Stranded in Your Car? A Winter Auto Survival Guide

One of the worst fears of drivers in the Northern United States is becoming stranded in their car during a blizzard or snowstorm.  If your car stops working during the winter, and you are unable to get help immediately, having a winter survival plan can be the difference between life and death.

Complete Auto Loans has been a fixture in the Pacific Northwest auto community for quite some time, and these tips come from a combination of expert experience and advice.  While the likelihood of becoming stranded on Washington or Oregon’s roads is low, you should always plan for the worst in order to protect yourself and your family.

car cold

Preparing your Car

In the previous installment of Complete Auto Loans’ Winter Guide, we covered the steps that you need to take to winterize your car in order to prevent damage and malfunction.  Winterizing your car is a great preventative step towards ensuring that you aren’t stranded during the winter, but you should still plan for the worst.  There are a few items that every car needs to have.

  • Flashlights and road flares – these can help alert passer-by and rescue personnel to your location, and they can keep your car from being hit by other vehicles in the event that you are stalled or broken down at night.
  • Extra clothes and warm blankets – when your car runs out of gas, the heater also stops functioning so be prepared for the prolonged cold weather.  If you have to spend the night in your car, the temperature will drop rapidly, and a set of heavy blankets and sleeping bags might save your life.  Chemical heaters are usually a bad idea because they displace oxygen and can cause asphyxiation in a closed environment like a car.
  • Food and water – During an emergency situation, it is especially important that you keep your energy up.  You probably won’t be stranded for long enough for food and water to matter all that much in terms of survival, but they will definitely help keep panic levels low and your confidence intact.
  • Whistle – Vital for signaling rescuers if the snowstorm is ongoing and visibility is limited.
  • Extra cell phone batteries and an extra cell phone – these should be tucked into a glove compartment where they can be kept charged on a regular basis.  Even if a cell phone is not activated by a major carrier, the 911 option should still work.  There is no excuse to be stuck without a way to contact police in an emergency.

What to do if you are stranded

If your car stops working, or you are forced to pull over because of inclement weather, do NOT get out of your vehicle.  Unless you can see a building or rescue personnel, getting out of your vehicle can accelerate exposure and can lead to you getting lost.  There are plenty of stories of people abandoning their cars in panic, only to freeze to death far out of reach of rescuers.  Your car is a nice big object sitting on a well trafficked road, and it is much easier to find than a single person wandering through the snow.

Stay calm! There is no need to panic, even though you might feel as though you are totally alone.  Winter weather will not last forever, and you can last a long time in your properly stocked car.

Just hunker down in your sleeping bag, call for emergency assistance, and crack one window slightly to prevent condensation from accumulating in your car and driving down the ambient temperature. If you can’t reach an emergency responder on your cell phone, periodically try again (once every hour or so) and monitor the outside of your vehicle for noises.  Use your whistle in short blasts of three to alert people to your presence.

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