If your hometown’s familiar with extreme winter weather, you know how important it is to be prepared. And while nothing beats a cozy cardigan, replete with jolly snowmen and frolicking reindeer, having a winter car kit can come pretty darn close if you ever find yourself stranded between the middle of nowhere and the boondocks on a frigid December night. While your auto insurance may cover accidents during the colder months, make sure you’re prepared for whatever else winter throws your way

With that in mind, we compiled a list of the top 11 winter must-haves for your car.

  1. Chains. You never know when you may need them, and having them with you could mean the difference between winding up stranded or not.
  2. Jumper cables. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your car and make it difficult to start. Keeping jumper cables on hand is always a good idea and could help you avoid an unpleasant or potentially dangerous situation.
  3. Cat litter. Sure it may seem weird to lug kitty litter around all winter, but if you get stuck, pouring a little around your tires can create the traction you need to get unstuck. (Tip: the non-clumping kind works best.)
  4. Shovel. Duh.
  5. Basic tool kit. Pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench, pocketknife, duct tape, rope. You don’t have to be MacGyver to make use of a few handy tools, and your ingenuity may surprise you in extreme circumstances.
  6. Flashlight. Winter days are short, so make sure you’re prepared once the sun goes down. (And don’t forget extra batteries!)
  7. Warm clothes. If you’ve been out in the snow and ice trying to free your vehicle, you’ll likely be wet and freezing. Keep a change of clothes, including socks, gloves, hat, and boots as well as a blanket or sleeping bag. If you have to wait it out in your vehicle, at least you won’t have to do it as a human popsicle.
  8. Food and water. In colder temps, the body can last longer without water, but nevertheless, it’s still highly recommended that you include water as an essential part of your winter car kit. You should also include nuts, energy bars, or high-protein snacks. (And why not throw in a bag of your favorite candy while you’re at it.)
  9. First aid kit. Keep a fully stocked kit and an extra supply of any additional medications you need. It’s also a good idea to know what’s in your first aid kit and how to use it. (Just saying).
  10. AM/FM radio. (Battery-powered.) In addition to hits from the ’20s and ’30s, you can find traffic reports and emergency messages on your AM dial. A radio is especially useful if you’re driving through an area where your smartphone doesn’t have service. (Bonus tip: Local maps could come in pretty darn handy as well.)
  11. Kafka. Ok, of course it doesn’t have to be Kafka, but we recommend keeping a good book in the car, in case you have to hunker down and wait it out. Just because your car’s stuck doesn’t mean your mind can’t escape.

Just as important as having an adequately stocked winter car kit, is making sure all maintenance is performed on your vehicle before cold temps hit. Get a full tune-up, winterize your car, and for crying out loud, remember to keep a full tank of gas!

Other helpful winter tips

Safe and smart | Travel hacks


about Heidi

Heidi brings 11 years’ experience to her role as Esurance’s copywriting manager. Writer, editor, and all around wordsy, she was content when content wasn’t cool. Also, she likes old-school country.