In this report

Winter survival guide

Last reviewed: February 2010

During winter, drivers must deal with a variety of hazardous conditions and be prepared for the possibility that their car could fail in cold weather. Here are our tips for helping you stay safe on the roads:

How to winterize your car

Keep an emergency kit

Hazard triangle

It should contain a flashlight, extra batteries, road flares or reflectors, work gloves, a rain poncho, an extra ice scraper, a blanket, a tow strap, a pair of 12-foot, four- or six-gauge jumper cables, a shovel, and a bag of sand or cat litter. If you drive a vehicle that's does not have an enclosed trunk or cargo area, be sure to secure the items so they don't become projectiles in a sudden stop.

Take your cell phone with you

Keep it fully charged, and store the number to a towing service or auto club in your phone.

Change your wiper blades

Their effectiveness fades after six months of use.

Top off your windshield-washer reservoir

And keep a spare gallon in your trunk or secure cargo area.

Winter tires are a must in snowy climes

Road flares

Buy a full set of four. Metal-studded tires give the best traction on ice and hard-packed snow but offer no advantage on soft snow or cleared roads.

Consider buying traction aids

Traction mats, snow chains, and fabric tire wraps can help you get unstuck. Sand or cat litter spread on snow or ice can aid traction.

Have your battery tested

This is particularly important if the battery is more than four years old, or if it's more than two years old and you live in a warm climate. Inspect the terminals and cables to ensure that the fittings are tight.

Test your coolant

Buy test strips that determine your coolant's effectiveness. A coolant that works to -30° F is sufficient almost anywhere.


What to do if you're stuck

Blue shovel

Try to shovel a path out. With the front wheels straight, rock the car by shifting between drive and reverse and applying light throttle. Shift directions the moment the wheels start spinning. Spread sand in your tracks. Once freed, keep going until you reach firm footing.

If the car isn’t moving, don’t spin the wheels; they’ll just dig deeper into the snow. You may need to jack up the car to put a traction aid under the drive wheels, but make sure the jack is on firm ground. You can use sand, cat litter, twigs, weeds, planks, even your car’s floor mats or trunk liner. Make sure others stand clear before you apply power.


How to jump-start a car

Jumper cables

To start a car with a dead battery, move another car close enough for the jumper cables to easily reach both batteries.

Don't let the cables' clamps contact one another. Hook one red clamp to the positive (+) battery terminal on the dead car. Clamp the other red clamp to the donor battery's positive terminal. Now connect one black clamp to the donor battery's negative (-) pole. To avoid igniting battery fumes, attach the last black clamp to unpainted metal in the engine compartment of the dead car.

Start the donor car and turn off lights and accessories in both cars. Then start the dead car as you normally would. Remove the cable clamps in reverse order.