Anything can happen when you’re on the road. Especially during the winter months when snow and ice lead to slippery and dangerous road conditions. Even the most experienced drivers can be caught unawares by a patch of black ice or sudden snow squall.
Not only can winter weather make it harder to control your vehicle and cause you to break traction, but winter storms can reduce visibility as well. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 17% of car accidents occur during wintry conditions.
Between slippery streets, impassible roads, poor visibility, and the strain the cold puts on your car battery, a winter roadside emergency can happen to anyone.
It’s best to avoid non-essential driving in severe weather whenever possible. Check weather reports and local traffic before running errands or traveling this winter. If you do have to get on the road, prepare for worst-case scenario winter weather and frigid conditions before you’re left stranded and cold in the car. That way, if you breakdown or are involved in an accident, you have the tools you need to get back on the road, or to survive being stuck safely and comfortably until help arrives. In sparsely populated areas, let someone know your route before you travel.
Ready Your Vehicle
It’s wise to have a tune-up ahead of the harsh winter months to make sure your vehicle’s systems are all in top shop and prepared to take on the cold. There are also simple steps you can take at home to winterize your vehicle:
- Make sure your heater and defroster are in good working order.
- Replace worn out windshield wipers. Buy winter specific wipers if you live in an area prone to ice and snow.
- Drain your cooling system and add new antifreeze.
- Check your tire tread and tire pressure. As temperatures drop, so does tire pressure. Low tire pressure could lead to a blowout. Consider switching to winter tires, which provide better grip and traction in snowy, slushy, or icy conditions.
- Stay gassed up. If winter weather throws a wrench in your travel plans, you may take longer to reach your destination. It also allows you to sporadically run your heat to keep warm if you end up stuck on the side of the road (always clear your tailpipe of snow and ice or it could lead to carbon monoxide build up inside the vehicle.
Survive Being Stranded
If you’re unable to get your car started or resume your journey, stay in your vehicle. It offers protection from the elements and makes you easier to find.
You should also make your car as noticeable as possible. Use road flares or reflective triangles. Don’t rely on your 4-ways as they’ll drain your battery, but you could put them on if you spot another vehicle. A brightly colored ribbon tied to your antennae will also make you more visible against the snow.
Stay as warm as possible. Huddle for warmth if there are multiple passengers. Light an emergency candle to provide a heat source. Layer up in spare clothing, blankets or emergency blankets. Run your engine about 10 minutes out of every hour to keep warm. Keep it short – you don’t want to drain your gas, and as noted above, ensure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Be prepared with the items below.
Stock Your Vehicle with a Winter Car Emergency Kit
Should treacherous wintry weather or a breakdown leave you on the side of the road, having a winter emergency kit in your car can make the difference between getting back on the road quickly, surviving in relative comfort until help arrives – and in extreme situations – life or death.
You can buy pre-packaged emergency car kits or build your own. It should consist of car maintenance tools, survival gear, basic necessities, and items for extra warmth. At a bare minimum, include the items below:
- Jumper cables, like the Pocket Jumper Pro 2.0, which you can use solo.
- An ice scraper and snow brush are a must have for every winter journey. If you do get stuck, you’ll want to keep your vehicle visible.
- Traction mats (or sand/ kitty litter) to help your wheels get a grip.
- Reflective triangles or road flares so you can be seen by passing motorists or potential rescue efforts. Leaving your 4-way flashers on continuously will drain your battery.
- Foldable snow shovel to clear your tailpipe as noted above. You may also need to dig out your tires.
- Multi-tool with a seat belt cutter and glass breaker – hopefully you’ll never need it, but it could save your life or another’s in case of an accident.
- Flashlight and extra batteries – you may need to peek under the hood or change a tire in the dark. You could also use it to signal other vehicles or a tow truck.
- Matches/ Lighter – if you must abandon your vehicle you may need to start a fire. Inside your vehicle, it’ll enable you to light an emergency candle.
- Cell phone and cell phone charger – Your cell phone could be a lifeline in a winter car emergency. Always make sure it’s fully charged before winter travel and keep a spare charger in the car.
- Water and non-perishable food – In case you need to wait it out, always have water and food on hand. Additionally, being cold – and especially shivering – increases how many calories your body burns. You’re going to want to stay energized to help keep you warm, and to provide the fuel you need in case you need to shovel out your car.
- First-Aid Kit – a first-aid kit could be a lifesaver in case of a winter accident. Many also include an emergency blanket. If you regularly take medications, add a few to your first-aid kit before winter travel.
- Emergency candle – Warmth is the no. 1 priority in a winter survival situation. An emergency candle will provide a surprising amount of heat (and light) in the confined space of a car. Emergency candles are readily available to buy, but for a simple DIY version place a candle inside a metal tin like a coffee can.
- Tact Bivvy 2.0 – this lightweight sack reflects 90% of your body heat back at you and can help you survive a cold weather car emergency. As a bonus, it also comes with a para-tinder paracord and whistle.
- Extra Layers – coat, gloves, hat, etc. They’ll help keep you warm, and provide a spare dry layer in case you need to dig your car out or change a tire in the snow.
- Hand Warmers – they’ll go a long way lending a little warmth or even fighting frostbite. Electric versions can act as a cell phone charger as well.
The above items will help you stay comfortable and safe if you ever find yourself stranded on a snowy road. They could also help save your life if you must spend a winter’s night in your car.