You don’t have to be a meteorologist to recognize that this winter is already off to a frigid start. Sub-zero temperatures and copious amounts of blowing and drifting snow dominated weather reports all across the United States in recent weeks. Unfortunately, we can’t hunker down in little holes and hibernate until spring; we have to learn to deal with the inconveniences of the season—particularly as we meet winter head-on in the car.
The smartest thing is to stay home when the weatherman predicts inclement weather, but sometimes circumstances force us out or storms catch us by surprise. That’s why it is important to properly maintain your car and then prepare by packing a few simple items that could mean the difference between life or death should your driving situation deteriorate from bad to worse.
Before your next winter road trip, give your car a basic tune-up. Inspect general things like the battery, spark plugs, distributor, brakes, wiring, hoses, belts, and filters. Be sure to give the tires a good once-over for tread and air pressure, and top off all fluids—especially antifreeze and windshield washer fluid.
Pack a Toolkit
Once you’ve completed the preventive maintenance, it’s time to pack the things that might help you fix a broken down or stuck car. You’ll want a basic toolkit, jumper cables, spare tire, and flashlight. When traction is the issue, you’ll appreciate things like tire chains, a good tow strap, a small shovel, and a bag of sand or kitty litter to coat the slippery spots.
If you become stranded, you may initially think it best to walk for help. The fact is you are much wiser to remain with your vehicle unless you know exactly where you are and how far you are from assistance. With a properly stocked car, you chances for success are much greater waiting it out in the vehicle. Make sure you pack a good woolen blanket and extra mittens, hats, etc. Between bundling up and running your car periodically, you should stay warm enough.
Non-perishable, high-energy food items like unsalted nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy make smart survival snacks. Packets of soup or hot chocolate can be made with melted snow if you have a candle, matches, and a can to use as a pan.
Suggestions of items to pack and innovative ways to use them abound online. The recommendations listed above came primarily from the National Safety Council web site (www.nsc.org), where you’ll find even more good ideas. You might also want to try the cleverly compact “coffee can survival kit” as outlined on several sites including the Wisconsin Department of Transportation web site (www.dot.wisconsin.gov). If you have any intention of travelling outside populated areas this winter, you owe it to yourself to be prepared.