01/06/2012 12:02 pm ET

How to Make a Winter Emergency Survival Kit for Your Car

In metropolitan areas with harsh winter weather such as Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; and Rochester, New York, getting caught unprepared in the winter can mean the difference between life and death. According to a study by the Federal Highway Administration, 75 percent of all weather-related crashes occur on wet pavement; 11 percent of accidents that are weather-related happen on snowy or slushy roads. Emergency assistance delays happen during periods of extreme weather, and rescue may take hours. Therefore a winter emergency survival kit could be vital to your safety this winter, as well as to the safety of your loved ones.


When your car breaks down or is in an accident, lines of communication become essential. As part of any winter emergency survival kit, it is important to include items that will keep you in contact with the outside world, such as cell phones, extra cell-phone batteries and battery-powered radios with extra batteries.

Extra Clothing

Keeping warm to prevent hypothermia and frostbite is critical for your safety and survival. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that cold weather puts extra strain on your heart, as your body is working to maintain internal body temperatures, so those with heart disease should be especially careful in cold weather conditions.

Do not plan to run your car's engine for heat if the car breaks down. The vehicle may not be in running condition and gas will be needed for travel once help arrives. Always dress for the weather -- wear a hat, scarf and mittens. Keep an extra pair of gloves in the car in case of emergencies.

To avoid frostbite and hypothermia, it is important that clothes are kept dry. Keep an extra pair of clothes for each regular passenger in the car. In addition to keeping everybody dry, it also will provide an added layer of warmth against the cold. Keep at least one blanket in the car at all times for warmth and shelter.

Comfort Items

Other important components of a winter emergency survival kit are items to keep stranded travelers comfortable while waiting for help. Keep two large, empty coffee cans or metal buckets in the car. One can be used as a toilet and the other, when used with waterproof matches, can be used to melt snow for water. Put a roll of toilet paper in the bucket chosen to be the toilet. In the water bucket, place the waterproof matches and some energy bars for food. Also, have a whistle in the car to use to get attention.

For people living in very rural areas, it is recommended that a means to heat your vehicle without starting the car be included in your winter emergency survival kit. Make sure any emergency car heater you buy runs independently of your vehicle's power supply.

First Aid

In any emergency, a first aid kit can be critical to the health of you and your passengers. First aid kits can be purchased at many retail locations, and some new cars come equipped with them. Make it a point to review expiration dates and replace items yearly. An important medical device that is often not included in a first aid kit is a thermometer. This is an especially important tool in the winter to measure an individual's body temperature to avoid hypothermia.

Car Tools

A shovel is important to dig out your car and remove snow from around the tailpipe. It is vital to keep the tailpipe free of snow when running the car to avoid carbon monoxide exposure.

In some winter situations, travelers may be able rescue themselves. Buy an inexpensive bag of cat litter to use for tire traction on ice, and have a can of emergency tire repair sealant in the trunk, too.

A small tool kit containing a wrench, screwdriver, pliers, a flashlight and tape can also help in certain emergencies. Some standard emergency items that should be in every car include a set of jumper cables, emergency flares and a help sign or bright flag to get the attention of potential rescuers.

During a winter accident or a breakdown, your vehicle becomes your shelter. By having a winter emergency survival kit, you and your passengers can await rescue safely, comfortably and without fear.


Photo courtesy of Mr. T in DC, flickr