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Winter Roadside Safety: Be Prepared

A well-stocked winter car emergency kit can mean the difference between a quick rescue and a terrifying experience. Create a kit with warm clothes, a blanket, snow removal tools, a first-aid kit, food and water, a flashlight, jumper cables, road salt, and a car charger. Stay with your vehicle, make it visible, and conserve energy in an emergency.

It was the winter of 2011 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lauren Weinberg had left her mother’s house four hours before being trapped in a snowdrift while driving her small sedan. She had no coat or water, and her cellphone battery was dead. Lauren shivered in her car as two more feet of snow piled around her. She survived on candy bars and melted snow for ten days with miraculously few injuries.

What she did right was stay in her vehicle. However, Ms. Weinberg could have had a much easier go of it had she been prepared. If nothing else, she would have been more comfortable until help arrived if she had a well-stocked winter car emergency kit. It can mean the difference between a quick rescue, a terrifying experience, lost toes, and an immediate return to comfort. But the truth is, very few of us have an emergency roadside kit in our cars. Cleveland grit is one thing, but life-threatening winter conditions are another; it is better to be as prepared as possible.

As the chill of winter sets in and snow begins to blanket the landscape, it’s crucial to be prepared for unexpected weather. A well-stocked winter car emergency kit can be the difference between a quick rescue and a terrifying experience. While many of us may overlook the importance of having an emergency kit, it’s essential to have one readily available in your vehicle, especially if you live in areas prone to harsh winter conditions.


distillata delivery driver walking up steps in winter with a 5-gallon water bottle on shoulder

Why is a Winter Car Emergency Kit Crucial?

Imagine being stranded on the side of the road during a snowstorm, with no way to contact help or protect yourself from the elements. A winter car emergency kit provides you with the necessary supplies to stay safe and comfortable until rescue arrives. It can also help you avoid potential hazards such as hypothermia, frostbite, and dehydration.

Creating Your Winter Car Emergency Kit

To prepare, create a winter roadside emergency kit checklist tailored to your given geographic conditions. Since we are in the Northeast, Ohio, a.k.a. the snow belt, that is our focus for this example. 

  • Warm Apparel: Pack essential winter clothes like hats, scarves, gloves, and thick socks.
  • Blanket: A blanket is essential for providing insulation and warmth.
  • Snow Removal Tools: A snow shovel and ice scraper are crucial for clearing snow and ice around your car, allowing you to free yourself if stuck in a snowdrift.
  • First-Aid Kit: A well-stocked first-aid kit is essential for treating minor injuries or medical emergencies that may occur while stranded.
  • Non-Perishable Food and Water: Pack high-calorie, non-perishable snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and protein bars to maintain energy levels. Bring plenty of distilled water to stay hydrated. Distilled water is free of impurities and has a longer shelf life than regular bottled water.
  • Flashlight and Extra Batteries: A flashlight is essential for signaling for help and providing light in the dark. Pack extra batteries to ensure it stays powered.
  • Jumper Cables: Jumper cables can be lifesavers if your car battery dies in cold weather.
  • Road Salt: Keep a bag of ice-melt salt to improve traction on slippery roads or to help free your car from a snowdrift.
  • Car Charger: A car charger is essential to stay connected in an emergency.
  • Emergency Whistle: A whistle can be a helpful tool for signaling for help, especially if you’re stranded in a remote area.

Additional Considerations:

  • A can of Fix a Flat
  • Matches
  • Rope
  • A pocket knife
  • A whistle (I keep one on my keychain)
  • Reflectors
  • Motor oil
  • Radiator fluid
  • Flares

Alternatively, you can purchase prepacked emergency car kits. These are great gifts for new drivers.

distillata driver delivering a 5-gallon water bottle to a home in Aurora, Oh

Why You Should Have Water in Your Roadside Emergency Kit

Water is a troublesome item to store in your emergency roadside kit. The temperature variations in your car will cause problems with any form of H2O. Bottled water should not be kept in extremely high temperatures, and it doesn’t take a genius to know it will freeze when it is cold. To safely maintain water in your winter car emergency kit, you must rotate the product regularly. Always use distilled water and replace your supply every three months. An excellent way to remember this is to pair it with your oil change). Store the water in your trunk to avoid the greenhouse effect caused by your windshield and the high temperatures that come with it. Finally, place your water supply in an insulated cooler or wrap it in a mylar blanket.

Prepare Your Car For Winter

According to, you should get a tune-up before the weather changes. When fall rolls around, you should winterize your vehicle. It’s an essential part of winter roadside safety to make sure your car can handle the cold months. Be sure to include the following:

  • Check and top off all fluids, including the radiator and windshield washer.
  • Replace your wiper blades.
  • Check your battery.
  • Check your tire treads.

What to Do if You Have a Winter Car Emergency in the Cleveland Area

You should take several actions in the event of a roadside stranding. First and foremost, you should stay with your vehicle. The horrific story of the Kim family proves why. Mrs. Kim and her two daughters survived unscathed for nine days in uninhabited Oregon. Her husband, sadly, met his demise via hypothermia as he attempted to find help on foot. Stay. With. Your. Car. It’s the main rule in winter roadside safety. Next, make your car as visible as possible. Use any creative means you can think of to make your vehicle stand out. Reflectors, bright ribbons, flares, a mylar blanket, and an open hood are all ideas that can help you get spotted sooner.

distillata 5-gallon water bottle delivered to front door of home in Aurora, Oh

Can I Use My Car Heater When Stranded in The Winter?

Using your car heater risks killing the battery and carbon monoxide poisoning. If it is necessary, turn it on for a few minutes at a time. Ensure your tailpipe is clear of snow, and crack your windows slightly. Before using your heater, try these ideas to keep warm:

  • Wrap up in a blanket.
  • Put on your emergency gloves, socks, and hat.
  • Share body heat.
  • Move your body in any way you can.
  • Eat a small snack and sip water.

Being prepared for winter woes is a no-brainer in our neck of the woods, but we fail to act for some reason. I think it is the “it won’t happen to me syndrome.” I am certain Lauren Weinberg and the Kim family thought the same thing.  I promise you will never regret creating a winter car emergency kit checklist or practicing basic winter roadside safety.


  • Stay with Your Vehicle: In case of a roadside stranding, staying with your vehicle is crucial. Leaving your car to seek help on foot can increase the risk of hypothermia and make it harder for rescuers to find you.
  • Make Your Vehicle Visible: Use reflectors, flares, or a mylar blanket to make your vehicle visible to passing motorists.
  • Conserve Energy: Use your car heater sparingly to avoid running out of battery power. Dress warmly and share body heat with others to stay warm.

Following these tips and creating a well-stocked winter car emergency kit can significantly increase your chances of staying safe and comfortable during a winter roadside emergency.

Distillata Can Help You Stay Safe During the Winter Season

While you have little control over what the weather will bring, Distillata offers a more efficient way to protect your home or business from snow and ice. Get rock salt delivered right to your door. See how our ice-melt salt can keep you safe during the unforgiving Cleveland winter.

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