How To Own Winter Driving
Here's The Gear You Need To Navigate Frosty Conditions Like a Boss
Road dangers can strike in any weather, but they’re especially dangerous in winter. Low visibility, ice patches, snow, rain or other extreme weather conditions can make spinning out or getting stuck more likely, and cold temperatures can make waiting for help uncomfortable at best—or much, much worse. Here’s all the gear you should have in your car to be prepared for a legit winter emergency.
A Basic Emergency Kit
Whether or not you live in a disaster-prone area – and with climate change, sooner or later we all might – it’s a good idea to keep a basic emergency kit in your vehicle. Water, non-perishable food, LED beacons or flares, a phone charger, a flashlight (try one with a hand crank so you never have to worry about dead batteries), a simple first-aid kit, a phone charger, work gloves and jumper cables (if applicable) should be in your vehicle at all times, recommends Marie D. Jones, the CERT- and Red-Cross-trained author of The Disaster Survival Guide: How to Prepare for and Survive Floods, Fires, Earthquakes and More. Organizing your supplies can get as intense as using a tactical backpack or as chill as putting everything in a cardboard box—just make sure they’re collected and easy to find and access.
You, your car, your phone and any passengers or pets should all have enough fuel to make it to your destination even if there’s an unexpected delay.
That means a gas tank that’s at least half full – or, for electric vehicles, a fully charged battery—is a must for winter driving. Before heading out, also make sure your fluid levels, windshield wipers, head and tail lights, defroster and heater are all in working order. Get your tires checked and use snow tires if you live somewhere with snow and ice on the ground. "The most common types of emergencies can be prevented by visiting your mechanic before winter weather starts up to make sure your car is in top shape,” says Jones.
Cold weather can be harder on car batteries. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, a car battery is 60% weaker than normal, and at 32 degrees it’s 35% weaker than normal, according to AAA. Get ahead of a dead battery by bringing along a portable jump starter, recommends Christopher Burdick from Automoblog. Some portable jump starters can also act as backup chargers for your phone.
Charge your phone and keep a charger in the car so you can call for help if you need it. "The most important item someone should have is a CHARGED CELL PHONE,” Jones wrote in The Disaster Survival Guide.
In addition to your regular car charger, an alternate power source – like the Midland ER210 emergency radio and flashlight, which is hand-crank or solar powered and can charge a device via USB – can keep you communicating even if your car dies. If you’re stuck roadside in a Fair car, you can call the Fair roadside hotline at 1-800-289-3891. Your Fair car includes coverage up to $100 for incidents related to towing, extraction, a dead battery, a flat tire change, fluid delivery, and lockout assistance.
If you get stuck, you might not know how long you’ll have to wait before help arrives. Even if your emergency supplies live in the trunk, keep accessible water and easy-to-eat food for people and pets in the passenger compartment of the vehicle so it’s easy to get to even if the trunk freezes shut.
Bring warm clothing along even if you’re going from door to door or garage to garage. Being dressed for work doesn’t often mean being dressed for the cold, and an extra sweater or jacket, scarf, hat, gloves and socks and boots will help protect you from hypothermia. Heavy blankets can also help in the event you need to shelter inside your vehicle.
Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
Ice and snow can keep you from seeing other drivers and other drivers from seeing you. Reduce your chances of having a winter roadside emergency in the first place by using a snow brush and ice scraper to clear the snow off the roof.
If it’s powdery it can wreck your and other drivers’ visibility, and if it’s wet or icy it can fly off and hit another vehicle. When clearing your windshield, work downwards, including the hood and the trunk, making sure that all windows, wipers, mirrors and lights are free of snow and ice. If you get stuck in a storm, periodically clearing off snow and ice can help you be more visible to emergency response.
An ice scraper can also help you clear your exhaust pipe of ice, snow and mud. Since a clogged exhaust pipe means certain carbon monoxide poisoning for those inside your car, check for blocks and knock out any debris before starting your car, whether you parked in the open or are trying to get yourself out of a snowbank.
A Small Shovel
If you have to dig yourself out, you’ll want a shovel. Pair it with work gloves, which can help protect your hands more than gloves meant for warmth. A shovel can also come in handy if you get stuck.
Cat Litter (Yes, Really)
If you spin off the road and get stuck in the snow, a bag of cat litter can help with traction, as Burdick recommends. Rather than spinning your wheels and digging yourself in deeper, use a shovel to knock the snow from your tires and away from your exhaust. Then spread litter in front of your tires according to whether you have front-, rear- or all-wheel drive. The litter will expand as it absorbs moisture from the snow and give your tires something to grip. If you’re still stuck, turn on an emergency light in SOS mode.
Cat litter can also help keep your windows from fogging up. Fill a sock with silica cat litter—it’s super absorbent and doesn’t smell. Then tie it off and tuck it inside a second sock to keep it secure. Leave the sock on your dashboard or under a front seat to absorb moisture, and after a few days your windows should be noticeably less foggy in the morning.