Last year, an unusual snowstorm in the Southeastern US left hundreds of motorists stranded overnight in their vehicles. Residents near the Atlanta, Georgia area had been warned that a severe winter storm was headed their way, but when morning came, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Motorists continued throughout their day, headed to work and school. After just a few inches of snow, cars on freeways came to a complete standstill. Cars were gridlocked in for hours. One group of kids in Atlanta were on a school bus for 16 hours after departing school.
This was not a question of snow-driving competence. At a certain point, if there are too many cars in front of you, regardless of driving ability, you will be stuck behind the rest of them.
The takeaway here is that, even if you live in a climate that only gets about 1-2 inches of snow, it is vital to prepare a winter survival kit before the first snow falls. As personal injury lawyers, we’ve heard the horror stories.
While you should have the supplies available to set off on foot, in most cases, the safer course of action is to stay with your vehicle and wait for assistance.
Plan A: Winter Vehicle Survival
Let’s be honest; not having a breakdown or becoming stranded at all this winter is plan A.
When winter approaches, top up your fluids, make sure your tires are in good condition, and get your oil changed as needed. Keep your fuel level above the halfway point. It means more stops along the way, but in the event that you do get stranded, you will be able to run your vehicle for increments of time, keeping you warm.
Of course, as we saw in Georgia’s gridlock last year, a perfectly working car could get stuck simply because of its surroundings. Plan A isn’t always enough.
Plan B: Your Cell Phone
In today’s world, many people rely so much on their cell phone, they think they can just call for assistance in the event that they’re stranded. That’s a great Plan B. In fact, we recommend you ALWAYS have a cell phone charger in your car so that you can call for help if your phone battery dies.
There are situations that a charged phone isn’t good enough. What if you don’t have signal or your cell service has been interrupted? What if your car won’t start, so your charger won’t help your phone?
You should be prepared to take care of yourself if calling for help isn’t an option.
The Winter Survival Kit
Despite your vehicle maintenance and your charged cell phone, you may still find yourself stranded in the dead of winter. This is when your kit comes into play.
Certainly, a lot of what you keep in your kit will vary based on the space in your car, your environment, or your ability to live off the land. Our ultimate winter car survival kit will certainly take up a fair amount of space. Feel free to modify it to your comfort level.
Many winter preppers use 10-gallon tubs to keep their winter survival kits. This could limit trunk space in a sedan, but if you drive an SUV, you can put groceries or small purchases on top of the tubs; this way they can stay in your car at all times. You never know when disaster might hit.
First Aid Kit
If a car accident leaves you stranded, you need to be able to treat injuries as best as possible. The American Red Cross has a great webpage devoted to first aid kits.
When packing your kit, consider any specific needs that your family may have. Pack any daily prescriptions. If a child has a severe food allergy, keep an epi-pen on hand. Remember, medications expire, so you will need to check the kit regularly to replace used or out-of-date contents.
The Red Cross recommends that first aid kits for a family of four include the following:
- 2 absorbent compress dressings
- 25 adhesive bandages
- 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
- 5 antibiotic ointment packets
- 5 antiseptic wipe packets
- 2 packets of aspirin
- 1 breathing barrier (one-way valve)
- 1 instant cold compress
- 1 space blanket (you can get these at the American Red Cross Store)
- 2 pair of latex-free gloves
- 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
- 1 roller bandage
- 5 sterile gauze pads
- Oral thermometer (non-mercury)
- 2 triangular bandages
The first aid kit seems to contain a lot, but keep in mind that these items are relatively small. First aid kits are extremely important to a winter car survival kit.
Shelter From The Cold
The fact is, your strongest shelter from the cold is going to be your car. When you’re just going around the block, a tent might be too big to fit, but if you’re going on a longer trip, it might be a good idea. You never know what could cause you to be stranded. If you can’t use the car for shelter, but somehow manage to open your trunk, you’ll be glad you brought it.
Again, most of the time, your car will provide the best shelter from the cold.
But, your car will get cold. If you’re going on a long trip, you probably have dry clothes packed, but consider keeping these items inside 24/7:
- Winter boots – keep a pair of moisture-resistant snow boots for each family member on the trip.
- Moisture-resistant winter coats and snow pants for each passenger
- Seasonally-appropriate clothing—think socks, gloves, hats, etc.
- A blanket for each passenger—Space blankets are fantastic, but can get expensive.
- Tea light candles and a metal coffee can – Click Here for a tutorial on making a heater
Food & Hygiene Items
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you don’t need water! ALWAYS have water with you, ESPECIALLY on longer trips. You’ll also want food and hygiene products on hand in case your stay lasts longer than expected. Here are some ideas;
- A gallon of water
- Peanut butter
- Granola Bars
- Canned stew or chili
- Canned baked beans
- Canned fruit
- Canned tuna
- **Don’t Forget a Can Opener!
- Toilet Paper
- Wet wipes
If you’re stranded, a survival kit is essential, but it does have a time limit. Be sure to pack tools to get out on your own, or signal for help from passersby. Jumper cables or tow straps can help get your vehicle out of a sticky situation, or kitty litter can help add traction to a tire.
- Flashlight (and extra batteries)
- Survival Knife
- Up-to-date road atlas
- Booster Cables
- Tow Straps
- Kitty Litter or salt – can help get your car out of the snow
- Mirrors for signaling (compacts may do the trick)
- Backpacks for Each Passenger: If you do have to leave the car, you’ll want to carry as much as possible with you.
Drive Safe This Winter!
Thanksgiving weekend is the most dangerous weekend of the year. With so many travelers off to see family members, accidents always happen. We tried to make our winter survival kit guide as exhaustive as possible – you never know what to expect on a road trip – but ultimately, we wanted to get you thinking about being prepared. Feel free to personalize your kit as you need.
Of course, getting to your destination without breaking into the survival kit is the goal. This winter, drive slowly and predictably in adverse conditions – and slow down or move over for stopped vehicles!