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Getting stuck with your car in winter - These 4 survival precautions you should take (+tips)

Stay safe if winter weather traps you in your car. Here are some important survival tips to protect you until help arrives.

from Martin Gebhardt | Survival | no comment yet | reading time 6 Min
Updated on 10 January 2024 15.111 views 100% found this guide helpful
Getting stuck with your car in winter - These 4 survival precautions you should take (+tips)

Martin Gebhardt

From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.

👉 The key facts from this guide

  • In winter, a car can offer protection, space, and warmth if you're properly prepared.
  • Important survival gear to have in the car includes warm clothing, food, water, a shovel, and sources of heat like small heaters or blankets.
  • If you're driving in winter conditions, make sure to inform someone of your route and estimated arrival time.
  • If you get stuck in the snow, stay in the car to protect yourself and keep warm.
  • To signal for help, use headlights, hazard lights, and reflective vests.
  • It's significant to avoid overexertion and conserve resources until help arrives.

In winter, being stranded or snowed in at a remote location might seem like a worst-case scenario, but your car can provide shelter, space, and warmth.

With the right preparation, your car can be your savior in times of need.

While being snowed in might seem unlikely in Germany, the strong snowstorm in 2021 caught many unprepared, leading to infrastructure breakdowns.

The effects of climate change also increase the likelihood of encountering such weather events.

If you plan to travel to the Nordic countries, it's essential to prepare for extreme conditions.

In Sweden, a man was snowed in for two months and could only be rescued with a sleeping bag, barely escaping frostbite and starvation.

However, with the proper equipment and preparation, you can avoid or defuse such situations. If you're interested in getting ready for such contingencies, read on.

Heavy snowfall will no longer be uncommon - due to global warming

But why is it getting colder due to global warming?

The warming of the Arctic plays a major role here. Because the disproportionate increase in temperature at the North Pole is also reflected in the weather conditions in Europe.

This leads to a weaker jet stream, resulting in unpredictable weather events.

starker schneefall auf strasse

In addition: The warmer the air is, the more moisture it can absorb. When this air mass now meets the cold air from the Arctic, it leads to precipitation and, in extreme cases, heavy snowfall.

1. Preparation: How to prepare for a survival situation in your car?

Of course, I never wish for you to end up in such a snowy situation where your car breaks down, and you have to wait out a snowstorm.

If you anticipate such a situation, you must prepare yourself!

The first step is to prepare your car accordingly for this situation. Certain things do not take up much space and can therefore be easily stored there.

Depending on the car format, it does not make much difference whether they are lying around in the garage or serve as a precaution in your car.

1. Clothing for all eventualities

  • A pair of woolen socks
  • Durable footwear (ideally waterproof)
  • Warm, waterproof gloves
  • Work gloves (in case you need to do any manual work on the car)
  • Long underwear
  • Cap/hat
  • Raincoat or rain poncho

If you cannot leave your car, warm clothing is essential. Plan for each family member and store the clothing so that you can easily find everything.

kleidung im auto mitnehmen im winter

2. Heat Sources

The more heat sources you have, the better! Store a small heater that is suitable for the interior of a car.

There are small heating devices (like this or this) that can be powered by propane and are safe for use in the car.

Keep some propane cylinders on hand for emergencies. You usually don't need to heat much, as the car has limited space and warms up quickly. Heat is essential in such a situation, as the greatest danger at the beginning is death from hypothermia.

If you have enough gasoline, you can also turn on your engine temporarily and heat that way.

Be sure to keep your exhaust pipe free of mud or snow. If not, gas can enter your car. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the last thing you need now.

Alternatively, there are also instructions for building a survival stove that can be used in the car in an emergency. I know that open fire in the car is not optional, and you have to decide: take the risk of open fire or freeze?

Here is a guide for that.

In an emergency, a candle can also provide warmth. Just secure it properly and keep the oxygen supply going.

If you have blankets that are just lying around anyway, pack them directly into the car and store them there.

The same goes for sleeping bags. As mentioned above, a Swedish man survived only with his sleeping bag in the car.

Read also

The Best Sleeping Bags for Camping and Bushcraft in 2022 – The right sleeping bag is essential for a restful night's sleep. Because those who sleep deeply are full of energy. Find the best sleeping bags now.

3. Food and Water

We've all been there! We leave a drink in the car in the winter, temperatures drop below zero at night, and the tasty beverage turns into an ice block. Not a problem, really – we take the bottle into the house and let it thaw.

In a survival situation, you are dependent on water in the worst case.

Snow is also water, but it cools down your body at the same time. If you're extremely thirsty, you must never eat snow. Warm it up first and turn it into a liquid. I created a guide on this topic specifically. Read it here: Can you really eat snow in survival situations?

kann man schnee essen

In addition, the conditions may not allow you to leave your car. Your water must therefore be stored as frost-resistant as possible.

First, you shouldn't store your water in the trunk, but in the driver's area. You've probably already heated it during the drive, and the conditions are better. You can also wrap your water in a thermal blanket.

About food: Pack a supply box with everything that can withstand the conditions in a car. In the summer, you should only take the box with you if you could potentially get into a dangerous situation. For example, I always pack cookies, cereal bars, rice cakes, and dried sausages.

Well, since I often travel with my two children anyway, there's always food in the car. ;-)

4. Toilet

Your metabolism won't stop in a situation like this, so this need must also be fulfilled.

Usually, it should be possible for you to jump out of the car quickly and do your business. So bring along some plastic bags and toilet paper. For emergencies, I always have a big pack of disposable tissues in the car.

If you happen to be trapped in the car, you can also use a plastic bag. If you're looking for more comfort, there are folding camping toilets, urine bags, or you can use an empty bottle.

All of these options are suboptimal because cars simply don't offer enough space for free movement.

5. Time pass

To avoid boredom, you should have some options for entertainment ready. This may seem secondary at the beginning, but if you're stuck in a car for a long time, you'll thank me later.

A book, an MP3 player or just a piece of paper with a pen can turn your car into a place of comfort and creativity. Provided the first four needs are met.

6. Essential survival equipment

I also recommend that you think about essential survival tools. In my guide" These 11 tools you need to survive in the wilderness" you will find the eleven most important tools.

Below you should have a knife, a map of your surroundings, a compass, and most importantly, methods to start a fire. Additionally, a first aid kit should not be missing, but you probably already have that in your car anyway.

erste hilfe set auto

2. Before you start: Let someone know!

Your car is now equipped, and you are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

To avoid having to use your entire supply, there is one crucial action: Tell someone about your travel plans and give them a time frame in which you will check in.

If you do not check in within the agreed time frame, the person will know that you are in trouble. They can then contact emergency personnel and your chances of being rescued increase significantly.

3. In case of emergency – what to do?

If you find yourself in that situation, remain calm. You are well-prepared, and panic is the last thing that will help you now.

Important: You should definitely stay in your car, even though the temptation is great to seek help.

The car provides protection and shelter. Additionally, in the best-case scenario, all the significant equipment will now be in your car, and you will be well-equipped.

I know that it’s almost unbearable to stay in the car and not be able to do anything – but you must, don’t wander off (unless you know the way, and it’s not far). Most people get lost because they start walking and can’t wait.

To make matters worse, any additional effort you exert will cost you energy and usually cause sweat – which will cool you down. Therefore, avoid too much exertion and pace yourself well.

In winter, the risk of hypothermia is extremely high – especially in a snowstorm
In winter, the risk of hypothermia is extremely high – especially in a snowstorm

4. How to be found quickly

Even though you can make yourself very comfortable with the equipment mentioned above, you want to get home as quickly as possible.

The first attempt to get help should be through your mobile phone. A fully charged battery or a power bank is essential for this. In addition, you have access to maps and other useful apps.

Regardless of whether you have called for help or not, you must make yourself visible to the rescue team.

In a white winter landscape, bright colors are particularly easy to see. Especially off the main roads, you greatly facilitate your search and increase your chances of rescue.

You can place a thermal blanket or a warning vest on your car roof and securely fasten it. Additionally, you can attach colored clothes (that you don't need) to or on your car.

Finally, you can honk the horn and turn your high beams on and off. The prerequisite is that someone sees it. You can try this from time to time.


With a well-equipped car, you have excellent chances to survive even in wintry temperatures for a longer time.

If you have told external persons about your travel plans, you have already done everything right in advance.

A rescue team will surely search for you if you don't report back for a longer time.

Your task now is to attract attention, stay with the car, and remain calm.

Take care, Martin
Sources for the guide

Martin Gebhardt

Author of the guide

Martin Gebhardt

Hey, I'm Martin. On my blog, you will learn the basics and numerous details about living in the wild. I think survival, bushcraft and the good life in nature are the keys to happiness. Find me here on Instagram or on YouTube. You can find more about my mission on the About Me page.

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Free 35 Survival Hacks you'll love!

You will get 35 easy-to-implement survival hacks so that you don't have to stand aimlessly in the forest from tomorrow when things get tough. Take your skills to the next level!