Winter Preps To Keep In Your Car


As you travel in your car during the winter months, consider these important preparedness items kept in your vehicle. Your survival may even depend on it.

The fact is, we’re not always dressed appropriately for an emergency when we hop in the car to go somewhere. We assume that everything will be alright. During the winter, it’s especially important to have adequate warm clothing and protection form the elements. Even if you’re not wearing them, it is highly advisable to keep a separate dedicated set of cold-weather gear in the car (e.g. an extra jacket is better there than hanging in your closet at home).

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Scarf. Not the thin decorative type, but a substantial warm scarf.

Gloves. Not the cheap kind with no insulation, but something warm with ‘Thinsulate’ or other insulation.

Hat. A warm pullover hat that will also cover your ears. Fleece is a good insulator.

Poncho. A rain poncho provides a significant protection from developing hypothermia if you need to walk far in a cold rain (assuming you have a proper jacket underneath).

Walking Shoes/ Boots. Depending on your climate and geography, this might be sneakers or hiking boots. You may not always be wearing shoes that are good for walking, so this is a good thing to keep in the car just in case. Keep a pair of warm socks with them too.

Jacket. Keep one of your extra jackets in the car. If you ever need to double up, or if you simply do not have adequate outerwear protection when you need it, this could be a life saver. If you don’t have an extra jacket, keep a sweatshirt, sweater, or ‘something’ warm.

Blanket. A wool blanket is a very good choice, or fleece. Keep one for each person that typically travels in your vehicle.

Water. Even having a few water bottles sitting in your cup holders will be better than nothing. If you have to hoof it, water bottles are easy to carry or throw in a bag.

Backpack. A simple shoulder bag or light backpack to carry a bit of gear (food/water) if you have to walk out.

Food. Food bars are a good calorie dense and light weight emergency supply to keep in the car. Put a bunch of them in a zip-lock or container and keep out of the sun.

Shovel. Since we’re talking about winter, keep a small shovel in case you need to dig out of a slippery situation.

Ice Scraper. You probably already have one, but double check to be sure.

Snow Brush. Self explanatory.

Windshield Washer Fluid. Keep extra of the kind that will not freeze. There are lots of washer fluid varieties that will not hold up to freezing temperatures, so check the label.

Newly Installed Windshield Wiper Blades. There’s nothing worse than not being able to see out of a partially icy slushy streaking window while your old wiper blades are barely clearing away the mess. Dangerous…

Tire chains. Just buy a set that matches the size tire on your vehicle. Practice putting them on once, so you know how.

Sand, Salt. You can buy conveniently sized containers of this stuff to keep in your trunk.

Flashlight. Keep at least one decent LED flashlight in the car. Regularly check the batteries.

Jumper cables. An already weak car battery will become even weaker when it’s very cold.

Cash. Keep a small cash stash in the vehicle for an emergency situation where you might need it. Don’t be tempted to use it for non-emergencies. If you do use it, replenish it immediately.

Cell Phone Charger. You have a cell phone, but do you keep a car charger inside the car at all times?

72-Hour Kit. Although a typical kit may include some of the items above, here’s one article which may give you more ideas. 72 Hour Emergency Kit.

Full Gas Tank. Get in the habit of keeping your gas tank as full as possible. Not only providing more range, but if you’re ever stranded you will then be able to run your vehicle’s heater much longer.

Note: If you are thinking about keeping a bag of Kitty Litter for winter traction, think again. Apparently for the majority of varieties, if you look closely at the bags contents it may indicate “clay” as the main component. What do you get if you mix clay with snow or slushy water and add some heat from the friction of a spinning tire??? You get mud. So now, your car is stuck in snowy mud. Instead, consider using sand, or very fine pea gravel. A strip of old carpet forced under the leading edge of a tire might work too.

Note: During the winter, any food that you keep in the car which is ‘moist’ (canned foods, etc.) will potentially freeze, making it nearly impossible to eat. So during the winter keep dry foods for emergency storage.

Note: Similarly, keeping water in the vehicle (at all times) will also freeze (and potentially crack the container). The only way I know of to get around this issue during the winter (in regions where it’s often below freezing) is to simply get in the habit of bringing a fresh supply of water bottles every time you go out and drive (especially if on a long trip).

Note: One of the worst case scenarios would be getting stranded during heavy snowfall whereby you (and others) literally cannot drive any further. Depending on where this happens and the severity of the situation, will affect your potential rescue. The best case under this scenario would be in a populated location where you can walk a relatively short distance to shelter and safety. Worst case, you’re way out on the freeway somewhere in the boonies. To survive, you will need to stay warm. Please focus on your warmth, clothing, including footwear, in the event you have to stay in your vehicle for a long time or to walk away (only if shelter and safety is in sight or certain).

Note: If stranded in your vehicle in deep snow, while the engine is running (for warmth) you MUST keep your vehicle’s exhaust pipe clear of accumulating snow or you will suffer (or die) from carbon monoxide poisoning.

That’s a start… Hopefully this will get you thinking about specific WINTER items to keep in your vehicle during the winter season.

Any further ideas?

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  1. I keep several bottles of water in a small cooler, to keep it from freezing. Admittedly, it typically does not get below about 20 degrees at night here, and almost always gets above 40 degrees in the day.

    1. More people die of hypothermia when the temperature is above freezing than when it’s below freezing.

  2. Well thought out list.

    But if you stash cash in your car, take it out before servicing or towing your vehicle. I worked in body shops where I saw co-workers take cash from the floorboard, glove box and behind seats! I even had a service man steal my spare tire and I had him fired. If you store a lot in your car, remember to take it all out if serviced or handing keys to a mechanic, tow service, valet, etc. or be with your vehicle and watch it at all times.

  3. I keep a small stove with fuel pellets and two metal cups to melt snow (or to boil water from the creek.) I also keep mittens, long underwear, gaiters, several extra jackets, space blanket, “hot hands,” first aid kit, Kleenex, and M & M’s. If you are a young woman, you should also have extra tampons. If you have a small child, you need extra diapers and baby food/milk.

    Each time you go into your car, you should have any medications that you need.

  4. if you keep those small personal plastic bottles of water in car for emergency, it will not matter if they freeze. I have frozen these a number of times in the house freezer, to have cold /slushy water on long trips.

    Kitty Litter – thank you for that. when I go out, I will check ours.

  5. About 30 years ago my brother-in-law was driving his son (my nephew) back to his mothers house in Maine. He asked if me and the kids wanted to go along for the ride. Since it was just a quick over night stay, we packed nothing. I had the kids dress for the cold as I knew they would be playing outside once we got there. However I was not as smart. Sneakers, jacket, no hat, no gloves. Of course on the way there a raging snow storm hit, wind blowing so hard it rocked the van. This is on I95 now in Maine. Then all of a sudden the van died. My brother-in-law managed to pull over to the side of the road. No cell phones back then. Almost no cars on the road. A plow nearly buried the vehicle. We finally tied a red rag to the antenna. We waited in the freezing vehicle for about two hours until we were able to flag down a state trooper. During that time we all had to hit the great outdoors for our bathroom needs. Jumping out into hip high snow in sneakers was not fun. The trooper called a tow truck, then brought us to the next toll booth where they let all 6 of us huddle in the booth while they tried to get a taxi to come and get us. The taxi company had taken all their taxi’s off the road by this time. So finally the state trooper took us to the nearest motel. So I would recommend some sort of distress flag for your antenna or a strobe. Trying to get people to stop on a snowy highway with only one car every ten minutes is not fun.

  6. A tow strap or chains to pull yourself or others out of a snow drift. If you get stuck other drivers may stop to help but rarely will they have a tow strap. I prefer the strap to the chain, lighter, stronger and if it breaks it will do less damage.

    1. That’s a great additional suggestion. I have three of these ‘yellow’ tow straps in the truck. Each end has a heavy duty hook and can be hooked together for longer length if necessary. I’ve also used them to pull out the stumps of small trees and shrubs ;)

    1. Wow! At first I thought you were joking, but, if the electrical is off, you’d have quite a draft!

      1. I was joking about the picture because the door was open and the snow was inside the vehicle. Haha!! Just a little humor.

    2. But don’t you mean that when you’re engine is not idling/running stuck in snow or have a flat?

      Crack the windows if you do keep the engine running to keep warm, carbon monoxide gas kills people who have windows rolled up.

  7. I have several Molly Bags that stays in my truck. One Molly Bag is filled with emergency medical supplies. The second is filled with everything I need to survive in the wood. The third is shelter and clothing. I also carry tools, water, food, maps, headlamps, emergency radio, blankets, flairs and a survival cooker that runs on twigs for heat and cooking. My Molly Bags are filled with what I need to survive. My biggest concern is medical supplies. You never know if you will need them and be glad you have them if you do. If you don’t have certain things in your truck for emergencies I suggest that you take what Ken said as gospel and start thinking about “what if”. You are not only thinking about you but “what if” you came upon an accident and had no way to help? Having a blanket can save a life so why not have a couple? I will say that when you start thinking about putting together a emergency kit to think outside the box.

  8. I keep a few of the tuna can candles that I made to light for heat. They work very well and last a long time. If anyone is going to add this to their supplies, use it once to burn off the initial wax. It will be easier to light. I keep a small roll of red danger tape for when I have long items in my truck. This can also be used as a red flag, which I hadn’t thought of until now. I always travel with a sleeping bag and hand warmers also.

  9. With all the small stove and candle talk, I can’t help but think about carbon monoxide in an enclosed car. And don’t forget the fire extinguisher.

  10. A catalytic propane is well suited for auto survival, they are as small as 5,000 btu’s and you can set a piece of paper on the heating element and it won’t burn as there is no flame. There is little danger for CO poisoning for up to 6.5 hours of exposure, but oxygen depletion can be severe in a small enclosure such as a car, you need to keep the windows open.

  11. Military surplus stores might have cold weather canteens. You can give out datrex bars and mylar reflective blankets for x-mass.

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