Cooler weather has started to spread across the United States, and snow isn’t far behind for many states, if you haven’t seen it already. As you start to pull out your winter gear (or light jackets for those in warmer climates), it’s a good time to make sure your car is stocked with a few things you may need in an emergency or during extreme weather, especially if you have any holiday travel planned.
Even those living in warmer climates should stash some gear in their car trunks. Weather or environmental conditions can affect all states: hurricanes, snow, ice, earthquakes, tornados and storms could all leave motorists stranded with issues affecting the roadways. Even the desert can drop below freezing at night. In January 2014, thousands of motorists were stranded on the roadways in Atlanta when a rare ice storm struck the city during mid-day and resulted in around 800 traffic accidents. Some abandoned their cars to seek shelter, while others stayed in their cars overnight, and having a few extra supplies in their cars could have made either option more bearable. Other cities in the South and Southeast were affected by this storm, as well as another ice storm that hit a couple of weeks later. You can’t control weather conditions, cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere, or other emergencies that could happen on the road, but you can be better prepared to deal with such occasions, as they could severely threaten your safety.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation, immediately get your supplies from the trunk, and add layers of clothing if it’s cold. Remember that if it’s unsafe to exit your car, you may be able to pull your supplies into the cabin from a flip-down backseat.
Here are some items you should consider keeping in your trunk during the colder weather months. Most of these items will be good to keep in there year-round, but you’ll want to rotate food and water, and switch out clothing for the appropriate weather with the seasons. You could make a kit as a holiday gift for your loved ones, or even just buy a few of the items they are unlikely to have. Most of these make great stocking stuffers!
Extra set of clothing and shoes: Having a set of dry, warm clothing can be a lifesaver if you are stranded due to cold weather or get soaked in a downpour, especially if you are often wearing work or dress clothes/shoes. Have a set for each person who is regularly the car. Clothing that is slightly too big is a better choice than something too small, especially with growing children. Just a pair of pants, sweatshirt, socks, and old tennis shoes or boots will help, along with a stocking cap and gloves.
Baby supplies: Don’t forget diapers if you have babies or toddlers. Soft paper towels are a good replacement for baby wipes, as wipes are likely to dry out or freeze in hot or cold weather – you can wet paper towels with a little water if you need. A few packets of dry baby formula, if using, and some baby-appropriate food will help keep your little one nourished. It’s always a good idea to keep a pouch or two of baby food in your diaper bag for babies over 6 months, even if you don’t normally use these. They won’t freeze in there, like ones kept in your car could. Another option is rice or grain cereal in a small container that can be mixed with water to use.
A blanket: It can double as shelter from the cold, or as a picnic blanket to dine al fresco on a whim in milder weather. If you want to carry more than one blanket if you often have others in the car with you, buy some cheap mylar blankets — they are effective, but fold up tiny.
A towel: It can help dry you off from rain or snow, protect your seats from wet clothing (in a non-emergency situation), or be placed on the ground when you need to change a tire without ruining your clothing. A clean towel can also be used in medical situations — to apply pressure to a wound, or even to clean up if someone gets sick in the car.
Tissues/toilet paper: Because sometimes you just have to go.
Duct tape: Too many uses to name.
Garbage bag: This is another multi-use item that could save you in emergency or non-emergency situations. It can be used to contain messes or wet clothing, protect seats, used as a poncho, put on the ground during tire repairs, cover a broken window…etc.
Water or Gatorade: Having some water stashed in the car is really important. These foil packs of water are very resistant to freezing, and you don’t have to worry about plastic leaking into the water, or containers bursting.
Non-perishable food: You are unlikely to need to survive for long periods of time unless you are traveling in extremely remote areas, but having some extra reserves can make even a four-hour wait more comfortable if you’re well past your mealtime or have hungry kids. Just remember to replenish things that are consumed. Think energy bars, hard candy (to keep mouth moist), granola, nuts, beef jerky, crackers and a jar of peanut butter). Carry some baby-appropriate food, unless your baby is able to eat the food that you are already carrying.
Flashlight and extra batteries: Store the batteries outside of the flashlight if you are worried about them dying or corroding before you need them. You should also keep a small flashlight in the interior of your car, for both as a backup, and to look for things that your drop or to read directions/instructions/car manual. This waterproof flashlight is a good one for your trunk.
Whistle: A good whistle can be used to signal for help if you are stranded, and as a deterrent if someone unsavory approaches.
Cellphone charger: If you have service, help could be easy to find. If you don’t always carry a cellphone, keep an old fully-charged cellular phone in your trunk, powered off, with a fully charged battery and charger. An old cellular phone, even without subscription, can be powered on to call 911 or 999. If you don’t have a spare, ask around. Many people still have old phones from when they have upgraded.
Pencil and paper: You could tape a note to the inside of the window if you need help or abandon your car, jot down important information, sign a card on the way to an event. You should also have some in the cabin of your car, but it helps to have an extra, as writing utensils tend to disappear and not get replaced.
Umbrella and poncho: Pop-up showers can leave you unprepared, and in an emergency, staying dry may be the only way you stay warm enough. Ponchos are cheap, and you’ll be grateful you have a few for unexpected rain, even in non-emergencies.
Emergency money: Keep some cash hidden in the trunk for emergencies. Choose an amount that you won’t be devastated about losing — perhaps $20. It’s enough to get some gas or other supplies, but it won’t break your budget if you have to replace it. If power is out or the phone system is down, your credit cards may be useless, and you’ll also have some cash in case your wallet gets lost on a random day. I keep some cash in the cabin, too, but that’s more likely to get found and stolen if someone breaks in to my car. Burglars aren’t likely to search very hard if they open the trunk, as they are likely just looking for big things to steal and sell. Money you keep in the trunk is also less likely to be used for other purposes, such as that sudden Starbucks or milkshake craving.
First aid kit: You’ll want supplies that can treat and cover cuts and burns, as well as wrap and support sprains or broken bones until help arrives, along with some over-the-counter pain medication and stomach relief medication. You should also include three days worth of extra medicine if you take prescriptions daily. This AAA First Aid kit has all of the basics and is small and cheap. (And a great stocking stuffer!)
Multi-tool or knife: Too many possible uses to name. My husband carries this 6-1 Multi-tool on his key ring. It’s the size of a key and has most everything he needs. He’s used the knife blades to cut tags off of items and open boxes, and the bottle opener gets regular use, so it’s another great stocking stuffer.
An ice scraper: Remember … Atlanta had freezing rain, not snow, in that terrible storm, so an ice scraper can be useful even to those where snow is rare. I prefer a long-handled ice scraper with a brush, which allows me to brush loose snow off and I don’t have to lean over the hood of the car to get the middle of the windshield. If you may never use an ice scraper based on where you live, at least throw a cheap, short ice scraper in your trunk.
Small or folding snow shovel: A folding snow shovel can help dig out your tires or chip away at ice to help with traction. Some say you should carry sand, kitty litter or a carpet remnant to help weigh your car down, or to get traction if your car is stuck, but I would just try to use the towel, blanket, reusable grocery bags or spare clothing for traction, unless I was traveling in extreme weather on a regular basis.
Car supplies to have year round: Inflated spare tire, jack, tire iron, fix-a-flat, jumper cables (not all are created equal, but these jumper cables are the #1 seller), flares or a reflective triangle. Even if you don’t know how to use all of these things, someone who stops to help probably does.
This list may sound like overkill, but most of these things are small and can serve multiple purposes. You can probably fit most of the supplies in a duffel bag or backpack, or a milk crate. If you don’t travel more than a few miles from town, and live in a mild climate, you can probably eliminate some of these items to save space. Just be vigilant about checking the weather before traveling long distances, especially at night or in isolated areas, in case there is any threat of adverse weather conditions. People don’t “plan” to get stuck or stranded, so you never know when you’ll need supplies, so having a winter emergency kit in your trunk is important.