Category Archives: Wostok 2.0

::: t+04d // Kursk 2


I have a new surprising insight: Russia is cold! Not a bit cold – very cold. And this is only the very West of Russia, and anyway most Russians will laugh at us and think of – 17°C as moderate temperature, I suppose. But at least people at Kursk agree that these days are unusually cold, even for their standards. Maybe they were just being polite, though…

To recharge the car’s battery, which after the generator failure of yesterday would not charge anymore, we decided to  take it togehter with a charger to our room. Unfortunately, it is way more complex to demount a battery from an A4 than it used to be on an Audi 90 quattro 20V. This, however, only  means that (unneccessarily) many covers needed to be dissassembled, in relatively narrow space. Not too funny at almost -20°C with a flash light, but ok  – in most other contemporary cars it would have been way worse.

Back in the room we found that my Bosch Charger was lacking one of the mounting clamps (my mistake), which was a bit disappointing, until I fixed that with the starter cable.

With the freshly charged battery we drove in the morning to find the Skoda or Volkswagen repair services. We had checked the spare part’s details the night before (this A4 uses a Valeo generator, instead of a Bosch, which unfortunately would have been the better choice (quality, lifetime, spare part supply)). The Valeo had been used in several different Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda, even BMW. So, once a garage would be open, we should relatively easily be able to retrieve it.

Unfortunately, all of these were closed due to the Russian New Year’s Holidays. We then drove into another part of the city, of which we knew there were a couple of smaller independent garages. Having arrived, we immediately found a hand-painted sign “автозвук 12 Вольт“. Auto-something, 12 Volt. This sounded promising… (really it means: Auto Sound (sic!) 12 Volt, but well, we did not know this).

Passing through the backyards of socialist concrete blocks, we were following more hand-painted signs, until we reached an old yards surrounded by several garages. Out of a nearby bulding a man came and was about to lock the door, so I just stopped the car and ran towards him. I was able to stop him, until my co-driver arrived who spoke to him in Russian. He told us a number: “32!”. – “What?” – “32.”. We must have looked really stupid… “Garage 32. There! Go go!”.

So we went to one of the many garages, the one with the number 32, and stood somewhat helpless in front of the door. “Go go!, Enter!”. Beyond the door was a dimlit room, an incredbly vast collection of scrapped generators, batteries and all other electrical parts of old cars, and an old russian guy in the middle of it.


While my co-driver tried to explain our problem in Russian, I started to look around. Quickly I spotted a stack of small devices on an old fridge in the room’s center: Voltage Regulators of car generators – the part which holds the carbon brushes that most likely we would need to change.

I drew the old men’s attention to the parts. “Ah.” he said and lauged out loud. “Yes yes, but only Russian car!”. Ok. Meanwhile three other Russians had arrived, one of which spoke a little English. We were discussing for some time, and they made several calls for us: all shops were closed. Then, they figured out somebody who would  have such spare part, but we would need to demount the generator. Really, this is not necessary to exchange the carbon brushes, and – again – it takes way more effort than on my earlier Audi, but they wanted to check the generator itself. Unfortunately, somebody would need to come to demount the generator, and we would then need to bring it by taxi to another guy who would check it and had the spare parts. That would be the only solution for today. Meanwhile, however, it turned out that Volkaswagen Service would be open the next day – on Sunday – which then led me to the decision that another night in Kursk would be the right way forward. We chatted a bit more, and gave a heartily goodbye. Three guys investing 45min to find you somebody else to repair your car – that would be rarely found back home.

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We used the rest of the morning to do some shopping and have an early lunch, and re-checked in into our previous hotel. In the afternoon, spirits lifted again, I suggested to mount the studded tyres, which almost everybody drives in Russia and which come-in quite helpful. So we unloaded the car, the tyres, lifted the car and started demounting the normal winter tyres.

When I started mounting the first studded tyre I noticed it would not fit perfectly to the wheel’s hub. I was confused as the rims should perfectly fit to the car. I then remembered a set of blue rings which came with the rims. Indeed, they would fit into the center of the rim and probably make them fit to the hub. However, I was starting to get very cold after more than an hour outside, and I was not entirely sure, and I did not want to mount anything to the wheels the use and mounting of which I was not familiar.

So we remounted the old tyres and re-packed the car. It was only later that day that I had the chance to read-up on the internet the meaning of these rings. They are centering rings that come with all third-party rims to allow the rims’ manufacturer to somewhat go “one-size-fits-all”. Mounting them was described the easiest thing in the world: just push them in. Guess I should have read that earlier…


::: t+03d // Kursk


Originally we intended to start the trip on 30 Dec in the afternoon. Now, things do not always work as planned and so it was only after a relatively short distance that I noticed that the right front brake wouldn’t work properly. When this issue became more and more intense, I finally took a stop to have a look – and found a darkly red glowing brake disc. The failure was relatively clear: brake calipers in Audis tend to get stuck if they are older, causing a bearly noticeable slight, but constant touch of the break eventually resulting in great heat and fatigue. There was nothing to be done than slowly returning home, stopping at each motorway station or parking to cool the brake with water.

Now, the issue is that clearly31 Dec is not a very good date to get a brake being repaired. Moreover, on 1st Jan obviously all garages are closed, and so they are on 2nd and 3rd this year, because this is saturday and sunday. That created a serious risk of delaying the entire trip for over 4 days, rendering many of the envisaged waypoints questionable. Luckily enough, the great mechanics team of the garage I am working with, was willing to repair the car on 31 Dec directly in the morning – the owner personally driving around the city to try and collect that spare parts! (Try that at Audi’s contractural garages: you won’t even talk to a mechanic, and without scheduling repair a week ahead, nothing will ever happen!).

It was almost noon when we finally hit the road. The dark grey intense rain showers gave way to a fair winter afternoon east of Berlin, and then into Poland on perfect roads to the western outskirts of Warsawa. Strange to pass by this country so meaningful to me in such haste, excited about the unkown lands to the East, and bittersweet about PL at the same time…


We reached the border to Ukraine around 23h00. The formalities taking around an hour we almost experienced the perculiar situation of missing New Year: Ukraine is UTC+2 while Poland is UTC+1, and when you pass the border between 23h00 und 24h00 in eastern direction on 31 Dec it will never be 00h00.

A lonesome road through the dead of the night, seemingly endless woods and a straight line of tarmac for miles in the middle of nowhere. Surreal to talk to friends and relatives on the satellite phone at 01h00 (which was 00h00 back home) while driving through that lonely night. 580km and 5 hours later, Kiew. Meanwhile snowy roads, open fuel statiosn which would not sell any fuel, but resulted in me leaving petrol cap on the car’s roof… we noticed the noise of the flap closing only some 10 kilometers later, turned and with the help of the GPS found back the fuel station in the heart of Kiev’s labyrinth of roads. I was walking down the speedway with a flash light, and really, after a few meters, I finally found back the fuel cap.

Dawn some miles north of Kiew, very snowy, deserted roads and beautiful landscapes. This looks very far from home already, remote.

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-18.5 °C in Eastern Ukraine.

Around 11h00 we finally hit the Russian border. On the last meters the Ukranian military stopped us, the guy was very friendly and asked us to drive some documents to his colleauges at the border post some kilometers down the road.

Ukranian customs were way less friendly and moroons though! While entering Ukraine from Poland with a fairly well organised, professional process, exiting Ukraine on the Eastern border was a nightmare. The customs police would not speak any other language than Ukranian and the result was that we had to unpack the car completely and that EVERY of our aournd 25 bags was checked in detail, and half of the car disassembled. All that in the biting cold of around -17°C. This took certainly 2.5 hours by itself. The Russians were way more professional, but we had to unpack again our entire luggage, This procedure plus border formalities took another hour and we were quite frozen by then. When already we thought we had made it, we were asked to fill-out 3 customs forms. And that now was the final nightmare. With lots of it being available in Russian only, and many of the questions being understandble only with good knowledge of the Russian system, it took us around 10 approaches, equal to another 1.5 hours, until we finally got the stamps.

We continued to drive when dusk was already falling… my first time in Russia. Though entirely frozen, our spirits started to lift again, only when we noticed some 20 kilometers short of Kursk that the battery voltage was dropping. This indicates a generator problem, and that is most likely carbon brushes being worn out. The replacement procedure is quick, easy and cheap, but you’d need the spare part. I used to carry one onboard on my old Audi 90 quattro 20V, but not yet on the A4 quattro. So we headed for Kursk, found a hotel, and hope to replace the carbon brushes tomorrow. Only issue is that all Russia is on vacancy from 01 Jan to around 07 Jan due to New Year and Orthodox Chrismas… let’s see!


::: t-01d // A snapshot of weather forecast


We will pass through Aktobe probably around Monday next week (if all goes well), but at least the weather forecast indicates the mentioned preparations were not too far off the mark.

Otherwise, I have been performing a couple of tests over the last days.  The torches are amazingly wind-proof, once they are burning properly (which takes a few minutes), it was impossible to extinguish them unless using a pot of water. Moreover, the Sat-Phone works quite well, too. While in the beginning I was under-estimating the importance of a clear line-of-sight to the sky, the use of an external antenna resulted in a constant strong signal even in quick movement with absolutely acceptable transmission quality.

::: t-09d // Preparations & Equipment – Pt. II

The worst case scenario to be considered presumably is:

  • car break-down including failure of coolant system (e.g. broken radiator and/or hoses)
  • resulting in a complete loss of engine power and coolant, and therefore loss of any heating mechanisms provided by the car
  • a remote place combined with snowy conditions, which may cause rescue times up to 48h hours
  • no mobile network coverage
  • bad weather conditions with temperatures down to -30°C

Although such a situation is hopefully unlikely, in particular break-down of the coolant system (esp. in artic conditions with extreme temperature gradients (-30°C air temp, 100°C coolant temp) and resulting fatigue) is definitely within the range of scenarios to be considered.  Rescue times should typically range between 12h to 24h, but in worst cases (road blocked by shifted snows and/or avalanches)  48h may occur.

Outdoor Equipment:

  • 3x magnesium signalling torches
  • 25 torches
  • 3x5m tarpaulin
  • Zippo + fuel + flints + wick
  • swedish fire steel
  • vaseline + cotton wool as tinder (need to check it)
  • sleeping back (extreme temperature: -28°C)
  • 2l catalytic cooking benzin + 5l standard benzin + 40l diesel
  • benzin cooker: coleman 533-700e
  • cooking gear
  • 2x LED Lenser 85 Lumen + Lithium Batteries Energizer L91 (Lithium batteries show better performance in low temperature environments, operating range: -40°C to 60°C)
  • snow shoes (e.g. to move easily to positions with good satellite reception or suitable signalling exposition)
  • Satellite Phone (Iridium, which as a LEO device should perform slightly better in mountainious regions than phones that use geo-stationary satellites)
  • food reserves with high energetic value
  • water + pot to melt snow
  • mineral tablets
  • basic medication/ first aid kit
  • Thermosflasks


::: t-10d // Preparations & Equpiment – Pt. I

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.

Fuel: Diesel.

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).

Lights: checked.

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
  • tape
  • wire
  • tubes/hoses
  • 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
  • tow-rope
  • starter cable set
  • car battery charger unit
  • fire extinguisher
  • air pump (for tyres)



::: t -10d // Initial Thoughts

Well, this is for those who wish to follow our road trip to the East for a while. The general idea behind this is – as always – skiing holidays, naturally. As the Alps turn out to be less and less suitable for skiing (unless, of course, you do backcountry skiing, which however is a completely different story), while simultaneously becoming more and more expensive, we are looking for alternatives. The real story, of course, is that skiing in remote places allows you to do phantastic roadtrips through unique landscapes where otherwise you’d never seriously would want to go to taken into accout the effort it takes.

Now, what we are aiming at are Kyrgyzstan, Kazachstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The route will probably lead through Kiew (UKR), Kursk (RUS), Saratow (RUS), Uralsk (KAZ), Aktobe (KAZ), Aralsk (KAZ), Shymkent (KAZ). From there onwwards a circle through UZB, TJK, KGZ (or vice versa). This, of course, in theory. Depending on wheather and road conditions we may end up in Caucasus “only”, which is not the worst destinantion, either. Depending on the the time we’ll have and the road conditions we’ll find, a return via Gergio, Turkey and the Balkans might be considerable.

Possible Route, Part I

Possible Route, Part II