With colder weather showing up and the feel of snow in the air, we can all tell that winter is just around the corner. While there is much to like about winter, especially the holidays and sitting in front of a fire with the snow falling outside, there is also much to give us reason for concern. In most parts of the country, wintertime is the most dangerous time of year, with low temperatures creating the opportunity for hypothermia.
Winter travel can be risky as well for a number of reasons. Not only is it harder on our vehicles, but should something happen to a vehicle in the wintertime, the hardship of surviving in the snow and cold is much greater than the problems we would have in warmer weather. Therefore, it only makes sense to be prepared for such an eventuality, should one occur.
There are three basic categories of preparedness that we need, in order to minimize risk to ourselves and our families, while traveling in the wintertime:
- Preparing our vehicles
- Preparing for vehicular problems
- Winter survival
Let’s take a closer look at all three of these.
Preparing Our Vehicles
Getting stuck in a winter storm is bad enough; getting stuck in it because we didn’t make sure our car was ready for it is considerably worse. Not only do we have the problem of dealing with the surviving in the cold in that case, we have to deal with the self-recriminations for putting ourselves in that situation.
Winter is hard on vehicles, with many breakdowns being caused by minor mechanical difficulties that could have been avoided with proper maintenance. In the summertime, some of these can be ignored; but then, in the summertime, a breakdown is much less likely to put us into a survival situation. Breaking down in the midst of a winter blizzard can quickly put us in danger, especially if we are out in the country, where others may not see us.
Taking care of a few maintenance items can greatly reduce the risk to us:
- Battery – Probably one of the most common winter problems, a weak battery is much more likely to go bad in cold weather.
- Hoses and belts – These rubber parts are affected by a lot of things, including cold. Being more brittle in cold weather, they can break, causing your vehicle to stop running.
- Wiper blades & washer fluid – While a dirty, streaked windshield won’t stop your car from running, it can make it much harder for you to drive, if you can’t see through it.
- Tires – While you may not need snow tires, you definitely need tires with good tread on them, in order to keep from getting stuck or driving off the road.
- Anti-freeze – Make sure that you cooling system has a 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water, as straight water will freeze, damaging the engine.
Preparing for Vehicular Problems
In addition to mechanical problems with the vehicle, you can have other vehicle-related problems, most notably getting stuck in the snow. While we can always hope for someone to come along and help us out, it’s better if we can help ourselves. A few basic items increase our ability to do this:
- Chains or straps – Attaching chains to your wheels will allow any vehicle to get through snow much easier. The newer tires straps, which look like thick, knobby zip-ties are easier to use and if one breaks from driving on dry pavement, it’s no big deal.
- Shovel – For digging yourself out, if you get stuck.
- Tow strap – Some people prefer tow chains, but unless you are used to towing, a strap is easier to work with. Even better, a snatch-strap, which is somewhat elastic, makes it much easier to pull a vehicle out that is stuck.
If you can’t get your vehicle unstuck and back on the road or if conditions are so bad that you can’t drive, you will be better off staying in place, using your car as a survival shelter. In order to do this, you’ll need some basic survival gear, such as you can find in our Roadside Emergency Kit. These also provide you with things like jumper cables and two straps for your vehicle. A few other things you might want to have are:
- Paracord – If you have to leave the vehicle for any reason, such as to clear the tailpipe, tie a rope between yourself and the vehicle, so that you can find your way back, even if whiteout conditions keep you from seeing.
- Large candles & matches – To generate heat inside the vehicle.
- Space blankets & duct tape – Vehicle insulation is minimal. Covering the inside with a layer of space blanket will help reflect your body heat back to you, in order to help keep you warm.
- Blankets – For keeping warm.
- Hats, gloves & scarves – Spares, in case you leave home without them.