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I grew up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Winter weather could be kind of crazy there, as storms could pop over the mountains, with hardly more than a moment’s notice. This happened so often that we’d say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes, and it will change.”
That actually gave me my first taste of a true winter survival situation. With furious winter storms popping up at a moment’s notice, people can easily find themselves in deep snow and far from home, even though it had been clear and sunny when they left their house just a short while earlier. I know, because I was one of those who got caught.
If there was ever a survival situation that requires preparation, it’s dealing with a sudden winter storm. Temperatures can drop extremely quickly, roads can become blocked and you can find yourself suddenly off the road in a snow bank. If that happens at night on a little used stretch of country road, you might end up being there for a while, before anyone finds you. Take out phone service at the same time, and you’re in an even bigger mess.
There’s two parts to preparing for such a winter survival situation. The first part is preparing the car itself. Winter weather is hard on cars, and you want to make sure that your car is going to keep running. The second part is preparing the necessary survival supplies so that you can survive while you’re awaiting rescue.
Prepare the Car for Winter Survival
You’re much more likely to have a problem with your car in the winter, especially if you haven’t prepared it. While there are not all that many things to prepare, you want to make sure you do them all.
- Check your battery. Every year, car battery sales go up just after the first real freeze or heavy snowfall. That’s because cold weather is hard on lead-acid batteries. If your battery is old, you might want to consider changing it before winter hits. At a minimum, have it checked to ensure that it will still hold a good charge.
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- Check your antifreeze. If the water in your cooling system freezes, you’re stuck; there’s no two ways about it. You might be able to leave home or the office, but you’ll probably lose all your coolant and have your car overheat. Make sure you have adequate antifreeze to keep the water from freezing. Ideally, you want a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.
- Check your tires. Good tires will help you to make it through the snow. If your tire tread is starting to look a little light, it’s time to replace them, especially on the drive wheels. If your old tires can still be used, but don’t have enough tread for the snow, save them and put them back on when summer rolls around again.
- Studs and chains. Studded tires or chains will help a car make it through the snow, but they’re not legal in all states. Check first; if it’s legal, you might want to invest in a good set of chains.
- Most cars nowadays are front-wheel drive. That puts the weight of the engine over the drive wheels, which is great for helping you get traction. But if you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, you probably need more weight over the drive wheels. Throw a couple of bags of sand into the back of your truck or trunk of your car to give it more weight.
- Check your wiper blades. Worn wipers won’t get the snow off your windshield as well as new ones do. If you live someplace that gets a lot of snow, you might want to invest a few extra bucks for the heavy-duty ones; they’ll work better and last longer.
- Keep the gas tank full. A full gas tank will add more weight over the rear wheels, as well. In addition, if you’re stuck somewhere, it will allow you to run the engine periodically and keep the inside of the car relatively warm.
- Grab a shovel. A small shovel or folding shovel will help you dig your way out, if you happen to get caught in the snow.
Preparing a Winter Survival Kit
Now that your car is ready to survive the cold and help you survive it as well, there are a few other winter survival supplies that you should pack along to make your life a little easier, while you’re waiting to be rescued.
A great way to do this is to use a military-style ammo can for your car survival kit. You can make a multi-wick candle in the bottom of the ammo can and then put your other survival supplies on top of it. That way, it’s all together in a waterproof container. Your kit will need:
- While candles won’t make the inside of that car toasty warm, they can keep it from getting down below freezing. Either make one big candle in the bottom of that ammo can or put some nice big candles in your kit. Look for candles which will burn for a
long time, as well as ones that have thick wicks. Thick wicks produce a bigger flame, supplying more heat.
- You’ll need some way of lighting those candles on fire, so put in some strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container. The best matches are “storm proof matches.” Don’t bring a butane lighter, as they don’t work in the cold.
- Space blankets. You’ll want several space blankets, enough that you can coat the inside of the passenger compartment of your vehicle, making a cozy cocoon for you. If you are traveling by yourself or with one other person, you can enclose just the front seating area, making a wall behind the seat from a space blanket. A smaller area will be easier to keep warm.
- Some high energy food bars. Your body is going to be burning a lot of calories, trying to stay warm. Make sure you have something that is high in carbohydrates, to give your body the energy it needs.
- While you might not be thinking about getting thirsty in the wintertime, it will happen. Your body needs water to survive, so make sure you’ve got a gallon of it.
- Small stove and pot. If you want to get fancy about this, pack along a small backpacking stove and a pot or canteen cup. That will allow you to make tea or coffee, a great way of helping you stay warm.
- Plastic bags. You don’t want to have to go outside of your car to go to the bathroom, so have some plastic bags to use as an emergency toilet. They can be tied shut and stored until you are rescued. You might want to add some toilet paper as well.
- A heavy blanket. Okay, this one won’t fit in your ammo can; but if you have room in the car, throw in a good blanket. A wool one is best, as it will maintain some of its insulating value even when wet.
- A flashlight. You should have this anyway, but in this case, it’s the best way to signal to someone on the outside that you’re alive in the car.
You don’t want to get out of the car for anything. Store your winter survival supplies inside the car, rather than in the trunk. It can snow hard enough at times that you could try going to the trunk, fall down, and not be able to find your way back to the car.
If you have enough gas, your engine will start and your tailpipe isn’t plugged with snow, you can use your car’s heater to help keep warm. But don’t run it continually, as you’ll probably run out of gas. Instead, run it 10 minutes and then shut it down for 15. In this way, the engine won’t get cold enough that you have trouble getting heat out of it. While this won’t keep the car totally warm, it will keep it warm enough for survival.
In a real pinch, you can burn the spare tire. While this requires getting out of the car, you have to trade off that risk with freezing to death. Don’t burn the tire in the car, but rather open a door on the downwind side and burn it there. You can make a heat reflector out of a space blanket to capture as much of that heat as possible.
Finally, always dress for colder weather than what you are expecting. If it is winter, take along a hat, gloves and a warm coat, even if the weather forecast says “sunny and warm.” You just might need that coat — and not having it could be catastrophic.
What are your winter car survival tips? Leave them in the section below: