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NJM Blog

Creating a Winter Car Emergency Kit: A Comprehensive Guide

October 23, 2018
Creating a Winter Car Emergency Kit: A Comprehensive Guide

With each passing winter, the weather is becoming more unpredictable. You never know when you might be caught in the middle of a nor'easter and become stranded on a crowded roadway. Keeping a winter car emergency kit with the following items can help you be prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way.

Core items of a winter car emergency kit:

  • Non-perishable food and bottled water
  • Jumper cables or a portable battery charger
  • A blanket or sleeping bag
  • A flashlight
  • A small tool kit
  • An ice scraper and portable shovel
  • Traction mats/salt/kitty litter
  • A half-full tank of gas
  • A car phone charger/portable battery
  • Roadside flares or markers

Non-perishable food and bottled water
In the case of a snow squall or a quick-moving storm, visibility decreases and it's not uncommon to see major car accidents, leading to highways being blocked off and hundreds stranded with nowhere to go. If you find yourself in this situation and too far away from the next exit, you'll be thankful to have packed some snacks and water in your emergency kit. In the case that you're left high and dry for more than a few hours, it's essential to have high-calorie snacks on hand to maintain proper internal body temperature.

Jumper cables or a portable battery charger
Car batteries are notoriously affected by the weather, with many cars dying unexpectedly in cold temperatures. Should this happen to you, make sure to have a set of quality jumper cables in your winter car emergency kit. However, relying on another person being kind enough to help jump your car in the dead of winter should not be your only plan. It may be worthwhile to invest in a set of jumper cables attached to their own battery that can sometimes perform several jumps before needing a charge.

A blanket or sleeping bag
As time goes on and you're still waiting on someone to come to your aid, temperatures will likely drop with the setting of the sun and keeping the car on for hours will quickly deplete your gas tank. If space allows, having an insulated sleeping bag or wool blanket could (literally) save your life.

A flashlight
To prevent draining your car battery, avoid using internal lights. Instead, keep a flashlight in your winter car emergency kit. One with LED bulbs is the best choice because they last much longer and eliminate the need to carry backup batteries or bulbs. It might also be a good idea to pack a book in your kit, and use the flashlight as a reading light, to help pass the time in case you are stuck for longer than anticipated.

A small tool kit
Some winter car emergencies are the result of not maintaining your car before the weather changes. Having a tool kit could allow you or a kind stranger to fix the issue preventing your car from getting you home. Pliers, a screwdriver, a wrench and some duct tape are a good start and may be able to offer a quick fix that is just enough to get you to a repair shop or gas station that can help get you on your way.

An ice scraper and portable shovel
If you end up on the side of the road during a storm, you may have to dig yourself out to ensure that you don't become trapped or are invisible to rescuers. Foldable shovels are much easier to keep in your winter emergency car kit than a full sized shovel, although it may make digging yourself out slightly more difficult. Additionally, ice accumulation on your windshield makes driving extremely dangerous; having an ice scraper can help eliminate the time spent in the cold trying to keep your windshield clear and ultimately keeping you warmer longer.

Traction mats/salt/kitty litter
Going hand-in-hand with an ice scraper and portable shovel is something to get you moving if you get stuck on a patch of ice. Even though kitty litter and salt are more common remedies to this issue, investing in a set of traction mats might be worthwhile to keep in your car. They enable you to aim your car in the direction you need to go when stuck on ice. Even better, they are able to be used over and over again, no matter how many times you may get stuck.

A half-full tank of gas
Stopping to get gas on the way home is never fun but in the wintertime it's a necessity. When temperatures dip below freezing, your car can start to act up. One common issue is gas tends to separate in lower temperatures, meaning it may seem as if you have less gas than you thought you did. This is why it is important to always keep your tank at least half-full to avoid running out of gas and getting stuck on the side of the road. It's also important to get a vehicle check-up before the winter season, to make sure that you have enough antifreeze and don't have any holes in your gas line.

Car phone charger or portable battery
It goes without saying that in an emergency, having a dead phone is a huge issue. Keeping a charging cable in your car can save you the trouble of being stranded with no way to contact help. An even better solution would be to carry a portable phone charger and cord with you so that you can avoid using your limited supply of gas to keep your car running to charge your phone. Once your phone is charged up, call NJM's 24/7 roadside assistance for help.

Roadside flares or markers
Getting into an accident during a snowstorm is a very scary thing to have to worry about. Causing an accident in a snowstorm can be even scarier. If your car is disabled and you are not able to pull over to the shoulder, make sure to have road flares or some sort of reflective marker to signal to oncoming traffic that your car is there and temporarily blocking traffic. This simple step can keep yourself and other drivers safe from collisions.

It is also important to note that if you do need to use some of these items, having them in the trunk may make them more difficult to access. We recommend, when possible, to keep these items within reach such as under the passenger seat. If you want to be even more prepared, consider adding a box of waterproof matches or a fire starter, an extra can of gas and a first aid kit to your winter car emergency kit. In the event of more serious situations that may leave you stuck in your car for an extended period of time, these items can be necessary for survival.

With these items, you will be better prepared during the cold, snowy months in case an emergency arises while you are on the road. Having a winter car emergency kit always prepared will give you some peace of mind when driving during the colder months. Still, you should always use sound judgement when driving in winter weather events and heed warnings by local officials and meteorologists.

References:
http://readywisconsin.wi.gov/winter/HowToMakeAKit.asp
https://www.skilledsurvival.com/winter-emergency-vehicle-kit/
https://www.almanac.com/content/car-emergency-kit
https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/life-saving-items-to-keep-in-your-car-in-case-a-winter-emergency-happens/70003523