How to put together an Emergency Car Kit

Turkey supper.

An emergency car kit is something that’s important to have in your car all the time, especially in the winter. I recently went to a turkey supper for a local high school band to raise funds to send them on a tour of Great Britain. At the silent auction my bid on an emergency car kit was highest so I got to take it home (and put it in my car!).

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Emergency car kit duffle bag.

Here’s what’s in it, all packed into a cute little duffle:
• booster cables
• florescent orange cone
• flashlight and batteries
• candles and matches (candles can produce enough heat inside a car to keep you from freezing)
• a cloth
• gloves
• handy wipes
• bandaids
• some plastic ties
• rain poncho
• florescent orange safety vest
• emergency blanket
• a “call police” sign to put in the car window

My own personal of winter road kit also includes:
• sleeping bag
• emergency flashing beacon light
• extra boots, mits, hats, scarves
• snacks like high energy bars
• bottled water

Contents of an emergency car kit.

It’s a good idea to have a shovel in your trunk too and before you set out into a wintry night make sure your gas tank is full and your cell phone battery is charged.

Here’s a story about the first time I realized the folly of not having one.

It was my first winter here, 2002, and I hadn’t moved in yet but was traveling up on Friday nights after work in Toronto to spend the weekends. It was early evening, a blustery night in the deep of winter when I arrived at the turn off the highway onto the sideroad leading toward my house. I’d been driving for over two hours in a snowstorm that worsened the further north I got. When I got to the sideroad I was relieved, knowing there was only another seven kilometres til I reached my front door. The sideroad is paved all the way in but it’s a remote, winding road and by the time I was on it, it had all but disappeared in the snow squalls that whirled and raced across it. I couldn’t see the road or the ditches, I could barely see out of the windshield. I couldn’t use my highbeams as that made it even harder to see through the wind driven snow belting the car. Luckily I had snow tires on all around. I considered turning around but figured the road behind me was as bad as it was ahead. The wind howled and I crept forward at twenty or thirty kilometres an hour, eyes glued to the telephone poles that lined the right side of the road. Without those I’d have been completely adrift and stranded in a sea of white frenzy.

At that early stage of living up here, I hadn’t learned to pack a winter kit into my car and I hadn’t learned how to note landmarks, such as inhabited houses where I could get help if need be. It was probably fool hardy to have continued. It would have been impossible to walk from the car to a farmyard had the car been driven into a snowbank. I’d have had to stay in the car and wait it out, which is what you are supposed to do. And I wasn’t prepared for that with extra blankets or light.

As I drove along what seemed like a bad dream of desert riled up by a hurricane of wind and fierce car rocking gusts my survival brain kicked into gear. As my guiding line of telephones ticked by one at a time, I itemized what I had in the car in the way of extra clothes, hats, boots. Was there a blanket in the trunk? I tried to remember the contents of my glove box – was there a flashlight in there with batteries in it that worked? Did I have a candle and matches, an emergency light? How much gas was left in the tank? Was that the outline of a house up ahead and were there lights on inside it?

And then panic set in once I asked myself how I was going to recognize the turn I had to make off of Sideroad 40 onto Concession 3B. My normal landmark was a farmhouse well off the road that I knew I wouldn’t see through the blizzard. After what seemed like forever, my arms and neck rigid with tension from gritting steering wheel and teeth, I found the turnoff when the headlights reflected off of the road sign. I was lucky. I made it home.

Now, I try to stay out of bad storms but if I’m caught in one I clock distances: in from the highway turnoff, between houses, and from known landmarks such as intersections, barns, bridges, etc. So if my car goes off the road, gets stuck or breaks down, I can phone and tell someone fairly precisely where I am. I make sure my gas tank never gets too low, that my cell phone is charged up and that I have a winter road kit in the car. I also carry a shovel and tire chains are a good idea too.

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