Winter Emergency Car Kits and Roadside Weather Safety

How to Make a Car Kit and Use It

Winter snow accident car in a ditch
Nicolas McComber / Getty Images

Severe weather can strike you anywhere, including when you're in your car, on-the-go. Sure, your car will provide you with shelter, but if you're going to outlast the weather outside, you'll need additional items to see you through until help arrives. Much like the disaster supply kit you keep in your house (except more portable), a car emergency kit will do just this.  

Carry These Emergency Items in Your Car

Whether you build your own emergency kit or buy one pre-assembled (like those from AAA, Red Cross, or outdoor retailers) you'll want to make sure it includes the following items:

  • Emergency whistle
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Cell phone charger
  • Road map
  • Flares/roadside warning triangle
  • Rain poncho (in a bright color) 
  • First-aid (bandages, antiseptic towelettes, Neosporin, sterile gauze pads, first aid tape) 
  • Pocket knife
  • Non-perishable food (snacks, energy bars, peanut butter, raisins, mini-Snickers)
  • 2-3 bottles of water

Add These Items During the Winter Season

In addition to the general items listed above, make sure that the following are also in your kit during the winter season. 

  • HotHands hand warmers 
  • Extra pair of mittens and socks
  • Blanket
  • Ice scraper/snow brush
  • Folding shovel
  • Tire chains/small bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction)

In winter, keep your kit in the glove compartment, back seat, or other storage area inside the car to limit your exposure to the outside cold and snow.

Driving in Winter Storms

It’s best NOT to travel during winter weather, but if you must take a winter trip, taking these precautions can lessen your chances of needing to use your winter survival kit:

  • Keep your gas tank full — don't let it fall under half a tank.
  • Avoid secondary roads, when possible.
  • Don't travel alone. 
  • Before hitting the road, text or call family and friends to tell them your travel schedule and when you expect to arrive.

If you do find yourself stranded in your car during a winter storm, take the following actions:

  • Park your car off the roadway and turn on hazard lights.
  • Remain in your car — unless there's a building nearby and you can safely travel there on foot.
  • Run the car engine and heater for 10 minutes every hour. To protect against carbon monoxide poisoning, vent a window and keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow.
  • If your clothing gets wet, change it immediately to prevent loss of body heat.

Driving in Thunderstorms and Lightning 

Winter weather isn't the only type of severe weather to affect you while you're on the road. Thunderstorms and lightning can pop up during your spring and summer drive time, and while you likely won't need any items from your emergency kit to carry you through these storms, knowing how to behave in your car could reduce your risk of injury.  

  • DON'T drive or ride in a convertible or soft-top! (It is a car's metal frame — not it's rubber tires — that keeps its driver and passengers safe while inside. Should lightning strike a vehicle, the metal frame will conduct the electrical current around the outside of the car and into the ground below.)
  • Park your car off the roadway and turn on hazard lights.
  • Turn off the car engine.
  • Keep the car windows rolled up. 
  • Keep your hands in your lap — DON'T touch any electrical or metal objects inside your car, including the radio, cell phone charger, USB connectors, GPS units, car door handles, foot pedals, or steering wheel. (If lightning does strike your vehicle, some of its electrical current can flow through these electrical systems.)
  • Wait until the thunderstorm has passed before continuing on your journey or exiting the car. 

Driving in Tornadoes

Should the thunderstorms turn severe and a tornado form in the distance while you're driving, you may be able to avoid it by driving at right angles to the storm. But if it is nearby, take the following actions:

  • Do NOT try to outrun the tornado!
  • Park your car off the roadway and lower your head below window-level.
  • Get out of the car — even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open air!
  • If there’s a building or shelter nearby, run there fast!
  • If there are no nearby buildings, get as far away from trees, cars, and loose structures as you can.
  • Run to low ground (a valley or ditch). Lie flat, face-down on the ground and protect the back of your head with your arms. 
  • DO NOT seek shelter under bridges or overpasses!

Don't Forget to Refresh Your Kit!

Remember to refresh your car kit items after each use or after a year or more of non-use. Doing this ensures your supplies are ready and in good condition whenever you need them down the road.