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If you are like most preppers, then every year you spend time preparing your home for winter. You check windows and doors for leaks, insulating wherever possible. You preserve your summer and fall harvest for your pantry. You stock up on essential supplies to keep your family and animals fed and your home running smoothly in the event of an emergency.
But do you take the same care to protect yourself when heading out in your car? Winter can be treacherous, and every year we read horror stories of people trapped in their vehicles due to extreme weather. What would you do if you were trapped in your car during a winter storm? Would you be safe until you were able to get help?
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First, let’s look at some basic preparation tips for winter driving.
- Check road conditions and traffic reports before you head out.
- Monitor your tire pressure during cold weather. Make sure chains fit.
- Be sure your car’s battery, radiator, lights, belts, hoses, brakes, defroster, heater, wipers and wiper blades are all in good working order.
- Check all fluid levels.
- Start your trip with a full tank of gas and aim to keep your fuel tank at least half full during the winter months.
Now, here is our list of winter survival items to carry in your car.
1. Emergency Road Flares
One of the biggest concerns, when your car breaks down, is being visible to other cars passing on the road. Winter storms can greatly reduce other drivers’ ability to see you. If your vehicle is in a dangerous location out of sight, you will want rescuers to see you. Keeping flares and reflectors in your trunk will help in both scenarios.
2. Gloves and Hand Warmers
It is difficult – if not dangerous – to use the first two items without warm winter gloves on your hands. Hand warmers are also a good idea to help prevent frostbite.
3. Ice Scraper and Brush
Snow and ice can build up quickly on your vehicle, dangerously affecting your visibility. In addition, snow and ice can fly off your roof or hood and hit another vehicle. Before you set out on a trip, clear your entire car of ice and snow.
4. Sand, Rock Salt, or Kitty Litter
Keeping a bag of one of these coarse materials can come in handy when your tires are stuck in ice or snow. You can spread the material near your tires to gain traction.
5. Traction Mat
Another option for gaining traction in slippery road conditions is a traction mat. Place the mat under or near your tires to prevent spinning.
A small or collapsible shovel is a useful item to have in your car at any time of year, but it can be indispensable in the winter. Use it to help you get out of a snowdrift or to clear a path in the snow. Be sure to clear snow from your tire wells also.
Temperatures inside your car can drop quickly if you cannot run your heater. Place several warm blankets in your car. If you are short on room, pack low-weight, low-bulk space blankets.
8. First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to keep a fully-stocked first aid kit in your car at all times. However, it can be critically important to have these items in the winter. Response times from emergency vehicles can be slow in hazardous weather, and you may need to administer first aid until help arrives.
9. Hygiene Items
It’s easy to take for granted the basic necessities of life until we are in an emergency. If you are heading out for winter travel, pack toilet paper, diapers, wet wipes, feminine supplies, hand sanitizer, mouthwash, tissue packs, and other personal hygiene items.
10. Emergency Tire Sealant
Changing a flat tire during sub-zero temperatures or in heavy snowfall can be a dangerous if not impossible situation. Using tire sealant may allow you to get your vehicle to the next town or to a safer place to change your tire. Keep some in your trunk. Also, be sure you have a spare tire in your trunk and that it is in good condition.
11. Windshield Washer Fluid
It’s amazing how much snow and ice other vehicles can toss your way when you are driving in the winter. You can clear it away frequently as well as de-ice your windshield while you are driving when you have plenty of anti-freeze windshield washer fluid. Keep an extra bottle in your trunk during wintery weather.
Cell phone flashlights come in handy, but you’ll want to conserve your phone charge as much as possible. Keep a sturdy, high-beam flashlight in your car to help you see in the dark and to signal for help.
13. Extra batteries
Keep extra batteries on hand for your flashlight and for any other devices (such as a battery-powered radio).
14. Hand Crank Radio
If you are stuck in your car, you need to ration the use of your car’s battery. A hand-crank or wind-up radio will allow you to monitor weather and road conditions and listen to news and music without using your car’s power.
15. Rope or Chain
You can use a tow chain to help get your vehicle – or someone else’s – out of a snow drift. A long and sturdy rope (or paracord) can be an essential item in any winter emergency.
16. Power Bank Jump Starter
In severe temperatures, car batteries can need a jump to get started. You can get help quicker if your car won’t start, and you can help others if you carry your own set of jumper cables. Or better yet, get a pocket jumper. With this, you won’t need another vehicle to jump start your car.
17. Tool Kit
You can perform simple car maintenance yourself if you keep a small tool kit in your trunk. Be sure to have the tools you need to loosen or tighten bolts, for example. A roll of duct tape can come in handy as well.
18. Winter Clothes
All too often, we set out on a winter drive trip without proper outerwear because we are relying on our car’s heater. Extra winter gear such as coats, snow pants, gloves, boots, hats, and scarves come in handy during a winter car emergency.
We often think of sunglasses as a summer necessity, but the glare from the sun on snow can be blinding. Have some sunglasses in your car to reduce eye strain when driving for long periods in the winter.
20. Water and Non-Perishable Snacks
Pack high-protein dried fruit and nuts in your car for a winter trip. Granola bars and trail mix are good options. Also, pack plenty of fresh water in reusable plastic bottles.
You may need to start a fire to keep warm if you are stranded for a long time. Matches will come in handy in wet winter conditions. You also can melt snow for water if you run out of the water you have packed.
22. Emergency Multitool
You never know what can happen when a car spins out of control on a patch of ice. You’ll be ready to handle many emergencies – such as breaking a car window or cutting a seatbelt – with a sturdy multi-tool in your pocket or glove compartment.
23. Cell Phone Charger
Start out your trip with a fully-charged phone and keep a charger in your car at all times. In the event of a long-term emergency, you’ll want a portable battery-operated phone charger in your car as well.
24. Writing/Drawing Supplies and Games
Passing the time until the weather breaks or help arrives can be tedious and stressful for everyone. Pack a bag of entertainment supplies including pens, crayons, and paper. Also, include playing cards and perhaps a game of magnetic checkers or chess.
We often rely on electronics to keep us busy, but packing a few novels or children’s books can help pass the time in a stressful situation as you are waiting to get back on your way.
26. Paper Maps
GPS and Google maps are great when you have access to Wi-Fi and data, but print maps are what you need when you are offline or off road due to a winter emergency. Print out your itinerary before you depart and keep a folding map of the entire area where you are traveling in your vehicle.
27. Cash, Credit Cards, and Insurance Information
Winter travel emergencies can mean unexpected expenses. Don’t get caught short-handed when it comes to paying for them.
Bonus: Common Sense
Probably the most important thing you can do is use your common sense when driving in winter weather. Pay close attention to changing weather conditions and freezing temperatures. Don’t risk a trip when a serious storm is heading your way. It may be best to postpone your trip until the driving conditions are safer.