Winter emergency car kit checklist
Many people keep their Get Home Bag in their vehicle. Which makes sense, especially in car-centric America, because it's the one storage spot that's most likely to be with or near you when an emergency happens away from home. But a Get Home Bag is different than the stuff you keep in your car for car-related emergencies, which is known as Vehicle Everyday Carry (VEDC).
Your GHB isn't directly about your vehicle - it's about you, such as needing to evacuate on foot in case disaster strikes when you're away from home. It's better not to mess with your GHB too much. The GHB should be roughly the same throughout the year, with some possible minor changes around winter clothing. However, it doesn't make sense to keep deicing fluid in your car during the summer (let alone in your GHB). Many preppers have a separate storage bin, like a small footlocker, that holds the winter vehicle gear. Throw it in the trunk or bed, and when winter's over, put it back in the basement.
The suggestions below may seem redundant between your VEDC and GHB. Duplication of important stuff like warm clothing or fire starters is not only fine, but creates important redundancy.
Winter emergency car kit checklist for VEDC:
* Collapsible shovel (also known as an entrenchment tool) to clear snow or break ice
* Ice scraper with brush
* Extra deicing fluid. Even if you top up your washer fluid during maintenance, some people keep extra in the car because they burn through it in the winter or use it to rub down windows other than the windshield.
* Something for tire traction, like salt, tire traction mats, coarse sand, or even kitty litter
* Tow strap
* Flares or road signals
* Battery jumper cables (ideally 20 feet long), or a battery jump starter if you're unlikely to be near other people *Hand warmers, either disposable or rechargeable
* Tire chains (see below)
* Wool blankets, sleeping bags, or emergency Mylar pouches in case you need to sleep in your vehicle or outside in the cold
* Warm clothes: layers, gloves, hat. Even if you have some in your GHB, two is better than one.
* Appropriate footwear. Don't get caught walking home in a snowstorm in your work heels. A bonus option is Yaktrax cleats that strap onto your shoes.
* For RWD trucks, add weight to the bed of your truck, which could be accomplished with bags of salt or sand. If you don't normally keep your Get Home Bag in your car and don't have a year-round VEDC kit, then you'll also want to add:
* Stored water and water filter or purifier
* USB charging cable for phone and portable battery backup
* Fire starting tools
* Survival food, like MREs or calorie blocks
* Emergency (Mylar) blankets, bivvy, or cold-rated sleeping bag
* Field knife and/or multitool
* Small medical kit
* Flashlight or headlamp
* Road flares
How to winterize a car
* Washer fluid: Top up. You don't want to run out while driving in freezing rain or sleet. Only use fluid that's cold-weather rated for a minimum -20 F, like Rain-X de-icing additive.
* Tires: Make sure they have plenty of tread. If you aren't sure how to determine this, get them checked out. Many tire stores will do a tread check for free. Alternatively, place a quarter into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Washington's head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 4/32 inch of tread depth left, which is OK.
* Tire pressure: Tires lose pressure in the winter because cold air contracts.
* Brakes: If they're squeaking or feel soft, get them checked. It's hard enough to stop on icy roads with proper brakes, let alone worn-out ones.
* Wiper blades: If you're ready for a replacement, check out Bosch Icons.
* Battery: Don't be the unlucky person with a dead winter battery. Some brick-and-mortar retailers, like AutoZone, will test your battery for free so you know it can still properly hold a charge.
* Oil: Use 5W-30 weight oil, which is common for year-round use.
* Engine air filter: Remove it and hold a lamp or flashlight to it. If you see light through most of the filter, it's got plenty of life. But if the light is mostly blocked, replace it.
* Coolant: You want a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and water in the radiator.
* Gas: Don't run it until it's empty. Some say to drive in the "top half" of the tank with more frequent refills, so you're less likely to be caught with little or no fuel. Having a full tank also helps prevent moisture from freezing in the gas lines.
* Belts and hoses: Especially for older vehicles, make sure drive belts aren't cracked or frayed. Ensure belt clamps aren't loose.
* Door weather stripping: Wipe the soft, rubbery black strips inside the doors with Armor All or silicone spray lubricant to keep them from freezing shut.
For regions with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will give you the best winter traction. Winter tires have more tread patterns and softer rubber compounds than all-season tires. Because they're softer, they'll wear faster in warmer driving. In our research, three highly recommended winter tires repeatedly turned up: Michelin X-Ice Xi3, Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2, and Bridgestone Blizzak WS80. They start around the $100 mark, depending on size. However, all-season tires, combined with safe driving and healthy tread depth, work well in moderate snow conditions. If you anticipate driving on snow, consider replacing your tires when they reach about 4/32 inch of remaining tread depth. Healthy tread depth lets the tires compress the snow in their grooves and release it as the wheel spins.
Snow chain systems attach to your vehicle's drive wheels for traction in snow and ice. Most vehicles are capable of wearing chains. However, some cars and trucks have limited clearance between the tire fender. Check your owner's manual for specifics on what snow chains your car can accept. Chains come in two tread patterns: radial and Z-type. Buy Z-type cable chains, because the pattern zigzags across the tire, ensuring there's always a chain in contact with the road. It's the best possible traction for winter conditions, and they work better with anti-lock brakes. Radial chains, while cheaper, have a ladder-type pattern, which makes for a bumpier ride and less chain contact with the road. Chain sizing is based on three measurements indicated on the side of your tire: tire width, tire height ratio (sidewall height as percentage of width), and diameter of the wheel in inches.
There are three classes of chains, differentiated by how much tire-to-fender clearance you need. The majority of passenger vehicles accept Class S chains.
* Class S: Regular (non-reinforced) passenger tire chains and cables for vehicles with restricted wheel well clearances. 1.46 inch clearance on tread face, 0.59 inch clearance on sidewall. This is most common for cars, which typically have limited wheel well clearance.
* Class U: Regular (non-reinforced) and lug reinforced passenger tire chains for vehicles with regular (non-restricted) wheel well clearances. 1.97 inch clearance on tread face, 0.91 inch clearance on sidewall.
*Class W: Passenger tire chains that use light truck components, as well as some light truck chains. 2.50 inch clearance on tread face, 1.50 inch clearance on sidewall. Reinforced tire chains have extra bits of metal, often welded to the chain, for added traction. Non-reinforced chains get traction from the chain links themselves.
Restrictions and laws vary by state.
They spell out when you can, should, and absolutely must use tire chains, as well as when it's not permitted. Some states, particularly those in the mountainous western US, post signage or will declare a snow emergency to enforce when tire chains are needed.
A chain up sign in Montana.
These signs are common in the western US - CGP Grey/Flickr
Tire Rack's guidelines for chain use are the most comprehensive we've researched, summarized here:
* At the very least, have chains for your drive wheels. It's best to install tire chains on all four tires, meaning you'd buy two pairs of tire chains.
* Proper fit is key for chains to work. Don't deflate tires to install them. A correctly sized tire chain will fit over a correctly inflated tire.
* Try them on beforehand so you can practice and test for fit.
* Tire chain installation helpers: these are small ramps that prevent slipping and allow you to lay a cross chain in a pre-formed indentation. Once you drive onto the ramp, the chains are positioned under your tire for easier installation following the manufacturer's directions.
* When highway signs indicate tire chains are required, a drivers usually have about one mile between the "Chains Required" signs and the passage checkpoint.
* After initial installation, all of the chains should be tightened after you've driven forward or backward (slowly!) at least 15 feet. This is a check to ensure chains aren't loose.
* Accelerate and decelerate gently. Avoid spinning or locking the wheels.
* Drive to the chain manufacturer's specified speeds. Just because you have chains doesn't mean you can go the speed limit.
* Do not drive with a broken chain.
* Remove the chains as soon as you reach clear pavement.
Studded tires have small bits of metal or ceramic in the surface tread, intended for grip on icy surfaces. They're typically paired with special winter tires, although some people add them to normal tires, too. The stud protrudes from what's called a jacket, which is embedded in the tire and holds the stud in place. Think of studs and jackets like your teeth and gums, respectively. Six states allow use of studded tires without restriction: Colorado, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, and Wyoming. Most of the remaining states allow studded tires between certain dates. AAA outlines each state's restrictions here.
Car insurance for winter
There are three types of auto insurance: liability, collision, and comprehensive. Almost everyone has liability coverage since it's required by law to cover the damage you cause to other cars. But many skip the extra expense of comprehensive coverage - which is precisely what can save your bacon in a bad winter storm. Comprehensive will cover non-driving weather damage. If hail pockmarks your hood, or a downed tree limb smashes your windshield, comprehensive kicks in. Collision coverage will pay for weather-related damage, for example, if you slide off an icy road and crash. Some drivers in areas with severe winters and moderate summers reduce their coverage in warmer months, then add collision and/or comprehensive in the winter.
Hope this information helps you out in some way. Be safe.
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