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7 Mar 2023
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Mammoth Vacation Planning

When you’re in Mammoth Lakes for vacation, you’re focused on skiing, snowball fights, and where in town to find the best happy hour. You’re probably not thinking about whether your car is in danger of being hit by a snowplow or accumulating ice in the fuel lines.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few of these considerations to be aware of when you have a car in extreme cold like Mammoth. The good news is, they’re mostly avoidable if you know how to care for your car in the snow.

In this article, we’re going to cover some do’s and don'ts of caring for your car in Mammoth so that you can focus on having a great time.

Do: Keep your gas tank at at least half full

If your stomach dropped when you saw the gas prices driving into town, you’re not alone. We all cringe at the high gas prices in Mammoth. But even so, it’s important to keep your tank at least half full while you’re here.

This is because a tank low on fuel is more prone to gathering condensation. When water has a chance to accumulate in your fuel lines, and then freeze, you’ve got a bad situation on your hands.

Having a half-to-full tank of gas is also a safety issue. If you find yourself stranded and waiting for an emergency crew to rescue you, you’ll need to turn your car on periodically (always making sure the exhaust pipe isn’t covered in snow) to stay warm.

Don’t: Forget that EV cars work differently in cold weather

We love that there are more EV cars visiting Mammoth these days, and we’re trying to make the town more EV-friendly all the time by installing more charging stations.

But, there are a few things you should know about operating an electric vehicle in the snow.

For one thing, you may experience issues with your regenerative braking system, at least for the first few minutes of driving. This is because the battery needs to be warm in order for this function to work. The warming up process, of course, takes longer in the cold.

Secondly, you’ll likely experience faster battery loss up here in the mountains. There are a few reasons for this, one of which being that EV cars rely on the battery to keep the car warm, unlike a gas-powered car that can benefit from the excess heat released from the engine. For this reason, it’s not recommended that you run on anything less than 20% when you’re here. Just like with gas-powered cars, you do not want to be stranded without power in an emergency situation.

Finally, keep in mind that charging an EV battery in the cold will take longer. So, you’ll want to give yourself more time than usual to charge up.

All of that being said, it’s not all bad news. Many EV cars provide great handling in the snow, some even better than gas-powered cars! This is because of their equal distribution of weight and low center of gravity. 

Do: Park in designated parking areas

One of the biggest challenges of navigating Mammoth during the winter is the lack of road signs and street markings. For those of us who are here year-round, we know, more or less, where the lanes are on Main Street and where the parking spots are in front of Vons. But if it's your first time up here, we understand that it can be confusing!

That’s why it’s incredibly important that you follow our directions for parking on any of our Mammoth Mountain Reservation properties. We know where your car will be safe from snow removal equipment or towing from the town.

Don’t: Let your car get completely snowed in

There’s nothing we hate to hear more than the crunch of a snow-covered car hit by a plow. The fact is, snow removal teams don’t have x-ray vision. If a car is completely snowed-in and parked in an area on their snow removal route, it’s at risk for getting hit.

And, while you’re certainly not responsible for shoveling out parking lots during your stay in Mammoth, it is a good idea to at least clear enough snow that your car stays visible. Checking on your car about every 3 inches of snowfall to brush off the windshield and top of your car will ensure that you don’t have to deal with a snow plow disaster.

And one other recommendation on this subject. Please be mindful of where you throw the snow so that you’re not making it harder for the car owner next to you! 

Do: Let your engine idle for about a minute when you start your car

Some of us locals have certainly been guilty of letting the car run while we duck back in the house to get our coffee thermos, gloves, and wallet. But, car experts say that since most modern cars don’t have carburetors, this is an outdated practice. In fact, letting the engine idle for about 30 seconds to a minute is just fine. Any extra time that your car sits is simply wasting gas, and like we mentioned earlier, gas in the mountains is expensive! 

Do: Take care of your windshield wipers

Unfortunately, we don’t have a tried-and-true rule about whether you should leave your windshield wipers up. That’s because there are pros and cons for both options.

On the one hand, leaving your wipers lifted can prevent them from freezing to the glass, which can damage the rubber. Raised wiper blades also make it easier for you to clean off your windshield, and can make your car more visible to snow removal teams.

But, upright wipers are also vulnerable to being snapped or damaged in a storm. Plus, they can be blown closed, which can put your windshield at risk for cracking. Some say that lifting and lowering them can put undue strain on the machinery, but this has been largely discredited by car manufacturers.

Our recommendation is that if you live in a warmer climate and are just visiting, you don’t have to worry too much about frost damaging the rubber on your blades. Keep them down and take the following precautions, instead:

  • Remember to turn your wipers off before you get out of the car

  • Don’t use your wipers until your windshield is fully defrosted

  • Never put hot water on your windshield to melt the ice

Do: Put air in your tires

According to Les Schwab, the pressure in your tires can drop roughly 1 PSI with every 10 degree drop in temperature.

But, if you’ve ever heard the myth that driving in snow is better with slightly lower air pressure, you might not think this is an issue. In reality, though, modern cars have all kinds of safety mechanisms for driving on the snow that can be hampered by low air in your tires.

In order to enjoy full control in snowy conditions, keep your air tires full.

Don’t: Forget to take the chains off on your way home!

Hopefully, you’ve gotten through your vacation without any car mishaps. The last thing to do is say goodbye to the winter wonderland and safely drive home. But, you might be wondering when to take the chains off.

As soon as you see pavement on the road instead of snow, it’s time to take the chains off. Driving on snowless pavement can damage the chains and tires, as well as lower your ability to brake. So, when it’s time to take them off, put on your emergency lights, decelerate slowly and pull over to the side.

Keep in mind that a long car trip may require you to take off and reinstall your chains multiple times. It’s a true hassle, but it’s better than dealing with the consequences of driving with chains on pavement with no snow.

Now you know how to take care of your car in Mammoth! When are you driving up next?

With these simple do’s and don’ts of car care in the mountains, you can be sure your vehicle is in good shape throughout your trip. Take a look at some of the rental properties we have available for your next vacation in Mammoth Lakes!