Even with careful planning, some Subaru drivers occasionally find themselves unable to continue driving due to extreme weather. Staying in your vehicle until help arrives needn’t be a life-threatening situation – a little preparation will help keep you safe and sound. Survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt outlines a straightforward plan for weathering an “unexpected night out.”
Anyone who drives faces the possibility of spending an unplanned night in a vehicle.
Bad weather, breakdowns, running out of fuel, and getting stuck are some of the more common reasons why a driver might have to bed down for the night (or perhaps for several nights) until the situation is resolved. A “night out” does not have to be a life-threatening experience, though. Drivers who accept the possibility that the unforeseen may happen are drivers that prepare for the experience. On the other hand, those drivers who deny the possibility of trouble may find themselves fighting for their lives until rescue arrives.
PREPARATION. Assembling a survival kit is the first step. As with any survival kit, the contents should be selected based on your personal needs, the season and the geographic location. (See the following list of recommended equipment.) If you become stranded, you’ll be glad you took the time to put together an emergency kit. In addition to the kit, you should also evaluate the effectiveness of the clothing you are wearing to keep you warm in a cold vehicle. Most people dress to arrive at a destination and not to survive a night out – the reverse would be more appropriate. Dress to survive, not just to arrive!
Don’t forget to provide sufficient supplies for other people you may be traveling with. Preparation also involves ensuring that your vehicle is ready for winter travel. Never set out in stormy conditions without a full tank of gas, a good battery, proper tires, a heater and exhaust system in good working condition, good antifreeze and “common sense.”
YOU’RE STUCK. If you do get trapped by a blizzard or severe snow storm, don’t panic! Stay with your vehicle and use your survival kit. Your vehicle makes a good shelter and an effective signal – don’t leave it. In your vehicle you are warm (warmer than being outside), dry and protected from the weather. Trying to dig the vehicle out or attempting to walk to help can be fatal. Sit tight – let the rescuers come to you! Move all of your equipment and other emergency gear into the passenger compartment.
SHELTERING IN YOUR VEHICLE. While sitting out a storm you must use your resources sparingly – you don’t know how long you’ll be there. While the vehicle will cut the wind and keep you dry, you will need to keep the interior warm. The heat your body produces is insufficient to heat the interior. Sitting in the vehicle, you will become cold quickly, especially your feet. Put on your warmest clothes (socks, hat, gloves, long underwear and additional insulation layers), wrap yourself in blankets or get into a sleeping bag. Sit sideways so you can place your feet on the seat where the foam cushioning will offer insulation from the cold. The foot wells will be the coldest part of the vehicle. Alternatively, place foam padding under your feet to insulate them. Place insulation behind your head so that it does not come in contact with the cold window.
Using a space blanket and duct tape, partition off the back of the vehicle from the front so you only have to warm the part of the vehicle you are occupying. Ways to warm the interior of your vehicle include running the engine for short periods of time. Run the engine about ten minutes each hour (or for shorter periods each half hour) but only after ensuring that the exhaust is not damaged and the tail pipe is clear of snow and other debris. Run the engine on the hour or half-hour – times that coincide with news and weather broadcasts on the radio. Ventilate the vehicle by opening a downwind window approximately 1/2 inch. Carbon monoxide is a real threat to your safety. Do not go to sleep with the engine running. Carbon monoxide poisoning can sneak up on you without warning. Almost 60 percent of the deaths caused by carbon monoxide result from motor vehicle exhaust. It is less risky to use your clothing and other sources of heat to keep yourself warm.
If you have to get out of the vehicle, put on additional windproof clothing, including snow goggles if you have them. Tie a lifeline between yourself and the door handle before moving away from the proximity of the vehicle. In a blizzard, visibility can be as low as 12 inches. The lifeline will guide you back to the vehicle.
Eat right while you wait, don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke! Without enough energy stored in your body you will not have the ability to generate enough heat to keep your body warm. Your emergency kit should include quantities of high-calorie, non-perishable food such as carbohydrate food bars. Keep yourself hydrated. Dehydrated people have great difficulty maintaining their body temperature. Don’t eat snow! It takes body heat to convert snow to liquid. Use your heat sources to melt snow for your drinking water. Don’t smoke – the nicotine in cigarettes reduces blood flow to the skin and extremities and increases the possibilities of frostbite. Don’t drink alcohol, either – alcohol affects judgment. Bad judgment decreases the chances of survival.
GETTING RESCUED. The ability to communicate your distress is critical when calling for rescue. A cellular phone may be your best method of making contact with rescuers. Dial 911 or the number selected by your state to contact law enforcement officials. Citizens Band (CB) and VHF radios may be available. Lacking electronic communication equipment you will have to improvise – tie a flag to your vehicle’s antenna, or have a road flare prepared in the event that an aircraft flies over your area. If weather conditions permit, stamp “SOS” into the snow, and after the snow stops raise the vehicle’s hood. Keep the upper surfaces of your vehicle clear of snow. Remove the rearview mirror and use it to reflect a beam of sunlight to rescuers – either on the ground on in the air. Do whatever you can to draw attention to yourself.
Cellular phone with charger
and winter footwear
Four quart bottles of water
Three dehydrated meals
Other carbohydrate-based foods
Two empty cans (one for melting snow and one for sanitary purposes)
Bag of cat litter
Windshield scraper and brush
Spare personal medications
Tools (including jack and spare tire)
Flashlight and spare batteries
and spare batteries
and/or small stove
tow strap, road flares
Multipurpose tool (Leatherman, etc.)
Blankets or sleeping bags
Ski goggles and gloves
Chemical light sticks
Book to read
25-50 feet of nylon cord
Basic first-aid kit
The first important thing is to have good strong front and rear tow points, ideally these should be of the combination ball / pin type. The minimum basic recovery kit should include
• Hi-Lift Jack: Essential when you get bogged down, most can also be used as winches you will also need to take a solid piece of wood so you can spread the load on soft ground.
• Recovery Rope: This should be longer than those sold in car shops, do to an off road specialist, you can get steel ropes which are stronger but less manageable.
• Strops & Padding: Strops or extra lengths of rope should be cared so that your winch can be attached to trees etc. with out causing excess damage.
• Winch: These can be electric, hydraulic or hand powered. Usually they are mounted on the front bumper. This is great as long as you can find something to winch you out in front of the vehicle. A better all round alternative is a turfer winch these work on a steel cable and are hand operated. The advantages are that they are not fixed to the vehicle so you can use them on the front, back, side (to roll the vehicle back over!) or with the aid of a tree as a crane (lifting engine, trees to form bridges etc), they don't need the engine running or flatten the battery. The only down side is that they are hand operated and slower to set up and use.
• Spade: Obvious!
• Sand Mats: Help you in the soft conditions. There are now some plastic mats available which apparently perform as well as the common metal type. If you opt for the metal type check out the ones that can be used for bridging before you make your choice.