*Vehicle Winter Survival Information*
By: Freya
22 October 2004

Winter weather survival includes being prepared for automobile accidents and weather induced delays. Accidents can be multi-vehicle, but frequently are one car accidents due to weather related road conditions, speeding and ice, and reduced visibility. Being prepared for winter conditions can make the difference between life and death if you slide off the road on a country highway.

Important things to remember:

Give your car a thorough pre-season check every fall. If you donít know how or donít have the time, have an automotive professional do it for you. Check fluid levels, wiper blade condition, belt condition, headlight and tail-lights, and similar items.

Be sure someone knows when to expect you to check in, and what route you will be taking. If conditions become dangerous and appear to be getting worse, STOP. If it is sensible to return the way you came, do so.

Always keep a full tank of gas, and refill often. A full tank of fuel will not "ice" up as readily as a partially full tank.

If you must use your car engine to heat the vehicle, always check to make sure the exhaust tailpipe is clear. A blocked tail pipe can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and death. Be sure to open a window when you are running the car engine, and try not to run the engine over 10 minutes in every hour.

If you are in a vehicle that is disabled, use bright cloth or surveyor tape, available at hardware and home supply stores, to mark your radio antenna. If you slide off the road and can walk/climb to the roadway, tie markers to any highway signs that are close. A vehicle in the snow quickly becomes invisible unless you make an effort to be seen.

If you believe you are going to be stranded for a significant period of time in cold weather, place the emergency space blankets over the windows of your vehicle to reflect body heat and other heat back into the car. Most of the initial heat loss will be through the windows.

Your car windows will probably frost over on the inside due to condensation from breathing and water produced by the alcohol stove, if you are using one.

DO NOT leave your vehicle unless you can SEE a building to evacuate to, or it is unsafe to remain in your vehicle. If you are in an isolated area and there may be an air search, spread out the tarp on the ground outside to make you more visible from the air. If you need shelter, use rope and the tarp to make a tent. If you leave your vehicle to go cross country or down the road, leave a note in the vehicle so rescuers know which way to proceed.

If you must leave your vehicle and there is snow on the ground, use electrical tape to cover your sunglasses(or Rx glasses) leaving a narrow slit to look through. You can tape paper or something dark to the sides of your glasses to provide protection there as well. It is very easy to get a "sunburn on your eyes" when traveling in bright snow conditions.

If you leave your vehicle in white-out conditions, tie one end of your 100í cord to the car before leaving. It is very easy to become disoriented in a white-out.

Know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. Be sure to wear a wool cap or other insulating hat to prevent heat loss. Be particularly careful with children, who arenít as aware of the danger they may be in or their body symptoms.

Suggestions for vehicle winter survival "kits"

Keep in trunk or back of SUV or pickup toolbox
(we use Rubbermaid containers or large plastic ammo cans, and milk crates for the gallon size fluid containers. And sometimes we just stuff into available spaces)

  1. sleeping bag/extra blankets
  2. spare coats, mittens, boots, hats
  3. roll of bright surveyor tape
  4. medium-sized snow shovel
  5. jumper cables
  6. tow chain
  7. tire chains (know how to put them on your vehicle!)
  8. flares
  9. gas line antifreeze (use as recommended during winter to avoid problems)
  10. gallon container of defrosting windshield fluid
  11. gallon container of premixed antifreeze
  12. vehicle repair kit (pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench, cable ties, wire, electrical tape, duct tape, fuses, etc)
  13. 100 ft of parachute cord (or other "rope")
  14. bag of kitty litter for traction assistance
  15. coffee can with lid and toilet paper (emergency toilet)
  16. toilet paper/alcohol/coffee can heater
  17. tarp, bright color(in case you need to build shelter)

Keep in vehicle

(We use a duffle to organize this material)

  1. maps & compass
  2. snow brush/ice scraper
  3. flashlight and spare batteries + bulb
  4. 12 hour light sticks
  5. drinking water (1 gal/person) (remember water expands when it freezes and may break containers if left in extreme cold)
  6. high energy food (many options these days)
  7. prescription medicines
  8. sunglasses or ski goggles
  9. cellular phone and emergency battery and 12 v cord
  10. CB radio (or Ham radio, if you are a ham operator)
  11. small AM/FM radio + batteries
  12. reading materials
  13. deck of cards
  14. hand warmers (chemical type)
  15. space blankets and tape. (to use insulate windows, not as blankets.)
  16. carbon monoxide detector
  17. fire extinguisher
  18. roll of paper towels
  19. marine air horn in case you hear a rescuer who canít see you

Survival kit in a day pack

There are as many survival kit suggestions as there are people, but this should make a good starting point. Items from sections above will be used to supplement this kit, and there is some duplication. There will be some extra room to carry clothing etc if you must evacuate from your vehicle. I suggest having an extra "flat" day pack for any passengers to share the load.

  1. high energy food
  2. bouillon cubes
  3. tea bags or single serving instant coffee
  4. clean empty tin cans (cups) or "sierra" cups
  5. duct tape (you can buy or make "flat" rolls of duct tape)
  6. compass
  7. signal mirror
  8. matches wood strike-anywhere type)
  9. aspirin or equivalent and small OTC kit (Imodium, decongestant, etc)
  10. wet towelettes (Wet Ones) and alcohol hand sanitizer (wonít freeze)
  11. 50+ SPF sunscreen- you will quickly sunburn in snow conditions
  12. paper & pencils
  13. surveyor tape (bright color)
  14. 50 feet parachute cord
  15. pocket knife/multi purpose tool
  16. first aid kit/book
  17. sewing kit


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