While you can’t guarantee what winter weather may look like, you can ensure you have emergency supplies and helpful gear with you when driving in snow and ice. Whether you find yourself in an accident or gridlock, your car battery dies or your ride’s been packed in from the snow plow, this useful equipment can keep you safe and, hopefully, a little less full of off-road rage.
To help you build your winter car emergency kit, I asked the most qualified people I know: my own mechanics, brothers Philip, Nick and Carmen Campione, part of the third generation of the family-owned AC Auto Repairs in Philadelphia. They provided helpful information without overloading me with car terms I didn’t understand and didn’t try to talk down or upsell me on anything. (An added bonus: They gave me coffee and candy during our interview.)
From rubber tire traction pads to car escape multitools, the Campione brothers broke down the practical items that should live in your trunk. Some are snow-specific, but they recommend you keep others with you all year.
In addition to building an emergency kit, the biggest winter driving safety tip Philip Campione had was ensuring you have a full tank of gas whenever you hit the road. The weather can be unpredictable, and you want to ensure you have plenty of fuel, especially if you’re driving long distances or on the highway. He also recommended checking the weather before trips and trying to stay off the road or modify travel plans as much as you can during storms.
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A warm blanket
"God forbid your car shuts down or dies, you want something to keep warm," Philip said.
This military-style wool blanket measures 64 inches by 88 inches. It's machine washable and will keep you warm even if it gets wet.
Rubber tire traction mats
Philip and Carmen recommended keeping a set of traction track mats in your car, especially if you live in a city or park your car on the street where it could be blocked in by plowed snow. Carmen specified you'll want to grab rubber mats, not plastic ones. "Rubber is better than plastic because plastic can shoot backward and doesn't flex as much," he said.
LED flares and reflective triangles
"If you break down, you want to be visible," Philip said. He recommended keeping flares as well as reflective triangles in your car to ensure your visibility in the dark or in bad weather.
A car escape multi-tool
The Campione brothers recommended keeping an emergency escape tool in your car all
the time, but especially in the winter when the chances of accidents can be higher. "People don't realize how hard it is to break glass," Carmen said. Philip added that in a moment of crisis, your seatbelt may lock and you may struggle to get out of it.
If you're in a bad accident, your car ends up in water or you have a totally electric vehicle with door handles that may malfunction during an accident
, a multi-tool like this one from Swiss Safe can help you get out of the car with a Tungsten steel hammer to break windows and an emergency seat belt cutter.
A portable power source
Philip recommended getting a portable battery pack that lives in your car. Though you may already have a charging cord plugged into your car, if your battery dies or something happens to your vehicle, a portable charger will ensure your phone has juice. This one can be charged while you drive and can supply power to your phone as well as tablets, laptops and even Nintendo Switches to keep little ones calm and entertained during a potential emergency.
A car jumper
Though he's never used them personally, Philip said he's heard good things about these portable tools that come with jumper cables and can charge your phone or devices. If you're alone and need to jump your car, this device is easy to manage and compact enough to store in your car. It also doubles as a power bank.
If you're not in the market for a car jumper, you should ensure you have a set of normal jumper cables in your car. "Jumper cables should be in everyone's car," Philip said.
Carmen recommended keeping extra road salt with you in the car. "If you're stuck on ice, nothing is going to help you out but salt," he said.
Window wiper fluid
"When they have the roads salted and you can't see out of your windshield, it's dangerous," Philip said. He recommended traveling with extra wiper fluid to ensure maximum road safety.
Note: Philip explained that in cold temperatures, the wiper fluid in your car can freeze, making it seem like you're out of fluid. If you know you have fluid but it's not dispensing right away, he recommended letting your car heat up and then trying again.
A small shovel and snow brush
"A little plastic shovel is not a bad idea," Philip said. Carmen also recommended keeping a snow brush in your car to clear off your vehicle. Though they may seem like obvious additions, you'll certainly notice when you're caught in a storm and don't have them with you.
While you may only think to carry pepper spray with you when you're walking around, Philip recommended keeping some sort of defensive spray in your vehicle to protect you from potential predators in the event of an accident or a breakdown. "Whether it's a person or an animal, keeping mace in your vehicle will be enough of a deterrent," Philip said. He recommended bear spray or something else that has a far spray radius, though he cautioned to be extra careful and intentional with it.
"If you're cold, a handwarmer goes a long way," Nick said. If you get stuck in the cold or you're waiting for a tow, he recommended keeping a pack of disposable hand warmers with you or getting a rechargeable electric warmer to keep in your car.
Recounting a bad snowstorm he got stuck in, Philip said it's prudent to keep toilet paper with you. If you're stranded for a couple of hours, you or someone you're traveling with is likely going to have to go. You'll be happy to have some TP on hand, especially these compact, individually sealed mini rolls that come with their own dispenser.
Super warm clothing
If you're driving in the winter, you're likely already wearing warm clothes, but Nick suggested having an extra layer or extra warm clothes for you and your kids when driving in the snow. If there's a bad crash or you're stranded for hours in the cold, you'll be happy to have "something you wouldn't wear in public but wouldn't mind wearing when you are cold," he said.
These insulted, water-resistant coveralls have adjustable wrists and are made from warm, quilted material. They come in five colors from men's sizes medium to XXL.
Baby and kid care
A proud father of a five-month-old, Nick said he's been preparing his baby's winter car emergency kit and encouraged other parents to do the same. "Would you be prepared for 24 hours in your car with just a diaper bag?" he said.
In the event of an accident, traffic jam or your car getting stuck, Nick recommended packing enough formula, diapers and wipes for at least 24 hours. For older kids, you may want to ensure you have enough snacks, warm clothes as well as games or activities to keep little ones calm and engaged during an emergency.
A case of water
"Everyone should keep a case of water in their car, even if it's just the mini six-pack from Wawa," Philip said.
Philip recommended keeping protein bars or another compact, filling and non-perishable food with you. If you're stranded for a couple of hours, you want to make sure that you're able to eat.