How to survive if your car gets stuck in the snow

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At the risk of sounding like a character from “Game of Thrones” — winter is coming.  In many parts of the country, winter is already here.  If you haven’t already thought about what you would do to survive if you got stuck out in the snow, then it’s time to start.  How can you survive a day or two stuck in the snow?  What should (and shouldn’t) you do?

Winterize Your Car

Before the snow starts to fall, take some steps to winterize your car.  This usually includes:

  • Switching out regular tires for snow tires.
  • Checking and replacing fluids if need be — antifreeze, for example, should be replaced with a cold-weather version, and oil should be changed and replaced with a thicker viscosity for the colder months.
  • Winter windshield wipers — heavier duty and designed to move snow and ice from your field of vision.

Getting your car ready for cold weather driving not only helps to ensure that your car will start every time during the winter, but makes it less likely that you’ll get stranded in the snow.

Restock Your Emergency Kit

Your car should always have an emergency kit stored in the back seat or trunk, especially during the cold months. You may never need it but it’s definitely one of those things that better to have and not need than to need and not have.  If you haven’t built an emergency kit in a while, you’ll need:

  • Drinking water —it’s important to stay hydrated, even in the cold.
  • Food — non perishable snack food items or dehydrated food that you can eat dry or reconstitute make good emergency kit options.
  • A 2 day supply (minimum) of any necessary medications that you don’t already carry with you.
  • Extra clothes and blankets. The best way to stay warm is to layer.
  • Matches, lighters, small candles, or flashlights with extra batteries.
  • A shovel, windshield scraper, and folding knife.
  • Flares
  • A cell phone and appropriate charger.
  • Salt, sand or kitty litter that you can spread under your tires for traction.
  • Tow rope and/or nylon cord to get you out of the snow bank.
  • Jumper cables.

Make sure your kit is stocked before the weather starts getting cold and keep it restocked as you use up things like the drinking water or dehydrated food.

Shelter In Place

If you’re in a familiar area, or near a town, you may be able to walk through the snow to get help, or even just call for a tow truck. If you’re further away from town, though, the best idea will probably be to shelter in place — stay with your car, call for help, and use road flares, lights, and your horn to get the attention of passing cars.

You can run your car periodically for warmth but you don’t want to turn the engine on until you’re sure that the tail pipe is clear. If it’s blocked by snow or debris, the carbon monoxide produced in the exhaust can back up into the cabin and become dangerous or even fatal. Take that shovel that you’ve hopefully got in your emergency kit, and clear any obstructions away from the exhaust pipe.

Don’t count on the heat of the pipe to melt any snow that might be blocking it. It may or may not work, and you risk yourself in the process.

Once the tail pipe is clear, run the engine intermittently for heat.  Don’t use all your gas up in one sitting!

While you’re waiting for help, make sure you stay warm and hydrated, and be aware of the warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Getting stuck in the snow sucks, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.  Take the time to prepare before you get stuck, and you’ll just have some time to kill while you wait for a tow truck to come pull you back onto the road.