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Winter Car Emergency Kit: What to Keep in Your Car | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Winter Car Emergency Kit

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snow covered trees hang over a plowed two lane road, winter sight
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What to Keep in Your Car or Truck in Case of an Emergency

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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. Ensure your phone is charged every time you get in the car, and keep a spare cell phone charger and a rechargeable battery pack in your emergency kit.

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, 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-aids, 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

Add the items below to your emergency kit for those in wintry, snowy areas. (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 a 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: Salt helps with 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 the 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 include unsalted and canned nuts, granola bars, raisins and dried fruit, peanut butter, or 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

someone scrapping a frozen windshield in a winter storm

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.
  • Do not leave your car if you become stranded in bad winter weather. Don’t try to push your vehicle out of the snow. Light flares are in front and behind the car, and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud, or any object.
  • 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? You can take the floor mats out of your car in a pinch, place them next to the tires, and slowly inch the car onto and across them.
  3. Make sure windows are defrosted and clear. And be sure to clear snow and ice from the vehicle’s top! 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 the following distance to 8 to 10 seconds. 
  7. 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 extended forecasts or check out your local 7-day forecasts.

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

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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