Winter driving can be a pain in the backside. In recent years, many areas of the country have been hit with some heavy snow and ice storms, sometimes unexpectedly. Stay a little safer when you hit the road by preparing yourself, your vehicle and a winter car kit. Don't leave home unprepared – stay safe!
Winter Vehicle Maintenance Checklist
- Take care of any necessary repairs before you get in the middle of a snowstorm. This may sound obvious, but I've known people who have driven around with emergency lights lit up on their dash who ignored them until the car stopped running completely.
- Make sure your tires are in good condition, properly inflated and appropriately rotated so you have traction when you need it. If you use winter chains, make sure they are ready as well. If you can afford snow tires, consider them.
- Keep your gas tank full! Grandpa Neverman (my husband's grandfather) was a stickler about always keeping the gas tank above half full. We've had some pretty serious snow storms in recent years where folks were trapped on the road in their cars for hours. It's a lot safer to be stranded in a car with heat than without. Also, traveling may take much longer than anticipated because of road conditions or detours.
- Check out weather conditions in the area where you intend to travel. Between the news, the internet and cell phones, there's little reason to not know if you're getting snow, ice, wind or anything else that will be trouble.
- Get a cellphone, even if it's only for emergency use. Get a car charger or emergency charger for your cellphone. If your battery is dead, it's pretty hard to call for help.
Winter Car Kit – What You Need to Prep
- First Aid Kit – Either a larger one for the car such as the 12 Survivors roll or the lightweight Northbound first aid kit see the Best First Aid Kit for more information and things you should add to ANY first aid kit.
- Blanket – wool is best, as it still warms even when wet
- Hats – your head loses heat fast, and many people don't wear hats anymore
- Gloves – mittens or oversized gloves can go over your existing gloves for extra warmth
- Wool Socks – large sized, so they can go over existing socks
- Scarves – You'll be glad to have them if you end up walking. A Merino Lambswool scarf is even better
- Boots – If they're not on your feet, they'd better be in the vehicle
- Snacks – (durable ones) such as granola bars, jerky or dried fruit
- Water – Make sure you empty a little water out of bottles in case they freeze, or use flexible pouches
- Flashlight (add AA batteries), preferably waterproof, also see the “Best Cheap Flashlight“
- Hand Warmers – These can be used to warm more than hands
- Candle in a metal container with waterproof matches and/ or Sterno – You can use this for heat or melting snow for water
- Metal cup – for melting snow
- Ice Scraper/snowbrush – This one is extendable, very handy
- Jumper Cables – cold decreases battery life, and the heavier gauge gets more power to the car being jumped.
- Road Flares (needs 6 AAA) – make it easier for someone to find you if things are really bad
- Empty Gas Can – In case you run out
- Car shovel – These are small 3 part shovels – made in the USA. These are decent emergency shovels.
- Bright colored safety vest or poncho, to make yourself more visible.
- Emergency Phone Numbers – see below
- Cat Litter or Sand for tire traction
- Couple rolls of toilet paper (in zip lock bags)
- Consider tire chains as a backup – especially if you don't have snow tires. You will need to research the right chain type for your vehicle. Thule and Security Chain both have decent reviews for their snow chains. If you don't have any chains or snow tires and are stuck, worst case you can try putting the floor mats under the tires for extra traction on ice.
Get a Car Shovel That Won't Break
Our old car shovel was made of plastic, and broke the first time I tried to use it with heavy snow. Last winter I used one of these to help dig out someone in a parking lot who thought it was a good idea to park in a snowbank. (Christmas crazy shopping time and the lot was packed.) Heavy, hard packed snow, and the shovel was just fine and did the job. The boys like them for digging snow tunnels because of the short handles and their toughness.
How to Store Your Emergency Car Kit
I keep our main kit in an old military backpack I purchased at FleetFarm – inexpensive and durable. Another kit went into a backpack. Some folks use totes, too.
I keep the shovel and scraper separate from the rest of the pack, and food items separate from combustibles. If you pack nothing else, you should have hats and blankets enough for all regular passengers and a good ice scraper. The snow shovel and jumper cables are the next most important. You could just buy a pre-packed roadside emergency kit, but most of them are pretty skimpy, or just have car related items. This one on Amazon looks to be better than most, but doesn't include people-care items.
Don't Forget Contact Information
I friend of mine reminded me about another consideration – emergency phone numbers.
As an EMT, I was trained to look at victims cell phones (if they were unconscious) and I would look in their contacts list for a number listed as “ICE”. Ice stands for “In Case of Emergency”. Everyone should have a number for US to contact in case of an accident or medical emergency.
Did I miss anything? Let me know. If you found this post useful, pass it along.
You may also find useful:
- 4 Layers of Cold Weather Clothing Everyone Should Know
- Winter Storm Survival – Keeping You and Your Home Warm When the Power Goes Out
- How to Put Up a Snow Fence
Stay warm and safe this winter.
Originally posted in 2011, updated in 2016.