It may not be possible to prepare for every winter driving mishap, but creating a winter driving kit for your car will improve your chances of staying warm and safe until help arrives.
Lauren Fix, a New York-based automotive expert and author of "Lauren Fix's Guide to Loving Your Car," says you can't assume someone promptly will come to your aid if your car breaks down or roads become impassible. During severe storms, emergency towing services often become overwhelmed by calls for help from stranded motorists.
"Some people have a road service and say 'I am just going to rely on it,' but when weather is bad, they’re stuck on the side of the road for hours," Fix says.
Even if you're only planning to drive a few miles in severe weather, it's best to have a winter kit in your car, just in case. Jim Judge, a member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the American Red Cross, says the best place to keep your kit is the back seat of your car.
That's because if the weather is cold enough, your trunk can freeze shut, he explains. If you plan to create a winter driving kit, here are some items you should include.
A blanket is one of the most essential items. If your car breaks down during a winter storm, you'll need blankets to keep you warm until help arrives. If your battery is dead and you have to spend the night in your unheated car, a warm coat may not provide enough protection.
If you have room in your winter kit, pack a sleeping bag for extra protection against the elements. "It's something you can unzip and spread over yourself and the other passengers," says Karl Newman, president of the Seattle-based Northwest Insurance Council trade group.
2. Warm winter clothes.
When you travel during cold or wet winter weather, ensure you bring a pair of gloves, a pair of boots, a warm coat and a hat. You'll need all of these if you have to venture outside in freezing temperatures. It's best if your protective clothes are waterproof.
3. A flashlight.
Judge recommends you pack a flashlight, which may come in very useful if you break down at night. Check to make sure the flashlight works before you leave on a trip. Just to be safe, always carry a fresh set of batteries. If you have passengers, bring more than one flashlight.
Handy tip: If you put your flashlight batteries in backward for storage, it will save energy until you’re ready to use them.
4. A shovel.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, says you may need this tool to remove snow from around your tires if you get stuck on the highway. Make sure your shovel is sturdy enough to chip away at ice that may form around your car's wheels. A short-handled shovel will be easier to fit into your car.
5. An ice scraper and brush.
If you can't see well due to ice or snow on your windows, you won't be able to drive safely, so make sure an ice scraper and brush are part of your kit. Fix says you should make sure the snow brush is sturdy. If you choose one with a flimsy handle, it may break when you need it most.
6. Snacks and water.
If you have to respond to an emergency, you'll think more clearly if you're not hungry. The Virginia Department of Transportation suggests you carry nonperishable food such as nuts and energy bars. The AAA federation of auto clubs recommends you carry a gallon of water in your car.
7. A rechargeable jump-starter for your car's battery.
Rechargeable jump-starters typically cost less than $100, Fix says, and they can be purchased at auto-parts stores. If you have one, you won't need to find another driver to help you start your car using battery jumper cables.
8. A first-aid kit.
You never know when accidents will happen. If someone is injured, you'll need a first-aid kit to treat wounds until help arrives. Make sure your kit has plenty of bandages, gauze and antiseptic solution.
9. An LED light source.
Flashing LED lights can be used to signal other drivers you're in trouble, Fix says. If your car is parked on the side of the road, placing flashing lights on the roof and on the ground near your car will help other drivers spot the vehicle and avoid hitting it – or you and your passengers.
10. Your auto insurance policy information.
Be sure that you have information about your car insurance coverage in your vehicle, in case you are involved in a collision. During winter storms, insurers often must handle numerous auto claims. If you get into a collision with another vehicle, exchange insurance information with the other driver and contact your insurance company as soon as possible in order to avoid a delay in processing your claim, Walker says.