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How to Stock a Winter Car Survival Kit

Being sure you have a properly stocked winter car survival kit is vitally important to the personal safety of you and your family. Enjoy, and stay safe!

In the lovely state of Minnesota, winters can be harsh. And by “harsh” I mean freeze-your-tail-off cold. Three winters ago, we had one of the worst I’ve ever seen. We had more than a month of sub-zero days. The kids spent most of the winter inside, simply because it was unsafe to go outside due to the extreme winter cold. These types of weather conditions are not nice to get stranded in, and therefore a winter car survival kit is vital to have if you live in the colder regions. In my humble opinion, it’s vital to have in any state.

A Little Story About The Dangers of Being Unprepared in Winter

When I was young and stupid back in the 80’s, I made the “wise” decision to drive up to a college town 2 1/2 hours from my home to be with friends. The problem was that it was 30 below zero. The other problem was that I didn’t have a ton of gas in the tank, and no money to add more. I decided to chance it, and based on inaccurate gas calculations (the car uses more gas when it’s super cold) I found myself pulled over on the side of a deserted highway with a car that had stopped running due to the fact that I was running on fumes,which helped to cause a frozen gas line. I was running 70 miles an hour (at midnight – bonus points for “extra stupid”), alone (double bonus points) and the car just. stopped. running. Crap. My super cool 1977 Firebird (silver with a blue “bird” decal for those of you who care. If I remember correctly, it had T-tops, but we all know how those memories of being young and cool get a little sugar-coated as we get older. 🙂  ) wasn’t feeling so cool at the moment.

Oh yeah, baby!

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To say I was scared was an understatement. There were no cell phones in those days. NO one was going to be driving this highway at this time of night when it was 30 below – not even truckers. If something didn’t happen fast, death surely awaited me because I had absolutely no winter car survival kit supplies and it was at least 5 miles to the nearest farm or business, which I couldn’t have found anyway in the pitch black night.

After 20 minutes of praying my you-know-what off (I wasn’t even a Christian then, but I knew I needed God to get out of this one) and continuing to try to re-start the engine, the engine somehow started and I made it to my destination some 20 minutes away. Even in my young stupidity, I knew that was a too-close-for-comfort call, and since then I’ve always carried a winter car survival kit.

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Depending on your region, your winter survival kit supplies will vary. We’ll try to cover a variety of could-be-needed items, as well as some other “do’s and don’ts” for staying safe in your car in all kinds of weather.

Cold Winter Car Survival Kit

For those cold-prone states, here is a list of items that can help you manage a car breakdown during winter.

      • 2 road flares to attract attention if you need help
      • A cell phone charger adapter in your car at all times

AmazonBasics 4.0 Amp Dual USB Car Charger for Apple and Android Devices (High Output)

    • A flashlight and extra batteries
    • At least one heavy/warm blanket or sleeping bag
    • Heavy gloves, socks, hat, boots, scarf and jacket. This is important for those with attached garages who think they’ll only be going from the garage to the underground parking ramp at work and won’t need winter gear. Been there, done that. But that’s another story for another time. ** A note: because I travel mostly with the kids, we times our winter supplies like hats and snacks x 5. 
    • A snack pack containing non-perishable items such as granola bars, chewing gum, beef jerky, trail mix, canned prepared soups, and bottled water
    • Cat litter and a shovel for digging out if need be
    • Jumper cables
    • An empty gas can
    • Basic tire changing supplies and an inflated spare tire
    • a window scraper/brush (no, your drivers license/credit card isn’t acceptable 🙂 )
    • Necessary medications (we include ibuprofen, Benadryl and acetaminophen)
    • Battery powered radio with extra batteries
    • extra diapers, wipes and formula if you travel with an infant
    • A basic first aid kit
    • Hand and foot warmers
  • AAA 121-Piece Road Trip First Aid Kit

    Other Car-Ready Tips for Winter Survival

        • Always keep your gas tank at least half full
        • Always keep your cell phone at least half charged
        • Always let someone know where you’re going and what time you should arrive
        • Drive cautiously and carefully, obeying all traffic laws and drive for the conditions of the weather
        • Stay on main roads whenever possible
        • Stay in your car in the case of a breakdown – walking in hazardous weather is not a good idea
        • Only use your flashers when you hear/see an approaching vehicle in order to reduce battery drainage
        • Avoid traveling in bad weather when possible
        • Perform regular checkups and maintenance on your car to keep it running in optimum condition and to catch any little problems before they become big problems
        • Know your route and don’t trust the GPS to get it right.

    What To Do If You Get Stranded in Your Car in Winter

    1. If you have a cell phone, use it to call 911. Use discretion when calling a friend or family member for help; you don’t want them stuck in the same situation as you are.
    2. If there is a gas station or other public place really close by, and it’s safe for you to go from your car to the station, leave your car to get help. Otherwise, stay in your car. Don’t take any chances by walking on roads/highways in the dark or during a storm or unusual coldness.
    3. Use your flares, hazards and other items to attract attention from passing cars.
    4. If there’s more than one person in the car, huddle together for extra warmth.
    5. Don’t leave the car running for extended periods of time due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you feel you may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, step outside into the fresh air, but away from the roadway.
    6. For more tips on safe driving and survival tips during winter, click here for this easy-to-read printable PDF. 

    Take the time to get your car winter-ready within the next week, so you can be prepared for any winter storms that might come your way.

    To read our other survival/preparedness posts, go to our Prepping/Survival page by clicking here.



    1. Jim says:

      I laughed out loud (with you, not at you) when I read this article. Back in the ’80’s my “oh so invincible, very PREGNANT wife thought it would be a good idea to drive 3 1/2 hours across Iowa to see her parents – in the dead of winter and white out conditions. (I was out of town at the time so I don’t take any responsibility for her decision to do so). We had a little honda civic with no 4 wheel drive and of course cell phones didn’t exist at the time. She almost made it home when her car ran out of gas. It was freezing out, she was in the middle of farm land and no one was traveling that day (including truckers – I wonder why). Fortunately, her car died near a farm and although she had to walk across the highway to get to the farm house (again, in white out conditions) she made it and they took her in until I could get there to “rescue” her. I’m thinking she outranks you on the “stupid” level and today she’s a lawyer – ha!

      • Laurie says:

        ROFL!!!!!!! Yeah, she might just have me beat. 🙂 Thanking God that she made it through that mess, and with a baby on the way!! She may have made a stupid decision, but what a strong woman! 🙂

    2. Jim says:

      p.s. I’d add that you should have a candle (in a glass jar) along with matches or a lighter. You can use that to warm your car up – although you must use it intermittently and crack your windows when you do so. My wife never travels without a winter ER kit in her car anymore and she doesn’t let anyone leave our house in the winter without one either. (bugs the hell out of our kids)!

    3. What a car, Laurie! My first was a ’79 Mercury Capri 5.0 (the Mustang’s sibling) with rear wheel drive and way too much speed (not sure what my parents were thinking). First snowfall and I did a 360 trying to turn a corner…it was at that time I decided a front wheel drive vehicle might have been a better option.

      I had a similar stupid winter weather driving experience in my youth. And I was never prepared at all. Live and learn. Since we live in Iowa, we do keep a winter weather survival kit in the car, though, I admit, I don’t have the hats/gloves in one vehicle yet. We keep a candle and matches too (to melt snow). Thanks for the reminder!

      • Laurie says:

        LOL, funny!!! Thank God that with age comes wisdom. 🙂 Glad you survived your winter weather experience as well. They can be scary!

      • Laurie says:

        When I think about all of the many stupid things I did when I was young, I am amazed I made it through. The list is longer than I care to admit.

    4. Great tips! I often hear news stories about people being trapped in their cars in the wintertime so it is important to always be prepared. Extra batteries are important because I often find my batteries from my flashlight have died…probably because it’s kept in the extreme heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. I have a flashlight/radio that is crank operated. It’s not the strongest but it’s a good secondary option to have just in case.

      • Laurie says:

        Every little bit helps, Andrew. The blankets, hats and gloves are big ones for us, as is keeping the tank full and the cell phone charged.

    5. These are awesome tips! I need to be better about preparing for emergencies. I live in Texas, so we don’t get snowy weather conditions that often (although an ice scraper has saved my butt on a few occasions!), but we do get flooding. I’m planning on making a flood survival kit as well as bug-out bags in case of an evacuation. It can be pricey to do something that you’re not sure you’ll need, but I know we’ll be super grateful if it ever comes time to use them.

      • Laurie says:

        The flood thing must be scary. At least with snow it’s stationary. We only had to deal with flooding one time, but our house was on a hill so it didn’t affect us too much. Many parts of the small suburb we lived in at the time were flooded BAD though. Lots of ruined homes and buildings, and lots of streets covered in water. Glad to hear you’ll be making a flood survival kit – great idea!! You’re welcome to do a guest post on that if you want…..I wouldn’t even know where to begin!

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