Winter Survival- Part 2, by R.C.

In Your Vehicle

In this part, we will discuss how to survive in your vehicle. We have all seen the news of cars stuck in a trafic jams or abandoned on the side of the road. Then we listen to the mayor or some emergency management guy telling us to stay off the roads, not to abandon our vehicles, or please not walk down the middle of the plowed street because the sidewalk is now shoveled. As a former snowplow operator and first responder, I would have to agree. Stay home, and keep your kids home if it’s a bad storm. If you must go out, wait until after rush hour, or leave before the traffic gets heavy. Give yourself plenty of extra time to get where you are going and leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the idiot drivers, being late, and to not freak out when an emergency vehicle is trying to pass you.

Keeping your vehicles properly maintained will help keep you on the road, literally. If you cause an accident you will get a ticket, and if you have poor tread on your tires you will get another ticket. It would always amaze me to see a truck on its roof. The first thing first responders notice is the poor quality tires, and then they see the expensive skis next to the truck. If you drive a truck, please put some weight in the back. I carry some wood and some sand bags. They will help you by creating better traction, and you can use the sand or wood to get yourself or someone else unstuck. Having a 4×4 does not make you invincible. I’ve seen small front wheel drive cars do just fine because they don’t have that 4×4 mentality. If you do get in an accident or run off the road, please stay in your vehicle. Don’t be a statistic by getting yourself run over.

A winter car kit is essential to have in your vehicle. You can buy them or put one together yourself. As we used to say on our wildland engines, “You are what you bring.” That means without a blanket, are you prepared to spend a cold night in your vehicle?

First, let’s go over how to get un-stuck. Have I ever been stuck? Yes, I was a few times. Once I was hunting with a chained up 4×4. Another time I was driving an ambulance looking for an address, and I slid off the road and hit a phone box. I had to take the wiz quiz (drug test); I passed. Always carry a tow strap or two; you just might get yanked out of the snow by a good Samaritan. Keep a shovel and some traction aids, like sand or kitty litter, in your vehicle. Please keep your vehicles with at least a half tank of gas. Then, if you are stuck in traffic or off the road, you will have some heat. In this case, only run your car heater for 20 minutes out of every hour, with the window cracked, and make sure your tailpipe is uncovered so you don’t succumb to C.O. poisoning. I also carry a small empty gas can in case I run out of gas or I see somone else who needs it. Having a good tool box and some extra fluids and spare parts can come in handy if, or when, you need them, including a spare serpentine belt and tools to replace it if need be. I carry an older one I’ve replaced for a “just in case” scenario. Remember, if you don’t know how to do it, just Google that stuff or check your manual. Carry jumper cables, fix-a-flat, or an air compressor with a tire fixing kit. The rechargeable battery jump pack I carry has a small air compressor built in. They now make jump packs the size of a tissue box that can jump start a bus. They will also charge your devises with a USB port. Keep a cell phone charger in your car as well as a wind up weather radio to listen to news or weather reports. Tire chains for all four tires with straps can be helpful in icy situations; just be careful putting them on next to the roads. You’ll want to have a large set of channel lock pliers to squeeze them together. Practice putting them on to see if they fit your tires, and when you need them you will know what you are doing. I also carry a fire extinguisher, reflective triangles or other warning devices, and a red bandana or flagging for my antenna.

In Winter Survival- Part 1, about traveling on foot, I went through my heavy winter pack. Where my truck goes, my pack goes. So, I have my winter sleeping bag, extra clothes, food kit, water kit, fire kit, first aid kit, emergecy kit, et cetera. I also store some extra bottled water, emergecy food bars, more blankets, clothes, boots, camp chair, 3-season tent, big first aid kit in a toolbox, maps, stuff to read, and a deck of cards. I also keep a candle and a alcohol stove with warm drinks, cup of soup, and oatmeal. The hygiene kit has ziploc bags to pee into, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. On my doors of the truck I carry a jogger fogger (pepper spray), rescue knife with a seat belt cutter and window punch, trauma shears, flashlight, and a SOG spirit knife that can screw into a broom handle to make a spear. The other door has sun & bug stuff in ziploc bags, dog cookies, and a leash for my runaway dogs, a ziploc bag containing medical gloves, and work gloves. In the glove box there is a headlamp with batteries, truck manual, pain meds, lip stuff, ear plugs, trailer plug adapter, suckers, lighter and matches, pen and paper, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, some extra cash and checks, and hand warmers. In the bed of my truck, I have my shovel, digging bar, axe, come-along, broom, extra fluids, and tow ropes.

As for my truck gun, I have bn old cammo Mossberg 12-gauge pump in a case that fits under the back seat nicely. I have some extra ammo for my .40 as well as my shotgun. If I’m not carrying my sidearm, it stays within easy reach inside the truck. I also keep a collapsible fishing rod with some fishing gear in the case. As you can see, I don’t have much room left for passengers. As a rule, we don’t take my truck as a family, if we go out; I would have to move some of my gear.

What happens if you get stuck or stranded? Well, first thing you do is accept the fact that you are stuck. Then, you put some better gear on, if you have it. Then try to dig yourself out, if you can, or you get your tow rope out and see if anyone can give you a tow. You might have to wait a long time for a tow truck, so be prepared. If you are injured, call 911 for help. Just remember that you may have to wait a long time if they are busy. It is not normally the job of rescue or EMS personnel to get your vehicle out or give you a ride, so please don’t ask. If you are stranded, please stay with your vehicle. You hear stories about the family that got stuck in the snow and stayed in their car while the father went for help. The family survived, and the father did not. If you decide to go for help, please leave a note in your car with the time and day you left, which way you were headed, your phone number, and an emergency contact number.

A quick review of winter survival in a vehicle:

  • Your vehicle is well maintained, filled with at least half a tank of gas, and you have some tools.
  • You have a shovel, tow strap, traction aids, chains, and warning devises.
  • If you do get stuck or stranded, you are prepared for a cold wait with warm clothes and boots, sleeping bags and blankets, first aid and emergency kits.
  • You have extra food and water, a way to make a hot meal and a warm drink, and you have a hygiene kit to take care of other needs.

For most of your northern readers this is just a friendly reminder, maybe you will throw some extra gear in your vehicles for that “just in case of an emergency” thing. In part 3 of Winter Survival, we will look at surviving at home.


  1. Leaving the pavement due to lack of visibility in blizzard conditions, even in torrential rainstorms, presents the danger of collision from oncoming traffic. Flares, flashlights, fluorescent orange colored traffic triangles should be displayed well behind the vehicle. The flashing warning lamps on a vehicle are too little too late. Removal from the vehicle must be considered if conditions warrant. The chance of survival from a roll-over semi-truck onto your disabled vehicle alongside the road is not good.

    1. As an EMT, I’ve seen cases where a vehicle leaves the road in a snowstorm thinking they will be safe, but the traffic following them simply followed the ruts their tires made in the snow thinking it was the actual road resulting in a rear-end collision “off the road”.
      If you must leave the road and cannot leave your vehicle, it is best to pull off on a perpendicular side road/driveway or at least make sure your tracks have a very sharp turn as they leave the road. The gradual rolling pullover most often performed is a recipe for disaster.

Comments are closed.