that the worse accidents result from over-steering after loosing control, which makes the car then crash into the opposite traffic):
Performance of Studded Tyres on Ice:
Nokian Hakkapelitta 8 is among the top-performing studded winter tyres available on the market, according to my researches. It is also a very robust tyre, which may turn out helpful when trying to cross 3000km of ice desert in Kazachstan. Which in winter can look like this: Road to Astana (KAZ) in Winter.
A final remark concerning the tyre size: While I have no empiric proof, my personal experience is that slimmer winter tyres are NOT preferable, and that small difference are well noteable. Both on my Audi 90 quattro 20V and the A4 quattro 1.9 TDI performance significantly drops when mounting 195/65 winter tyres instead of 205/55 winter tyres. In both cases, my feeling is that a significant drop in control, also in deep snow, is th result. I have since returned to broader winter tyres and find that these have a significantly better handling and a larger security reserve.
For extreme conditions, I have a set of 4 Pewag Brenta snow-chains on-board.
Engine: cambelt (timing belt), all other belts, coolant pump, coolant heat exchanger, coolant temperature control unit, fuel filter replaced. Motor oil checked (also regarding artic temperatures), coolant for temperaturs down to -40°C.
Brakes: checked, brake fluid exchanged (because water included in used brake fluid can freeze).
All lubricants: checked (incld. gear box, hydraulics, differentials).
Tools and Materials on board:
- coolant antifreeze
- windscreen cleaning antifreeze
- motor oil
- hydraulic oil
- spare fuel filter (if flocculated fuel blocks the fuel filter, exchange will allow for shorter times to restart the engine (probably best in conjunction with admixture of polar diesel fuel)
- 2 x 20l Diesel
- 1 x 5l benzin (for emergency cases)
- torque spanner
- large set of standard automotive tools
- car jack
- 4 x jack stands
- hose clamp set
- wiring tools and materials + fuses
- wiring plan
- spare bulbs
- assembly plans
- 4 spare tyres (non-studded winter tyres)
- 2 snow showels
- 4 snow-chains
- starter cable set
- car battery charger unit
- fire extinguisher
- air pump (for tyres)