Getting caught driving in a snowstorm or on roads slick with ice can be nerve-racking and often downright dangerous. Experts say there are a some key things you should always have stowed in your trunk to keep you and your loved ones safe in conditions like these, when you might find yourself stuck far from home.
Items to carry with you or to include in your car's winter emergency kit:
1. A fully charged cell phone so you can call for help. It's easier than ever to keep your phone well-charged: Most newer cars come with a charging port; if not, you can use a USB adapter that plugs into the power port (formerly a cigarette lighter). If you don't have one, you can purchase a portable charger that operates on a battery.
2. A shovel (you can find foldable shovels that fit in your trunk or emergency kit) is a must, says Timothy Hatcher, director of technical operations for the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association, to clear snow — though don't overdo it (see below).
3. An ice scraper and broom, to clear ice or snow off your windows, along with abrasive material like sand or kitty litter. Spreading kitty litter under the tires gives them enough traction to get the vehicle unstuck. If your car is firmly entrenched and kitty litter isn't doing the trick, says Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, “don't try to dig your way out. That's heart attack city.” Use that charged cell phone and wait for help.
4. A plastic orange safety triangle. This allows you to stay in the vehicle while ensuring you'll be seen by passing drivers.
5. Jumper cables and warning devices such as flares. Flares are especially helpful if you're stuck in a rural area with lots of snow. Molla says they should be placed 10 and 20 yards behind your vehicle to prevent others from hitting your car.
6. A flashlight with extra batteries. A flashlight is invaluable if your car lights are out or you need to walk in the dark to get help.
7. A set of sturdy, warm work gloves. You may need to shovel or clear windows in snow or sleet.
8. Basic safety/comfort items. Those might include:
A first aid kit
An extra sweatshirt or warm layer of clothing
A warm pair of socks
A raincoat or rain poncho