Winter car emergencies happen. That’s why you need to purchase and assemble winter car emergency supplies. They are as important as any other piece of car gear. A car breakdown in severe winter weather doesn’t have to be a life or death survival situation. You’ll be prepared if you carry an emergency car kit in your vehicle with a few common items which are easy to find and if you have the knowledge about what to do in an emergency situation.
Chances are that with most breakdowns, you can just call someone or an auto club and that will solve the immediate problem. But situations do arise when you have to drive in a storm, or off on some back roads, or somewhere far from anywhere you know. In the event of a breakdown there, you’ll need to stay warm and alert and wait for help in your auto.
Here are some things to put in a winter emergency kit to keep in your car most all winter long and are mandatory to take on any winter trip.
- Matches and a lighter: A whole box of waterproof, preferably windproof matches, from a camping store or online. Get a windproof, electronic lighter. A two dollar disposable butane lighter may prove next to worthless in a storm.
- Candles, napkins, and hand sanitizer: Pack a half dozen or more small votive or tea candles. The kind you can set down. You’d be amazed how much heat a single candle can produce. You’ll want some paper towels, paper napkins or toilet paper. These have their obvious uses and you’ll want them for first aid and to start a fire. Pack an ounce or two of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the first aid kit. A little hand sanitizer on paper will instantly ignite.
- Hats and gloves: Sometimes we dash off in the automobile without all our winter clothing. Keeping warm is often about simple insulation. Keep a couple extra ski hats and heavy gloves in the kit. If your hands lose feeling, you’re in huge trouble. Keeping your head warm is critical. More body heat is lost there than anywhere else, and we typically insulate it the least.
- Sleeping bag (one or more): This is particularly important if you could be stranded with small children who need protecting. A good quality synthetic fiber sleeping bag is a must if you’re traveling below freezing. Cheap bags don’t roll up well for storage in the trunk with your car gear and don’t insulate well. Goose down is a wonderful insulator, but down bags cost a lot and you may be tempted to leave it at home. Most importantly, you can’t keep them rolled up or stuffed for long without damaging them. They’re worthless when wet.
- Space blankets, tarps, and some trash bags: Put two mylar space blankets and/or mylar tarps and a couple of heavy duty 40 gal. trash bags in the emergency kit. The trash bags can be cut for arms and head for a waterproof, windproof poncho which is a vapor barrier and will retain body heat. Mylar serves as a reflective heat barrier. Wrap up in one inside the sleeping bag and cover the bag with the other. They do work. Test them out.
- First aid kit, flashlights, and a knife: Always pack a first aid kit, all year, for obvious reasons. Put two flashlights and extra batteries in the kit. LED flashlights don’t burn out bulbs. Older types do. Disposables are ok but don’t get the cheapest thing you can find. Buy several that are all alike. Use a couple around the house to ensure reliability. Check the lights in the kit each month or so and replace them in the spring. A sturdy handled knife or a utility knife with blades is a must. Get serrated blades, available online and at any home improvement store. If you have to slice apart a seat belt or car seats for fuel it will make a difference.
- Food and water: Non-perishable, high-calorie food like large chocolate bars or protein, granola, or candy bars are good energy. Seal them air tight and check occasionally to see that they’re untouched. They can attract little animals, as well as kids. Bring water in unopened, original disposable plastic bottles. If it’s unopened it can last quite a while. Change it out periodically. If it’s opened, you can’t assure against contamination. Glass bottles can break. Protect the water from freezing solid of you are stuck in the vehicle.
- Car tools, tape, and flares: Know where your car jack, it’s crank, tire iron and lug nut key are and how to use them. A very heavy duty 10 to 12-inch flat blade screwdriver, a reflective warning triangle and always useful duct tape are all 12-month mandatory equipment. Emergency road flares from any auto parts store could be useful. However, they’re unreliable if they ever get damp. They pose at least, a minor fire hazard. You’re not going to use them unless it’s to alert help that’s on the way. Whether to carry them is debatable, but it’s up to you.
- Phone and CB radio: Your ability to call for help is the number one safety tool you have. Few of us travel anywhere without a cell phone, but be prepared by getting an extra battery for it and a 12 volt car charger. Keep the spare charged up and in the vehicle. Consider a portable CB radio. A CB radio is unlike a cell phone, which relies on towers which may not be near or blocked by hills or canyons. CB communication is radio to radio. It can be relayed by anyone who intercepts a call for help. They have built-in, dedicated emergency channels which are monitored by first responders. Portable CBs run on AA batteries or 12 volt power in your car or 120 volts in camp. A good quality, simple to operate unit costs less than $100 retail and weighs less than a pound.
You can put your emergency car kit together in less than one afternoon and for very little money. You may already have some of these items. It will give you peace of mind to know it’s there and ready and you’ll be thankful that you’ve got one if you ever have to use it.