Winter Is Coming. Is Your Car Prepared?

A vehicle entirely submerged in frozen snow.

The trees where I live are beautiful with all their orange and gold leaves, but I know that in just a few weeks all that beauty will be gone and soon replaced with tons of white junk known as "snow." Winter is coming. No, I don't like it much (I love the other three seasons), but after living in northeast Ohio for the past 23 years (and 5 years in western Michigan) I am prepared. In my line of work I have to drive no matter what the conditions are and my car is prepared. Is yours?

Here are a few tips for preparing your car for that freezing, blustery, and potentially dangerous time of the year. Although this list is intended for winter travel, some of the things on this list could be applied to anyone living in almost any part of the country in any season. (Imagine driving across the desert of Arizona — you'd better have enough water, a fully charged cell phone, and a medical kit.)

After you get your car's engine and tires checked out (I take our vehicles to the "car doctor" twice a year — fall and spring — whether they need it or not), make sure your vehicle is stocked with these items. I have actually driven through blizzards (been stuck in one too) and I was very thankful that I had these things on hand:

1. Warmth.

Imagine you are stuck in the "snowmageddon" that crippled Atlanta in 2014. Get a load of these pictures over at The Washington Post.

Tens of thousands of motorists were stranded on icy roads with nowhere to go! How do you stay in your car and stay warm if you run out of gas? Better keep a few blankets in your car. I also keep an extra warm sweatshirt, winter hat and ski mask, warm gloves, scarf, and sunglasses.

If you have to get out and walk miles to "civilization," you sure can't do it in cowboy boots or stilettos. Keep an extra pair of old boots suitable for walking in the snow in the back of your car or truck. I also have some good wool socks stashed away. Cotton is the "fabric of death" since it holds in moisture to your skin. Do NOT wear cotton socks if you have to hike in the snow! Wool repels moisture and keeps your feet warm.

It would not be a bad idea to have long underwear stashed away and some of those little "hand warmers" or "foot warmers" in a package that hunters use. They work great to heat you up for short periods of time.

2. Water and food.

I know most people think "food and water," but water should come first. You can go a few days without food, but you will need water. Do NOT eat the snow (especially the yellow snow!). If you are dehydrated and cold, eating snow will not help you. Do something a whole lot easier: just take a canteen of water with you! I always have a Nalgene bottle filled with water, no matter the season. And in the back of my truck, I always have a canteen filled with water (I change it out often).

Along with water, have some energy bars stored away in your car. We're not talking about a full course meal here; just enough food to keep your energy up as you either wait for help to arrive or trudge home in the snow. For obvious reasons, it's a good idea to have a roll of toilet paper stored in your car. You may laugh now, but when you need it, you won't be laughing if it's not there.

I have a "bug out bag" in each of our vehicles stashed with enough food, medical supplies, tools, and other survival equipment to last me three days or possibly more. To make your own "bug out bag" (some call them "get home bags") check out these videos:

Here's a shorter video, and it's about the "cheapo" version filled with stuff you can pick up at Wal-Mart:

3. Light.

You may spin out on an icy road and be stuck in a ditch at night. It happens. You will need some light to find things in the dark and find your way out. For that reason I stash in each vehicle at least two flashlights. I also usually have a small one clipped inside the breast pocket of my winter coat. Make sure they work!

If your car has broken down, and you are on a bend in the road, you will definitely want to warn other vehicles coming up behind you. So it's a real good idea to have some safety flares in your car. You can buy these at almost any auto parts store. They come as 15-minute flares and 30-minute flares (I'd get the 30-minute version.)

Set them up behind your car so that motorists can see your vehicle in plenty of time. Here's a good video on how to ignite them:

There are also electronic safety flares, but of course they are much more expensive.

4. Communication.

Everyone has a cellphone, right? Do you also have a car charger in your vehicle at all times? Your cellphone cords won't do you much good if they are left at home. Just keep a car charger right there near the front seat at all times. Some people also stash an extra cellphone battery in their car or have a rechargeable backup battery phone-charging case.

Whatever you choose to help out your phone, if you don't have a cellphone that works you just make your life a whole lot more difficult. It may sound archaic, but some people still invest in CB radios (I don't).

We also have a "hand crank" radio available, just in case all the power goes out. We'll still be able to listen to any important news (mainly weather news) on the radio.

Something to think about in communication is the old-fashioned need for paper and pencil. Suppose you do have to hike to civilization. It would be a good idea to leave a note in your car telling the police (or maybe family members if they come across your car) where you were going, and when you left. Leave the note on the dash or the seat. If you choose to hike, don't forget to take a map (and maybe a compass). Keep a good map in the glove compartment of your vehicle.

5. Repair and recovery equipment.

Maybe the blizzard is over, but now your car is stuck in the snow. (Yes it's great to belong to AAA, but they may be busy dealing with other people for hours and hours.) Better have a good shovel and some cat litter (or salt or sand) to throw around the tires to get some traction. I have a folding "entrenching tool" in each vehicle.

Good tow straps are a necessity for some up here in the frozen Midwest. Here's how you can attach it to another vehicle and tow your car out:

An absolute essential for every single car, truck, or van out there is jumper cables. You don't have jumper cables in your car??? WHY NOT?? I have cables in each of my family's vehicles, and I certainly have used them either on our own cars, or on the vehicles of others. They are not expensive. Keep them in a bag with a card that explains in detail how to jump another car. To help you out, here's another video:

6. A first-aid kit.

I have one in each bug out bag in each vehicle, but I also have a smaller one up front in case I need to get to it immediately. I actually used this kit last year when I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident (everyone was all right). I make my own kits, but you can buy them ready-made at the store.

Whatever you choose, make sure your kit not only has plenty of ordinary band-aids, but also heavy, larger bandages, anti-bacterial cream, Quikclot to stop bleeding (or you can use a maxi-pad), gauze, ibuprofen, burn dressings, eye wash, disposable gloves, silver rescue blanket, and probably duct tape (good for everything!). Learn how to use all of this stuff the right way. It's no good if you don't know how to use it.

Lastly, here are two good videos outlining basically what I've just written. Happy prepping!