Winter Happens, So Pack A Car Kit

A drive can turn to hell in a hurry if your car breaks down in a snowstorm.

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winter boots snow

Winter’s so pretty – all that snow, warm nights by the fire with hot chocolate. Cue “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow” … Let’s get real. By February you are so over snow and ice and  polar vortexes and bomb cyclones – freaking bomb cyclones, for God’s sake — that you’re ready to stage your own disappearance and set up shop in Belize with a new social security number, name and hair color.

OK, rant over. You and I both know a new life on a Caribbean beach is not happening, no matter how much you hate the damn cold. How about you settle for learning how to not die be safe if your car breaks down in the snow?

Wintertime car trouble is not a joke. If your car dies in the summer, it’s an inconvenience. In the winter, in a snowstorm, it’s legitimately dangerous. Yes, you can call for help on your cell, but impassable, icy roads mean you may wait a long time for assistance to arrive. Sitting in a car in sub-freezing temperatures is not only uncomfortable, but also unsafe.

dogs running in snow
Make sure to pack food your furry friends.

Be smart. Pack a winter car safety kit. Your kit should be able to accommodate an extended stay, several hours or maybe even overnight, until help arrives. You can buy prefab kits or build your own. It needs to include the following items:

Cell phone: Make sure it’s charged before you leave.

Cell phone charger: Keep one in your car at all times. A charging case like a Mophie is also a great way to keep extra juice handy.

Flashlight, plus extra batteries: Those little LED ones don’t take up much space and are bright as heck.

Jumper cables: When temperatures fall below zero, your battery loses 60 percent of its power. You may need a boost off someone else’s battery to get the car started.

Bottled water: Two 8-ounce bottles per person is a good rule of thumb, more if you are going on a longer trip. Good news! That water will be ice cold when you have to break it out.

Multitool: Something like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army Knife, because there’s never a bad time to have nail clippers, a screwdriver and a knife within reach.

Road flares: Reflective warning triangles work, too. These will help your rescuers locate your car in the middle of a white-out or on a dark road.

First-aid kit: A basic one, prefab and off-the-shelf, is fine. Bandages, antiseptic cream, gauze pads, you know the drill.

Non-perishable, high-calorie food: Peanut butter, granola bars – the sort of things you would eat on a hike. Or, you know, when stranded in your car. Also make sure to pack food for your furry friends. 

Blankets, gloves, hats: You need to stay warm while you’re waiting for help.

Ice scraper: This should be in your glove box at all times.

Bag of sand: You can pour it on the ground to get more traction on an icy road. Kitty litter works well, too.

Sleeping bags: If you’re on a long trip and break down in a remote area, you could be there a long while. Pack a sleeping bag and pretend it’s a spontaneous camp-out.

Now then, your winter car kit is packed and stored in the trunk. Let’s talk about what you need to know and do before you leave:

Check the weather forecast: Duh. But seriously, do it.

Remember, black ice is more dangerous than Kylo Ren: You can’t see it, but that thin layer of ice covering the road is slick and will send your car spinning into a ditch or bridge railing.

Keep your tank filled above halfway: This will help keep your gas lines from freezing up.

Keep tires inflated to the proper PSI: PSI = pounds per square inch. In most vehicles, there’s a sticker inside the driver or passenger door jamb that lists the recommended rates. Or, you can Google the type of tires you have to get the info. And remember, freezing temperatures make your tires lose air.

OK, let’s say the worst has happened. Your car has broken down. Here’s what you need to do:

Stay in your vehicle: People often die after “going for help” in these situations. It’s better to stay put and dial for help. You are warm in your car, but you won’t be warm if you try to walk to the nearest gas station, house, whatever. Use that fully charged cell phone you packed and call for help.

Run the engine to stay warm: Switch it on for no more than 15 minutes per hour until help arrives. Because you gassed up when you left, you don’t need to worry about running out of gas. Your tank was full, right?

Don’t use the dome light: You’ll drain your car battery if you do this without the engine running. Instead, use the flashlight you packed in your winter car kit.

Clear the snow off your car: Your rescuers will have more trouble finding you if your vehicle is covered in the white stuff.

If you live in a place where snow is rare, like Florida or the Gulf Coast, then you don’t have to worry about any of this quite as much. You do need to read our Hurricane Preparedness Guide, though.

winter car kit

Thanks Kiddie Family for the great pictures!