Driving

13 Essentials for Your Car’s Winter Emergency Kit (+Checklist)

car driving in snow

Early winter weather predictions call for warmer-than-average temperatures for most of the United States, but wetter conditions in the North. While snow sets the scene for a beautiful winter wonderland, it doesn't make for fun driving conditions. Sleet and snow can reduce visibility and make it more difficult to control your vehicle on icy roadways. In fact, 17% of car accidents occur during winter weather conditions.

Low visibility, impassable roads, and extremely cold temperatures may even leave you stranded roadside in winter weather. Try to avoid driving in severe winter weather if you can, but for when you can’t avoid it, prepare with a winter car emergency kit in case you find yourself stuck. Find out what you should pack in your kit and how to protect yourself and your car this winter season. 

Items to keep in your car during the winter

Your winter emergency kit should include basic survival supplies, safety items, car maintenance tools, and winter clothing. These items will help you stay comfortable and hydrated if you ever get stuck on the side of the road or have to wait out a storm. Gather up your supplies, pack them into a storage bin or large backpack, and place them inside your car before venturing out into the cold. 

 1. Flashlight

Nighttime or near-blizzard conditions can decrease visibility to near-zero. A bright flashlight can provide much-needed light to either work on getting back on the road or signal to others for help. It’s smart to keep extra batteries in your emergency kit. 

2. Bag of cat litter

For those new to winter weather, icy conditions greatly reduce your tire traction. To get your car unstuck, pour non-clumping kitty litter in the path of your tires. Other alternatives include sand or road salt. 

3. Snow shovel

If snow starts piling up around your car on the side of the road, you’ll need a shovel to help you clear a path or uncover your car. Keep your car visible to rescue teams by limiting the amount of snow surrounding it or covering your tail lights.

4. First aid kit

A basic first aid kit can come in handy in the event of minor scrapes or pains, but even more so if you’re stranded. If you take daily medications, you should also pack extras away in your kit. 

5. Ice scraper

People familiar with winter weather know how vital an ice scraper is for getting ice and snow off of a windshield. During a deep freeze or emergency situation, you don’t want to waste time — or your car’s battery — waiting to defrost a thick sheet of ice on your windshield. 

6. Jumper cables

Speaking of batteries, you’ll need to be able to jumpstart your car if the battery goes dead. While jumping a car is common, it can be dangerous if you don’t do it correctly. Most importantly, reduce the risk of sparking by never touching the clamps end to end and avoid any moisture near the cables. 

Print the following instructions to keep in your emergency kit as a reminder:

7. Water 

Dehydration is a serious threat when you’re stranded. Keep a large jug of water—preferably glass—in your car for emergencies. Replace the water every few months since it may go through extreme temperature changes inside your car. 

8. Blanket

Pack a large, thick blanket away in your car to keep you warm in winter weather or to use as padding in case you need to work on your car. Consider adding a reflective emergency blanket or sleeping bag to your kit too. 

9. Cell phone charger

This is essential for most drivers already but it won’t hurt to add an extra charger with a lighter adapter to your kit. Of course, this assumes you have enough gas and battery to keep your car running to get a charge so consider packing a portable phone charger too. 

Print out an emergency contact sheet to keep in your car just in case your phone dies and you don’t have access to a charger. You may be able to borrow someone else’s phone to call for help or contact your loved ones to let them know you’re safe. 

10. Reflective triangles

Breaking down on the side of the road can put you at risk for passing drivers, especially in low visibility conditions. Put out reflective triangles to make your car more visible and protect from any hazards. 

11. Non-perishable snacks

Granola bars, nuts, crackers, dried fruit, and jerky are a few examples of snacks you can keep on hand in case you get stranded. Like the water, you should replace these every few months or sooner so they don’t expire. 

12. Matches

Waterproof matches or a lighter can provide some light and warmth in case of emergency. These small items hardly take up any space in your kit too. 

13. Toolkit

Similar to the first aid kit, a basic toolkit can be useful year-round in your car. From small repairs to changing a tire, keep these on hand in case you need them. 

Other recommended items 

For those who like to always be prepared, consider adding a few more items to your winter car emergency kit. Stock up with plenty of winter clothing like a hat, large coat, socks, and gloves to stay warm and dry. 

Pack these additional supplies if you have space in your car:

  • Extra winter clothes
  • Snow boots
  • Tire chains
  • Duct tape
  • Empty gas can
  • Tow strap
  • Fire extinguisher

Car maintenance tips to prepare for winter weather

Just like your emergency kit, your car should be prepped as winter approaches. Don't wait for the temperature to drop to realize you should have had something repaired. Check off these routine maintenance items before hitting the road and driving in winter weather

Swap your wiper blades

If your wiper blades are leaving streaks across your windshield, it may be time to replace them. You can purchase special winter wiper blades to battle heavy snow and ice. 

Inspect your battery

Temperature drops can wreak havoc on your car battery. You may notice it’s more difficult to start your car in near-freezing temps because it loses cranking power. Either check out your battery’s charge level yourself or go to a local repair shop to have it inspected. 

Keep gas in the tank

Being stuck out in a snowstorm with little to no gas is risky. Try to keep at least a half-tank of gas during winter months to avoid running out while you’re on the road. That way you can stay warm and charged up for when it’s safe to hit the road again. 

Check your tires

Consider changing your regular tires to snow tires for the winter season. If you keep your regular ones on, check the tread and air pressure to ensure they’re properly inflated and not worn down. Don’t forget to check the spare tire as well!

Test your lights

Lights may dim or fog up over time, which doesn't help visibility snowy conditions. Check that your turn signals and hazard lights work both in the front and back of your car. If they put out less light than usual, it may be time to clean out or replace the bulbs or wires.  

Icy roadways and snowy conditions make driving dangerous even for those used to winter weather. Don’t hit the road unless you have to and for when you do have to go out, prepare with a winter car emergency kit just in case you get stranded out in the snow.