It is nighttime and your headlights show a veil of snow in a winter storm. You can’t quite tell where the road surface is in front of you and it’s nearly impossible to see the edge of the road. In an instant your tires have nothing to grasp. You feel your car slipping away from under you, spinning fast like a carnival ride. Finally, a bump and a jolt—you are off the road. You’re not hurt, just lucky. A quick check shows no damage to the car, but as you shift the transmission from drive to reverse again and again, trying to jerk the car out of the snow, you hear nothing but a cold spinning sound.


Being stranded in a winter storm creates a variety of problems, the cold being number one. A close second is plow trucks that might not see your vehicle under the snow and accidentally ram into you and your stuck vehicle. Being prepared with your winter weather vehicle emergency kit can mean the difference between life and death on the road. But if you’ve tried to unstick your car with no success, here are the steps you should follow to stay safe and survive.

Outlast The Storm

Call for help. Use your cell phone to tell your family you are OK but stuck in a ditch. If the storm is still raging, tell them to stay put as you don’t want them getting stuck, too. Try to call a tow truck, but be prepared to wait out the storm until it arrives—if it can.

Since the storm is still dumping inches on snow all around you, you need to make a choice of either abandoning your vehicle or staying put. If you are in a neighborhood with homes or stores nearby, seek shelter there. A 24/7 gas station is not the Ritz, but it is warm and will have food. Only abandon your car if it is a short walk to help. A long walk could make a bad situation worse. Falling and blowing snow can cause you to misjudge distances, plus the snow covers holes and other hazards that could cause injury or worse. Also, getting wet in freezing temperatures will drop your body temperature fast and put you at risk of hypothermia.

If you decide to abandon your car, tell your family where you are heading. If you are in a remote area, stay with your vehicle, as this will be your only shelter. Put on extra clothes from your survival kit to stay warm. Make sure emergency personnel and plow drivers know you are in your car by tying a red bandana or something conspicuous to your car. Raise the hood to make sure anyone who passes by knows there is someone in the car.

Road Hazards

Clear the snow from around the exhaust pipe. This allows you to run the car heater and decreases the chances of accidental asphyxiation from exhaust fumes. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious concern. Keep a window cracked to allow fresh air into the car. Monitor your fuel gauge and only run the car for 10 minutes or less every hour, depending on your gas supply and your proximity to help. Also clear out the area around one of the doors so you can get out and signal for help if you need to. This is why you need a shovel.

Staying Warm During a Winter Storm

Use your emergency blanket to trap body heat, and if you have a passenger, huddle together. Being close in the small confines of the car helps retain any existing heat. If you can reduce the interior of the vehicle, you will conserve fuel and heat up a smaller space more efficiently. You can accomplish this by taping up a blanket to the inside of the roof and letting it hang down behind the front seat. This helps seal off the rear seat and cargo area you might have in your vehicle. Before you start the car, dig out around the exhaust pipe and door. Moving around is good. It gets your circulation going and keeps you warm. Surviving a snowstorm in your stranded vehicle is very doable when you have the proper emergency kit. Don’t panic and be smart.

Subscriptions to Survivor’s Edge magazine are available here.

Up Next

Compass Navigation Guide for Backcountry Trekking

Simple tips and tricks with a compass and map that will keep your next...