Minnesotans are used to chilly weather, but even seasoned residents can get caught in stormy conditions while driving. Follow these 7 tips to stay safe in your car during sub zero temps- it may just save your life!

Minnesotans are somewhat immune to harsh winter weather- we think 30 degrees is a heat wave. But anyone can be caught in unforeseen conditions while driving. Being prepared in the event you get stranded during a severe storm could mean the difference between life and death. Stay safe with winter travels with these safety tips:

📝 Plan Ahead

Check current and forecast weather conditions for your route and destination. Free apps like 1Weather can be programmed to give you current and extended weather information and send alerts to your phone for multiple locations you choose. If you don’t have a smart phone, check the National Weather Service website ahead of time.

📱 Your cell phone as a safety tool

Let a friend or family member know about your planned route and expected time of arrival, and give them your cell phone number. Charge your cell phone, and turn on “location” on your phone- it could save your life. A friend that was a newcomer to Minnesota was led by her GPS down a closed road in a snowstorm. The snow was piled up so high on each side of the road, she couldn’t turn around. Even though her cell phone worked, she didn’t know exactly where she was, but her husband was able to pinpoint her location by her cell signal. A portable device charger can keep your cell phone going for an extra day.

🚗 Your car needs to get ready too

Check your vehicle radiator and antifreeze level, check tire tread or replace tires with all-weather or snow tires. Keep your gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines, and use wintertime formula in your windshield washer.

🛅 Bring extra clothes

Even if you think you are just going from your house to another indoor location, wear or bring appropriate outdoor clothing, including layers of light, warm clothing, mittens, hats, scarves, waterproof boots and a waterproof outer layer.

💡 DIY Car Safety Kit

When the snow starts to fly, I toss an old pair of snow boots, a down sleeping bag and a couple of bottles of water into the back of my SUV, and I always have a multi-tool and flashlight in my glove box, along with gloves. There are a few other things that would be wise if you are planning a trip in adverse conditions.

Food is essential. Beyond road snacks, keep a few nonperishable, high protein meal bars in the car. When choosing water containers, make one a large wide mouth style (like a Gatorade bottle). Once empty it can pull double duty as a bathroom container. A travel size packet of tissues and plastic bags will help with other emergencies. Note that wet wipes will freeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a cotton towel are better for winter clean-ups. A small first aid kit is also not a bad idea- bandages and antibiotic ointment at a minimum. And don’t forget an extra supply of essential prescriptions in case you are stuck unexpectedly.

Jumper cables, flares, and a maintained spare tire are always a good idea to have in your car. During the winter, add a tow rope and a bag of sand or cat litter for traction to help you get back on the road.

A friend created a cool emergency heater that you can make for less than $5. It includes a new, metal empty paint can and lid (she bought at Lowes), a bag of tea light candles in metal bases from the dollar store, and a box of waterproof stick matches placed in a Ziploc bag. The candles and matches fit neatly inside the can. In an extreme emergency, take out the contents, light two or three candles at a time inside of the can. Make sure to place the can on a flat surface without flammable materials around it. Also, fire inside an enclosed space does take up oxygen, so crack a window on the downwind side after the car warms up, and block off the vent when the car cools.

📲 Get the free Winter Survival Kit smartphone app

This app can be as critical as a physical winter survival kit if you find yourself stuck or stranded in severe winter weather conditions. Created by the North Dakota State University Extension Service, it will help you find your current location, call 911, notify your friends and family, calculate how long you can run your engine to keep warm and stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning

⚠️ If You Do Get Stranded

Follow these safety rules from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if you are stopped or stalled in wintry weather:

  • Stay with your car and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Put bright markers on the antenna or windows and keep the interior dome light turned on.
  • To avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t run your car for long periods of time with the windows up or in an enclosed space. If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow and run it only sporadically — just long enough to stay warm.

No one can foresee every winter travel emergency, but if you follow these suggestions you’ll be better prepared to face whatever winter throws your way while driving.

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