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No Excuses: Pack a Winter Car Emergency Kit — You Already Have Most of This Stuff

I live in southwestern Ohio, which means I have the distinct pleasure of surviving through sweltering summers and blisteringly cold winters. That also means I’ve become an expert on winter driving.

But skilled winter driving means more than just knowing what to do if you slide on ice or how to properly clear your windshield. It means staying on top of important vehicle maintenance, like checking exterior lights, having your battery tested and regularly monitoring your tire pressure. Just as importantly, it means packing a winter emergency kit to keep in your car throughout the season.

For years, I tempted fate by driving without much of the essentials. My old 2007 Toyota Yaris, which rode on tires balder than Patrick Stewart and regularly flashed a check engine light, had a first aid kit, some questionable jumper cables from the early 1990s and a bottle of ibuprofen — and that was it.

Luckily, when I became stranded in the winter of 2014 due to a flat tire, I was close enough to civilization that I didn’t have to wait long for help.

Not everyone is so lucky. The best way to guarantee your safety in the event you become stranded in your car during a winter snowstorm — besides not driving in said storm — is to pack a winter car emergency kit.

I assembled my kit for under $100, mostly using things I already had at home. Here’s what I included:

Phone Charger

For some reason, I have a drawer in my house full of Apple charging cords, so I now keep one in my Subaru Crosstrek at all times. Phones have become one of the most important resources in an emergency, so ensuring you can keep it powered is essential. I also recommend purchasing a power bank (portable charger) in case your car cannot offer the power to charge your phone.

If you already have these things at home, you can add them to your kit at no cost. If not, you can order cheap chargers and power banks on Amazon that will work fine in an emergency.

Total Cost: $0 to $25

Flashlight and Batteries

While most phones offer flashlights, it is handy to have a flashlight that you can use to look under the hood or car if you are attempting to repair an issue yourself. Just make sure it has fresh batteries.

You can grab a flashlight from home if you have one to spare or purchase a $10 one from Walmart.

Total Cost: $0 to $20

Multi-Purpose Radio

Assuming your vehicle loses all power and you’ve lost all ways to charge your phone, a battery-powered or crank radio might be your only source of emergency information.

Radios come cheap these days, but I was able to also skip the cost of a flashlight and phone charging power bank with a multi-purpose hand crank radio on Amazon.

Total Cost: $20

Hats, Gloves and Blankets

You should always bring a coat with you if traveling in the winter, but it can’t hurt to keep additional ways to stay warm in the trunk of your car. If you have extra hats, gloves, scarves, socks and blankets at home, just grab those. I also recommend buying secondhand at a thrift store, since these are meant to be for survival, not style.

Total Cost: $0 to $20

Foldable Shovel

If you lose control and drive off the road, you might find it challenging to get your vehicle out of the snow. Having a small shovel in your vehicle, preferably one that folds up so as not to compromise space, can be handy in such a scenario. I found mine on Amazon; I like this model because it folds into a small pouch that blends into my crossover’s black cargo mat.

Total Cost: $20

Road Salt or Kitty Litter

Shovels aren’t your only saving grace if you get stuck in the snow. Road salt can provide much-needed traction. You can purchase an affordable 5-pound bag to keep in the back of your car. Kitty litter or sand will also do the trick, but I went with road salt since I already had a bigger bag at home. I just scooped out the proper amount into a smaller bag and tucked it into my trunk — and crossed this one off my list without any added expense.

Total Cost: $0 to $10

Snacks and Water

If you are stranded for several hours or longer, it’s important to stay hydrated and keep your energy up. Pack a case of bottled water to store in the trunk if you can afford the space, and include a bag of high-protein snacks that don’t expire quickly, like nuts and protein bars. If by the end of the winter season you haven’t gotten through the water and snacks, bring them inside and remove them from your next grocery list.

Total Cost: $15

Flares and Jumper Cables

You should have flares and jumper cables in your car year-round, but this is especially important in the winter when it gets dark earlier and when car batteries are more susceptible to dying. You can find a highway flare kit and jumper cables at your neighborhood auto store, at general merchandise retailers or online.

Total Cost: $25

First Aid Kit

Another year-round staple is a first aid kit, which should include bandages, tweezers and scissors, tape, antiseptic cream, painkillers, bug bite and burn creams. I found a small pouch on Amazon for $15; it has all the essentials and tucks neatly under the passenger seat.

Total Cost: $15

Tools

Having some basic tools, including an ice scraper, at your disposal could increase your chances of survival in a true winter emergency.

Luckily, I live with a jack-of-all-trades who owns more hammers than Thor himself, so I grabbed a few basic tools from the garage and added them to my vehicle. I highly recommend a multi-tool, like a Swiss army knife. If you don’t have any tools to spare, you can purchase a few essentials cheaply at a nearby store.

Total Cost: $0 to $25

Because so much of my emergency kit was built with things I already had, I spent just $95 to design it. Get resourceful around the house before purchasing anything, or ask friends and family if they have tools, blankets and flashlights to spare. But don’t feel guilty about the purchases you have to make. In an emergency, they could quite literally save your life.

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