With a chill in the air my thoughts turn to winter driving; and nothing puts a damper on a winter adventure like getting stuck in the snow. Or sitting for hours on the freeway in an attempt to get over the pass. Or spinning out on black ice. Trust me – I speak from experience… Here are a few items I carry with me during the winter months to prepare for the unexpected.
Water – This is really a year-round item, but it’s important to stay hydrated! Keep in mind, frozen water is tough to drink. A potential solution – don’t leave water in your vehicle overnight.
Food – Your body can survive a surprising amount of time without food (as long as it has water), but why test that. Plus snacks can make a two-hour wait on the freeway more enjoyable.
Warm layers – If you’re stuck in your car for a long period of time, running your heater is a good way to run out of fuel. Stay warm with layers and a blanket instead.
Boots – I recall getting stuck on I-80 for an hour or so in Converse (not a snow-friendly shoe) and was glad to have boots to change into to keep my toes warm.
Gloves – Can be handy (ha!) when spending unexpected time outside your heated car, say putting chains on or shoveling snow. Glove/mitten combos are good for putting chains on when bulky gloves get in the way of dexterity.
Ice/snow scraper – Sometimes you just don’t have the five minutes to let your car warm up and thaw the windshield itself. Plus, let’s be honest, your car may be toasty warm when you finally get in it, but it’s not the most eco-friendly solution. Also, be sure to get all the snow off the top of your car before driving. Two reasons when it falls off it could be a hazard for the car behind or when you hit your brakes it could slide forward impairing your view.
Shovel – Better than having to shovel snow with your hands! I have a collapsible shovel that fits nicely in my emergency tote.
Cat litter – Cat litter took up space in my emergency tote for two years before I put it to use. I parked in a snowy area to go on a snowshoe hike, returned to my car to leave, and the tires just spun in place packing down the snow into a slick surface. I put some cat litter behind each tire and backed right up. I’ll admit I left the cat litter there in the snow, but looking back I should have scooped up the cat litter snow and disposed of it. An alternative to cat litter is sand; it will also give you traction and I wouldn’t feel bad for having left it behind.
Chains – Don’t just carry them, have the correct size for your tires, have them in an accessible place, and know how to put them on. I have an all-wheel drive vehicle and have yet to put on chains, because typically if the road is treacherous enough to require all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles to put on chains the department of transportation would simply close the road. However, get caught traveling without chains and you may look forward to a ticket that will probably cost you more than purchasing tire chains in the first place.
Truck bonus – my first big experience driving in snow was when I lived in Truckee for the winter. My Toyota Tacoma’s truck bed was full of snow and I had great traction all winter. However, the next winter driving up to Kirkwood I spun out on black ice. I was baffled because little cars without 4×4 were zipping by me. Turns out the bed of my truck was too light (no bed full of snow). Sand bags are one way to add weight to the bed of your truck and to maintain traction to all four wheels.
In addition to winterizing your emergency kit, there are a few maintenance things you can do to ready your vehicle: windshield wipers in good condition, anti-freeze windshield washer fluid, tires are in good condition, and make sure your battery has the oomph to start your car on a freezing morning.