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When winter weather approaches, it is a good time to refresh (or create) your winter car emergency kit. Specific kit contents will depend on climate, location, and the amount of free space in the car. One way to build your emergency kit is to think about categories to include, and then tailor those categories to your specific driving conditions.
Make your plans to ensure three things: Survival, Repair, and Rescue
A winter emergency kit needs to ensure that you will live through a breakdown. At a minimum, a winter kit needs to include provisions to protect the car’s occupants from exposure to the elements. Without protection, exposure to rain, snow, and sub-freezing temperatures can claim a life in minutes or hours. What constitutes adequate protection will depend on the expected driving conditions.
A car that will be on mountain roads far from the nearest town will require more protection from the elements: reflective Mylar blankets, parkas, gloves, and waterproof overwear, for example. On the other hand, a car that will be driven only on urban streets might need only a few pairs of gloves and a wool blanket.
After exposure to the elements, consider the need for water and food for all the expected occupants. Although a body can go without water for several days, and without food for even longer, the ability to function while remaining coherent and oriented will deteriorate long before death comes.
In emergency situations, the ability to remain focused and mentally alert is one of the greatest tools, and dehydration or hunger will chip away at that ability. As with protection from the elements, the exact contents of your emergency kit should reflect how long you think it might take help to arrive.
After you have ensured that your emergency kit will keep you alive, you can turn your attention to ensuring that you can summon help. In most cases, your best tool will be a charged cell phone and a membership in a roadside assistance program. If you think you might be waiting for a while, a hand-cranking mobile phone charger will allow you to remain in contact with help, even if your car battery has died. You also should make sure that you will be able to direct your rescuers to your location. A handheld GPS can help, but (pace-permitting), a street map and the ability to read it is a solid backup plan.
Depending on your skill level, you can fill out your remaining winter emergency kit with a few repair items. A set of emergency jumper cables and the knowledge of how to use them will help with dead batteries. You can also buy an emergency battery charger that will allow you to start your car if the battery has died and a jump is not available.
A can of flat tyre repair sealant can give you the ability to hobble to a service station. If you live in particularly icy conditions, a small supply of ice melt might help you get traction on otherwise slippery surfaces if you are stuck, as well as snow chains. If you have the space, wood slats can be used for traction if you do not have enough ice melt or salt.
A winter emergency kit for the car will ideally contain all those things that you might need while stuck on the road in bad weather. It should allow you to survive until the weather passes, or while help comes if there is a problem, to call for help when needed or assist you to fix the problem if you are mechanically minded. You may be stuck for just hours, or perhaps overnight or longer.
Consider some of these things a kit should help you do
Survive until the weather passes or help comes. Your emergency kit should contain plenty of warm blankets, hats, gloves, thick coats, and anything else that will keep you warm and comfortable inside the vehicle. You won’t want to leave the car heaters on and drain the battery or leave the car running and use all the petrol.
- A good pair of boots for at least one person to go outside the vehicle when needed without getting soaking wet cold feet would also be useful. Along with spare warm clothing, you will need some emergency food – snacks and drinks – that will sustain you. If you get really stuck with liquid an empty container will allow you to collect clean snow and melt the snow to rink that.
- Call for help. Your emergency kit should enable you to raise assistance when needed, alert family and friends of the situation, or call for emergency services. A phone and charger may be sufficient for most locations, but you may need to consider a radio – not just the CB (Citizen’s Band) radio that will allow you to chat short distances to vehicles that are not hidden behind hills or mountains, but one which can get through long distances and even send alerts on emergency channels monitored by assisting authorities.
- Stay comfortable. Staying comfortable is important when stuck in bad weather. While keeping warm is a priority having something to do while waiting is also a good idea – from books and magazines to colouring and activities for the children. A windup torch will make coping with overnight situations easier and you can always guarantee you will have the light just by winding the handle.
- Warn other road users. If you are stuck because you have gone off the road and may present a hazard to other vehicles still travelling then having the warning triangle to alert others to your presence will be important. Place this away from the vehicle and check that it is visible. In really bad weather make sure it doesn’t blow away or get snowed under.
No winter emergency kit can meet the needs of every driver in every location. But by thinking about the categories of items that you will need, and then filling your available space with items that are tailored to your climate, location, and your particular skills, you can tailor your vehicle emergency kit to maximize your ability to survive, repair, and get rescued.
Keeping the kit in an accessible place in the car itself – like under the seat – will mean it is easy to reach and is less likely to be damaged if there is a minor accident – like someone going into the back – that hampers your progress.