Winter Safety Kit for Safer Travel

February 17, 2012

Find out what to look for in a comprehensive car safety kit, as well as 5 ways to winterize your car.

Consider Winter Safety

Having a winter safety kit is very important when traveling in areas prone to inclement weather during the colder months. Not only can a winter safety kit mean the difference between being comfortable or being miserable if you do get stranded for a period of time, it can be the difference between life and death. If you live in a place that experiences severe winter weather, here are some instructions for putting together a winter safety kit that can keep you and your family safe and warm in case of an emergency while you're traveling.

Your Basic Road Safety Kit
Every motorist should have a basic road safety kit in their vehicle. If you don't, now is the perfect time to make one. A winter safety kit includes everything that is contained in a basic kit. Some examples of what is in a basic road safety kit:

  • Jumper cables
  • Road flares
  • Basic tools
  • Extra fluids (oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid)
  • Clean rags
  • Aerosol tire inflator
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Duct tape
  • Pen and paper
  • A "Help" sign

It may seem like a lot, but all of these things should fit in one medium-size bag and take up a minimum of trunk or cargo space. All drivers should have a basic safety kit in their car at all times. If everyone had the necessary supplies at hand during an emergency, then a lot of unnecessary tragedies could be averted.

Cold Weather Safety
During more extreme winter conditions, it's necessary to carry extra supplies in order to ensure your safety. This is going to sacrifice extra trunk or cargo space, but if you end up needing them you'll be glad that you put up with the minor inconvenience. It's generally a good idea to carry cold weather safety items in your vehicle from November to May in most areas of the U.S., Great Britain and Europe. You should also consider bringing these items along any time you will be driving through mountainous or isolated areas that are prone to inclement weather, any situation where you might come into contact with ice or snow, or could be stuck for awhile. Here are the extra items you will need to round out your winter safety kit:

  • Blankets or sleeping bags for each passenger to keep warm
  • 2 waterproof ponchos (You can buy a folding plastic poncho for less than $5)
  • A few good-sized candles and matches or a lighter in a waterproof bag
  • 2 pairs of gloves
  • Tire chains with instructions
  • A container of sand or kitty litter (in case you get stuck)
  • Towing strap
  • Whistle (for signaling for help)
  • Extra food and bottled water (non-perishable food like energy bars or dried food)
  • Extra clothes in waterproof bags
  • Something to do (a book to read is great, or toys if you have children with you)
  • Winter survival guidebook

It may seem like a lot, but if you do get stranded these supplies could save your life. For convenience, you can simply pack all the items in a box and store them in your garage. Just don't forget to put them in the trunk when you plan on traveling in inclement weather.

5 Ways to Winterize Your Car

One of the most important things you can do when the colder months roll around is winterize your car. If done regularly, it can be relatively quick and painless, and can prevent a host of problems from creeping up at the worst possible moments, when they can potentially leave you stranded.

  • Check coolant.One of the most commonly neglected parts of winter vehicle maintenance is checking to make sure you have the correct amount of antifreeze in your coolant. While many new vehicles may not have this problem, in older vehicles or vehicles you may have had to top off with distilled water during the summer months, too much water in the mixture can lead to freezing of your coolant. This can lead to overheating and engine damage. Consider flushing and refilling your coolant with a mixture suitable for colder temperatures, especially if you live in an area with especially harsh winters
  • Check battery.An ailing battery is taxed further by the cold winter months. If your battery has been giving you any sort of problem, replacing it is essential. Check water levels and refill as required with distilled water for serviceable batteries, and make sure to clean the terminals of any corrosion. When in doubt, simply replace the battery with a new one
  • Change the oil.Depending on your location, and the severity of your winters and summers, you may benefit from changing to a lighter viscosity oil to help reduce the stress of cold starts that overly thick oil can cause. Check your owner's manual for the weight of oil recommended by your manufacturer for cold weather conditions
  • Change to winter tires.There can be a large difference between summer performance tires and winter tires when snow and rain falls and ice forms. Switching to a winter tire can not only have a large impact on vehicle safety and control, but can also help improve wear. For front wheel drive and all wheel drive vehicles, a proper winter tire can even help reduce the need for chains in areas with moderate snowfall
  • Detail the vehicle. Snow, rain and road salt can be devastating to your vehicle's paint and chassis. To help reduce the impact of the winter months, consider having your vehicle's exterior detailed. This can include washing, sealing and waxing the paint to help protect it, and washing and protecting your undercarriage to help give it the edge against corrosion

These simple steps can help not only improve the safety, performance and longevity of your vehicle during the colder months, but can also help ensure that you never end up stranded. Harsh weather can highlight any problems in your vehicle, so on top of the above steps, it also pays to make sure any and all maintenance work is completed before winter begins.