21 Things to Keep in Your Car For Safe Winter Driving

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For The Van Trapped Family
Photo credit: GitoTrevisan/istockphoto

FOR THE VAN TRAPPED FAMILY

Ice and slush can make roads slippery and snow can make them impassable, and either might leave you and your car stranded for hours or even days at a time. And that threat is not just limited to states known for harsh winters, if you remember how 2 inches of snow in Atlanta, Georgia, trapped drivers for upward of a day in 2014. If it happens to you, do not head out on foot for help. The car provides shelter, and rescuers are far more likely to find your car than they are to find you. But do turn off the gas, since it won't take long for even a full tank of gas to run dry and because snow can pile up quickly and block the exhaust pipe, sending toxic fumes inside. To prepare for the unexpected and avoid getting stuck in the cold this winter, take stock of our recommendations for items to keep in a car for winter driving — in addition to the emergency supplies that are good to have all year round.

Windshield Ice Scraper
Photo credit: Courtesy of autozone.com

WINDSHIELD ICE SCRAPER

Even on days there is no snow or other precipitation, frost can turn car windows opaque. Given how inexpensive ice scrapers are ($7 at AutoZone), it wouldn't hurt to keep more than one in a car in case one breaks while you're using it.

Shovel And/or Spade
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

SHOVEL AND/OR SPADE

You'll need at least one of these to dig a car out of a snowbank, or at least to dig snow away from its tires. If you can afford it and have sufficient space in a car or trunk, the ideal is to have both a sturdy, collapsible snow shovel $33 on Amazon for snowbanks and a small, handheld spade ($8 at Home Depot) for removing snow from the front of tires and other awkward-to-reach spaces.

Flashlight Or Lantern
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FLASHLIGHT OR LANTERN

If you have need for a shovel or spade, you may well need a flashlight or lantern to see what you’re doing. Your phone’s flashlight isn’t going to cut it — it’ll be hard to get working in snow, especially wearing gloves, and can cut out in extreme cold. You’re also going to want to save the battery to make calls. Get sturdy, strong, flexible, and long-lasting LED lights ($27 at Dick’s Sporting Goods), or a lantern that can also be a flashlight, ($20 at Dick’s) and keep them charged.

Long-handled Snow Brush

LONG-HANDLED SNOW BRUSH

The easiest way to remove snow from a car’s hood, trunk, and roof. An extendable, long-handled brush with a foam head $28 on Amazon won't scratch the paint and can remove far more snow with far less effort than a relatively tiny scraper.

Bag Of Kitty Litter
Photo credit: Courtesy of walmart.com

BAG OF KITTY LITTER

Kitty litter can provide traction at the base of your tires if you're stuck in a slippery spot. Sand can also be used, but kitty litter is generally cheaper and easier to find. Keep a bag ($14.50 for 20 pounds at Walmart) in the trunk. Another way to get traction for your car in snow or ice, mud or sand: an emergency traction mat ($19 at Walmart) that won't take up much trunk space, since they fold flat for storage.

First Aid Kit
Photo credit: Courtesy of surviveware.com

FIRST AID KIT

Your car is the perfect place to stash a small first-aid kit. This one ($35 from Surviveware) comes in a water-resistant polyester bag that's small enough for the glove compartment, but contains 100 items from alcohol wipes and bandages to a CPR mask and an emergency whistle.

Extra Windshield Wiper Fluid
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EXTRA WINDSHIELD WIPER FLUID

Windshields get dirty faster in winter, with other cars on the road kicking up salt, de-icing chemicals, or just dirty slush and snow. You don't want to run out of wiper fluid, especially not on a dirty-driving day, so keep a bottle in the trunk ($4 for a gallon at Target) just in case.

Market Pantry Purified Water
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EMERGENCY DRINKING WATER

Even in cold weather, when water loss due to perspiration is not an issue, you’ll need drinking water. Keep a few sealed bottles with about one-tenth left empty to account for expansion should the water freeze — and try to keep them from freezing by storing them in the car, not in the unheated trunk. If reusing plastic bottles, those that held soda, fruit drink and juice, and iced tea are safe, but do not use anything that held dairy, which includes many coffee drinks: No matter how many times you wash them, you can never be entirely certain you've removed every last trace of milk proteins, which make microbes grow like crazy. Federal regulations say tap water can safely be kept in sealed bottles for up to six months, which is long enough to last through the winter.
Emergency Food
Photo credit: Courtesy of jet.com

EMERGENCY FOOD

Your body also needs fuel to keep warm, so keep some pre-wrapped granola or energy bars, packages of crackers, and other “open and eat” items in your car for winter. (Boxes of the bars start at just $3 on Jet.com.) Skip fruit cups, pudding snacks, and similar items — basically, nothing with enough liquid that freezing is a possibility.

Emergency Heating Kit
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

EMERGENCY HEATING KIT

A multiwick candle can give off a surprising amount of heat and light if you're stranded in cold weather (just don't forget the matches — wooden are better than cardboard because fingers get stiff and clumsy with the cold). A soy-wax candle $7 from Amazon can burn for 36 hours and comes in a reusable aluminum tin. If you’re headed out in a storm before buying, make an emergency heater kit by bringing a metal coffee can with the flammable label removed, or an old cooking pot or saucepan and a sealable freezer bag holding several metal-cup tea light candles.

Hot Hands Hand Warmers
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

HOT HANDS HAND WARMERS

Since keeping your extremities warm can be a matter of life and death, here’s another way to ensure it. These disposable air-activated hand warmers $27 at Amazon easily do the trick: Just shake them to activate, and they'll warm up for up to 10 hours.

Portable Car Jump Starter
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

PORTABLE CAR JUMP STARTER

A dead battery may be compounding your cold-weather problems. You won't need to wait for AAA or other roadside crews if you have a portable jump starter, good for up to 20 starts on a single charge$70 at Amazon. It even includes an LED light with strobe and SOS modes, a compass, and a USB port to charge your phone.

Presa Heavy Duty Tow Strap
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

PRESA HEAVY DUTY TOW STRAP

Keeping a tow strap on hand can allow generous Good Samaritans to help pull you out of a snowdrift or wherever you’ve slid off the road. A heavy-duty 20-foot polyester strap$15 at Amazoncan tow up to 10,000 pounds in a pinch.

FULL TANK OF GAS

In winter especially, break the habit of waiting until a gas tank is near empty to fill up. At minimum, try topping off the tank once the gas gauge reaches the halfway mark, and any time the local news meteorologists warn that a winter storm is heading your way.
Clean Old Towel Or Washcloth
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CLEAN OLD TOWEL OR WASHCLOTH

The inside of a windshield will fog up more quickly on very cold days, either from your own breath or (especially) from the moisture of melting snow and ice. Keep an old hand towel or washcloth handy to wipe away condensation before it blocks your view, and especially before it freezes. Store this cloth in the center console, or some other place easily reachable by the driver.
Blankets
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

BLANKETS

As soon as winter starts, put some warm, machine-washable blankets in the car and keep them there until reliably warm weather returns — at least one blanket for every person likely to be in the car with you, whether that's measured by “number of people in the household” or “number in the carpool.” Sturdy Ektos blankets are fire-retardant and made of non-scratchy wool $24 at Amazon.

Newhattan Women's Thick Oversized Cable Beanie Hat
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

HATS

In cold weather, worry about your extremities even if the rest of the body is perfectly warm. Keep a thick and warm knit hat (starting at around $10 at Dick’s Sporting Goods) large enough to pull down over the ears — and, as with the blankets, have one for each person likely to be in the car.

Waterproof, Insulated Gloves Or Mittens
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

WATERPROOF, INSULATED GLOVES OR MITTENS

Hands will also need protection from the cold if a winter storm leaves you stranded. Mittens will keep hands warmer than gloves which start at just a few dollars a pair on Amazon, but make it far harder to light a match, pick up and manipulate a car key, or other tasks likely to befall you if inclement weather forces you to sleep in the car for a night.

Socks
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THICK, WARM SOCKS AND BEDROOM SLIPPERS

There's a good chance the socks you wear to work or running errands aren't nearly as warm as the socks you'll need if a storm leaves you sitting in an unheated car for many hours. Keep a pair of thick, warm socks or slipper socks for everyone (also starting at just a few dollars a pair on Amazon). If possible, include a pair of plush, foot-encompassing bedroom slippers ($15 at Target) too: those are more comfortable, and often warmer, than spending several cold hours wearing regular shoes.

toilet paper rolls
Photo credit: Davydenko Yuliia/shutterstock

TOILET PAPER

Not a pleasant thought, but if you are stuck in the car for long, you likely will need to use the bathroom at some point. Keep a roll or two of toilet paper in sealed, watertight freezer bags. n a pinch, disposable plastic shopping bags with no holes or tears might be able to handle certain bathroom matters without leaving the relative warmth of your car.
Pillows
Photo credit: artisteer/istockphoto

PILLOWS

These are not strictly necessary, but if you must spend a night in your car, a pillow or two will make things a lot less uncomfortable.

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