Snow Patrol: Winter Driving Safety Kit Must-Haves

by Kentin Waits on 19 October 2011 2 comments
Photo: Todd Anderson

I grew up in the Midwest, where winter preparedness is something between a religion and a science. Midwest winters are a combination of unpredictability, brutal temperatures, and roads paved with black ice. Having the proper winter gear for our cars isn’t just about avoiding inconvenience; it’s about survival, and there are a few essentials we think every driver should have. So, before the snow starts to fly, create a winter driving safety kit or check out your ride to make sure you’re equipped with everyday necessities and those important extras for the cold months. (See also: 10 Frugal Ways to Keep Your Home Warm This Winter)

Gas Can

With gas at its current price, who isn’t putting off filling up until the last possible moment? If you find yourself on empty and need to walk to a gas station or have a good Samaritan make a run for you, a spare gas can makes things easier. Not all gas stations have them at the ready.

Jumper Cables

Dead batteries are just part a part of life in sub-zero weather. Have a pair of jumper cables handy and know how to use them (or print this easy cheat sheet to keep in your glove box).

Cell Phone Charger

If you’re stuck on the road in an area that’s not heavily trafficked, your cell phone is your lifeline. Make sure you have a charger to juice up your phone and help get you out of a tight (and cold) spot.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is a must-have any time you’re on the road. Check your kit to make sure you’re well-stocked with sterile bandages, gauze, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, pain relievers, and antihistamines for allergic reactions. For a complete list of first aid kit supplies, check out FEMA’s recommendations.

Extra Food and Water

In modern life, having extra food and water on hand might not be a matter of absolute survival, but it certainly can make things more tolerable. Choose non-perishable, high-calorie, high-protein food like energy bars, granola bars, and nuts.

Extra Clothes or Blankets

In extreme temperatures, proper clothing can mean the difference between life and death. If your car battery is dead and you can’t generate heat from the motor, it’s going to get very cold very fast. Focus on extra hats, gloves, and blankets made of wool or polyester for greatest warmth. Emergency blankets made of Mylar are another good option — they’re light, inexpensive, and help retain 80 to 90% of the body’s radiant heat.

Flashlight

A working flashlight is essential for safety and to shed some light on those simple fixes you can do yourself. Choose a battery-operated flashlight or — even better — go for an emergency model that’s powered by kinetic energy like shaking or hand-cranking. If you go the conventional route, make sure to pack extra batteries.

Basic Tools

Carry enough tools to do simple repairs like patching a hose or tightening battery cables. A set of socket and open-end wrenches, pliers, and multi-head screwdriver will be enough for most jobs. Electrical or duct tape comes in handy for quick hose repairs until you can reach a service station. Oh, and don’t forget to include a few extra fuses in your tool kit for quick fixes to your car’s electrical system.

Spare Tire

Donut or full-sized, a spare tire is godsend on a cold dark night in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you have all the accompanying tools to change the tire, like a jack and lug wrench. If you’ve never changed a tire before, here’s another printable cheat sheet to keep handy.

Emergency Candle and Lighter

Even a small emergency candle or liquid paraffin candle can generate some warmth on a cold night. They’re long-lasting, smokeless, and odorless.

Kitty Litter

No, it’s not for your bobble-head kitty on the dashboard. For those moments when you’re stuck on ice, or in mud and slush, a little kitty litter poured under the tire will give you traction enough to get unstuck and back on the road (fresh scent is optional, of course).

Your winter driving safety kit doesn’t have to break the bank or drain your holiday budget. You probably have most of these items in your garage or house already. Others can be found at the dollar store or by keeping an eye out while thrift-shopping. Get the kids involved and make your kit a weekend project — it’ll speed up the process and help raise their awareness about winter safety and emergency preparedness. Stay warm!

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Just a thought

It's important to make sure the spare tire is properly inflated. It won't do you much good if you have all the tools to put it on only to find it flat as well! You might want to add this advice to the main article.

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Guest

One more thing. A shovel. Most any size will be better than none at all. A folding shovel will also work as a hoe.