If you live where it snows or are planning to travel to a location where it snows this holiday season, you should have a winter car kit. Getting stranded in a winter storm is scary and dangerous. Last week, I wrote up a post on how to prepare your home for a cold winter storm. Today, I’ll share some things that may come in handy should you find yourself stuck or stranded somewhere in winter wonderland.
Tip #1: Don’t Drive!
Before I write this post, I want to emphasize that I do not encourage driving during a winter storm. If it is blizzarding, please don’t drive if you can avoid it. Stay home if at all possible. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
But if you must…
But there are times we must drive or times we are caught off guard. It is for such times that I recommend you be prepared. If you must drive during a storm, or even after a storm but while temperatures are still low, make sure you have a good winter car kit with you to help prepare you to deal with a winter wonderland on your own.
We keep a general emergency car kit in our cars at all times, and you can read about that here: Auto Emergency Kit. But I wrote that post up before we moved from California to Utah. We’ve dealt with a few winters here since, and each winter I add things to our auto emergency kit in order to create a more robust winter car kit. I’d like to share two lists today. First, some tips for dealing with cold temperatures in your car, and second, a list of supplies to keep in your car.
First, a Few Tips:
1. Keep your gas tank full! It is especially important to keep your gas tank full during the winter. There are two reasons for this: (1) your fuel line is less likely to freeze, and (2) You do NOT want to run out of gas when temperatures are low. Walking any distance in freezing temperatures is dangerous.
2. Use a windshield wiper fluid that is rated for low temperatures. I like Rain-X. Nothing is more frustrating (not to mention dangerous) than when a light road spray freezes into a thin white sheet on your windshield, and you can’t get it off because the fluid in your washer tubes freezes up. Either you have to stop and clean the windshield or get behind a truck so the heavier spray gets on your windshield so you can then run the wipers. Avoid this by making sure your fluid doesn’t freeze up. If you don’t want to buy Rain-X (or similar), you can also add 16 ounces of isopropyl alcohol to 1 gallon of the cheap kind of washer fluid.
3. Keep water stored in your car inside a small cooler. This will give it a better chance of not freezing. Open the cooler while driving/ heating your car, and close it when you park and go inside.
4. If you are stuck or stranded, do everything you can to stay in your car. But if you need to leave your vehicle for any reason, make sure to leave a note with your name, medical info, contact info, the time you left, and direction you started walking.
5. If it is blizzarding and you need to leave the car (for example, to clear the exhaust pipe of snow), tie rope to your wrist and then the car door in case you lose sight of the vehicle.
6. Snow can plug your vehicle’s exhaust system and cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter your car. If you are stuck or stranded, only run the engine for 10-15 minutes an hour, and make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow.
7. Mittens will keep your hands warmer if you are stuck in your car, but if you are working outside to dig yourself out, etc., you will want good gloves to give you better control.
IMPORTANT. The list below is not a complete emergency car kit. It is only a list of those things that are specific to snowy/cold weather. Complete your kit by reading this post: Emergency Car Kit.
- Replacement wiper blades. You need to be able to see while driving no matter what.
- Windshield scraper. Seems basic, but don’t forget it!
- Good gloves. Your fingers simply won’t work well in freezing temperatures without them.
- Extra windshield washer fluid. You tend to go through a lot during a storm.
- Extra anti-freeze. Not something you want to run out of in the cold weather.
- Shovel. You may have to dig yourself out. Foldable is best for storage purposes.
- Candles and matches/lighter. You can melt water/snow to drink, melt ice around tires, and use to heat your car. Make sure you crack a window an inch or so.
- Compass. If you have to walk somewhere, you will need to know where you are going, especially during a storm.
- Jumper cables & Fix a Flat. You do not want to be stranded in freezing weather by something simple to fix, and the cold weather tends to suck the life out of batteries.
- Extra warm clothes. Boots, hats, an extra coat, sweaters, socks. If you are stuck for some time, it is going to be COLD!
- Extra blankets. Again, you need to stay warm!
- LED strobe light. These are relatively inexpensive ($10-$20), and will run for hours. Put one on your car to help others find you while you wait. You can also strap it to your body if you have to walk somewhere to help keep other cars from hitting you.
- Old cell phone and car charger. You can always call 911 on any phone…even an old one. So, if you happen to forget your phone or it’s charger, you can pull out the one in your kit and use that if you get stranded.
- Kitty litter/sand. This can help with traction if you get stuck. An outdoor mat also works and is easy to store lying flat in the car. But store more than one in case more than one tire is spinning.
- Water (in a cooler like mentioned above). You can survive for a day or two without food, but not without water.
- Small tin cup/bowl. You can use this (and a candle) to melt water/snow for drinking.
- Food. You need to keep your energy up. Also, eating involves many body functions which will help keep your temperature up. Make sure it is no prep and easy to eat.
- A NOAA Weather Radio. This will help you can stay aware of the situation. Make sure it is battery operated and that you have extra batteries. I also suggest one that will power through cranking. Though not the most efficient power source, the cold will drain your batteries really quickly. At least this way you’d have some power to it.
- Tire chains. There are some highways/mountain passes you cannot safely (or legally) drive through without them.
- Cups/jars with lids. You will need to go to the bathroom, and will not want to open the door to let the cold air in.
- Games/books. If you are stuck for a while, you will want something to pass the time, especially if you have kids!
- Tow rope. Someone may stop to help, but they may not have rope. You don’t want to have to wait for a busy and expensive tow truck if you don’t have to.
I know there are many of you who have faced more winter storms in their cars than I ever will. What have I missed? What tips do you have for us?