While you can’t guarantee what winter weather may look like, you can ensure you have emergency supplies and helpful gear with you when driving in snow and ice. Whether you find yourself in an accident or gridlock, your car battery dies or your ride’s been packed in from the snow plow, this useful equipment can keep you safe and, hopefully, a little less full of off-road rage.
To help you build your winter car emergency kit, I asked the most qualified people I know: my own mechanics, brothers Philip, Nick and Carmen Campione, part of the third generation of the family-owned AC Auto Repairs in Philadelphia. They provided helpful information without overloading me with car terms I didn’t understand and didn’t try to talk down or upsell me on anything. (An added bonus: They gave me coffee and candy during our interview.)
From rubber tire traction pads to car escape multitools, the Campione brothers broke down the practical items that should live in your trunk. Some are snow-specific, but they recommend you keep others with you all year.
In addition to building an emergency kit, the biggest winter driving safety tip Philip Campione had was ensuring you have a full tank of gas whenever you hit the road. The weather can be unpredictable, and you want to ensure you have plenty of fuel, especially if you’re driving long distances or on the highway. He also recommended checking the weather before trips and trying to stay off the road or modify travel plans as much as you can during storms.
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Rubber tire traction mats
Philip and Carmen recommended keeping a set of traction track mats in your car, especially if you live in a city or park your car on the street where it could be blocked in by plowed snow. Carmen specified you’ll want to grab rubber mats, not plastic ones. “Rubber is better than plastic because plastic can shoot backward and doesn’t flex as much,” he said.
A portable power source
Philip recommended getting a portable battery pack that lives in your car. Though you may already have a charging cord plugged into your car, if your battery dies or something happens to your vehicle, a portable charger will ensure your phone has juice. This one can be charged while you drive and can supply power to your phone as well as tablets, laptops and even Nintendo Switches to keep little ones calm and entertained during a potential emergency.
A small shovel and snow brush
“A little plastic shovel is not a bad idea,” Philip said. Carmen also recommended keeping a snow brush in your car to clear off your vehicle. Though they may seem like obvious additions, you’ll certainly notice when you’re caught in a storm and don’t have them with you.
While you may only think to carry pepper spray with you when you’re walking around, Philip recommended keeping some sort of defensive spray in your vehicle to protect you from potential predators in the event of an accident or a breakdown. “Whether it’s a person or an animal, keeping mace in your vehicle will be enough of a deterrent,” Philip said. He recommended bear spray or something else that has a far spray radius, though he cautioned to be extra careful and intentional with it.
Recounting a bad snowstorm he got stuck in, Philip said it’s prudent to keep toilet paper with you. If you’re stranded for a couple of hours, you or someone you’re traveling with is likely going to have to go. You’ll be happy to have some TP on hand, especially these compact, individually sealed mini rolls that come with their own dispenser.