Manitoba Tough Meets Manitoba Cold
It’s -40 °C outside. You forget to plug your car in overnight. You’re low on gas. Somehow, you get it to start anyway. Ever wonder how?
During the Second World War, American pilots noticed their aircraft had difficulty starting in cold conditions. So, after the war, the Air Force designed a facility where they could test their planes in freezing temperatures. So, naturally, they chose Florida. And, in 1947, they opened the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, near Fort Walton Beach. Originally an aircraft hangar, McKinley can simulate nearly every weather scenario imaginable. The government renovated the facility in 1997, opening it to private companies. Since then, Ford’s been renting the facility to test their vehicles. Although McKinley lab has become popular recently, the history of automotive cold testing starts much closer to home.
Thompson Extreme Cold Weather Test Facility
During the 1980s, a number of manufacturers began performing cold-weather testing in Thompson, Manitoba. They “cold soaked” vehicles in the parking lot of the Mystery Lake Hotel. Cold soaking is the technical term for when a vehicle is placed in a stable, cold environment. Mercifully, the practice involves no water. A vehicle has been “cold soaked” when the temperature of its internal and external components reach equilibrium. In other words, it’s what happens every night to a Canadian’s car.
Today, extreme cold testing is getting more sophisticated. Temperatures outside fluctuate, and make controlled testing difficult. That’s why Ford uses a repurposed aircraft hangar at the Thompson Airport. This facility, along with a purpose-built track comprise the Thompson Extreme Cold Weather Test Facility. Like at McKinley, they can perform cold soaking and more advanced tests easily. But why go to all the trouble?
Per the Thompson Citizen, Ford focuses on “measuring engine performance, heater function and interior control function.” That’s because Ford wants its vehicles to work in the most adverse conditions possible. Knowing their vehicles will have to survive Canadian winters, means they need sturdier fluid hoses, better block heaters, and resilient starter systems. In short, Ford needs cars, trucks, and SUVs that are Manitoba tough.
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