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Everything you need to stay safe if your car breaks down this winter

What do I need to stay safe if my car breaks down this winter?

The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid it in the first place. When that's not possible, make sure you've planned carefully for possible problems. Getting stranded can happen any time but is likelier in winter, when road conditions and visibility are at their worst. 

People who buy adventure vehicles spend more time off-road, where the danger of accidents and breakdowns are greater. But even if you don't plan on leaving paved roads, accidents happen, your car can slide off the road into a snowdrift, or someone else's accident ahead means traffic snarls to a standstill and you can be stuck in the cold for hours.

Stay with your car

Your vehicle is the safest, warmest place you can be, especially in a winter storm. Whenever possible, stay with your car or truck after placing warning lights and flares outside so no one runs into you while you're stuck.

Before you go out

There are three things that you should do at the start of every winter season:

  • Winterize your car: Check your antifreeze level and add more as needed. Replace your windshield wiper fluid with a mixture that will not freeze in below-zero temperatures.
  • Keep your gas tank filled: If you run out of gas in the winter, you'll lose your car heater. Don't let your tank go below half full. Full tanks are less likely to form condensation inside your tank, fouling your fuel. 
  • Keep your tires properly inflated: Over- or under-inflated tires are the source of many problems. Coin-operated tire air machines at gas stations are notoriously inaccurate when you can find one that works, which is increasingly rare. Use your own tire pressure gauge and your own tire inflator. 

Pack these essentials

  • First aid kit: A good medical kit is important to keep in your car always, not just in winter. Make sure your kit has bandages, tape, antiseptic wipes and aspirin for aches and pains. If you take medication regularly, make sure you have an extra two or three days' supply of your important prescription medicines.
  • Basic tool kit: A few simple hand tools are always good to have around. You need only a simple kit with a few basic hand tools. Also, make sure you have a pocket knife and a powerful flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Food and water: Pack enough nonperishable items, such as energy bars, nuts, dried fruit and beef jerky, to last everyone in the car for two days. It sounds like a lot, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. Keeping extra bottled water in an insulated bottle so it won't freeze is another good idea.
  • Extra clothing: Keep a small travel bag in your car with spare winter clothing, such as sweaters, socks, gloves and blankets. Use your older ones so you don't have to worry if they get dirty.
  • Backup power: Extra batteries are always useful, but don't forget a hand-cranked flashlight and cellphone charger.
  • Miscellaneous: Jumper cables, canned compressed air with flat-tire sealant, local area maps, garbage bags, paper towels and rags are easy to overlook but handy things to have when you're stranded.

Essentials for every situation

Ykall 230-Piece First Aid Kit for Car, Travel and Camping

This well-stocked and well-organized kit comes in a zippered waterproof case. It has bandages, tapes, wipes, scissors, tourniquet and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation device.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Turtle Wax Roadside Emergency Tool Kit

You get a screwdriver, pliers, sockets and a wrench in a zippered case that also includes jumper cables.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Eton American Red Cross Crank-Powered Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger

This emergency power source comes in extra handy when all your batteries are dead. You'll never run out of electric power when you can crank up your own.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Stalwart Heated Electric Car Blanket

This soft fleece lap blanket plugs into the 12-volt power outlet on your car's dash or center console and stays warm. It's so handy, you'll use it all winter long, and not just in emergencies. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Oristout 4-Pack Emergency Thermal Survival Blankets

These NASA-designed mylar blankets are waterproof and retain up to 90% of your body heat. They are an extra-large 5-by-7-foot size for wrapping around yourself and are durable enough to resist most tearing.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Good to have

72 Hrs Emergency Food Rations

You get nine individually wrapped and U.S. Coast Guard-approved 400-calorie energy bars vacuum sealed for a five-year shelf life. The bars are vegetarian, non-GMO and do not make you thirsty.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Cartman 20-Foot Heavy-Duty Tow Rope

This 2-inch-wide polyester strap is triple-reinforced and rated for pulling 10,000 pounds. The premium military-grade webbing is tough and flexible.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Refrigiwear Iron-Tuff Insulated Coveralls with Hood 

Sometimes your winter emergency requires you to leave your car and go for help. That's the time to put these coveralls on over your clothes and hike back to town, even when the temperature is minus 50 degrees.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

For off-roaders

If you're going into the woods and on mountain trails exploring and camping in your rugged SUV, you'll need a few more things than those who never leave the highway.

Iunio Off-Roading Survival Kit

Whatever kind of trouble you can get into, this off-roading tool kit can get you out of it. You get a shovel, hatchet, pickax and ice ax. Also included are fishing gear and fire starters.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Jaco Smart Pro Automatic Tire Inflator

Anyone who goes off-roading knows the value of having a portable tire inflator in their truck or SUV. This one automatically shuts off when your tire reaches your preset pressure.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Champion Power Equipment 4,500-Pound Winch Kit

You can operate this winch with complete safety from up to 50 feet away with the wireless remote that automatically powers off when not in use to preserve your vehicle's battery. The 38-foot cable is aircraft-grade and non-fraying.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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David Allan Van writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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