Winters in the Pacific Northwest can be magical, but driving in the rain, snow and ice can be anything but. Our best advice is to stay of the roads in dangerous conditions, but if you can’t, be prepared for delays and the possibility of being stranded while you wait for help.
Make sure you are prepared with these must-have items in your vehicle.
5 items to keep in your car this winter
1. Ice scraper. Not only is it unsafe to drive a car with frost-covered windows (or with just a peephole scraped in front and back), it's also illegal. Here's how to clear your windows the right way (spoiler alert: leaving your car running in the driveway with the heat blasting makes you a "puffer" and a prime target for car thieves).
2. Chains. Even if you have an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle and may not need to put on chains, you do need to have them in the vehicle. Here's what "chains required" really means.
3. Sand or kitty litter. If you're unable to gain traction on a slippery road surface, sprinkling sand or kitty litter (the old-fashioned, inexpensive clay kind) around your tires can help get you moving. In a pinch, you also can sacrifice your floormats to get emergency traction.
4. Foldable mini-shovel. This goes with the kitty litter. Use it to dig out around a spinning tire.
5. Blanket, warm clothes, water, food. If you find yourself stranded in your car and can't run the engine to stay warm, make sure you have a wool blanket (warm even if it gets wet) or sleeping bag to crawl into. Also include waterproof, insulated shoes or boots you can change into as well as warm clothes. You'll appreciate having some nonperishable food (like granola bars) and water on hand if you find yourself waiting hours for a tow.
5 items to keep in your car all year long
1. Flashlight. Sure, you have one on your smartphone, but using its flashlight feature drains the battery quickly. Carry a real flashlight so you won't have to choose between being able to see and being able to communicate if you find yourself stuck on the side of the road.
2. Emergency triangles or flares. Being hit by another car is one of the greatest risks in a roadside breakdown. Once you've gotten your car safely off the road, set out your triangles or flares, put on your flashers and lock the doors. Generally, you're better off to stay inside your car with your seatbelt buckled and call for roadside assistance unless it's a short (and safe) walk to get help.
3. Car phone charger. Nothing is more disheartening than needing to call for help and finding your phone's at 2%.
4. Tire changing tools and jumper cables. If you're mechanically confident and physically capable, you may be able to get yourself out of a jam with no help needed. However, changing a tire or using jumper cables carry risks of their own, so you still may want to call for professional help.
5. Basic first-aid kit. Here's an inexpensive ready-made version from the Red Cross that we like.
BONUS TIP: With the change to Standard Time, we recommend you adopt the half-tank rule. That is, until we switch back to Daylight Time (and there's no longer a risk of getting stuck in a weather-snarled commute), don't let your gas gauge dip below half full. If nothing else, you'll be able to run the engine and stay warm while you wait!
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