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Prepare Your Car, Kit For Winter Survival, In Case Of The Worst Snow

Updated on November 15, 2015

Are You Ready For Winter Survival

Imagine that you drive to work in the morning and the snow is falling. More snow is expected, but hey, you can't stay home every time it snows a bit, can you? So you go to work and the snow keeps falling, the wind picks up, maybe your boss tells people they can leave early if they want to. You leave, and barely make it out of the parking lot. You drive slowly and carefully towards home, but visibility is bad and getting worse. As you drive your car starts acting funny. Indicator lights start flashing, you get a low battery warning, your lights begin to dim.

It is dark now, and you are still miles from home. Your battery finally dies, and your car stalls. You roll over to the side and sit, wondering what to do next. You could call 911, but they are crazy busy, and you wonder how long it will take for them to get around to rescuing you. Visibility is so bad that you fear someone ramming your car from behind as they follow the narrow track through the snow. Or maybe a snowplow will come through and bury your car. Should you stay in your car, or try to walk somewhere for help? Are you prepared for either? Are your clothes warm enough to spend the night in a dead car or to walk through a blizzard?

This story is true, it happened to me. My car died at night in a blizzard much stronger than had been forecast. I was prepared for either choice I made, to stay with the car or to walk to help. My tips can help you prepare too.

Driving is uniquely dangerous in the winter, and every year many thousands of people die in their cars because they are unprepared for winter driving hazards. There are a few very inexpensive precautions you can take to increase your odds when winter weather strikes.

If your are mechanically minded you probably already know the basics of prepping your car: check the tire tread depth, get the right mix of anti-freeze in your cooling system, have your brakes checked for proper function. You probably do these things yourself, at home.

If you don't know how to do these things, take your car into a trusted auto repair shop and ask them to help. It will cost you a bit, but unless they advise getting new tires or a brake overhaul, it won't cost much, and may save your life. Proper tires and brakes are essential for safe winter driving. If you are not rich, and your tires are bald but you can't afford new ones, try checking a used tire shop. Used tires are really cheap compared to new ones. If they are a lot better than your current ones, consider making the change before the snow flies. At least get the two front tires up to spec (if your car is front wheel drive).

Build A Winter Emergency Kit

Your car and tires are in the best condition you can afford. What else can you do to make winter driving safer for you and your family? Put together a simple and cheap winter emergency kit.

You probably already own everything or almost everything you need. Anything on this list that you don't own, you should!


Your car should always be equipped with basic tools. By this I mean, jumper cables, a sturdy shovel, a can of sand or salt, a jack, a lug-nut wrench. I always have a full toolbox and a variety of other tools, but these are the basics. The jack and wrench will come with the car, but you should check to make sure they are there. Sometimes in a used car they will be lost.

For winter driving the jumper cables are absolutely essential. Your battery may suddenly die, or you may need to rescue someone else. Jumper cables are cheap and easy to use. Get some!

In the winter you need a shovel in your car. Not a snow shovel, it is too big and light to use if hard, compacted snow and ice is holding your car stuck. A regular garden shovel is best, and those with the square noses are the most useful. But any shovel is better than none when you are stuck. Keep one in your trunk or back seat. All winter.

I fill a plastic coffee can with road salt and keep it in the car. If I am stuck I can use it under the wheels as grit to give better traction. Sand is even better, it gives more traction and doesn't cause the ice to start melting and getting even slicker.


In the winter a lack of proper clothing can kill you. Remember my dilemma when my car died. If your choice is to stay or to walk, you must have warm clothing. Keep enough extra clothing in the car for yourself and everyone who usually rides with you. It doesn't take up much room, and it may save your life. But you probably don't want to go out and buy two or three complete new winter outfits just to stick in a bag.

I looked through my old clothes and pulled out a warm coat, a couple of sweaters, a few old pairs of wool socks, some long underwear and a blanket, enough to wrap myself up in an emergency. I also threw in some mismatched winter gloves, stocking cap, scarves. All stuff I normally only wear for working outdoors. This isn't a fashion show.

One very important item is your shoes. If you have an old pair of boots, that's great. But any comfortable pair of waking shoes is better than nothing, when your feet are wet and cold. If they are relaxed fit, even better; you can pull on an extra pair of socks if things get really cold. Leave a pair in the car at all times, especially if your normal shoes aren't practical for long walking in winter.


Being cold burns calories, and you feel ten times as miserable if you are cold AND hungry. Keep a few thousand calories of food in your car at all time. This isn't hard, as long as you don't tend to snack on your emergency food! Four Snickers bars is about 1000 calories, enough to keep your body fires lit through a cold night. A box of granola bars works just as well. Choose something that will keep forever, but that you won't easily be tempted to eat at random times. (Maybe chocolate isn't the best idea...!)

Drink is a slightly bigger problem, because you can't leave a bottle in your car all the time; it'll just freeze. Remember to bring a drink with you when you leave home or work.


Carry a small medicine kit in your car at all times, not just in winter. Tylenol, antacid, bandaids, a disinfectant cream. If you strain your back or knee digging your car out, a pain-killer could save your life, bringing you enough relief to do whatever you have to.

All of the items I have mentioned will fit easily into a single garbage bag (except the shovel!), where they will stay safe and dry in your back seat or trunk. A little insurance, a little peace of mind if you or a loved one has to drive in bad weather. I always make sure my wife's car is set up for the winter. It relieves my mind to know that I have done what I can to keep her safe. When my kids start driving I'll do the same for them.

On the day my car died, I was ready. I was lucky that I had warning; the low-battery light came on, and I knew something was wrong. I changed my route towards home from my usual back roads to a more well-traveled route. I headed in the direction of my Dad's house, a different route but still towards my house. The car died just a mile from his house, when the battery lost all its juice. The blizzard was still blowing and it was dark and very cold, but I put on my wool socks and boots and an extra coat and headed out on foot.

A mile in knee-deep snow after a long day at work exhausted me, but I wasn't worried. I had a reachable goal and plenty of warm clothes. If I had been farther away, I would have waited until morning, knowing that I had plenty of food and clothes, that the cold wouldn't kill me, even with the car heater dead.

Prepare Your Car For Winter, Comments:

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    • profile image

      Shannon Paulk 7 years ago

      Great advice! A car warranty can only cover the car, not yourself, and it's important to have a plan when you're dealing with extreme temperatures. I know most people in the Southwest don't own snow tires or chains, and may not think about it when driving to colder climates. Very informative hub!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Wannabwestern, just imagine driving in the western mountains. Gets really cold up there. In Iowa you are hardly ever more than a mile or two from a house, farm, barn, some kind of shelter. It can get down to minus twenty below zero though, and some vicious wind. It can kill fast, so I advise being able to stay with the car if necessary.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      This was tremendously useful information. We just moved from Arizona to Iowa, and this commonsense primer was great to read. Noone wants to be caught unprepared!