Winter is fast approaching so it is once again time to think about checking your existing Emergency Car kit or putting one together.
A large holdall is best for storing your kit in, kept in the boot of the car but if bad weather is expected or you need to make journeys during storms or snow fall it might be an idea to move the bag into the passenger compartment of the vehicle so it is close to hand.
I feel it is important to have the supplies to see you through a 48 hour period without having to rely on the cars fuel and battery. Then if the conditions improve enabling you to continue on your journey or turn around and go home, you cant because you have a flat battery or no fuel.
It is also important to have enough supplies for each person that is likely to be travelling with you. It is very common for the driver to put supplies in for themselves and forget that they often have family in the car with them. Entertainment is very important especially for the kids. Something that can amuse you but also entertain the whole family but remember electronic games need batteries once they are dead the game is useless so add board games, books to read and colouring books. A battery operated radio is a must for entertainment, news and weather reports, if you know what is happening in you local area you will experience far less anxiety than you would with not knowing anything. Replace all batteries in the radio and torches before the onset of winter and also pack fresh spare batteries.
Clothing is important, many people just throw an old jacket in the boot of there car but we often drive in everyday clothes and rely on the cars heater. Once the engine is off and temperature is dropping as night falls these clothes alone will be of little use. Pack a couple of old wool jumpers, a fleece and an old large thermal coat. Remember to keep you extremities warm so include wool hat, gloves or mittens and also take a couple pairs of large thick socks. By removing your shoes and replacing them with a couple pears of thick socks your feet will be a lot warmer. Also include some more suitable foot wear such as walking boots or wellington boots, these will keep your feet warm and dry when you leave the car. Only put them on when you go to leave the car and remove them when you return. Also have some old sleeping bags and/or wool blankets to throw over you and snuggle down under.
Now for the inner fire, food. It is best to take a selection if different non perishable foods, a couple of army ration packs or camping food would be great but not the dehydrated stuff, it requires lots of water and fuel to rehydrate it. The food is best if it can be eaten hot or cold. Also include hot drinks such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate and of course sweets, they are a great morale booster, especially for the little ones. We need to think about a stove of some sort. I would suggest a simple camping gas stove for ease of use and reliability, include a couple larger re-sealable gas canisters, this should be enough to see you through, providing plenty of hot drinks and food. During storage do not keep the gas canisters connected to the stove. The stove will also add a little extra heat to the passenger compartment but it is not to be relied on as a heater. Make sure you have packed a supply of matches in a waterproof container and a lighter though. Also please remember if you are using the stove in the car be very careful, open a window a touch to allow oxygen in for the flame to burn correctly and to let the fumes out. A 5 gallon jerry can of water is ideal, the black army type are great and bombproof. Replace the water every six months. You will need to add a cook pot to warm your food in and I find a kettle is a luxury worth having; it will heat water quickly and efficiently. Go for a larger kettle and have a thermos flask in your kit. It is much more efficient to heat a large quantity of water and store what’s left in the thermos than to keep having to boil a small kettle. Don’t forget to include some cups and knives and forks although you can probably get away with just spoons.
A good large spot light type torch with a high capacity battery is great to have for moving around outside the car and for signalling your position, this is better than using the cars headlights because firstly you are conserving the cars battery and secondly a hand held torch is directional allowing you to point it where you need it, at rescuers for instance. Have some small torches inside the car, LED torches are wonderful as they have very long battery lives, often 100 hours plus, a couple of LED head torches would be great. You can also get candle lanterns; these give of a gentle warm comforting glow and have long burn times. A couple of these will give of a gentle background light; they will also help to keep the car interior warm. This has the added benefit of improving the thermal heat signature of the car to rescuers that maybe searching for you using thermal imaging cameras i.e. police helicopters.
At this point it would be good to talk about attracting attention to yourselves. We have already spoken about a large spot light type torch and the use of candles. Another idea is to get one of those flashing beckons you see at road works. Put this on the roof of the car and it attracts attention of not only likely rescuers but also to drivers of snowploughs. There have been a number of cases where snowploughs have driven, at speed, into the back of stranded or broken down cars injuring the occupants. Keep snow from building up on the car. The colour of the car will stand out from the snow making you more visible, if you have a light coloured car; drape one of your dark coloured blankets over the roof and rear window giving better contrast from the snow. A mirror used as a heliograph is a great way of attracting attention during the day in sunny conditions. If you need to attract attention to someone near by using noise is very effective, for this reason in all outdoor activities a whistle is a must have piece of kit. You can also shout but it is more effective to shout something with complex sounds such as COOEE which has lots of deferent sound and tones within the noise meaning the noise will travel further and is easier to hear than just shouting help. If you live in rural areas or regularly spend time travelling threw wilderness areas it might be an idea to include emergency strobe lights, radio communication equipment, emergency flares and emergency smoke to your kit. And finely don’t forget to try your mobile but remember in rural areas it is not a reliable system of communication.
There are times when you become stuck in only an inch or two of snow and you know if you could get some help you could be out and on your way. Well there are some things you can carry to aid self help. Firstly a big bag of builder’s sand in the boot of a rear wheeled car will add weight to the rear axle and will increase traction; this may be enough to have stopped you getting stuck in the first place. As would tire chains, always fit them before driving on snow and ice. Having at least four large potato bags, feed bags or Hessian sacks in the boot are great for putting under the wheels to add traction when on slippery surfaces. A shovel in the car is great for moving snow or mud from around the tires and can be used to break up ice on the road so you can get traction. And, if you are truly stuck, use it for clearing the snow from around your vehicle so you can exit it and to keep snow from covering the exhaust pipe. I also like to keep a saw in the car just in case I need to clear any small branches that may be blown down into the road.
A tow rope is always a great addition but only use it if you know how to safely and without damaging your vehicle.
Finally if you do become stuck it is important you stay with your vehicle, it is on a road which will see some sort of activity eventually. Do not panic, take a moment to compose yourself and organise you thoughts. Then make a plan, sort your kit out to best help you stay warm, dry and comfortable. Place your signals out to help attracted attention. It is often very sensible to set a routine i.e. (example only) on the hour every hour get out of the car, clear the snow from on top and all the way around and pay particular attention the exhaust area, just in case as a very last resort you have to use the car engine. When shovelling snow or mud do not rush, do not over exert yourself and only make small shovels falls. Check all your signals are still visible and working. Then get back in the car make a hot drink and switch the radio on for ten minutes.
I am often asked “what if there is a house near by”? The answer is stay with your car do not attempt to go to the house. If residence of the house come to you by all means go with them if you feel safe to do so. The fact they have come to you shows they are in and are willing to help. They know the area and know it is safe to get to you and if the condition and visibility were to close down around you they have a good idea in what direction to head back to the house, if that was to happen though I would be inclined to stay with the car until things had improved. Pack up your equipment and take it with you, there electricity might be out by the time you get to the house and they might not have the supplies that you have available, leave a note in you car saying were you have gone and leave the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition so if your car is needed to be moved by a road clearing team they can. Only go back to the car when help has come to the house to ask about you and they take you back to the car or when the conditions have improved and the road open
Be safe and only make important journeys; there is no need to put yourself and possibly other at risk.