Although I live in Northern Colorado, where winter storms are common and expected, being prepared for a worst-case scenario is still important. There's nothing pleasant about spending the night in your car during a winter storm. If you don't have any emergency gear, an unpleasant situation could turn into a life-threatening one. It doesn't take much effort to put together a basic car emergency kit. Chances are you won't need it, but if you ever do, you'll be incredibly grateful. Making a kit is especially important if you plan on traveling through any rural areas in the winter or if you commute to work on the highway. According to Jason Fitzpatrick of Lifehacker, the five most important points to remember are: 1) Keep your tank full and your car serviced, 2) Plan ahead when choosing routes, 3) Warmth, 4) Hydration and 5) Signaling.
Winter Storm Car Emergency Kit
- Sleeping bag
- Warm blanket
- Winter boots
- Warm jacket
- Gloves or mittens
- Warm socks
- Winter hat
- Heat Packs
- Water bottle (full)
- 12 pack of tea candles
- Empty metal coffee can
- Energy bars or other snacks
- Flashlight or headlamp (with fresh batteries)
- Small snow shovel
- Five pound bag of kitty litter
- Paper, pen and safety pin
- Cell phone and charger
Most of the items on this list should be pretty self-explanatory. For the bare minimum, at least put warm clothing, boots and some water in your car. Small bottles of water are better than a big jug. If the water freezes, you'll have a much easier time thawing out a small bottle. If you're ever forced to spend the night in your car and it runs out of gas, you can place two lit tea candles inside the coffee can, and place the can on the floor. This can be used to thaw out a metal water bottle. It can also raise the temperature inside your car by a few degrees and provide light. Just be sure to crack a window, and don't fall asleep with the candles going.
More Car Survival Tips
- During the winter, try not to let your gas tank get below the halfway point.
- Do you have a full-size spare tire? A donut is not ideal in the winter, although it's better than nothing. Make sure you're familiar with changing a tire on your car. If you've never done it before, you don't want your first time to be in the middle of a snowstorm. Don't assume a tow truck will get to you quickly.
- The shovel and kitty litter could potentially help get your car unstuck. Pour the litter in front of your wheels to add traction.
- If you get stuck and need to use the car to keep warm, only let it run long enough to warm the interior, then shut it off to conserve gas. If it's really dumping outside, you'll need to make sure the tail pipe doesn't get buried in snow.
- Get a flashlight with a strobe setting. If your car's emergency flashers get buried in snow or your battery dies, a pulsing flashlight will signal that you need help.
- Stuck in whiteout conditions? Don't leave your car. Even if you only walk a few feet away, you could lose track of your vehicle and get stuck wandering around in a storm.
- As a last resort only, if you must abandon your car, use the pen and paper to leave a note pinned to your driver's seat explaining the time you left, the direction you're heading and your name.
Have any other tips to share? Leave a comment and let us know what we missed. Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there this winter.
—Beren Goguen is a copywriter at Sierra Trading Post and blog contributor. He's also a hiker, mountain biker and Eagle Scout.