What to Do When You’re Stranded in Your Car

road winter mountains usa snow stranded in your car feature pb

Getting stranded in your car during the winter can be a terrifying situation. If you're not prepared, it can even turn into a life-threatening scenario. Don't let that happen to you or your family. Learn how to stay warm and survive when you're stranded in your car on the road.

Winter Driving Survival Tips

In our neck of the woods, we have pretty warm winters. In fact, snow is a rarity. So, in most cases, I wouldn’t need to worry about freezing temperatures. At the same time, I still always carry a lightweight hooded jacked for myself and my wife in my tool bag. I also have all the standard tools that I need to work on my car, a couple of ration bars and several Mylar water bags. In my area, I have more to worry about with heat than blistering cold.

Unfortunately, the majority of the country is not quite so lucky. As winter goes on, the weather and driving conditions only get worse. I wanted to share a few definitions, tips and car safety kit ideas to help you survive, should you be left stranded in your car at some point in the cold.

Review this list of winter weather terms to know and remember to avoid being stranded:

  • Freezing Rain: creates a fine coat of ice on highways or walkways
  • Sleet: rain that has turned to ice pellets prior to reaching the ground, causes roads to freeze and become slippery
  • Weather Advisory: ice and snow are soon expected
  • Storm Watch: severe weather is expected in the next couple of days
  • Storm Warning: severe winter conditions are starting

7 Tips For Survival If You're Stranded In Your Car

1. Don't panic! If you find yourself stranded in your car, it's crucial that you stay calm.

2. Never leave the vehicle. If you are stranded, the vehicle offers a form of protection from overexposure to the cold. A single person walking through the snow is also harder to find than a stranded car or truck.

3. While you should not leave your vehicle, you will need something to keep warm. A car blocks you from the wind, but the high glass and metal content also wick away any heat that your body produces. Make sure you have another way to preserve heat.

4. Run the car periodically. It is okay to run the car for short periods to provide some heat. Remember to crack the windows a small amount to allow for the circulation of fresh air. Failure to do so causes exhaust fumes, like carbon monoxide, to build up very quickly. This happens, especially if the tailpipe is buried in the snow.

5. Keep yourself moving. Most cars offer very little extra room to stretch out and move around, but exercise is a must. Do whatever you can to keep your body in motion. Clap your hands, stomp your feet and move around as much as possible at least once an hour.

6. Keep your morale high. While potentially dangerous situations are nothing to celebrate, allowing your morale to dip and your body to become stressed makes for a much more dangerous situation than if you keep calm.

7. Make sure that your car is as visible as possible. Hang bits of bright-colored cloth or plastic from the windows. An open hood on your car is a universal distress signal and helps make you much more visible. Only do this if there is no snow falling, otherwise this your engine freezes.

Recommendations For Your Car Safety Kit

You also need to make sure that you have some kind of emergency kit in your car at all times. You can purchase a pre-made car safety kit or build your own. If you decide to purchase a kit, don’t just store it in your trunk. Make sure you are intimately familiar with the contents and know how to use them! When you're freezing cold and possibly wet, you will NOT have the time to waste reading the directions.

What to include in your kit:

  • Blankets or sleeping bags.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries. LED flashlights work best as they require very little battery power. (The Hybeam Microlight is the perfect addition to your car kit.)
  • An auto first-aid kit.
  • A knife and some high-calorie, non-perishable food like ration bars or protein bars (be sure to switch them out regularly to avoid spoilage).
  • A large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes, plus a smaller can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water.
  • Sack of sand (or cat litter) for tire traction and a shovel.
  • An auto emergency tool kit. Kits should include tow-ropes, windshield scrapers, jumper cables and a few emergency tools like a small ratchet or wrench set.
  • A compass and road maps.
  • I always keep a small bag with some extra “just in case” clothing that can be worn to replace soiled or wet clothing or as an extra layer for warmth.

Be sure to keep any other items that suit your specific needs, keep an extra set of glasses if you wear them. Bring diapers and formula if you have children. Also, if you have children, it's a good idea to bring a few games and something like a teddy bear or blanket as this helps comfort them.

Evac3 Emergency Tool

Stranded in Your Car Evac3

This keychain-sized evacuation tool is the key to escaping your car in an emergency situation. In the event of an accident that would otherwise leave you trapped in your vehicle, this tool could save your life.

Can you think of anything that I missed or that you would add?

Up Next: 10 Amazing True Survival Stories Too Incredible To Be Real

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Jan 20, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

14 Responses to :
What to Do When You’re Stranded in Your Car

  1. Contrary Mary says:

    I cannot get any or your post to link to facebook. They say you have been flagged as unsafe and/or spammy. What is up with that?

    1. Joe says:

      Hey Mary,
      Sorry about not being able to post to facebook. I am still trying to figure this out myself, unfortunately facebook doesn’t have anyone I can personally talk to get this figured out. It is quite odd because twitter, myspace and all the others sites work, it is just facebook.

      Trust me its been a major pain in the rear for me, and I am sorry for that.


    2. Lynette says:

      Mary, post it like this: Replace the DOT with a period. survivallifeDOT

  2. Dodged5 says:

    If stuck on a back road or old logging road, keep the roof and hood of you car or truck clear of snow. I will help if there is an aerial search. If your vehicle is white, lay a dark colored tarp or something over the car to make it more visable. Carry a window scraper that has a long handled brush on it for clearing snow. Carry several Plumbers Candles in your emergency kit along with water proof matches. Burning the candle will provide a heat source that will keep you warm inside your vehicle. Keep the windows cracked for fresh air. The candles are available at most hardware stores. Road flares are also very useful for letting people know you have a problem and they can also be used to start a fire in damp wood if you decide to camp outside you car. Burning a spare tire will make a very black cloud if you need a distress signal. A entrenching tool is also a very handy thing to have to dig yourself out if you need to and most can also be usd as a pick and an ax if needed. They fold up and require very little space. I think that’s enough for now.

    1. Sandy Hoyt says:

      Also have an old coffee can (metal) and a few votive candles and box matches. When stranded you can light is and it will generate heat without burning anything..Put it on the floor because heat rises to get full effect from warmth. Also leave a little cash in the can, just in case you find a place to make a phone call..cell phones do go dead..My dad made sure I had this in the 70’s when I drove in the winter in Ohio and more than once did I have to use this and it kept me warm til help arrived

  3. Great Grey says:

    You should have enough plastic (space blankets) and tape to cover/replace all the windows in case they get broken (I was in car that rolled, it was good for shelter but had big air leaks) also, it can be used to reduce the size of area in the car that you have to keep warm.
    When hiking/walking always carry at least 1½ e-blankets per person (1 to wrap up in and one to help make a shelter. i.e. 1 person 2 blankets, 2 people 3 blankets, 3 people 5 blankets, 4 people 6 blankets)

  4. A metal coffee can, and candles. keep inside vehicle, slight crack in windows keeps oxygen flowing through. light candle. works as light as well as a heat source. also a way to melt water to drink or boil. an old tea pot works great, make screwdriver holes in metal can so air can flow through, and light a 3 wick candle. you have a way to make water from snow and ice. as well as stay warm. all can be kept in a small tote in the back seat which doubles as a little desktop for kids with crayons and coloring books. also keep a spare set of boots and 15 below sleeping bags per kid, as they tend to freeze faster or for elderly.

  5. Rose Payne says:

    I always have 3 Big metal coffe cans in the car, one contains 3- 6 ” pillar candles, lighter,matches. One has he other can has pull top protiens like sardines, tuna,,vienna susages, potted meat, crackers,energy bars,and dark chocolate. The other can has 2 space blankets, plastic fold up poncho,toliet paper. One can is used for waste the other 2 are for candle holders for heat and light. I always keep a book in the car, extra blanket, change of clothes and boots. a jug of water.

  6. Debra says:

    I would carry emergency candles that you but in tin containers. They would help warm the car about 8 hours & matches. I have heated my greenhouse in power outages with large candles in metal buckets before!

  7. Nana says:

    1) hand held CB or 35 mile or 2 way radio
    2) lighter
    3) mirror
    4) floresant/ rlective spray paint & ora reflective tape for painting SOS on roof, hood, road, snow
    5) hand and foot warmers
    6) water pouches
    7) magazine/book for reading, insulation in
    shoes, fire
    8) spare cell phone battery/cbarger

  8. David Greene says:

    A shovel (metal), a jump box w inflator, and good rope or a tow strap all ought to be on this list.

  9. John Kennedy says:

    I have a 50 count box of disposable lighters and dozens of candles, a sleeping bag, blanket and pillow. A 5gl bucket with a snap on toilet seat. two trash bag liners and kitty litter. wet ones baby wipes and paper towels. A jug of water and an empty pee-bottle. 160 each survival tabs, (one container) 5 equals a meal. I pack most of this into the poo bucket. I think I could live in a car for a week if I had to.

  10. cardslammer says:

    You mentioned “not just storing it in the trunk”. IMHO, sliding off an icy road into a snowdrift could potentially trap the occupants in the car, making access to the trunk impossible. Serious injury is another immobilizing possibility. In our Michigan winters, I always make room for my survival kit in the passenger cabin, never out of arms reach. Why take the chance?

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