Winter breakdown? Follow these survival tips to stay safe while stranded


Every winter, you hear news stories about motorists trapped in their vehicles for several days during a blizzard. Unfortunately, most American drivers may be unprepared for getting stranded. The Allstate 2011 Good Hands Roadside Assistance Survey found that just 51 percent thought they could survive with what they had in their cars for up to three days.

They should be better prepared, even if snow isn't forecast. The Allstate survey found one in five American drivers has been stranded for more than two hours due to mechanical breakdowns, and that 82 percent have experienced four or more breakdowns. Yet 84 percent of U.S. drivers think it's unlikely that they'll be in a situation where their car isn't drivable because of a breakdown.
Maintaining your car properly is the best way to avoid getting stuck by the roadside this winter. The Allstate survey found that drivers who keep up with all routine maintenance and service on their cars experienced an average of 3.7 breakdowns, while those with less frequent maintenance and service had an average of 5.7 breakdowns.
Because even well-maintained cars can leave you stranded on occasion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you carry a winter emergency kit that includes these items:

  • Windshield scraper and small broom.
  • Flashlight.
  • Battery-powered radio.
  • Extra batteries.
  • Water and snack food.
  • Matches (and a can to melt snow for drinking water).
  • Extra hats, socks and mittens.
  • First aid kit with pocket knife.
  • Necessary medications.
  • Blankets.
  • Tow chain or rope.
  • Road salt and sand.
  • Booster cables.
  • Emergency flares.
  • Fluorescent distress flag.

If you do get stranded in your car while driving during a blizzard, don't panic. Tie your fluorescent distress flag to your antenna, move your emergency supplies out of the trunk and into the passenger section of the car, then stay in your vehicle and prepare to wait out the storm.
Put on any extra clothing or blankets that you have to stay warm. You can run the motor for about 10 minutes every hour, but check the tailpipe first to make sure that it's free of snow. Otherwise, you'll be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Call for assistance on your cellphone, but keep your calls brief to save your battery.
If you have passengers, sleep in shifts. If you're by yourself, try to stay awake as much as possible and never go to sleep while the engine is running. Moving your arms and legs around periodically will help improve your circulation and keep you warmer. Don't eat unmelted snow if you're thirsty, as it will lower your body temperature. Use food supplies from your emergency kit sparingly.
Once the snow has stopped, the Denver Office of Emergency Management suggests stamping out the word "HELP" in the snow by your vehicle to assist rescuers searching from overhead. Do not leave your car.

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