What Do You Do: If your car breaks down in the winter

Posted at 10:03 AM, Dec 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-18 10:46:04-05

It’s a real possibility that often people don’t prepare for: being stranded in a car during winter weather.

In fact, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has noted that nearly 70 percent of winter-related injuries happen in connection with a vehicle.

It’s simple to forget to plan ahead. Last week, when metro Detroit saw its first winter blast of the year, people noted they weren’t ready.

Jamal Williams, who works overnight, said he was inside as 6-plus inches of snow fell.

“I definitely wasn’t (ready for it),” said Williams. “When I came out I was like, ‘Oh man!’”

Jessica Soulliere, a nurse, didn’t have a winter coat on while she pumped gas, but noted that she plans ahead and has her car serviced to ensure her safety.

Experts note that warm clothing is important, but cars find themselves on the side of the road for extended periods of time for more reasons that bad engines, faulty cables and various repair issues — people crash, slide off icy roads or simply get stuck in blizzards.

That’s why it’s important to keep an emergency kit inside your vehicle. Stores often sell handy packages with candles, matches, batteries, flashlights and reflectors to stow in your car — they may even have a small blanket. It’s important to take stock of what’s in a pre-packaged kit and add to it for the environment you may find yourself in.

Allstate suggests staples such as: food for an extended period that you may be stranded, kitty litter or sand that could help with traction to get you “unstuck,” and a blanket or sleeping bag in case you are stranded for several hours. Phone chargers are also helpful.

For a full list of suggested items, visit the Allstate “Survive A Night in your Car” blog, here.

It’s also important to not run your vehicle for an extended period of time. Carbon monoxide poisoning could become a health risk in certain conditions. The best bet is to exit the vehicle and double-check that the vehicle’s tail pipe is not covered in snow each time you choose to restart the car — experts suggest running the car 15-20 minutes to warm up the vehicle occasionally and to keep the battery charged.

Other “best practices” include:

  • Keep your vehicle’s gas take at, or above, 1/2 tank of gas during cold weather
  • Keeping the vehicle’s hazard lights on to alert traffic, and anyone passing by, that you’re stuck.
  • Have a phone charger that can hold it’s own charge so that your vehicle does not rely on the car battery in cases where the vehicle completely breaks down
  • Keep extra winter clothing on-hand including a coat, hat and gloves