Everything You Need in Your Winter Emergency Car Kit

A winter emergency kit with blankets, a shovel, and more will help keep you safe in the unlikely event that you’re stranded in a winter storm.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Winter is notorious for bad driving. An emergency kit with basic survival supplies, safety items, maintenance tools, and some winter clothing will keep you safe if you get stranded in a winter storm.
Another item that keeps you safe in any season is your insurance policy.
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And speaking of a cold winter’s night, if you’re ever stranded, we have the details about what you’ll need in your emergency kit to keep calm and stay safe until help arrives.
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Essential winter emergency kit items

Everything you’ll need to keep you safe in your car during a blizzard can be found at your local hardware store, grocery store, or pharmacy.
Of course, it's a good idea to stock up on these items before winter begins. If you’re heading to the store to buy these items and you get caught in a winter storm…well, that would be very unfortunate.
A little bit of planning, preparedness, and keeping your wits about you will ensure you make it through any winter-related incident in one piece.
Here’s a handy winter emergency kit checklist for you.


Make sure you keep a working flashlight and extra batteries in your winter emergency kit. A flashlight is vital to helping you get your car back on the road or flagging down other drivers for help—especially if you’re dealing with blizzard conditions and low visibility.

Cat litter

Non-clumping cat litter works well to provide traction for your tires if you’re stuck in snowy, icy conditions. If you can’t find cat litter at the store, or if your cat won’t let you borrow some of their supply (typical), you can always keep some sand or road salt in your kit. These will work just as well.

Snow shovel

If snow is piling up around your car and you’re stuck, make sure there is little or no traffic and grab your shovel. You want to keep your car visible so that rescue crews can see it — and, of course, to make sure another vehicle doesn’t hit you while you’re stuck.

First aid kit

Always keep a first aid kit in your car to handle any minor scrapes, cuts, or pain suffered by you or your passengers. If you take any medication, keep a small supply in your kit. It will be helpful in the unlikely event that you’re stranded in your car overnight.

Ice scraper

Having a sturdy ice scraper on hand will help you clear your front and rear windshields of snow or ice. This way, you won’t drain your battery by running your defrosters while waiting for help.

Jumper cables

Jumper cables are essential if your car’s battery is dead and you need a boost. Still, you need to know how to jumpstart your car safely. Never touch the clamp ends together, and do your best to keep moisture away from the cables.
Here’s how to jumpstart your engines with jumper cables using assistance from another car:
  • Make sure both cars are off with both parking brakes in use
  • Attach the red clamp to (+) on the dead car
  • Attach red clamp to (+) on the helping car
  • Attach black clamp on (-) on the helping car
  • Place black clamp on an unpainted metal surface in the dead car
  • First start the helping car, then start the dead car
  • Remove clamps in reverse order from how they were attached
  • Rejoice as your engine comes to life
Key Takeaway Never touch the ends of the clamps together and keep the cables dry while jumpstarting your car.


Keep a large jug of water in your car’s emergency kit to avoid dehydration, if you’re stranded for an extended period of time. Replace the water in the jug every few months.


A large, warm blanket is essential to keep warm if you’re stranded for a while. You can also use it as padding if you need to make a repair on your car — as long as it’s safe to do so. A reflective emergency blanket and sleeping bag are also smart items to have stuffed inside your emergency kit.

Cell phone charger

While many drivers carry a cell phone charger in the car, adding an extra charger equipped with a lighter adapter is always a good item to have on hand. Keep a portable phone charger in your kit, too, in case your battery is dead.
Have a written copy of any important phone numbers on hand. If your phone is dead, you can always use a passerby’s phone to let loved ones know you’re safe (because who memorizes phone numbers these days?).

Reflective triangles

Reflective triangles are essential to alert other drivers to your vehicle if you break down in low visibility.

Non-perishable snacks

Keep some snacks on hand to fend off hunger in case you need to hunker down for a while. Dried fruits, nuts, jerky, and granola are all great items to have. Remember to replace them every few months.


In case of emergency, you’ll want to have waterproof matches or a lighter to keep warm or to use for extra light, if necessary.


A basic toolkit is a great all-season item, just in case you need to make a quick repair or change a tire.

Extra items for your emergency kit

It's better to be safe than sorry. If you have the room, stock your winter car emergency kit with a few extra items:
  • Surplus winter clothing
  • Heavy winter boots
  • Tire chains
  • An empty gas can
  • Duct tape
  • Tow straps
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Road flares
  • Traction mats
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Maintenance tips for winter weather

You always want to keep your car in tip-top shape—especially as winter approaches. Cold-weather breakdowns are not something you want to get acquainted with, so heed these helpful hints before you hit the road when winter arrives.

Change your wiper blades

You can buy winter wiper blades designed to fight heavy snow and ice on your windshield. If your wipers are leaving streaks on the glass, that means it's time to replace them!

Check your battery

Keep an eye on your battery as the mercury drops, as cold weather can make it harder to start your car. Batteries lose cranking power as the temperature nears zero, so either bring your car to a mechanic to give it a look or keep an eye on the battery’s charge level yourself.

Make sure the tank has some gas

Try to keep your gas tank at least half-full in winter because you won’t want to run out of gas while on the road during a winter storm. If you need to pull over, that half-tank will be a godsend once the weather improves and you can safely get on your way.

Check the tires

Snow tires are always a good idea to be prepared for winter. If you’re keeping your
all-season tires
on, take a look at your treads and tire pressure to ensure the tires are safe to drive on. Also, make sure your spare tire is ready to go if need be.

Test the lights

Make sure your lights haven’t dimmed or fogged up, as this won’t help in wintry conditions. Test your turn signals and hazards to ensure they’re all working—and if any of them aren’t, get them replaced before the weather gets cold.
Key Takeaway Remember to check your wiper blades, battery, tires, and lights before it gets cold so your car is ready to tackle winter.

Driving tips for a winter storm

Winter can make driving treacherous, so here are some tips to ensure you get where you’re going safely.

Idling your car to warm it up doesn’t work

When it's cold, the surest way to warm up your car is to hop in and drive.
Carburetors used to
need time to warm up
and inject the appropriate amount of air and fuel into your car’s engine. But with electronic fuel injection replacing carburetors in most new cars, this new system uses sensors to find the right mix. Idling just wastes gas and pollutes the air.
Key Takeaway Idling is unnecessary to warm up most newer cars — just start driving and your car will warm up just fine.

Do not pour boiling water on your windshield

Pouring boiling water on a frozen windshield can break it, as glass cannot go from very cold to very hot quickly.
Tossing boiling water on any part of your car is a bad idea. You might crack or shatter your windows, or the water can seep into the car and damage electronic equipment.
If your windshield is cracked, get it fixed as soon as possible because windshields are essential to your car’s overall structural integrity.
Key Takeaway Don’t ever pour boiling water on a frozen windshield — it might shatter!

Do’s and don’ts if you hydroplane or hit black ice

Hydroplaning occurs when an excess amount of water gets between the road surface and your tires, causing your car to slide uncontrollably. Hydroplaning can happen on wet roads at any point, but it usually happens during the first few minutes of rain or snow. The moisture mixes with oils and grease on the road to create a very slippery ride.
When the temperature drops below zero, you also run the risk of hitting black ice, which forms from rainwater freezing. Black ice is invisible and particularly dangerous.
While hydroplaning and black ice can be dangerous, you can be prepared if you have to deal with them.
  • If hydroplaning, do not accelerate or brake quickly, as sudden speed changes may cause your car to spin out
  • If your car has front-wheel drive (with ABS and traction control or without) or rear-wheel drive with traction control and ABS, aim for open space and gently guide your vehicle in that direction
  • Give it a little gas and gently steer your car towards the safety of the open space
  • If driving a rear-wheel drive without traction control or ABS, ease off the gas and guide your car to a safe area

What to know about tire chains

Tire chains are accessories attached to the tires of your car to give you maximum traction when driving through an area of heavy snow or ice.
Most people who use tire chains live in rural areas that aren’t plowed regularly, so they need the extra traction. While these devices can be very useful, they don’t make for a smooth ride and you’ll have to remove them once you find a clear roadway.
If you’re an urban or suburban driver, odds are you’ll never need to use tire chains. Your shovel and kitty litter should do the trick.

Clear snow and ice from your windshield and car

Before you go, always clear snow and ice from your windshield and roof to prevent it from flying off and causing an accident. Some states even mandate the removal of snow and ice from your car. Even if you’re in a rush, make sure your car is snow-free and can be safely driven.

Reserve your fog lights for when it’s foggy

If your vehicle has fog lights, stick to using them when it's foggy. Using them in clear weather can be blinding to other drivers and may cause an accident. Even in rainy or inclement weather, use your regular headlights and save the fog lights for—you guessed it—the fog.

Surviving winter with Jerry’s help

Your winter car emergency kit is key to getting through winter safely. What else is key to safe winter driving? Car insurance.
Accidents can happen, especially during the winter when conditions aren’t great. With
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Jerry’s signup process is super quick, and before you know it you’ll be browsing quotes from up to dozens of the country's top insurance companies.
"Awesome Experience! Jerry generated some quotes and gave me side-by-side comparisons of the best deals at different coverage levels. I’m stunned by how easy this was (I completed the whole process and didn’t even have to spend more than fifteen minutes on it). Definitely recommend giving it a try." —Jerry user

Frequently asked questions

Should I get winter tires?

Winter tires are always advisable if you’re driving in an area with winter weather. In fact, let your insurer know about your winter tires—they may give you a discount on your insurance if installed.

I have a 4x4. Do I need to worry about driving any differently during the winter?

No matter the vehicle, you should always be extra cautious when driving during the winter. Blizzard conditions or black ice can cause an accident for even the most experienced drivers and winter-ready vehicles.
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