December 27, 2012
by Tim MacWelch
During a winter storm is the worst time to get stranded in your vehicle. It’s also the most likely time you could be stuck in your car for a few days.
The ice storms, deep frozen slush, and thick snow that would bog down a perfectly functional vehicle can create some dangerous survival conditions inside the vehicle, and deadly conditions outside if you were to try to walk for help without the right gear and clothing.
Unless your ride is on fire or about to slide off a cliff, you should always stay with the car or truck in a stranded winter survival situation. The vehicle provides shelter and a bigger target for searchers to find. So how do you get by for a day or two or more until help arrives?
Here are some important things to consider before and during a stranded vehicle scenario.
Don’t Drive Around Empty Handed
Your vehicle should be stocked up for emergencies, especially in the winter. Shelter items, spare clothes, first aid, food and water should be plentiful in your vehicle, along with jumper cables, road flares, starter fluid, and some quality hand tools.
Don’t Use Up Your Gas All At Once
As long as your exhaust pipe is clear, you can run the engine periodically to run the heater for warmth. But even with a full tank, you’ll only have a few precious hours to idle the engine for heat. Run the vehicle for no more than 20 minutes at a time, with the heat running as high as you can get it. Try to hold off as many hours as you can between periods of running the engine.
Be Obnoxious With Your Signaling While The Engine Runs
The battery alone will only honk the horn and flash the lights so many times before it runs out of juice. But while the vehicle is idling, you can honk the horn and flash the lights as much as you like. The engine is providing the power, not the battery.
Insulation is the key to keeping warm in any situation. All of the metal in a vehicle will make it hard to keep it heated in cold weather. So rather than trying to heat the whole cab with your body heat, insulate your body with any material you have. Ideally, you would have a good sleeping bag for each seat in the vehicle, or at least a few blankets. Failing that, try wrapping up in clothes, outerwear, or even the carpeting ripped from the vehicle.
Car Cooking And Heating?
If you have food that you would like to warm up, pop the hood and place the food securely by the exhaust manifold. I’ve heard of a guy who had enough engine compartment space that he was able to weld a small Dutch oven to his engine block. He’d clamp down the lid to keep the food secure and away he’d go. A two-hour drive would cook a pot roast to perfection. Building on the concept of portable heat, you can turn rocks and bricks into space heaters that could be brought into the vehicle. First, you need to set up a heat-proof platform in the vehicle’s cab. Try tearing out the floor carpet to get down to the metal. A platform of bricks or rocks in the floor board will work, too. Then, get some rocks from a dry location, or maybe a few bricks if you have some in the vehicle. Next, you can build a fire outside of the vehicle, and throw the rocks or bricks in the fire to heat them up. Heat them for about 30 minutes in the fire and then scoop them out with a shovel or any other tool you have. Dust all the coals and sparks off of the bricks or rocks, and carefully set them on your fire-proof, heat-proof platform. Repeat as needed every few hours.
Tell us in the comments how you’ve ridden out a storm in your vehicle, and what you typically carry.