Updated on 01.07.15

15 Things to Have in Your Car This Winter

Trent Hamm
Car stuck in a ditch in the snow

Keep blankets, a small shovel, and a spare cell phone in your car for nasty winter weather. Photo: Greg Gjerdingen

As Christmas approaches, my wife and I will be doing quite a bit of driving to visit various people for the holiday season. With winter conditions and three young children in the car with us, we’re going to be quite cautious about our trips.

The first step in that journey is to make sure that we have everything we need in the car in case of an emergency of some kind. These supplies are the ultimate form of insurance – they help ensure that we’ll get through a real emergency safe and sound. Here are fifteen things that go into our automobiles in November and stay in there until April.

Blankets are the most important thing you can possibly have with you. If you bury your car in a snowdrift and it won’t start, the ability to keep yourself warm is going to be absolutely vital. Blankets are the best way to do this. I also keep a few hand warmers, too.

A spare charged cell phone will allow you to call 9-1-1 in a pinch. Keep this wrapped up in the blankets so that it’ll be likely to survive a crash without suffering irrepairable damage.

Flares will help rescuers see you. If they’re searching and all they can see is white, a flare will make all the difference in your discovery.

A wind-up radio lets you keep tab with the weather regardless of whether or not you have electricity in your car. A simple winding will do the trick and let you know when conditions have improved and what the state of roads are.

A first aid kit will be vital if someone is hurt in an accident. Perhaps just as important is knowledge of how to use it, because knowing how to apply a leg splint can be very, very important in such a moment.

Extra winter clothes will help you keep warm, especially if you need to leave the vehicle. Layers are key – the more layers of clothes you can put on, the warmer you’ll be down at the surface of your skin.

Jumper cables come in extraordinarily handy on cold mornings when your car doesn’t start. Quite often, it’s the result of a battery that became overly cold overnight and can be started with the help of another vehicle and some jumper cables.

A bag of sand not only adds weight to your car (improving traction) but can be spread to help you get traction if you get stuck in a bad position.

An ice scraper – preferably one with a brush to help remove snow – comes in constant handy throughout the winter. Without it, it will be very difficult to keep your windows cleared.

Dried foods like beef jerky and granola bars are perfect for this type of situation, as they’re energy dense. Don’t keep water or other liquids in your car – they’ll explode if stored below freezing for a long period and you can likely get plenty of liquid in a blizzard – just look outside.

Emergency tire sealant can enable you to get to the next twon in a pinch rather than being stuck beside the road with a flat tire.

Flashlights allow you to see what’s going on and also aid in signaling help. Although flashlights operated by human action exist, they’re not very bright – get one with a very bright bulb and make sure it’s charged.

A shovel will help you to dig out in a pinch. I used to keep one in my truck when I commuted – there simply isn’t room in the car, however (I wish we did have room).

A small tool kit can allow you to fix minor problems yourself on your car. Make sure you have everything you need to (at least) change a tire and loosen or tighten some bolts.

Extra batteries for the flashlight and the radio (assuning you don’t have a wind-up one) are vital. The last thing you want to do is to get stuck, pull out the radio or the flashlight, flip ’em on, and find that they don’t work.

These tools will help you survive almost any winter weather accident, no matter how bad the storm. By keeping warm and safe and making sure that you can signal to help, you’re doing everything you can to ensure your future.

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  1. Chelsea says:

    I have a question for Trent. This is totally off topic, but the article made me think about it, and it could make a good Reader Mailbag question.

    Last summer you did a post about traveling with your kids and how you’d stop and have sandwiches at a rest area and let the kids blow of some energy, etc. How will your meal/break strategy change on your winter trips?

  2. Denise says:

    Another good thing to have is a cheap bag of kitty litter. It provides good traction if you get stuck. Also, something red to tie to your antena in case you go off road. The emergency folk, or anyone else, can see you much easier.

  3. Anne KD says:

    Trent, I used to carry a collapsible snow shovel in my car when I lived in MA. It helped me out several times when a ‘dusting’ (which meant 7″ snow or less) occurred and my car was plowed in at work. I used to carry a bag of cheap kitty litter too, like Denise suggested.

    I’ve been carrying a big Mag light for years. It was a present from my brother. The flashlight has a very bright light, and because it’s heavy, the flashlight might come in handy for other things like self defense- a woman traveling alone might have to fend off bad guys if she gets stuck.

  4. Maureen says:

    If you ever happen to be stuck in your car in a blizzard, be very careful about running your engine intermittently to warm the car. It is very easy for drifting snow to block your exhaust pipe. Carbon monoxide can seep into the car and silently kill. Be absolutely sure to keep your window down an inch or so to keep fresh air coming in.

    A lot of trouble can be avoided by checking the weather and road conditions before you go. Stick to well-traveled roads as much as possible.

  5. MattJ says:

    Spare charged cell phone: I suggest that most frugal people don’t have one of these. A charged CB radio seems like a good alternative.

    Flares: Do you mean road flares (which you should have in your car year-round) or the gun type? If you have a gun-type flare, why not keep it in your car year round?

    Blankets, Flares, Wind-up radio, first aid kit… well, most of the things on your list should not come back out of your car in April. They’re year-round items.

    Extra winter clothes: I suggest having clothing that is too big for you – you never who will be in your car, who you might be helping out with clothing from your trunk. If it’s too small for them, it’s no good to them. Dry socks are probably more important than anything else, since you can get makeshift leg and torso clothing from your spare blankets. Gloves are also important so that you can keep your fingers warm enough to use.

    Water can be stored in a plastic bottle if you leave enough room for expansion. Keep it in the cab with you and it’s more likely to be thawed out if you need to drink it, or add it to your radiator if it springs a leak. If it’s ice and you can’t thaw it out (foreshadowing my final point…) then you can still break it into chips and consume them. As for drinking snow… I’ve been on roads that were slick enough to be unsafe without there being enough snow on the ground to collect, or even no snow at all. Freezing rain is also a danger this time of year, especially if you crash/get stuck just before nightfall.

    Can you get into your trunk? The accident you just had may have bent your trunk lid or pinned it shut . Your car may be upside down on top of the trunk. Does your back seat fold down? Do you have a tool available on the outside of your trunk that will enable you to dig your way through your back seat to get to your emergency supplies?

    A crowbar from under your seat may come in handy as well, for your trunk, or even your hood. Come to think of it, as a FINAL resort, you may have to break into that empty farm house just up the road to survive – just knock good and loud beforehand to make sure it IS empty, because most farmers don’t miss what they aim for. The situation had better be life-or-death before you go committing B&E.

    Fire: ‘Flares’ will work for this, and so will your car battery if it’s charged, but starting a fire is a poor use for flares and your problem may be a discharged battery, so include something to start a fire with. Not specifically mentioning a way to make fire is a significant oversight for a list of wintertime safety items. Fire starters are something you should have year-round, anyway – you may find yourself wanting to boil water to survive no matter when you get stranded.

  6. ej says:

    Make sure the blankets are wool so they still provide warmth when wet

    Extra clothes are fine but don’t forget footwear for foul weather conditions

    Rotate granola bars or anything you store that contains oil or fats (rancid is not fun)

    Don’t depend on cell phone (batteries discharge, poor coverage)

    Add a map and know where you are – don’t depend on GPS, you may need to tell someone exactly where you are or know how far it is/best route to nearest services

    Let people at your destination know where you are going, which route and ETA. Share emergency/family phone numbers.

    @#3 Anne KD
    One person (man or woman) swinging a maglight to “fend off bad guys”? Only if you have practiced and are prepared (willing and able) to do damage and deal with the aftermath. A Hollywood fantasy at best.

  7. Cass says:

    Just as a suggestion, there are shovels that can collapse be small enough to fit into a smaller vehicle or even on a backpack Better having that then none at all!

  8. Misty says:

    I live in Nebraska and we have always been advised to keep a clean metal container, a candle, and matches in our cars to melt snow to drink. Eating snow straight lowers your body temperature and makes you burn more calories. I also almost always keep a book in my car as well. I’ve never gotten stuck in bad weather, but it’s come in handy in other situations where I’ve had to wait for something or someone.

  9. NZ Chick says:

    Interesting hearing what you have to deal with in winter. Down here in NZ we are gearing up for summer so our car trips generally include water bottles and sunblock! A far cry from your snow preparations.

    Good luck with the snow, not something I have ever had to deal with, would be nice to have a white Xmas sometime though :-) We’ll be on the beach on Xmas day with a picnic lunch!!

  10. Jen says:

    I’ve done a lot of “overlanding” type traveling (where you’re miles from the frequently traveled roads). Overlanders need to be ready to be stranded for some time, so I have some experience packing for that possibility.

    Please, please bring water, and don’t count on snow. Eating snow can be dangerous (freezing tissues), and how are you going to “cook” snow into drinking water in a car? Half-filled plastic water bottles in the trunk or (better yet) lots of water bottles right in the passenger compartment are better.

    And don’t underestimate the danger of lonely roads. Taking “shortcuts” or “scenic routes” is generally a bad idea if you don’t know the roads personally. People who regularly explore unknown roads take a lot of specialized “recovery” equipment (jacks, winches, satellite signallers) that you just don’t have in your family van. The vital equipment listed in this article will get you safely through a long day waiting for AAA or the state patrol, but that fun-looking forest service road could easily strand you three days walk from the nearest busy road, with no cell phone coverage. Nobody’s ready for that.

  11. Check with your cell phone people, but I believe an old phone (i.e. no longer has a plan attached to it) can still dial 911. Same with your land line if you no longer use it. You still should be able to plug in a phone and call 911.

  12. Gretchen says:

    Eating snow is a horrible idea- especially if it’s cold enough outside to freeze water bottles to the point of explosion.

  13. Gretchen says:

    I also question the cell phone.
    Wrapping it in a blanket to prevent accident damage?

  14. Kara says:

    I’d have to second the kitty litter comments. In my experience, it works better than sand for spreading on the ground. Also, I’d bring water too. You can keep it in the cab of the car (think under the backseat) and keep it close to you under the blanket so it doesn’t freeze. It’s no good to count on snow because you may not be able to get to it if your door is blocked, you may not be able to safely drink it, and eating snow is not good if you’re already cold.

    I have some instructions written with my first aid kit in case someone who doesn’t know first aid comes to help me. It is also useful because that kind of situation is stressful, and it can be easy to forget training in the face of a disaster.

  15. KC says:

    I just watch the weather report and stay home – course I live in the south so it is an option to wait out the day and a half for any snow to melt. But a lot of trouble could be avoided by knowing what is going on with the weather.

    We just had a snow storm. Many, many people were stuck on highways and interstates for 15+ hours. My question is where were you going that was so important to get to? I was supposed to pick up a dog in the mountains I adopted from a rescue group – to me this is VERY important. But I called the night before and canceled (I’ll get him in another week) cause I knew what they were predicting and knew either I or the transport truck wouldn’t make it to the meet-up location. In retrospect I never would have made it and the transport truck got stuck on the interstate, too. Glad I canceled – disaster averted – at the very best I would have made it up the mountain and been stuck up there for a couple days.

  16. Henry says:

    This post is largely recycled from December 24 2007, “Eight Frugal Ways to Prepare for Winter Driving.” Except today we have added a few items for filler, and the post is totally lacking any connection to finances or frugality.

    A wind-up radio? Really, if I’m stranded on the side of the road I can tell what the conditions are. If you’re stranded and you think you can get moving, you better move. Don’t wait for someone on the radio to tell you the blizzard is over. I suppose if you were at someone’s house, a diner or other suitable place where you could wait out the conditions, a radio would be helpful, but you’ll likely have T.V., radio or internet at the safe place. But it was stated that the radio was for being stuck in a car without electrical power, anyhow.

  17. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    How many people are killed each year in the US by being lost after driving into a snowdrift? How does this number compare to the number that are say, killed by lightning, or eaten by sharks, or killed by amusement park rides gone berserk?

    Or maybe more pertinent:
    What are the chances you get lost in a snowdrift and slowly freeze to death overnight as compared to the chances you just hit some ice and go off the side of the road into a tree and die from the impact?

    Some of these suggestions aren’t even useful.

    A spare charged cell phone won’t be. You already have a cell phone that you charge every night. That one’s a lot more likely to work than the one you threw in your car a month ago and forgot to ever recharge since.

    A wind up weather radio? For what? So you can be sure it’s still cold and snowy out?

    A bag of sand? Adds weight to your car increasing stopping distance. I have never seen sand help anyone get traction or get unstuck, ever. Unless you can lift the car off the ground, you can’t put it under the wheel. If you can drive the car forward or backward onto the sand, you weren’t stuck and didn’t need it.

    A small tool kit can allow you to fix minor problems yourself on your car. *If you know how to fix minor problems on your car* If you’re not a mechanic, this is really not very useful except in the specific case of a flat tire. 98% of people who aren’t mechanics have no idea why their car suddenly stopped working. Having tools wont help. Give an example of one time that being able to “loosen or tighten some bolts” got you safely to the next mechanic when otherwise you wouldn’t have made it.

    Why not add a CB/Ham/VHF radio, PLB, snowshoes, and a snowmobile on a trailer to the list? You could even go to REI, stock up like you’re going on an expedition to Everest, and just leave all that gear in your trunk in case you accidentally get lost in the mountains of Tibet on the way to grandma’s house. I mean, you’ve already gone way over the top for real life, so you might as well.

  18. Courtney says:


    Hey Henry, I answered your post on the other thread but my comment is awaiting moderation.

  19. Shevy says:

    I’ve always used kitty litter instead of sand. It’s available at any store, whereas sand isn’t. Keep a couple of lighters and/or a pack of waterproof matches in the glove compartment. Have a space blanket for each member of your family, in addition to any regular blankets. They take up minimal space but are fantastic for conserving body heat. Plus, if you’re far off the road a space blanket will help you be noticed if you attach one to the outside of the car! Water in half empty containers is okay but not if they’re the same plastic bottles you left in the car all summer (the heat will degrade the plastic, weakening it and leaching chemicals into the water). If you use a metal container you can also use it to melt snow you collect after you’ve used the initial water and heat it with the lighters. And don’t eat snow, even clean snow. It chills you down too much. Hypothermia is deadly! If you are down to using snow, melt it in a container either with lighter/matches or (in very small amounts) using body heat while wrapped in your space blanket. Use a small, folding shovel like backpackers carry or a kid’s shovel if you don’t have much room. Wear your warm winter boots (mine are knee high and good to -40) when you drive in winter conditions or keep them in the car. Keep a couple of extra pairs of gloves for each family member on hand. If you’re out of the car, your gloves may very well get wet while you try to clear snow. Cheap “magic” gloves that are one size fits all are okay (and you can layer them) but you should have at least one adult size waterproof pair. A whistle is always handy and takes up almost no room. I keep one attached to my keys. It’s also useful for directing traffic at accident scenes. If you have kids in diapers, make sure you carry extras! And physically check and clear the area around the exhaust each time before you turn on the engine. If you regularly drive on very snowy roads carry a set of chains in addition to using winter tires (all season tires are really 3 season!). Jumper cables are an *all year* must carry. Know the correct order to attach the cables. Now that you have all this stuff make sure you have it stowed safely so that if you rollover or crash it doesn’t become a series of deadly flying objects! You don’t want the baby being clonked on the head by a flying shovel!

  20. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Last summer you did a post about traveling with your kids and how you’d stop and have sandwiches at a rest area and let the kids blow of some energy, etc. How will your meal/break strategy change on your winter trips?”

    We don’t travel as much in the winter. Our plan for these Christmastime trips is to try to synchronize them with their natural naptimes (early afternoon) and bedtimes (evening) to encourage them to sleep on the road. A cup of warm milk before we go usually helps, too.

  21. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “This post is largely recycled from December 24 2007, “Eight Frugal Ways to Prepare for Winter Driving.” Except today we have added a few items for filler, and the post is totally lacking any connection to finances or frugality.”

    Yep, looks like I wrote about it once before. I searched the site before I wrote this to see if I had before (because, honestly, after 3K+ articles, I don’t remember all of them) and I didn’t find a match.

  22. Kevin says:

    That’s funny. I did the same thing, searching for “winter driving” and the first hit is the article Henry found. And… I remember the earlier post and I didn’t write it.

    This post is full of typos and other errors – are you having an assistant do your weekend posts now?

  23. Diane says:

    Oh goody, the grammar nazis are out!

  24. Henry says:

    Tyler, I loved your brutal, factual honesty.
    Courtney, I’m sure I will not see your comment(Frugality and Your Sense of Value, Dec 18). Did you post a link to pics of your gay and black friends? If so, comments with links will never see the light of day here. You must have done something wrong with that one if your comments are showing up immediately here and being moderated over there.

  25. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Tyler, winter driving is a bit different when you’re driving on roads that are regularly icy and/or snow covered.

    “A spare charged cell phone won’t be. You already have a cell phone that you charge every night. That one’s a lot more likely to work than the one you threw in your car a month ago and forgot to ever recharge since.”

    That’s why you include it – in case your cell phone isn’t charged. You’re making the huge assumption that everyone is always perfect in charging their cell phones. If you have an old phone, there’s no good reason NOT to charge it, turn it off, and throw it in your trunk for an emergency. To not do it is simultaneously an increase in risk and a waste of resources.

    “A wind up weather radio? For what? So you can be sure it’s still cold and snowy out?”

    So you can know what the weather forecast looks like and hedge your bets with the resources you have. “The snow should end before noon” means something very different than “The snow should keep up overnight” and it means that you handle the food and other items you have on hand very differently. You can’t tell this just by looking outside the car.

    “A bag of sand? Adds weight to your car increasing stopping distance. I have never seen sand help anyone get traction or get unstuck, ever. Unless you can lift the car off the ground, you can’t put it under the wheel. If you can drive the car forward or backward onto the sand, you weren’t stuck and didn’t need it.”

    If you’ve ever driven on ice, you’d know that weight increases your traction by putting more pressure on your tires. This keeps you from getting into accidents due to sliding, which is the big cause of winter accidents.

    “A small tool kit can allow you to fix minor problems yourself on your car. *If you know how to fix minor problems on your car* If you’re not a mechanic, this is really not very useful except in the specific case of a flat tire. 98% of people who aren’t mechanics have no idea why their car suddenly stopped working. Having tools wont help. Give an example of one time that being able to “loosen or tighten some bolts” got you safely to the next mechanic when otherwise you wouldn’t have made it.”

    That’s why I made the comment “if you know how to fix minor issues with your car.” If you know how to do this, include tools – otherwise, don’t. I am able to fix many minor car issues – a leaky oil filter and so on – so I’ll include the tools to do those things. If the oil light flips on, for example, I won’t just drive to the next town and pray I make it. I’d much rather stop, check the oil filter, and perhaps tighten it if that’s the problem. I know how to do this and it’s quite doable with an oil filter wrench – and I’m far from a mechanic.

  26. Henry says:

    Oh Diane, it’s not the grammar Nazis, it the Spelling and Typo Nazis. I can look the other way on grammar, but I see no reason for transposed letters in words, missing letters and other sloppiness. All of these things jump right out at me the first time I read them. Doesn’t Trent reread them a couple times before posting? Doesn’t he have spellcheck? I guess not, since any spellcheck program would let you know that ‘assuning’ and ‘twon’ are not words. If someone doesn’t care enough about their writing to put some time into it, people will wonder why they should spend any time reading it.

    I don’t understand how this topic could have been missed when searching the archives. Search ‘winter,’ third return. Search: ‘driving,’ third return. Search: ‘car,’ and you get about 100 articles jabbering on about a Prius.

  27. Courtney says:


    Nope, no links or pics of my gay and black friends :) Hopefully, it will show up but if not – oh, well.

  28. graytham says:

    Trent, have you thought about blocking certain commenters? You might catch some flack, but most of your sane readers won’t mind a bit.

    Good article- interesting to learn about the kitty litter (even though you didn’t mention it). I’d never heard of using it for that purpose before.

  29. Gretchen says:

    So we can’t all remember to charge our cell phones, but most of us can know what parts on a car are broken, then fix them with a small tool kit?

    Got it.
    Don’t get why I can’t listen to the car radio for the weather report,though. You know, before I leave.

  30. Gretchen says:

    So we can’t remember to charge our cellphones, but we all know how to do minor car maintenance?


    I belive the traction from the bags of sand is only true in trucks. Cars are more evenly weighed. Esp with this list of stuff to tow around everywhere.

  31. Gretchen says:

    Sorry for the double post.

  32. Henry says:

    Trent didn’t include that we were supposed to take an oil filter wrench in addition to the items to “change a tire and loosen or tighten some bolts.” I doubt anyone is going to have that oil filter wrench in their car. Everyone I know that owns one keeps it hanging on a pegboard in their garage. So basically those tools to change a tire or tighten or loosen some bolts will be useless if we have a leaky oil filter.
    Carrying all of these specialty tools around with you in a car is a good way to lose them.

  33. Bill says:

    @#17 Tyler,

    “A bag of sand? Adds weight to your car increasing stopping distance. I have never seen sand help anyone get traction or get unstuck, ever. Unless you can lift the car off the ground, you can’t put it under the wheel. If you can drive the car forward or backward onto the sand, you weren’t stuck and didn’t need it.”

    The sand add’s weight in rear wheel drive vehicles, especially trucks. I’ve seen pick-ups spin their wheels just by idling. The further back from the wheels the better.

    As for getting it under the wheels: If you live where it gets icy, you will find cars and passengers in ditches. If you happen to find your self in “White rural mid-west” someone will probably stop and help push you out. This is accomplished by a rocking motion. People push and the engine is engaged in the direction you need to go, if it doesn’t work, gravity or switching the drive in to reverse produces the rocking. The idea is each swing is there is a little more motion till the vehicle escapes. The sand/cat litter is spread to give the wheel’s traction on the up swing.

    As someone that has pushed 100’s of cars out of ditches. I greatly prefer sand. The cat litter is sharp! If you slip while pushing, a face full of cat litter hurts!

  34. Henry says:

    @Bill ‘Hundreds’ of cars? About how many cars each year are you getting out of ditches? How many times have you fell face first into a pile of cat litter?

    I don’t know about all of this. You’ve got a truck that can’t get traction, so you TAKE WEIGHT OUT OF IT to get more traction. Being in a ditch is going to take pushing and lifting and is not a matter of traction.

  35. Sara says:

    An alternative to sand or kitty litter is a set of traction mats, like “Tow Truck in a Box” or “Portable Tow Truck.” They are reusable and don’t make a mess (and they take up less space in the trunk).

  36. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    You’re right Trent, adding weight to your car adds traction that will be helpful if you get stuck. It *also* adds to the momentum of an already moving car. Given two cars with identical brakes and tires traveling at the same speed on the same surface, a heavier one will take longer to stop. This is true on both dry and slippery surfaces. So, you’re making your car more difficult to stop when it’s already icy out so that if you get stuck, you have a bit better chance of getting out. Doesn’t sound like the greatest tradeoff considering how often you need to stop versus how often you get stuck.

    Really though, it makes no difference at all. You’re talking about adding a 50lb bag of sand to a 3000-lb car. It makes it 1.6% heavier. So maybe you take 1.6% farther to stop, and get unstuck 1.6% easier. The difference between different models of cars if far, far more significant.

    Really though, having driven on ice has no relation to whether or not you know anything about the physics of traction and momentum. The same principles apply to cars on dirt or dry roads.

    About the cell phone: I charge my cell phone every night, because I use it every day. My chances of forgetting to charge it are tiny. I’ve hardly ever done it in my life. If I threw a second phone in the back of my car “in case of emergencies” what do you think my chances of forgetting to charge that one after the first week or two would be? I’d almost certainly forget that I ever put it back there. Most others probably would as well — when was the last time the average person checked the air pressure in their spare tire? It’s the same sort of thing.

    You say:
    “That’s why I made the comment ‘if you know how to fix minor issues with your car.'”

    No you didn’t. I said that. You’re quoting me, to me, and attributing it to yourself. Here’s what you said:

    “A small tool kit can allow you to fix minor problems yourself on your car. Make sure you have everything you need to (at least) change a tire and loosen or tighten some bolts.”

    Here’s what I said:
    “A small tool kit can allow you to fix minor problems yourself on your car. *If you know how to fix minor problems on your car*”

    Really though, the whole scenario that’ this list anticipates is so ridiculously unlikely that you might as well prepare for a nuclear holocaust. Here’s some back-of-the-envelope numbers:

    I’ve been driving a car for about 12 years now. I’ve gotten in exactly zero accidents that left my car in an undrivable condition. I’ve been stranded on the side of the road once when I ran out of gas, and once when a friends old, worn-out, beat-up car died. Maybe there’s another time I can’t remember. Let’s say it’s happened 3 times in 12 years.

    that’s 4,380 days, 3 of which had problems, or 0.07% of days I get stranded. Let’s say three days a year I forget to charge my cell phone and it runs dead. That’s about 1% of the time. So the chance of my car breaking down *and* my phone being dead is 0.0007%.

    Now, the vast majority of the time, I’m driving on roads full of other traffic. Even when I’m “out in the country”, I’m almost always on a road where I’ll see another car every five minutes or so. Maybe once or twice a year I drive way out in the woods somewhere where no one else will come by for hours at a time. Let’s say I do this one day a year. (but the fact is, I don’t go here on the way to visit relatives for the holidays, and I definitely don’t go out here in inclement weather). So, once a year I’m out driving somewhere that no one would be able to find me for a few hours if I got stranded. Thats 1/365th of the time. The chances of this coinciding with my phone being dead and my car breaking down are now down to about 0.000002%

    So, I have a 0.000002% chance of having my car and phone die at the same time where nobody will drive by in the next hour or two.

    How many days per year are blizzard-like conditions where this is actually dangerous? Let’s say it’s a whole month every year, so we can divide this number by 12. Now we’ve got a 0.0000002% chance of being stranded with a dead phone and nobody coming by in blizzard conditions.

    So, on average, you’d have to drive every day for 17,520 for this to happen. Maybe you get stranded a lot more often than me. Ten times as often even. It’ll only take you 1,752 years for this to happen.

    Have fun driving around with all that junk in your trunk. Let me know in the year 19,529 how helpful it was for you to have it all with you.

  37. Shevy says:

    Are *all* my comments being moderated now? I rewrote my response and they’re both being held even though there are no links (even spelled out ones) in the 2nd version.

  38. Bill says:

    @#34 Henry

    Yes, 100’s. I’m sorry if that doesn’t match the reality you grew up in. I remember one day when they closed the roads and decided to keep the kids in school unless the parents could make it to the school and get them. My dad made it and got me, we, stopped and pulled out 19 vehicles that one day alone.

    And cat litter is much safer than rock salt or chains.

    Since then I’ve moved to the North West, tire chains work marvels!!

  39. Bill says:

    @34 Henry 2nd half relative to weight in truck bed:

    Weight in the bed is effective to give traction to the wheels till you get into the ditch.

    Once in the ditch, the sand/cat litter is much more useful for traction. It is very common and useful to have additional people bouncing on bumper in time with the pushing.

    Where I grew up in central Illinois it rains a lot in the Spring/Summer so the roads are domed to shed water, in the winter with a coating of 2″ of ice, they get slip. If you don’t know how to drive you will go into the ditch.

    There are people that make a living out of polling people out of the ditches with 4×4 and winches.

  40. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Shevy: I see zero comments from you in the moderation queue.

  41. Evita says:

    Good grief! where I am supposed to store all that stuff? (I drive a Cavalier). I live in Southern Canada…… very snowy and cold.
    I think I’ll just match my trips with the weather!

  42. Scott says:

    Every time I’ve ever kept any type of thing with a battery in it in my car during the winter (even though it doesn’t get THAT cold here in Tennessee compared to other places, and I keep my car in the garage at night), that battery is dead within a few days at best. Cold and batteries don’t like each other.

    You mention keeping a charged cel phone, a battery powered flashlight, and extra batteries – I just don’t see how all of these would not be dead by the time you needed them, if it had already been cold enough to be in the situation you are preparing for.

    I’d be more likely to say make sure you have a charger for your main celphone that works in your car, so you can use your main cel phone in such a case. This would work for more than just 911 that way, and work anytime you forgot to charge your cel phone overnight, or talked more than you thought that day. Seems like a much more efficient backup.

    If you have the room, keeping an extra old deactivated celphone in the car would be an ok idea, but again I would more likely say make sure it has a car charger as well, as opposed to being disappointed in your spare phone’s battery being discharged when you really need it.

    I did get stuck one time in an abrupt ice storm that lasted about 2 hours, was unexpected, and basically caught everyone in town “out-and-about” on a normal Monday night, and shut down all traffic in Nashville overnight. There were cars abandoned everywhere the next morning, and people were either stranded in their cars for hours, or abandoned their cars to walk to shelter. I was 30 miles from my house, and luckily I was able to make it to about a mile away from a friend’s apartment, but it made me realize my grandmother was right to tell me to always keep a blanket in the car just in case. I’d always neglected to do that, and often even didn’t take a heavy coat in winter, because I “knew” I’d just be running in and out.

    I always keep a small ice scraper in the crack between my car seat and the floor when you open the drivers door…it’s out of the way all year round, yet there when I need it – the first frost always happens before I’m prepared, so the scraper is just there.

    Another more practical tip is to always make sure your gas tank doesn’t get below a quarter of a tank, especially in any sort of inclement weather- but really a good tip (that I used to disregard) at any time.

    After re-reading the post, I think this post (and the comments) are getting confused between stocking up a few emergency items for a specific trip during winter (along roads you may not be used to), and typical items to keep in your car all winter, just in case. The title of the post assumes all winter, but the post itself sounds like you mean a specific trip.

  43. Dave says:

    I am wondering how many more petty things Henry will complain about. Lets see… a related post from TWO YEARS AGO, radio’s, moderating, spellchecks, oil filter wrenches, carrying sand (which you could not be more wrong about), etc.


    “Unless you can lift the car off the ground, you can’t put it under the wheel.”

    Are you kidding? No, really, are you? To say something like that leads me to believe that not only have you never been stuck before (maybe you have and just called a tow company), but you’ve probably never helped anyone get un-stuck either. Either way, I couldn’t help but laugh a little at such a silly thing to write.

    “Doesn’t sound like the greatest tradeoff considering how often you need to stop versus how often you get stuck.”

    Actually it is, assuming you adjust your driving to the conditions.

  44. MattJ says:

    Trent #40:

    I had a comment from Dec 14th that is still waiting for moderation as well. (That is, when I visit your post about the book ‘Influence’, I see that it is still awaiting moderation) I just assumed you decided you didn’t want the comment to appear, but perhaps there’s a problem with your software?

  45. Dooley says:

    I strongly disagree with the idea that you should not keep water in your car.

    While I acknowledge that a car wreck does not necessarily mean the same level of winter danger, many people lost in the wilderness have died because they tried to survive off of eating snow. The amount of energy required to melt snow into ice is tremendous and you waste energy and body warmth doing so.

    It’s a much better idea to keep a jug of water in your car at all times. As long as the jug is not glass and there is enough of a gap to allow for expansion it won’t explode. Assuming your car was on at the time of the crash, the jug probably won’t be entirely frozen when you need it.

    If planning for a long trip where there is a potential for winter storms it’s a good idea to make sure that you have a water supply with you that is not at the time of your departure frozen (as a jug might be if you keep it in your car all the time).

  46. getagrip says:

    A lot of the comments to this post make assumptions about external support as if that’s guaranteed. Such as:

    Your cell phone is charged and able to get a signal.
    People will be around to stop to help you, even if it puts them in danger and even if it’s only one car an hour traveling the road you’re on.
    Your can actually see somewhere to walk to, you can actually walk there, and you can either break in or someone will let you in.
    You, and those relying on you, aren’t going to be out and about in the bad weather to begin with.
    Your car will still work and provide you with heat (or AC in the desert).

    If you live in areas where this is a given and never go beyond, fine, feel free to rely on this because in many ways, it would take multiple failures for it to become more than an inconvienance. If you’re going beyond, I’d recommend considering where your going and planning on the situation. Most of the critical items don’t take a lot of weight or room in a trunk, and can be useful in plenty of situations. From my experience I’ve been caught for hours on a snowbound freeway, lots of folks, all in the same boat. I’ve been alone in a parking lot in an industrial park where all the buildings are locked, car won’t start, and the tow trucks will get to me, in a few hours, because they’re out on other calls. I’ve been caught by a “bump” of ice I slid over and I just couldn’t get my car to rock back over, a little sand or cat litter and/or someone to help push would have easily fixed it, had any been available.

    In these cases, my cell phone would be useless or helped a bit. How fast is a friend going to get to you in bad weather? Do you want them to get stuck too? The cops and fire department and tow trucks are busy, they’ll get to you if they can when they can. Even a reasonable snowfall can cut visibility to under a quarter mile, and just because you see a light in the dark doen’t mean you can crawl through the twenty foot ditch between you and it, or that it won’t turn out to be an unheated utility shed for the power company.

    You don’t have to go far to run into problems. They may not become life threatening, but spending a night, or even a few hours in the cold, waiting or hoping for help, can be eased with just a little forthought.

  47. Honestly, Tyler and Henry, if Trent spouts such junk, why do you bother to read his blog? Is it because your lives are so empty and pathetic you have nothing better to do than be a jerk to a guy who’s trying to help other people?

    I would be interested to know how many times either of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve been stranded. From the comments you’ve made, it certainly seems neither of you have dealt with large amounts of snowfall while traveling.

    If you disagree with Trent (or me, for that matter)that’s fine, but you can do that without being rude.

  48. MattJ says:

    #46 getagrip:

    As far as I can tell, I’m the only one who said anything about breaking in somewhere, and I don’t think a reasonable reading of my comment would lead anyone to assume that a place to break in would be available. I was just listing some things you might need to break into.

    As for the uselessness of an unheated shack – consider the possibility that your wrecked car may no longer be suitable shelter given the weather conditions. It could be upside-down in a wet ditch, leaving you no dry place on which to sit or lie down, or you may not be able to spare sufficient blankets to cover up the holes where its windows used to be, leaving you and your passengers exposed to the cold, snow, or freezing rain.

  49. Tammy says:

    I’d like to see all the sand/kitty litter haters try to handle my driveway in mid-February without it. That would be some funny stuff.

  50. Bill in Houston says:

    We rarely get snow in Southeast Texas, and even more rare is the snow that sticks on the ground. That being said, we did get snow two weeks ago, roughly 3/4 of an inch. It was enough to make snowballs, and little snowmen.

    It is STILL a good idea to keep emergency supplies in your car, but you do need to use a little common sense when doing so. I won’t need blankets that often (I have a space blanket in the trunk) nor will I need sand, but most of the rest is practical. How much does your kit weigh, and does it increase gasoline usage?

    I will say that I haven’t seen a wind-up radio since I was a kid (mid-1960s). We don’t have spare cell phones, but when my wife and I travel we both carry ours. We do keep cereal bars and water, and both cars have small tool kits. Total weight for the whole shebang is under ten pounds, so I’m not cutting down a whole lot on mileage. this all fits in the spare tire well in the trunk.

  51. AnnJo says:

    I keep a blanket, spare sweater, sweatpants, socks, and a towel in a compressed space bag. Takes up very little room and keeps them clean and mold-free. For really cold weather, I’d be inclined to carry a sleeping bag.

    A ground cover of some kind and a knee-pad are useful for changing a tire if, like me, you wear business clothes for most of your driving and don’t enjoy kneeling on gravel.

    I agree that water is a car-travel essential and shouldn’t explode if you leave enough air space.

    @36 Tyler – The chances that I’ll be in an accident that would engage my seat-belt are also minute, but I still wear it every time I drive and did long before it was a legal requirement. Some precautions carry such a trivial cost for the protection they afford that even if the chance they will be needed is small, they are worth doing.

    Years ago, it took an hour or so for me to gather together the things I carry and put them in the car. (My emergency kit is much more elaborate than Trent’s, but still fits in a backpack and a space bag.) Once a year, I check my bag and refresh the batteries, medications, food and water.

    I’ve never been stranded by extreme weather, but if I am, I won’t be tempted to do the most dangerous thing, which is to leave my car and set off on foot on a treacherous road or in unknown terrain. Such mistakes kill several people every year. I’ve also had on hand everything I needed to be reasonably comfortable on a couple of occasions when I had to sleep in my car during road trips.

  52. Bill says:

    Tire chains for at least 2 wheels.

    We got to drive in last Friday’s snowstorm here in the southeastern U.S. on our way to the mountains.

    We left at noon, but found the snow was already sticking to the road (ALL forecasters said it would not stick to the roads until after dark)

    I saw plenty of cars stuck on hills, the poor people trying to push their car up the grade.

    A set of chains for their front (drive) wheels would likely have gotten them up those hills.

  53. Nikki says:

    Oooh, this is fun! I wanna play!
    Ok, I live in NW Montana, 8 miles from the Canadian border, 30 mins from the nearest town, and from there 50 miles to the NEXT town. Suffice to say: it’s cold, snowy and kind of lonely up here. Just last week I had to make 2 attempts to get up an icy hill on the way home – 3 other unsuccessful vehicles were already pulled over. No other route, it was climb the hill, or turn around. Eventually made it. Thank you Montana for permitting studded tires!
    I keep layers (hat, gloves, boots), sleeping bags (warmer than blankets, also useful for sleepovers), water (ditto all the posts about melting snow – as someone who does some occasional winter camping, it’s just a pain), and a headlamp (hands free, and something I use all the time anyway.) I don’t carry a cell, as I don’t have one anyway. Not much for reception here. If I thought about it, I’d carry kitty litter, but I never seem to remember. But then, my cat is a princess and demands the all natural wheat based stuff, not the clay shards that would be useful as traction anyway.

  54. SLCCOM says:

    The argument that you shouldn’t carry a few tools if you don’t know how to fix the car isn’t accurate. Even if you don’t know how to use them, there is a very good chance that someone who stops to help you might know how to use them, but if there are no tools, they can’t do anything. And you can’t assume that the helper will necessarily be carrying tools, either.

    For first aid, I also put in Tyvek jumpsuits in case of extensive blood exposure.

    The most crucial and useful emergency equipment that I almost always carry is a little air compressor that operates off the car battery. For some reason, we didn’t have it when the car blew a tire and the donut spare was low. We lucked out that time, and I put a new one in the car immediately.

    Umbrellas come in handy, too.

  55. SLCCOM says:

    Oh, and carry a wire coat hanger, too. And duct tape!

  56. Fred says:

    Most of these points are covered in a post that was just put up on The Art Of Manliness. You should at least put a link to it…. My last comment wasn’t posted, maybe because I put a link in it.

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