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Winter Driving Tips and Survival Car Kit Essentials

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Depending on where you live, driving in the winter can be completely different than driving in the summer, spring, and fall. The winter months bring snow and ice, as well as frigid temperatures.

Winter weather can increase your risk of getting into accidents with other vehicles and sliding off the road. Not only are the roads more treacherous, but your car may not function normally either.

Fortunately, with the right preparations, including a survival car kit, you can maximize your safety and security on the road. We want to make sure you’re completely ready for the winter weather. Please keep reading for our winter driving tips and survival car kit essentials.

Winter Driving Tips

Road conditions in the winter can be challenging to drive on. Between wet snow, slush, packed snow, ice, and black ice, driving in the winter can be dangerous. As such, you need to adjust the way you drive.

Slow and Steady

When driving on snow and ice, you need to do everything slower and smoother. For example, if you accelerate too quickly from a stop, you’re likely to spin your tires. While spinning out, you will either remain stationary or start sliding.

When using the brakes, braking too aggressively could lead to skidding uncontrollably down the road. Instead, brake earlier and slower.

Depending on the conditions, you may not be able to drive as quickly either. You may need to drive slower than the posted speed limit.

Even if you have a truck, SUV, or another four-wheel-drive vehicle, you must always exercise caution. Ice does not discriminate.

Maximize Visibility

We recommend starting your car for 10 to 15 minutes before driving. This gives your engine time to warm up. This is essential for preventing unnecessary damage to your engine.

Additionally, this time allows your windows to defrost, which is essential for visibility. Too many people do the bare minimum when scraping their windows because they’re in a hurry to get on the road. However, poor visibility can lead to unnecessary car accidents.

It may also be a good idea to turn on your headlights if it’s sleeting or snowing. This will help you see more clearly. Just as importantly, it will make your car more visible to other drivers on the road.

Think Ahead

Driving in the winter requires planning ahead. Aside from preparing a survival car kit, you also need to plan your trips ahead of time and allow yourself extra time. For example, if it usually takes you 15 minutes to get to work, give yourself 25 minutes to ensure you get there safely.

While on the road, planning ahead means signaling early and slowing down sooner than you normally would for turns and stops. We also recommend following the car ahead of you at a greater distance. If they suddenly stop or decide to turn, this will give you enough time to react safely.

Even with all the best winter driving tips and preparations, there’s one thing you can’t control – other drivers. Therefore, one of the most important tips is to make sure you know how to handle an accident. In the event that you collide with another vehicle, you need to know what to do.

Eliminate Distractions

Even in the best weather conditions, driving while distracted is incredibly dangerous. Distracted driving accounts for roughly eight deaths in the US every day. Driving distracted on icy roads can have even greater consequences.

Put your phone somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at it, even if it’s just for a second to see who’s texting or calling you. Too many drivers overestimate their ability to multitask while driving. Now is not the time to change your playlist, respond to texts, or look at emails.

Furthermore, don’t allow your passengers to distract you. Whether you’re riding with kids, friends, or pets, you must keep your attention on the road.

Finally, avoid other distracting activities like eating, putting on makeup, or staring at things on the side of the road.

Winter Car Maintenance Checklist

Driving in winter weather also increases the amount of car maintenance you need to do. Low temperatures means lower air pressure in your tires. Check your tires every day to ensure they’re properly filled to prevent unnecessary wear and tear, damages, and blowouts.

Additionally, make sure your windshield wiper fluid, oil, and anti-freeze are full. These will help your car function properly in the cold. You may also need to check your wiper blades.

It’s a good idea to keep your fuel tank half-full at all times. This will prevent the fuel from gelling up. It will also ensure that you never run out of gas on the side of the road.

Finally, verify that your insurance information is easily accessible in the event that you need to file an insurance claim. This would be necessary after a collision, if you need to use roadside assistance, etc. Make sure you know how to file an insurance claim with your policy provider.

What You Need in a Survival Car Kit

Next, let’s talk about your survival car kit. These are the things you need to carry in your vehicle that can help you out of a tight spot or even save your life.

Car Repair and Maintenance

While on the road, you never know what’s going to happen, especially in the winter. For that matter, you never know when you’re going to need to repair your car, add fluids, or tend to other emergency issues.

Here’s everything you need to keep your car going:

  • Spare tire (full-size or donut)
  • Jack
  • Tire iron
  • Small tool kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Flat tire inflation canister or pump
  • A spare gas can (full of fuel and sealable)
  • Electrical fuses
  • Extra oil (2 quarts)
  • Extra anti-freeze (1 gallon)
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Emergency car battery charger (portable jump starter)
  • Car manual

There are other things you can add, based on your vehicle and your know-how. At the very least, we recommend learning the basics about how your car functions so you can make necessary repairs on the road.

Emergency Situations

In an emergency, you’re going to need more than supplies and tools to keep your car running. It would be best if you also thought about your own safety and security while you’re on the side of the road. In the worst-case scenario, if you find yourself stranded, you also need to know how to stay warm, survive, and get rescued.

Here’s everything you need:

  • Extra cell phone charger (D/C plug for cigarette lighter and mobile battery charger)
  • Extra food and water bottles
  • An emergency blanket and extra warm clothes (coat, gloves, boots, socks, hat)
  • A flashlight and extra batteries
  • Roadside cones, flares/glowsticks
  • Small shovel (for digging yourself out of snow)
  • Kitty litter (cat litter can be used for extra traction on snow and ice)
  • First aid kit
  • An easily accessible car escape tool (to break glass or cut seatbelts)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Sleeping bags
  • Hand-held radio (if you don’t have cell service)
  • GPS unit

You can never over-prepare to keep you and your family safe. It’s always better to have emergency supplies and not need them than to need them and not have them. Please don’t make the mistake of skimping on your survival car kit and regretting it when you find yourself stranded.

We also recommend updating your auto insurance to include roadside assistance. Roadside assistance can save you thousands of dollars in towing and other expenses if your car dies in the middle of nowhere, you slide off the road, get a flat tire, etc.

This feature is usually a small fee each month but often proves to be a saving grace.


Before we wrap up, we’d like to cover some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to winter driving and survival. These questions will help you in common, everyday situations as well as worst-case scenarios.

1. What Should You Do if You Start Sliding on the Ice?

Sliding on the ice can be a frightening experience. However, it’s essential that you don’t overreact or overcorrect when this happens.

Instead, ease off the brake (or accelerator) and turn the wheel in the direction you’re sliding. Trying to turn against the skid will exacerbate your loss of control. Then, what for your vehicle to regain traction and take the necessary steps to get back in your lane.

You can avoid getting into these situations by accelerating and braking slowly. As noted above, you should also increase the following distance between you and the car ahead. Finally, pay attention to road conditions (especially black ice) and drive slower than the speed limit when necessary.

2. Do I Need Special Tires for Winter Driving?

Most vehicles come standard with all-season tires. However, with smaller vehicles like sedans and sports cars, you may need to find better tires if you plan to drive on snow. If your area doesn’t experience much snowfall, it probably won’t be necessary.

You may also need to get new tires for winter weather if your current tires are old and worn down. Low-tread or balding tires provide little traction on snow and ice.

Studded tires are advantageous on hard, packed snow and ice. However, on soft, wet snow, they can actually decrease traction.

3. How Can I Prepare My Car for Winter?

As with any aspect of life, preparation is key for success. Preparing your car for winter is no exception.

If you live in a region prone to heavy snowfall, snow tires are a must for winter driving. They’re designed to increase your traction on snow, ice, and other slippery conditions.

You should also ensure you have high-functioning windshield wipers and plenty of anti-frost wiper fluid. Additionally, make sure your vehicle has plenty of anti-freeze to keep the radiator from freezing or being damaged. Finally, double-check that your heating is working properly, particularly the defrost for the windshield and back window.

4. What is the Most Essential Emergency Item for Your Car?

People often ask what the absolute most important emergency item is for your car. While we would never suggest limiting yourself to a single emergency item, the most important one to have is your spare tire kit. This includes your spare tire (either another full-sized tire or a donut), a jack, and the necessary tools to swap the tire.

If you get a flat on the side of the road, you can swap your flat tire with the spare in a matter of minutes. This is much better than waiting for a tow-truck in freezing temperatures and paying for those services.

We suggest practicing swapping out your spare tire at home a few times. It seems simple, but you’ll be experiencing some adrenaline in emergency conditions, which can make it harder to focus on the task at hand. Furthermore, if you’re cold, on uneven ground, or are otherwise distracted, changing the tire can be more complicated.

5. What Do I Do if I Get Stranded in the Middle of Winter?

What if you find yourself stranded in the middle of winter? What should you do to make sure you’re safe and warm?

Notify the authorities as soon as possible with your cellphone. Ideally, you’ll have emergency blankets in your vehicle, as listed above in the survival car kit. Staying warm is absolutely essential.

For this reason, you need to stay in your car as much as possible, especially if there is a windchill factor. Additionally, if other vehicles find your car, you don’t want to be away from it.

If your car is running, make sure the exhaust pipe stays clear. If it’s blocked, the car will stop running. If you’re not sure when you’re going to be rescued, conserve your gas as much as possible.

Ensure your vehicle is easily visible to other drivers. Use the road flares and emergency cones from your survival car kit to alert motorists to your situation.

Is Your Survival Car Kit Ready for Winter Driving?

Modern vehicles are well-equipped to handle snow and ice. However, you can never be too prepared. You never know what will happen on the road, and it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Optimizing your survival car kit could save your life, although we hope it never comes to that. Alternatively, it could just make your life much easier.

For more great car and driving tips, subscribe to our blog. And if you want to update your car insurance to include roadside assistance, get a free quote now.


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