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Prepared for the winter drive

A car emergency kit can help you out of a tough situation, especially in the winter when roads can be more dangerous. Items to add to the kit include food, tools and cables, winter clothes and a first aid kit. (Republican Eagle photos by Danielle Killey)1 / 3
Keep extra gloves or mittens, scarves, socks and boots in the car for family members.2 / 3
Pack the kit in your trunk on trips, near or far.3 / 3

The holidays are almost here, and millions will be hitting the roads to visit family and friends.

But winter weather also is upon us, which can make those trips a bit harder as vehicles battle snowbanks, blizzards and icy roads.

Whether traveling cross-country or down the street, though, drivers should make sure to have an emergency kit handy, especially in the winter, safety organizations say.

There are many kits available at stores that come with the essentials, such as jumper cables, tire pressure gauges, flashlights, rope and tape. But there are other items drivers might want to add to their trunks as well.

Lists of suggested materials are extensive and can range from a handful of items to piles that might not even fit in the trunk of a car. But there are some suggestions that many agree can help drivers out in a bind.

Here are some ideas, drawn from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the American Red Cross and other organizations, for items to pack in a car emergency kit. Of course, it's not an exclusive list, and each family or driver likely will want personalized items as well.

• A wool blanket, for warmth and/or to use as material

• Rope, bungee cords

• Duct tape, electrical tape

• Jumper cables

• Basic tools (such as screwdriver, wrench), and a knife that can cut through rope, tape and other materials

• A plastic flashlight with extra batteries — to avoid the flashlight accidentally turning on before you need it, flip the batteries the opposite way.

• A shovel – you can buy smaller shovels or those with an extendable handle for the car. Also keep a scraper and brush somewhere accessible in the vehicle.

• A first aid kit – some car kits available at stores include basic first aid materials, but add any personalized items, such as essential medications for family members.

• Snacks – choose items that will last a long time in the car and provide energy, such as granola bars, nuts or canned goods (remember a can opener).

• Winter clothes, including boots, thick socks, scarves, hats and gloves or mittens – also consider packing extra clothing for family members in case outfits get wet or damaged.

• Garbage bags – these can be for trash, or other uses such as keeping feet warm.

• Metal or plastic cups for water

• Whistle, road flares and/or red materials (bandana, ribbon) to alert other drivers or emergency personnel that you need help

• Sand or salt to get traction if the car gets stuck

• Map or atlas – GPS devices and cellphones could lose power.

• Something to keep the family busy, such as playing cards or small, simple games – this will help if you have to wait for a tow truck or other help and don't have much to do.

• If you have young children, pack diapers and other necessities.

Safety officials also recommend some other tips for winter driving to stay safe, including brushing up on how to maneuver on winter roads.

“It pays to review winter driving skills,” State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said. “Road conditions can change very quickly. One poor decision can impact many people on the road.”

Minnesota Department of Public Safety also recommends checking road conditions along your route before piling in the car — try — and making sure cars are ready for winter before the bad weather hits by checking (or having a mechanic check) the heater, defroster, flashing lights, oil levels, tires and air pressure, battery and other essential functions. Keep the gas tank full as well.

DPS also recommends letting someone know where you're going, roughly how long it will take and what your route is so they can check in should something go wrong.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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