Winter can be a scary season for drivers. For me, winter means becoming more of a hermit. I live in a mountain town and I avoid driving when the roads are slick.
I have been in several accidents due to snowy weather and none of them were my fault, so I applaud those who are confident driving in the snow but accidents can happen to even the most experienced drivers.
Almost 70% of the US population lives in regions that receive five or more inches of snow per year. Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement annually, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Preparedness is key when driving in winter weather because there’s a high chance that something can happen to us or our car. God forbid something happens to your vehicle while you’re driving but your kit could also have the necessary items that someone else on the side of the road needs.
The best part about having a car is that you don’t have to worry about a weight limit. Most of these items can be stored in the trunk in a laundry basket, milk crate, or in some vehicles there’s some room by the spare tire. Make sure you add these before it starts snowing! It’s better to be prepared than sorry.
Winter storm preparedness car kit
1. CAR MANUAL: Most cars have their manual stored in the glove compartment. If yours is there, perfect. A few years ago the car manual to my car was stolen. (Yes, someone broke in through the passenger window and only took that. I don’t know why either.) If you don’t have a manual, download the Auto Guardian app for a dollar. This tells you what your car’s warning lights mean.
2. GAS: Keep at least half a tank of gas at all times during the winter months.
3. EMPTY COLLAPSIBLE FUEL CONTAINER: If you do run out of gas, you can use the container to bring back fuel from the gas station. Never keep fuel in the container inside the car.
4. WINDSHIELD DE-ICER: An effective homemade de-icer can be made by mixing 1/3 parts water with 2/3 parts of rubbing alcohol. Pour it in a spray bottle and spray! Rubbing alcohol freezes at -128.2°F so you can leave this mixture in the car and rest easy that it’s not going to freeze. Hand sanitizer also works wonders!
5. STURDY ICE SCRAPER AND SNOW BRUSH: Sometimes these two come together. You should keep one by your front door too!
6. EXTRA WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID: Get the kind with anti-freeze components.
7. SAND, KITTY LITTER, OR ROCK SALT: All of these work as traction aid for your tires. Sand is a bit heavy but it helps to have it in the trunk to make the rear of the vehicle heavier (if you have a two-wheel rear-drive).
8. EMERGENCY SIGNALS: Get signals for the road such as hazard triangles, reflectors, fluorescent distress flags, and flares. Flags can be attached to the antenna or hung on the outside of the window to attract attention.
9. TOW STRAP: This one is self explanatory.
10. TIRE CHAINS: Believe it or not, many states have laws pertaining to chains. Check this site to see if your state requires that you carry chains during the winter months. Plus, if conditions are really awful, you’ll be happy to have them. Learn how to pick the right type of chains for your vehicle here.
11. JUMPER CABLES: Car batteries are sensitive to extreme heat and cold. Prevent being stuck with a dead battery by having jumper cables to back you up.
12. SMALL TOOL KIT: Carry at least the basic tools to fix minor vehicle and mechanical problems. Get heavy-duty tools that will get the job done quickly.
13. POCKET KNIFE OR MULTI-TOOL: If your tool kit doesn’t include a knife, you better put one in there! And most importantly, make sure it’s not dull, otherwise it’ll do you no good.
14. DUCT TAPE: Duct tape is great for improvising repairs and can also be used to stick a mylar blanket to the car windows (continue reading to learn what a mylar blanket is good for when you’re stranded- see number 38).
15. PARACORD: Paracord, much like duct tape, has immeasurable uses. It’s extremely durable and can support a static load of up to 550 pounds. Although it’s not safe for climbing, it can help improvise repairs.
16. HEAVY DUTY WORK GLOVES: Gloves during the winter will make tire and other mechanical repairs much easier. No matter what repairs you need to be doing outside your car, protecting your hands from frostbite is important.
17. EMERGENCY TIRE SEALANT: Do your research or talk to your mechanic before purchasing a tire sealant. They are extremely helpful in emergency situations (hence the name) but some brands are known to cause more damage than good. Incorrectly applying a sealant can also ruin your tires so learn how to do it right beforehand.
18. TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE: In cold weather, tires will lose pressure. If your car doesn’t warn you when you have low tire pressure, then carry a gauge and periodically check that your tires are balanced and at their recommended pressure. At best, driving on a low tire can cause premature wear and tear to the tire. At worst, it can cause a blowout and you may lose control of your vehicle.
19. SMALL 12V AIR COMPRESSOR: Air compressors are cheap and well worth the investment if your tire loses pressure in a remote location.
20. SPARE TIRE: Periodically check that your spare is in good condition.
21. CAR HEADLIGHT BULBS: Keep one extra high beam and low beam.
22. FOLDING SHOVEL: It’s not uncommon to get stuck in the snow. A folding shovel will store easily in your car. If you have to take shelter in your car overnight, at least you’ll have a way to dig yourself out the next morning.
23. FOLDING SAW: If there are small fallen limbs lying across the road, ensure you can still get through by cutting them with a folding saw or pocket chainsaw. These don’t take up much space.
24. STORM-PROOF FIRE STARTERS: A lighter, a box of matches and a few tea lights or trick candles will be enough to start a small fire to cook your food or melt snow. Relighting (aka trick) candles are wind resistant and can be bought at the grocery store or on Amazon.
25. SEAT BELT CUTTER AND WINDOW BREAKER: If you get in an accident in a remote place, you might have to break yourself free. Store a seat belt cutter and a window breaker in the center console so it’s at hand’s reach. It’ll be useless to keep this with the rest of your emergency kit.
26. FIRE EXTINGUISHER: Some major wildfires, such as the Carr Fire in California, started from a flat tire spark that ignited the wilderness. I think that is enough of a reason to keep a fire extinguisher handy in your car, and by handy, I mean accessible to the driver. A good spot is on the floor under the passenger’s seat.
27. PAPER MAPS AND COMPASS: GPS is not always as reliable as we hope it would be. Some people have been stranded in remote places because the GPS led them in the wrong direction. Research the roads thoroughly prior to traveling to unknown locations and if you do get lost, rely on a paper map.
28. FLASHLIGHT AND EXTRA BATTERIES: It gets dark very early in the winter. Flashlights can help you signal for help and also shine some light in and around your vehicle. Keep a little flashlight hanging from your keychain.
29. HEADLAMP: Whether you’re alone or not, it’ll be much easier to perform any car repair duties with both hands.
30. HAM RADIO OR SATELLITE PHONE: If you own one of these, leave it in your car. It’ll come in handy if you’re stranded somewhere where there is no cell reception.
31. CELL CHARGER: Get the one that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Your phone is no good if it’s dead.
32. GLOVES AND WINTER ACCESSORIES: Some great accessories are scarves and socks. Wool and fleece are good for maintaining body heat.
33. AN EXTRA CHANGE OF CLOTHES: Keep a set of winter clothing such as a jacket, fleece-lined sweat pants, and an extra pair of sports shoes or boots. A hoodie helps to keep you warm and mobile in case you need to be shoveling or changing a tire.
34. REFLECTIVE VEST: Make sure other cars can see you clearly in a neon vest if you’re changing a tire or signaling for help.
35. UMBRELLA OR RAIN PONCHO: Protect yourself and your clothing from the elements as much as possible.
36. WARM BLANKET OR SLEEPING BAG: This one is self-explanatory too.
37. HAND TOWEL: If you were outside in the elements, you’ll be happy to have a towel to dry your face and hands. Towels can also be used to wrap water bottles in the kit to prevent them from freezing.
38. MYLAR EMERGENCY BLANKET: Have several of these because they don’t take up any room. If you get stranded in your car, line all your windows with mylar blankets to keep the cold out and retain as much heat as possible inside the vehicle.
39. HAND WARMERS: To maintain a warmer temperature inside a cold car, use the hand warmers and wrap yourself in a fleece blanket. Then wrap yourself in a mylar blanket like a burrito.
40. FIRST AID KIT: This one is a great option.
41. MEDICATIONS: Other than ibuprofen, which should be in your first aid kit, store extra prescription medications that you need every day.
42. HAND SANITIZER: Hand sanitizer shouldn’t freeze (unless you live in the North Pole). In which case, another good option for keeping your hands clean is a pack of baby wipes.
43. TOILET PAPER AND A BOX OF TISSUES: These are especially helpful if you get stranded overnight, not to mention that winter is prime time for the sniffles.
44. SUN PROTECTION: Use sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your eyes and skin from the sun glare reflecting off the snow.
45. WATER AND NON-PERISHABLE SNACKS: Have at least one gallon of water per person traveling in the car with you. For snacks, choose high caloric or energy bars. MRE’s are a great option too, especially the ones that can be prepared in the pouch they come in.
46. METAL CUP OR CONTAINER: Keep a heat-resistant camping container to melt water and snow and cook oatmeal or MRE’s.
47. REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS: If you’re stranded without an extra pair of shoes, keep reusable bags to wear over the shoes you have. This will provide a waterproof layer for the time being.
48. EXTRA WALLET: Keep an old wallet in the car which includes an expired license and copies of your insurance and emergency contacts. If you forget your wallet at home, you won’t be completely empty-handed.
49. SPARE CHANGE OR EMERGENCY MONEY: Keep a hundred or so dollars in smaller change hidden in your car. It’ll help with unexpected emergencies. (Just remember where you hid it!)
50. ENTERTAINMENT: A deck of cards, a book, puzzles or a pad of paper and a pen will help pass the time, especially if you have kids and you’re waiting for assistance to arrive.
51. INFANT SUPPLIES: If you’re traveling with children pack extra clothing, diapers, food, and a toy.
52. PET SUPPLIES: If you travel with pets, take extra food and other necessary items.
53. BASIC MECHANICAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE: It does you no good to have all these items and not know how to use them or what to do when something occurs. Anticipate the worst scenarios by learning to overcome them. Hopefully, if something does happen, you will be equipped to withstand and survive it.
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Car maintenance tips for winter
Follow these tips to maintain your car in the best possible condition during harsh winter seasons.
1. CHECK YOUR CAR BATTERY: Cold temperatures reduce the battery’s cranking power. When temperatures start dropping, test your battery and replace it if necessary. If it’s in good condition, clean up any corrosion and apply dielectric grease.
2. CHECK ALL CAR FLUIDS: Towards the end of fall, do a thorough car check and maintenance. This includes wiper fluid, radiator fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, coolant and oil. Use oil that is formulated for winter temperatures since regular oil can thicken when it’s cold.
3. REPLACE WIPER BLADES: Streaks are a sign that those old wipers need to be replaced. To storm proof your wipers, coat them with rubbing alcohol the day before a storm is expected. This will ensure that they don’t stick to the window. You can also put your wipers up before a storm but if you’re expecting heavy gusts of wind, you risk them blowing back down and cracking your windshield. Some people use old long socks and cover each wiper with one.
4. CLEAN WINDOWS WITH SCRAPERS: When you walk to your car in the morning you might find your windshield is covered in snow or frost. Always use a scraper to clear it off instead of your wipers and remember to spray them with the rubbing alcohol solution I describer earlier. This will save you a lot of time.
5. CHECK ALL YOUR TIRES: Make sure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated. If you only drive in the snow on occasion, you should get all-season tires. If you live in a place that gets lots of snow each winter, you might be better off getting winter tires. Snow tires are also an option because they have a better grip which adds traction in icy conditions but these wear out quickly if used during the summer. Bald and low pressure tires can result in deadly consequences when driving in snow or ice.
6. KEEP AN EMERGENCY KIT: Emergencies can happen to anyone. If you’re caught in a snow storm, it’s better to have something ready and not be left empty-handed regretting what you could have otherwise prepared for.
WARNING: When you’re stranded in the car during a snowstorm, you may be tempted to keep the heater running. If the exhaust pipe gets covered by snow, your run a huge risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you must turn the car on to run the heater, do so for no more than ten minutes every hour. Blankets and hand warmers are a much safer bet.
It takes a little bit of ice to skid and misguided GPS directions to get lost and stranded during a snow storm but it only takes a few tools and a bit of wisdom to get you out of unpredictable situations such as these.
Last but not least, don’t be THIS guy... unless you want to be a good samaritan. 😉
Have you ever been stranded in the snow? What helped you get back to safety? Did I miss any items that you would recommend?
Let me know in the comments!
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