Surviving Stranded: Winter Driving & Your Safety

Car Smarts®: Winter Driving & Your Safety

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®

car snow winter driving

The leading cause of death during winter storms is transportation accidents. Preparing your vehicle for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter driving.  Now is the time to “Be Car Care Aware”. BEFORE WINTER STARTS –

Have a ASE Certified Technician check the following items on your car:

  • Battery
  • Antifreeze / Coolant
  • Winter Wipers and de-icer windshield washer fluid
  • Ignition system
  • Thermostat
  • Lights
  • Flashing hazard lights
  • Exhaust system
  • Heater
  • Brakes
  • Defroster
  • Oil level

Install good winter tires – on all 4 wheels (never just 2).

Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are rarely adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.

Keep a windshield scraper and snow brush for ice and snow removal.

Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season to avoid a frozen fuel line..

Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions. Always travel during daylight and, if possible, take at least one other person.

Dress warmly.  Wear layers of loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.

Carry food and water.  Store a supply of high-energy snacks and several bottles of water just in case you get stuck.

Carry A Winter Car Kit

Keep these items in your car:

  • Flashlights with extra batteries
    TIP – use alkaline batteries instead of heavy duty ones – they last longer and are brighter in your flashlight.
  • First aid kit with pocket knife
  • Jumper cables
  • Necessary medications
  • Several blankets
  • Extra clothing: snow boots, hat, scarves, gloves, and jackets.
  • Plastic bags (for sanitation)
  • Rain gear and extra clothes
  • Small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels
  • Small shovel
  • Basic tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
  • Booster cables – one man battery jumper works best.
  • Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
  • Protein bars and nuts
  • Bottled water

What Should You Do During Bad Weather?


-Stay in the car.

-Do not leave the car to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost is blowing and drifting snow.

-Display a trouble sign and flashing hazards.

-Hang a brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna.

-Occasionally run engine to keep warm.

-Turn on the car’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater when the car is running.

-Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.

-Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

-Do minor exercises to keep up circulation.

-Clap hands and move arms and legs occasionally. Try not to stay in one position for too long.

-If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping.

-For warmth, huddle together.

-Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.

-Avoid overexertion.

-Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. If you are unaccustomed to exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.

Wind Chill

“Wind chill” is a calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35 degrees colder.

Winter Storm Watches and Warnings

A winter storm watch indicates that severe winter weather may affect your area.

-A winter storm warning indicates that severe winter weather conditions are definitely on the way.

-A blizzard warning means that large amounts of falling or blowing snow and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour are expected for several hours.

Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person’s trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure.  Put person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.

Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it (like coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.

If you don’t have a service schedule, or need one. Get one for free from the Car Care Council at, is a non-profit site to educate consumers.


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