11 Things to Keep in Your Winter Car Emergency Kit

Fresh water, a first-aid kit, and a flashlight are essential components of any winter car kit.

Margaret Wack
Written byMargaret Wack
Margaret Wack
Margaret WackPersonal Finance Writer
  • 8+ years writing about insurance and personal finance

  • Widely published insurance expert

Margaret has written extensively on personal finance topics, including insurance, taxes, budgeting, saving, and more. She’s also a marketing manager and an award-winning poet.

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Chris Schafer
Edited byChris Schafer
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

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Updated May 23, 2024

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As you prepare for another season of winter driving, you’ll naturally be sure to keep enough gas in your tank and check the air in your tires. But have you created a winter car emergency kit? This small kit may be your most important winter modification.

A winter car emergency kit is a stash of supplies that can help make sure you’re as safe as possible if you need to hit the road during wintry weather conditions.

Winter car emergency kits should include items like a first-aid kit, phone charger, water, and snacks, in case you’re injured or stranded in your car during a storm. You should also include items designed to help you deal with snow and ice, including ice scrapers, shovels, and a pair of gloves.

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11 items to keep in your winter car kit

Your winter car emergency kit should include the following 11 items:

  1. Fresh water

  2. Nonperishable snacks

  3. First-aid kit

  4. Flashlight

  5. Phone charger

  6. Hat and gloves

  7. Blanket

  8. Ice scraper

  9. Shovel

  10. Sand

  11. Jumper cables

Below, you can learn more about why each of these items is so important.

1. Fresh water

Fresh water is an essential element of a winter emergency car kit. If you find yourself stranded indefinitely due to a snowstorm, you need to stay hydrated. While it’s a good idea to keep your car stocked with fresh water year-round, this is especially important in winter, when a storm could immobilize you without much warning. One easy way to keep water from freezing in your car is to store it inside a cooler or other insulated container. Make sure to change your water supply a couple times a year so that it stays fresh.

2. Nonperishable snacks

Food is the next most important item in a winter emergency kit. If you’re stranded in your car during a storm, snacks can help you keep your energy up. You should include shelf-stable snacks that can withstand both hot and cold temperatures. Some great options include nuts, granola, protein bars, and jerky. As with water, you’ll want to swap these out every so often and make sure that they aren’t expired.

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3. First aid kit

A staple of any emergency car kit, a first aid kit is a must-have, whether you get into an accident due to a winter storm or even just give yourself a minor injury while scraping ice or shoveling snow. A good first aid kit should include items like bandages, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, sterile gauze, tweezers, and other items.[1] If you have any time-sensitive medications that you need to take daily, you might also want to consider including them in a first aid kit. Check the kit periodically to make sure that nothing has expired.

4. Flashlight

You should also keep a flashlight in your car in case you’re stranded in the dark or when inclement weather makes it hard to see. Make sure that your flashlight has batteries. You may also want to include a backup hand-crank flashlight that’s operable without batteries.

5. Phone charger

Keeping your phone charged is important in an emergency in case you need to get in touch with emergency services, get a tow, or call friends or family for help. You should include a phone charger in your winter emergency kit. If possible, it’s a great idea to also include a fully charged phone battery pack so that you can continue to charge your phone if your car is turned off.

6. Hat and gloves

Stay prepared for chilly winter temperature with a spare pair of gloves and a warm hat. Even if it’s not that cold when you leave the house, temperatures could drop with the onset of a winter storm. Keeping warm, cozy winter gear in the car is an easy way to make sure that you’re more comfortable if you’re stuck in your car during winter weather.

7. Blanket

A warm blanket is also a must-have in your winter emergency kit. Some first aid kits come with emergency blankets designed to retain heat and help you stay warm. But even an old quilt or blanket is a good backup.

8. Ice scraper

Ice scrapers, which typically also include a brush attachment to brush off snow, help clear ice and snow from your car without damaging it. Whether you just bought a new car or are moving to a place with lots of snow, you’ll quickly find that an ice scraper is an essential element of your winter car kit arsenal.

9. Shovel

If you’re stuck somewhere unexpected during a winter storm, there’s a chance that you might find yourself snowed in. If this is the case, a shovel will come in handy to help you dig out your car and get back on the road when it’s safe to drive. Look for a compact, collapsible shovel that you can easily fit in your trunk.

10. Sand

Slick conditions can make it hard to gain traction on roads. A bag of sand is another great addition to your winter emergency kit since it can help you get unstuck. Just sprinkle the sand along the surface to give your tires grip and traction on the road.[2]

11. Jumper cables

One of the only things worse than being stranded with your vehicle during a winter storm is being stranded and having your car die on you. Keeping a spare pair of jumper cables in your car can make it easier to get a jump from another driver.

Car maintenance tips to prepare for winter weather conditions

Aside from keeping a fully stocked winter emergency kit, making sure your car is properly maintained is one of the best things you can do to prepare for winter weather.

  • Replace wiper blades. You don’t want to head into a winter storm with old, damaged wiper blades that leave your windshield streaky and blurry. It’s a fairly simple car maintenance step if you want to tackle it yourself, but you can also ask for a replacement whenever you get your oil changed or tires rotated.

  • Check your tires. You should also check your tires before hitting the road in the winter. Make sure that your tire pressure is in line with your manufacturer’s specifications. You should also check your tire’s tread depth. The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends using the “quarter test,” where you insert a quarter headfirst into the tire tread. If George Washington’s head is visible, it’s a sign your tires might need to be replaced.

  • Check the car battery. Winter weather conditions can put a strain on your car’s battery. Have a mechanic check the battery at the beginning of the winter season to make sure it’s in optimal condition.

  • Check the gas tank. It’s always a good idea to keep your gas tank topped up, but this is especially important when hitting the road during inclement winter weather. Some gas stations may not be open, and if you’re stranded or otherwise unable to reach your destination, make sure that you have enough gas to still get where you need to go once roads are clear.

  • Mitigate road salt corrosion. Road salt lowers the freezing temperature of water to prevent ice from forming — but it can also leach into groundwater and corrode metal car components. To mitigate car corrosion, wax your vehicle’s exterior, keep your tires clean, and wash your car regularly.

  • Test headlights and brake lights. Working headlights and brake lights are especially important during winter storms, when visibility is affected. Make sure that your headlights and brake lights are in working order, and fix them if they’re dim or broken.

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Tips for safe driving in the winter

Whether you’re not yet used to winter driving or just need a quick refresher, here are a few things to keep in mind when driving during the winter months.

Drive below the speed limit

Winter weather can make road conditions slick and dangerous, so it’s important to go slow and avoid speeding. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends reducing your speed to half that of the posted speed limit on snow-packed roads and to two-thirds of the posted speed limit on wet pavement.[3]

Use chains on your tires

Using chains on your tires during snowy conditions can help improve traction and make sure that your vehicle doesn’t slip and slide on the road. In some states, using chains is required during snowstorms. For instance, during inclement weather, the Colorado Department of Transportation may require vehicles to have chains, winter tires, tires with an all-weather rating or mud and snow designation, 4-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.[4]

Clear your car of snow and ice

If snow is on your car, clear it off entirely, even if it takes a few extra minutes. This is important because leaving snow on your car’s roof, trunk, or windshields can make for dangerous conditions on the road. Not only does it potentially reduce visibility while you’re driving, but it can also fall off your car and hit another vehicle, especially at high speeds.

Only drive on plowed or salted streets

No matter where you’re going, getting to your destination isn’t worth risking your health and safety. You should only drive on plowed or salted streets and avoid driving on roads that are unplowed or have packed snow. Not only can this help prevent accidents, but it will also reduce your risk of getting stranded in the snow.

Winter car emergency kit FAQs

Want to create a winter car emergency kit, but not sure where to start? Here are answers to some common questions to make sure that you’re prepared to hit the road during the winter months.

  • What should be in a winter emergency car kit?

    You should keep essential items like food, water, and a first aid kit in your car’s winter emergency kit, as well as winter-specific items, like an ice scraper, shovel, hat, gloves, and blanket. Think about what you would need if you were stranded in your car because of a storm.

  • Is it OK to sleep in a car overnight?

    Sleeping in your car overnight may be a last resort if you’re stranded in winter weather, but it’s safer than spending the night out in the open. The National Weather Service recommends running your vehicle no more than 10 minutes each hour to stay warm while leaving your windows open a crack and regularly clearing your tailpipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

    You should always stay with your vehicle while waiting for help to arrive. Make sure that you’re visible to rescuers, and take steps to make sure that you stay as warm and hydrated as you can.[5]

  • What are five things you can do to prepare your car for winter driving?

    Five things you can do to prepare for winter driving include stocking up on water, packing snacks, keeping a winter emergency kit in your trunk, making sure that your car is properly maintained, and topping off your gas tank.

  • What types of food make good rations in case of a winter storm?

    If you’re stranded in a winter storm, you want to ensure your bag is full of foods that’ll keep you feeling full and give you energy. Whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, protein or granola bars, jerky, dried raisins or apricots, and applesauce are all low-maintenance foods that can provide you the nourishment you need in a difficult situation.

Sources

  1. American Red Cross. "Make a First Aid Kit."
  2. Reviewed by USA Today. "Salt, Sand, Cat Litter? Use This to Stop Slipping on Ice."
  3. FMCSA. "CMV Driving Tips - Too Fast for Conditions."
  4. Colorado Department of Transportation. "Passenger Vehicle Traction & Chain Laws."
  5. National Weather Service. "What To Do If You're Caught in a Winter Storm."
Margaret Wack
Margaret WackPersonal Finance Writer

Margaret Wack is a personal finance writer with a master's from St. John's College. She has written about finance and insurance topics for publications including Investopedia, Bankrate, MoneyGeek, The Simple Dollar, Money Under 30, and more. She has also written for sites like Angi, US News & World Report, ArtfulTea, and Reviews.com. Connect with Margaret on LinkedIn.

Chris Schafer
Edited byChris SchaferSenior Editor
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

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