…unless you have a Winter Kit in your car.
Seriously. Look at these temps for today and the next few days. Please. Don’t go driving in this weather unless you are properly prepared.
Winter is serious business, especially here in the upper Midwest. Anyone who goes out in severe weather without a good Winter Kit is flirting with danger. In weather like this, you can suffer frostbite, hypothermia and even death in just a matter of minutes. Look at the dark blue and purple on this windchill chart. Even if you just have a breakdown while driving around town, you could suffer serious harm just walking 1-2 blocks. Even if you stay in your car to wait for help, you could have frostbite or hypothermia if you are not properly dressed.
Double these precautions if you are traveling with children. Children’s small bodies do not retain heat as well as an adult’s and it takes very little exposure time for them to suffer serious harm from the cold.
Two parts to your kit
Your Winter Kit consists of two parts: dealing with breakdowns and staying protected. For breakdowns, you should have:
- Jumper cables: The #1 thing to always carry since a dead battery is the biggest reason for car failure during winter.
- Flash light: You want to be able to see your way around in the dark.
- Car jack and lug wrench: You should be able to change a flat tire. Aerosol tire repairs, like Fix-a-Flat, are not reliable and will most certainly not work in frigid temperatures.
- A full-size spare tire (where possible): This will ensure you can get to a safe and warm place.
- Flares: Be sure that other cars (and your rescue) can see you in bad weather.
- Shovel: So you can dig yourself out of a snow drift.
- Kitty litter: Or sand or pieces of carpet, something to give you traction. We have a set of these compact traction mats in every car and they have saved us more than once.
Keep yourself safe
A kit for your own safety should include:
- Insulated gloves, hat and heavy boots: Go ahead and wear the fashionable coat and gloves and the dress boots to the car but you really need to have some serious clothing on hand whenever you travel in extreme weather. When you need to go into the cold to dig out your car, you want your head, hands and feet well-protected. So carry some serious winter clothing with you in the car.
- An extra blanket: We have a blanket that folds into a pillow, so it’s useful year round and for long trips. Don’t bother with mylar blankets. In theory, they help trap your body heat, but they are so thin that they don’t much good in when it’s really cold. A mylar blanket over a wool blanket will help, but by itself a Mylar blanket is not much use in frigid temperatures.
- Hand/foot warmers: Nothing makes you feel cold like cold feet and hands. These are small and inexpensive and will keep you warm while you’re waiting for help to arrive.
- Food and water: If you are stuck on the side of the road for a long time, you will nneed food to give you energy and to keep your body temperature up. The water will freeze, so if you use bottled water, empty about 20% of the bottle to prevent bursting.
- A First Aid Kit: It’s always a good idea to have bandaids and OTC pain medicine (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) on hand for any emergency. This one is one of the highest rated and has everything you need for a car emergency.
And before you leave…
Make preparations before you leave to ensure a safe arrival.
- Have your cell phone fully charged. This may be your only lifeline to help. Carry a charger in the car.
- Make sure tires are properly inflated. Proper inflation also helps prevent you getting stuck.
- Make sure you have a full (or nearly full) tank of gas. When your tank is only partially filled it is more likely to have water condensation (especially if you use gas with ethanol) that will cause engine failure. And a full tank means you will be able to run the car if you are stuck waiting for rescue. Do not run the engine full time, as this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning inside the car. Get out of the car periodically and check the exhaust pipes to make sure they are not blocked.
- Check all fluid levels. Make sure your anti-freeze is concentrated enough for sub-zero protection. Check the oil and other fluids to make sure everything is at proper levels.
- Let others know your travel plans. Tell others when you plan to arrive and what route you plan to take.
Please be safe this winter!