For The Van Trapped Family
GitoTrevisan/istockphoto

21 Things to Keep in Your Car For Safe Winter Driving

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For The Van Trapped Family
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 a mere 2 inches of snow in Atlanta 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. 

Note: Prices and availability are subject to change.

Related: 50 Best Products for Surviving Winter

Long-handled Snow Brush
Amazon

Long-Handled Snow Brush

$35 on Amazon
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The easiest way to remove snow from a car’s hood, trunk, and roof. An extendable, long-handled brush with a foam head won't scratch the paint and can remove far more snow with far less effort than a relatively tiny scraper. 

Related: 30 Essential Car Features You'll Want This Winter

First Aid Kit
Amazon

First Aid Kit

$37 from Surviveware
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Your car is the perfect place to stash a small first-aid kit. This one 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.

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Windshield Ice Scraper
AutoZone
Utility Shovel
Amazon

Shovel and/or Spade

$28 from Amazon
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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 for snowbanks and a small, handheld spade ($9 at Home Depot) for removing snow from the front of tires and other awkward-to-reach spaces.

Nebo Poppy Lantern
Amazon

Lantern or Flashlight

$19 from Amazon
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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 a lantern/combo like the one above or a strong long-lasting flashlight with LED lights ($20 from Amazon),  and keep them charged.

Portable Car Jump Starter
Amazon

Portable Car Jump Starter

$59 from Amazon
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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. 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
Home Depot

Presa Heavy Duty Tow Strap

$30 from Home Depot (2 pack)
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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 can tow up to 10,000 pounds in a pinch.

Bag of Kitty Litter
Walmart

Bag of Kitty Litter

$4 from Walmart (20 pounds)
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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 in the trunk. Another way to get traction for your car in snow or ice, mud or sand: an emergency traction mat ($29 at Amazon) that won't take up much trunk space, since they fold flat for storage.

Extra Windshield Wiper Fluid
AutoZone

Extra Windshield Wiper Fluid

$5 from AutoZone
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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 just in case.

Bottled Water
Target

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.

Chewy Bars Quaker Oats
Walmart

Emergency Food

$3 from Walmart
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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. Skip fruit cups, pudding snacks, and similar items — basically, nothing with enough liquid that freezing is a possibility.

Emergency Heating Kit
Amazon

Emergency Heating Kit

$8 from Amazon
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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). This soy-wax candle 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
Amazon
Redcamp Blanket
Amazon
A Winter Hat
Amazon

Hats

$7 and up from Amazon
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In cold weather, worry about your extremities even if the rest of the body is perfectly warm. Keep a thick and warm knit hat 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
Amazon

Waterproof, Insulated Gloves or Mittens

$12 and up from Amazon
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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
MarinaMassel/istockphoto

Thick, Warm Socks and Bedroom Slippers

$3 and up from Amazon
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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. If possible, include a pair of plush, foot-encompassing slippers (for a variety of prices at Target) too: those are more comfortable, and often warmer, than spending several cold hours wearing regular shoes. 

Related: Slippers to Keep Your Feet Warm This Winter

111615 cheapest gas prices 1 728

Full Tank of Gas

In winter especially, break the habit of waiting until a gas tank is near empty to fill up. At a 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.

Related: 12 Ways to Fill Up for Less at the Gas Station

Clean Old Towel Or Washcloth
Esperanza33/istockphoto

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.

Toilet Paper
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. In 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.

Related: 21 Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper

Pillows
artisteer/istockphoto