Driving the Sprinter RV in extreme cold

 Driving the Sprinter RV in extreme cold

What a winter this has been. The arctic vortex or whatever we call the cold air that has been making repeated appearances throughout the Upper Midwest has kept many an RVer housebound before the fireplace.

Not us. We're about to head up to Northern Minnesota along the Lake Superior northern shore where the temperature is expected to be -26F/-32C.

I wrote about it earlier when the bitter cold forecast was causing our plans to waver. Many of you offered advice. Most said don't go. Some said head south instead.

The glowplug icon is the curly little “pigtail.” In extreme cold turn the key to the on position, wait till the glowplug light goes out, then start the engine

Two or three said, follow the call of the north.

So, we are. Adventure and the sheer challenge of it all has us packing parkas, boots and long Johns and ready to head out on the morning this post goes live.

But, with so many suggesting caution, I thought I'd get some expert advice on how our Roadtek eTrek, powered by Mercedes on the Sprinter chassis, would handle the cold and what, if anything, I needed to do differently when operating it under such extreme conditions.

So I headed to Hoekstra Specialty Vehicles in Troy, MI, one of the Midwest's biggest Sprinter dealers. On the morning I drove my eTrek Sprinter RV to them the temperature in my driveway was -14F/-25C.

The above video gives you the details. Bottom line, I need to make sure the glow plugs have warmed up. That means turning the key without starting and waiting for the little pigtail-like icon on the dash goes away. As far as special fuel, Sprinter service expert Josh Biscarner tells me I need not do a thing, that the winter diesel blends are fine. Josh gives lots of advice in the video for you Sprinter users.20below

So, off we go – Jennifer, me and Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound. Look for videos and posts as we head up I-75 to the Mackinac Bridge, then over to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and west through the Up to Wisconsin and then on to Duluth, our first stop on a trip that will eventually take us to the Canadian border.

Yes, we do intend to spend a couple of nights in the Roadtrek boondocking in the wilderness.

This is going to be fun!

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • Burrrr!! Mike, I’ll take the Pacific Northwest, not too hot, not too cold. I’m enjoying learning about the mechanical side of a vehicle through your blog. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to your reports as you travel through the cold.

  • Mike – I still add some diesel fuel conditioner each fill. Haven’t had to use it, but carry some starter fluid, too – basically a volatile aerosol to spray in the air intake to give it a boost if needed. Also, windshield deicer to soften the ice before scraping the windshield in extreme conditions.

    • I highly recommend not using starting fluid unless u know what you are doing with these engines. If starting fluid is sprayed into the air intake there is a $500-$600 mass air flow sensor that will be damaged and could make your trip from cold to cold and expensive

  • Our teeth are chattering for you both! Safe travels. Can’t wait to see the GoPro videos. Does the GoPro need special care and attention in the bitter cold temps?

  • Congratulations on your choice for adventure! As you head north you will find some stations that have blended fuel and some that allow you to blend your own using #1 and #2. I like to blend my own if the vehicle will be sitting out overnight in the cold when it gets below 0F. Some of the blended fuel is blended with Both 1&2 and some is treated with a conditioner to lower the gel point. In the real cold temps like -20F I will blend my fuel 50/50 and add Power Service at the recommended dose too. At 0F and above I usually blend 30%#1 plus the Power Service. I always carry a quart bottle of Power Service 911 with me in the winter just in case things start to gell up. If you notice a real drop in power it means that the fuel is starting to gell and clog the fuel filter so adding the 911 stops the gelling until you can add #1. I also add 10 oz. of Isopropyl Alcohol to a gallon of windshield washer fluid. It really helps cut ice and cleans better.
    I carry starter fluid too but you have to be real careful because even a little too much causes the engine to way over rev as it starts. Just a little bit but in 40 years of driving diesel truck I bet I’ve only used it twice. You should see lots of lake effect snow on your way over here. Have a great drive, enjoy the sights and we look forward to helping you with anything you need including a warm garage if needed.
    Bigfoot Dave

  • Exciting! I look forward to hearing about your adventures.

  • It seems you are not alone Mike. I recall seeing the Alaska to Coldfoot Mercedes Sprinter trip somewhere.

    Seems like a great adventure for a hardy bunch of souls. Anyone game for next winter?? 🙂


  • Sounds awesome Mike! Way to grab life by the horns! I’d love to see some winter shots from that new drone of yours!
    Have fun! Stay safe! And keep warm!

  • I following only your recommendations, Josh! Only thing that went wrong today is a pothole knocked off a rear hubcap…. will have video tomorrow.

  • Advice on warming up the glow plugs is good. But trying to warm up a Sprinter diesel at idel is a loosing game. These diesels don’t generate much heat at idle. You will be better off just starting it and driving it right away.

    • How can you just start and drive if you cant see out the window due to it being solid ice ? Lol

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