Surviving in Your Car

Screen shot 2011-05-12 at 3.36.07 PMSPENDING A NIGHT IN YOUR VEHICLE   Anyone who drives faces the possibility of spending a unplanned night in a vehicle.  Bad weather, breakdowns, running out of fuel, getting stuck are some of the more common reasons why a driver might have to bed down for the night (or perhaps for several nights) until the situation is resolved.  A night out does not have to be a life threatening experience.  Drivers who accept the possibility that the unforeseen may happen are drivers that prepare, in advance, for the experience.  On the other hand those drivers that deny the possibility may find themselves fighting for their lives until rescue arrives.

 PREPARATION. Assembling survival kit is the first step and, as with any survival kit, the contents should be selected based on personal needs, the season and the geographic location.  (See following list of recommended equipment)  If you become stranded you’ll be glad you took the time to put together an emergency kit.  In addition to the kit you should also evaluate the effectiveness of the clothing you are wearing to keep you warm in a cold vehicle.  Most people dress to arrive at a destination and not to survive a night out.— the reverse would be more appropriate Dress to survive not just to arrive!”  When traveling with others don’t forget to provide sufficient supplies for the additional people as well.  Preparation also involves ensuring that your vehicle is ready for winter travel.  Never set out in stormy conditions without a full tank of gas, a good battery, proper tires, a heater and exhaust system in good working condition, good anti-freeze and some “common sense.”

YOU’RE STUCK! If you do get trapped by a blizzard or severe snow storm – “don’t panic!”  Stay with your vehicle and use your survival kit.  Your vehicle makes a good shelter and an effective signal – don’t leave it.”  In your car you are warm, dry and protected from the weather.  Trying to dig yourself out or attempting to walk to help can be fatal.  “Sit tight – let the rescuers come to you!”  Move all of equipment and other emergency gear into the passenger compartment.

 SHELTERING IN YOUR VEHICLE. While sitting out a storm you must use your resources sparingly – you don’t know how long you’ll be there.  While the car will cut the wind and keep you dry you will need to keep the interior warm.  The heat your body produces is insufficient to heat the interior.  Sitting in a car you will get cold quickly, especially your feet.  Put on your warmest clothes (socks, hat, gloves, long underwear and additional insulation layers), wrap yourself in blankets or get into a sleeping bag.  Sit sideways so you place your feet on the seat where the foam insulation will offer insulation from the cold.  The foot wells will be the coldest part of the vehicle.  Alternatively, place foam padding under your feet to insulate them.  Place something behind your head so that it does not come in contact with the cold window.

Using a space blanket and duct tape section off the back of the vehicle from the front so you only have to warm the part of the vehicle you are occupying.  Ways to warm the interior of your vehicle include running your engine for short periods of time, long-burning candles, small stoves and Isopropyl/toilet paper improvised heaters.  Run the engine about ten minutes each hour or for shorter periods each half hour but only after ensuring that the exhaust is not damaged and the tail pipe is clear of snow and other debris.  Run the engine on the hour or half-hour – times that coincide with news and weather broadcasts.  Ventilate the vehicle by opening a downwind window approximately ½ inch.  Carbon monoxide is a very real threat to your safety.  Do not go to sleep with the engine running.  Carbon monoxide poisoning can sneak up on you without warning.  Almost 60% of the unintentional deaths caused by carbon monoxide result from motor vehicle exhaust.  It is much less risky to use your clothing and other sources of heat to keep yourself warm.

If you have to get out of the vehicle put on additional windproof clothing, and snow goggles if you have them, then tie a lifeline to yourself and the door handle before moving away from the proximity of the vehicle.  In a blizzard visibility can be as low as 12 inches.

Eat right, don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke!  Without enough energy stored in your body you will not have the ability to generate heat to keep your body warm.  Your emergency kit should include quantities of high-calorie, non-perishable food (carbohydrate food bars).  Keep yourself hydrated.  Dehydrated people have great difficulty maintaining their body temperature.  Don’t eat snow!  It takes body heat to convert snow to liquid.  Use your heat sources to melt snow for your drinking water.  Don’t smoke – the nicotine in cigarettes reduces blood flow to the skin and extremities and increases the possibilities of frostbite.  Don’t drink alcohol – alcohol affects judgment. Bad judgment decreases the chances of survival.

GETTING RESCUED. The ability to communicate your distress is critical for calling for rescue.  A cell phone may be your best method of making contact with rescuers Dial 911 or the number selected by your state to contact law enforcement officials.   CB and VHF radios may be available.  Lacking electronic communication equipment you will have to improvise – tie a flag to your vehicle’s antennae, have a road flare prepared in the event that an aircraft over flies your area, if weather conditions permit, stamp out SOS in the snow, after the snow stops raise the hood. Remove the snow from the upper surfaces of your vehicle. The rearview mirror can be used to reflect a beam of sunlight to rescuers – either on the ground on in the air.   Do whatever you can to draw attention to yourself.


 – Cellular phone with charger

– Personal beacon (SPOT or Delorme inReach)  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 3-10-2004 6-10-20 AM 3-10-2004 6-10-20 AM

– Four quart bottles of water

SPOT– Three dehydrated meals

– Other carbohydrate based foods

– Toilet paper

– Toilettes

– Tools to include jack & spare tire

– Road flares

– Tow strap


– Folding or breakdown shovel

– Blankets or sleeping bags

– Hand heater packets

– Light sticks

– Matches

– Metal cup

– Basic first aid kit

– Knife

– Additional clothingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

– Winter footwear

– Two empty cans (one for melting snow & the other for sanitary purposes

– Sack of non-clumping cat litter

– Windshield scraper and brush

– Spare personal medications

– Flashlight and spare batteries

– Portable radio with spare batteries

– Emergency candles and/or small stove

– Gloves

– Multi-purpose tool (Leatherman)

– Ski goggles

– Duct tape

–  Blankets

– Book

– 25 – 50 of nylon cord

– Flagging tape

– Chemical hand warmers

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