Preparing a Winter Car Emergency Kit in Canada

Last winter, hundreds of people became stranded in their vehicles overnight on Highway 13 near Montreal, Quebec. They stopped their cars during a snow storm because the road was blocked by a collision, and by the time snowplow and tow trucks arrived on the scene, the vehicles were completely snowed in.

People were trapped for over 12 hours. One man, who was diabetic, had to abandon his vehicle and walk through the middle of the storm when his blood sugar dropped.

No one was seriously hurt, but situations like this are a reminder of how important it is to have a car emergency kit in Canada. Here’s what the Canadian government recommends for a vehicle emergency preparedness kit.

The following items should be inside the vehicle, within the driver’s reach:

  • Food that won’t spoil. Pack enough to fulfill your daily calorie requirements for two days. Protein-rich foods like energy bars, granola bars, jerky, and peanut butter are good choices.
  • 2L of water per person. Go with plastic bottles. Though people are moving away from plastic water bottles, a glass bottle can break if the water freezes. Replace disposable plastic water bottles every few months.
  • Warm clothes, shoes or boots. You never know when you’ll have to go outside and dig out your car. Bring a tall, warm pair of boots you can wear in deep snow, along with a hat, gloves, and snow pants.
  • First aid kit. Check out this guide on travel first aid kits. Pack any medication you need to take daily.
  • Seatbelt cutter. A sharp knife will also do the job, but if you aren’t comfortable with your knife skills or don’t carry a knife with you, at least pack a seatbelt cutter to free yourself in case of an accident.
  • Small shovel. This is essential for digging your vehicle out of thick snow. You don’t want to dig by hand, because your gloves will get soaked and become very cold very fast.
  • Scraper/snowbrush. This is an essential item for any Canadian vehicle. Be aware that the basic wooden scraper/brush breaks easily in extremely cold weather. It’s worth upgrading to a durable plastic model.
  • Wind-up flashlight. The flashlight function on your phone is not bright enough if you need to work in the dark, and it wastes valuable battery life. Buy a wind-up flashlight that doesn’t rely on batteries.
  • Whistle. Self-evident – use it to attract attention in case of emergency.
  • Roadmaps. Once the battery drains, your phone and GPS are useless for navigation. It’s a good idea in any season to keep a map of your local roads handy.

The following items can go in the trunk of the vehicle:

  • Sand, salt, or non-clumping cat litter. Use this to clear away ice and create traction to help get your vehicle out of a slippery spot.
  • Antifreeze and windshield washer fluid
  • Warning light or road flares. Stopping at the side of the road can be dangerous, especially if other drivers can’t see the road well due to heavy snow. Use a light or flare to ensure they see you and attract attention in an emergency.
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Fire extinguisher