If you live in the southern half of the United States it is easy to forget just how serious winter weather travel can be. In the mountains and in northern rural areas, winter means that simple car trouble could become a matter of life or death. Once the calendar has turned past the turkey and football of Thanksgiving, It is a good idea to make sure your car is packed for proper winter weather travel.
We already covered making sure your car was properly prepared here. What follows is a list of items you should pack for anything more than a short commute in the cold and snow.
What to prepare for winter driving
- Kitty Litter/Sand - If you have a rear-wheel-drive car this one does double duty. A bag or two adds weight over the driven wheels for better traction. If you do get stuck, a couple handfuls thrown down under the tires can quickly get you on your way again.
- Shovel - After a snowstorm, or worse yet, after a snow plow buries your street parked car, you are going to need a serious implement to dig it out. Perhaps more importantly, if you skid into a snowbank far from help, it may be the difference between getting home or getting frostbite.
- Warm Clothing/Boots - Chances are you commute back and forth to work, or head to the mall without dressing for an arctic exhibition. That’s fine, but if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or you break down or get stuck, you are going to appreciate a warm parka, gloves, a hat, and warm winter boots. Pack for the whole family before you go on a holiday road trip.
- Space Blankets - These tin foil-like blankets (like the ones marathon runners are wrapped up in after some races) fold up small enough to pack several in the glove compartment, but they work. If you break down or get stuck and have to stay in the car and wait for help (which is safer than going out into the cold dark night) these may save your life.
- Flashlight - You should always have a small LED flashlight in your car. They take up hardly any room, and a super useful. LED bulbs use very little power, but still make sure the batteries are fresh and pack a spare set just in case.
- Candles & Matches - The reason for the matches is obvious; to light the candle. There are many reasons to pack a few candles, including light, heat, and melting snow for drinking water. Pack a few into a tin can with one end removed to use as a candle holder, and to scoop up snow to melt.
- Brightly Colored Ribbon - If your car gets stuck on the side of the road, or in a snow drift, tying a ribbon to the antenna will make it easier for tow trucks, snow plows, and police to spot it.
- Whistle or Air Horn - Obviously many of these items you aren’t going to need in Boston or Chicago, but if you are stuck in a ditch in Oshkosh in a blizzard you are going to want to get attention. A loud whistle or air horn (or even a bell) can be heard easier than you screaming for help, especially after the first few screams.
- Snacks - Back something high in energy and nonperishable, like trail mix or energy bars. When the temperature drops your body burns up a lot of energy just staying warm. If you are stuck in a blizzard waiting hours for a snow plow or a tow truck, you will appreciate having a snack.
- Hand Warmers - These little chemical wonders are great no matter if you are ice fishing, tailgating, or stuck in the snow. Once activated the chemicals react inside of them to produce heat; not enough to start a fire, but enough to thaw your digits. They only work once, so grab a box and stick them in your car for extra cold days.
- Permanent Marker & Paper - If you do have to leave your car on the side of the road, or in a parking lot because of breakdown or bad weather, you’ll want to leave a note for the authorities. More important than what kind of paper though is what kind of marker. Bring a marker with ink that doesn’t wash off easily, so any note you leave will be legible even if it gets wet.
- Cell Phone Booster Battery - Everyone has cell phones in their pocket, and chargers in their cars, right? If you get stranded somewhere and leave the car to go on foot, be sure to have a spare fully charged cell phone battery, or a booster battery and charging cord. You don’t want to be stranded in whiteout conditions with no GPS and no way to call for help.
- Jumper Cables - Of course, you had your battery tested for cold-cranking ability under load at your last oil change, right? It takes more energy to turn an engine when the temperature is low and the oil is thick, but at the same time, a battery has less power when the temperature drops. Having jumper cables and knowing how to use them is neighborly. Getting a boost, or giving one can mean the difference between having a merry christmas or waiting in the snow for a tow truck.