Winter Car Emergency Kit

What to Keep in Your Car in Case of an Emergency

November 23, 2020
Winter Road

Emergencies can happen to anyone. Prepare for the worst-case scenario (especially in wintertime) by keeping the following supplies in your winter car kit!

Whether you run out of fuel, puncture a tire, or slip off a snowy road, a car emergency kit can help you get back on the road safely and quickly.

In addition to the items listed below, keeping a cell phone on hand is highly advised. Make sure your phone is charged every time you get in the car and keep a spare cell phone charger and a rechargable battery pack in your emergency kit as well.

Car Emergency Kit List

Keep the below items in a bag in your trunk. Ideally, we’d suggest keeping these items in a clear, plastic container so it’s easy to see and locate everything. You can buy a pre-packaged kit or create your own. 

Minimum Supplies:

In an emergency situation, in addition to a full tank of gas and fresh antifreeze, the National Safety Council recommends having these with you at all times:

  • Blankets, mittens, socks and hats
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • Flashlight, plus extra batteries (or a hand-crank flashlight)
  • Jumper cables
  • First-aid kit (band-aides, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, antiseptic cream, medical wrap). See a first-aid kit checklist.
  • Bottled water
  • Multi-tool (such as a Leatherman multi-tool or a Swiss Army knife)
  • Road flares or reflective warning triangles
  • Windshield cleaner

Extra Supplies for Frigid Weather

For those in wintry snowy areas, add the below items to your emergency kit. (If it’s balmy all winter where you live, be thankful that you don’t need all of this stuff!)

  • A bag of sand to help with traction (or bag of non-clumping cat litter)
  • Collapsible or folding snow shovel
  • Blanket
  • Tire chains and tow strap
  • Hand warmers
  • Winter boots for longer trips
  • Sleeping bag for longer trips

Note: Use salt for de-icing driveways and roads. (Excess salinity can damage vegetation and contaminate groundwater, however. So, with this in mind, salt your driveway only when you must, and try not to use more than necessary.)

Other Essentials:

  • Small fire extinguisher (5-lb., Class B and Class C type) in case of a car fire
  • Tire gauge to check inflation pressure in all four tires and the spare tire
  • Jack and lug wrench to change a tire
  • Rags and hand cleaner (such as baby wipes)
  • Duct tape
  • Foam tire sealant for minor tire punctures
  • Rain poncho
  • Nonperishable high-energy foods such as unsalted and canned nuts, granola bars, raisins and dried fruit, peanut butter, hard candy.
  • Battery– or hand-crank–powered radio
  • Lighter and box of matches (in a waterproof container)
  • Scissors and string or cord
  • Spare change and cash
  • Compass
  • Paper maps


Be Prepared for Winter Driving

Before You Go 

  • If you must travel, make sure you share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave.
  • If you become stranded in bad winter weather, do not leave your car. Don’t try to push your vehicle out of snow. Light flares in front and behind the car and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or any object.
  • Besides checking the weather, it’s important to have a mechanic check the condition of the following vehicle systems before heading out on the road.
  • Make sure tires are properly inflated.
  • Keep your gas tank filled above halfway to avoid a gas line freeze-up.
  • Avoid driving when you have the flu, which can reduce your reaction time almost six times as much as moderate alcohol intake. 

Winter Driving Tips

  1. Beware of black ice. Roads may look clear, but they may still be slippery.
  2. Stuck without traction and lacking sand or cat litter? In a pinch, you can take the floor mats out of your car, place them next to the tires, and slowly inch the car onto and across the mats.
  3. Make sure windows are defrosted and clear. And be sure to clear snow and ice from the top of the vehicle! Gently rub a small, moistened, cloth bag of iodized salt on the outside of your windshield to prevent the ice and snow from sticking.
  4. To restore proper windshield wiper blade action, smooth the rubber blades with fine sandpaper to remove any grit and pits.
  5. Fog-proof your mirrors and the inside of your windshields with shaving cream. Spray and wipe it off with paper towels.
  6. Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds. 
  7. If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  8. Do not use cruise control in wintry conditions.
  9. Look and steer in the direction you want to go. Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
  10. Know whether you have antilock brakes, which will “pump” the brakes for you in a skid.
  11. If possible, don’t stop when going uphill.
  12. Signal distress with a brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna or in a rolled up window.

See more cold-weather tips provided by AAA.

What do you have in your car emergency kit? Let us know in the comments. (Thank you to our readers who have made suggestions, which we have added to the above list!)

Learn More

To see what weather’s in store for your area, see our free two-month long-range forecasts or check out your local 7-day forecasts.

Be sure to find out what to have in your home emergency supply kit, too!


Reader Comments

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Staying warm when stranded

Have a METAL coffee can, bucket, or something comparable in your car. If it has a lid, fill it 1/2 full of sand (if no lid, put sand in a sealable container so it doesn't spill and fill your can/bucket when needed). Place 2 or 3 hurricane candles (or any long burning candles you might have) in the sand and light them (have a minimum of 10 candles).The reflection of heat from the metal and sand WILL heat your car... this will also save you gas, and provide sufficient light for a passing motorist to see, and keep your water from freezing.

Winter car emergency kit

You should always have an emergency tool to break the windows & cut seatbelts with in case you're trapped in the car! Also, you might consider having a small, portable, camp toilet & bags, in case you're stuck in the car for any length of time, & toilet paper. Also camp chemicals to break down the waste so it won't stink!

Leave in car for emergency

Just wanted to add:
Fix a flat
Ice pick
Paper, permanent marker/pen (to leave a note)
Battery jumper machine (cig lighter hook in)
Fire starter log
Hand sanitizer

A couple of added items.

I have traveled alone for many years. As a Mom, my kids insisted on me being safe. So I have 90% of the suggested items but in addition I also carry a small, self opening tin of ham, crackers, paper towels I took off the Rolland folded flat in a zip lock bag.


I can't believe nobody suggested toilet paper? We keep roll in an old coffee can along with a candle. Plastic lid on the can keeps the tp dry and if needed the candle in the can works as a heater.

Can and Water

Can and candle? How can I make that a stove? Is there an illustration somewhere? Perhaps a hobo stove?
Water bottles. Now, I keep my water bottles in thick coolers with well sealed lids. I've had them freeze inside my thinner coolers.

Emergency Car Kits

Just recently my windshield ice over so I used a spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol and de-iced my windshield with the wipers running. The isopropyl alcohol is now part of our winter auto kits.

things to have for safety

put some oil in a mug or something fireproof and light it. The smoke can be seen from a long distance away. I learned this 35 yrs ago from a colleague who had lived in Canada where there are big spaces that are fairly empty of traffic.
Several days worth of food and more water/juice than you think.

Winter emergency items

I have several Mylar thermal protective blankets and several plastic grocery bags. If you have to walk put them over your socks and then put your shoes on, if your shoes get wet your feet stay dry, a few cans of Sterno.

Winter Car Emergency

Carry on your person, a small container of Door Lock Deicer. Do not put in you glove box.

Winter Car Emergency Kit

I highly recommend that drivers keep their survival kits inside the cab of the vehicle instead of the trunk. If your car gets damaged in the rear you can still access your gear if it's stored in the back seat or other interior location.

Winter care emergency kit

Be sure to clean snow and ice off your headlights and tail-lights, so you are more visible to other drivers.

Emergency Kit

One essential item was omitted: KITTY LITTER - works great to provide traction when you're stuck on ice.


Hi Vicki!
Actually, they did mention kitty litter under "Additional Items for Winter Driving". "A bag of sand to help with traction (or bag of kitty litter)"

Added items

Always carry a reflective vest ! It will aid you in being seen while changing a tire or performing other roadside work. on top of that carry a piece of plywood to place under the base of your jack, Plywood will flex and not break like solid wood . And it can aid in keeping your jack stable on wet or soft ground . Remember, you're not necessarily going to have a flat tire on nice smooth concrete . This plywood will also come in handy if you need to jack your car on hot asphalt ! It will provide a wider foot for your jack, distributing the weight better. The plywood piece need only be about 18" square .... and 1/2" thick. You'll be glad you have it with you and it doesn't take up too much space .

How do you find room for all that stuff ?

When I had a larger car, with a large trunk, I kept a lot of that stuff in the trunk, but still not all of that, because I lived in warm climate. Now, I have a smaller car, a hatchback, so there really isn't anywhere to keep that much stuff and not have it in the way. Also, now that I live in a colder climate, I need even more stuff. I've managed to get a few things in with the spare tire, put an extra set of gloves and water in the door pockets, and a Mylar emergency blanket in the glove compartment. We have a couple of knives, flashlight, granola bars, and a mini-first aid kit in the center console. We recently added a snow shovel (didn't have a folding one). But that's it. We recently bought ATV's to go hunting, and I managed to get a few things in the storage compartment of mine. I'd love to hear how others manage to organize and store this much stuff.

Emergency kit for the car.

A couple of cans of tuna fish in oil. Poke a hole in the top of the can, insert a wick ( shoelace if made of cotton) and you have an oil lamp. When the oil peters out eat the tuna.
The cars mirrors can be used as signal mirrors during the day.
Compass to go along with the maps. Learn how to use it.
Be ready to change the message on your cell phone before the battery looses it's charge. " Hi it's me I'm stuck in a snowstorm in ......... Today is the ..... of....... I'm OK. Send help when you get this message.
Butane lighters need to come out of the car in the summer. I had a few explode inside the cab.
Magnesium Metal match. Nearly fool proof. Practice with it.
Along with the empty paint can don't forget an opener or a large screw driver to get the lid off.
Up date your stock on a yearly basis.
Most importantly, use common sense and don't panic.

Don't forget the kids!

For each of our kids we keep in the car: a blanket, handwarmer, Mylar blanket, extra hat, scarf and mittens, extra sweater, extra change of clothes, and diapers and dry cloth wipes, so they are not wet and freezing! Those are always in the car during winter along with items for the car and myself and partner. Whenever we go anywhere though, we pack our "diaper bag" backpack with bottles of water, age appropriate snacks and a packet of dry milk in addition to our usual child necessities. We always bring heavy coats and bibs and if they are not wearing snow boots already, we toss them in just in case. It's a lot of extra stuff, especially with more than one kid, but it's worth it. And like most cars that transport kids, there are some toys and kid items. If something were to happen, they would be there to keep the kids occupied.

Remember, absolutely do not put a child in a carseat while wearing winter gear- they can slip out of the straps. My kids' blankets are folded in between their car seats for easy access, they can reach them and use them anytime they want in the car. An infant would probably be snuggled under a blanket already (mine always were!)

I'm sure there are other items that could be helpful for children, but everyone's needs are different, so just keep them in kind when preparing your vehicle.

Always carry cash

Keep some cash in your stash as well. Not everyone accepts plastic. Cash will also get you through if you lose your wallet!

Oh; and sources of ignition; carry MATCHES; not butane lighters, if you're in a cold climate. Butane won't go to a gaseous state below 15*. If you are in a bad situation, and a "Bic lighter" is all you have, put it close to your body for a while before using it, to warm the butane.


For those of us in cold zones (prone to freezing weather for many months), bottled water SOUNDS like a good idea, but keeping it in the car means frozen water or shattered bottles during freeze/thaw cycles.

Anyone got a good alternative?

RE: Question

About the only thing you can do is carry a bottle or two of water with you, not leaving it in the car. I have an EDC (Every Day Carry) pack that I carry to and from work. Along with several, "prepper" items, here's room for a couple of water bottles in the pockets of it.

Bottled water actually holds up pretty well when frozen. I routinely use them as ice packs, keeping them in a sub-zero freezer until needed. Trouble is, you have to defrost the thing before you can drink it...

Thanks for the advice! Hope

Thanks for the advice! Hope we don't need to use it, but better to have it and not need it... :)

Car emergency kit

Use a small cooler to store your water bottles. That should keep them insulated enough.

Save. People. From. Die. Ing Like. Bob Robert singer

Boston. Fier. Sty shon
Officer. Michaelt
Can. Be. In. Hrand. Ing
To. Save. Peole
From. Die. Ing

Common sense adds

Wooden matches, and old newspaper or magazine, hand sanitizer, chap stick, small bottle of Windex (many uses), paper towels, flashlight, All can be kept in a new paint can (cheap at hardware stores - keep the key in the glove box, center console, or ash tray).

I keep 2 Duraflame logs in my

I keep 2 Duraflame logs in my trunk, you never know how long you may wait for help if you slide off the road.


Donna, that is genius! I never would have thought of that. A campers flint/strike bar igniter combo would be good to have as well and they don't take up much room.

fully charged unactivated cell phone

unactivated cell phones cost you next to nothing to keep charged in your vehicle and 911 service is a mandatory feature - usually no sim required and triangulation via cell towers can actually assist emergency crews to locate your whereabouts in a life or death situation.

Not to sound paranoid, but a

Not to sound paranoid, but a handgun might come in handy!

A car emergency kit should be

A car emergency kit should be available in worst case scenario - being trapped inside your car. All those items are of absolute no use if placed in the trunk. The only things to be placed in the trunk are shovel, kitty litter, tow rope, etc. Anything required for survival should be placed INSIDE the car and always accessible. That means if you're driving by yourself, the emergency kit should be up front with you and not in the backseat.