Winter Car Travel: Avoid Frostbite

Are you planning to drive and take a family vacation this winter? 

If you are traveling by car, bus or RV during extremely cold weather, it’s important to equip your vehicle with necessary supplies. Put together a winter survival kit and place the items in your car, truck or RV. Winter survival kit items should be available at a variety of stores and serve several functions. These supplies should include items to keep you warm (and help you avoid frostbite), get your vehicle back on the road (if you are broken down) and help signal assistance (if you are stranded). 

Even if temperatures are not near zero, cold temperatures can still present a danger to you, and frostbite can set in within a matter of minutes. The outside ambient temperature can feel even colder when combined with wind.  You may hear weather reports which discuss the “wind chill factor.”  The Wind Chill Factor is an index that tells us the “feels like” temperature when the outside air temperature is combined with wind speed.  Forty degrees Fahrenheit can feel like anywhere from 34 degrees to 25 degrees depending on the wind speed. That might not sound like much difference, but when you get down to temperatures hovering near zero, the time it takes for frostbite to set in decreases from 30 minutes to 5 minutes. 

Travel Cautiously 
  • Stay alert and listen for travel advisories from the National Weather Service. 
  • Do not travel in low visibility conditions.
  • Carry additional warm clothing appropriately suitable for winter conditions – never rely on a car or other vehicle to provide your heat – it may break down. 
  • Avoid bridges and overpasses if at all possible. Ice forms first in these areas
  • Use tire chains if necessary and carry emergency supplies with you.
Personal Items
Before leaving for your trip, be sure to put together personal supplies in your suitcase such as:
  • Additional warm clothes for each person traveling – pack several layers.
  • Blankets and sleeping bags (large enough to share).
  • A sufficient supply of water. 
  • A first aid kit. 
  • A mobile phone.
Vehicle Items
Pack your vehicle’s trunk with the following supplies:
  • Windshield scraper - NEVER pour water on an iced windshield as it may crack.
  • Booster cables. 
  • Road maps. 
  • Tool kit.
  • Waterproof/strike-anywhere matches and a can to melt snow for water.
  • Paper towels.
  • Tire chains.
  • Tow rope. 
  • Flashlight.
  • Sand bag or cat litter (for increased traction on ice).
  • Compressed air (to repair flat tire).
  • Brightly colored cloth – to tie around the antenna. 

What To Do If You Are Stranded
Health website Helium recommends following the steps below if you are stranded: 
  1. Step 1 – stay in your vehicle.  Get out of your vehicle to do only what is absolutely necessary and do not wander looking for assistance. Use your mobile phone and attempt to call for help. 

  2. Step 2 - Retrieve the emergency items from your trunk and move them into the passenger area. 

  3. Step 3 – Tie the brightly colored cloth around your vehicle’s antenna. This will help others to locate your vehicle.

  4. Step 4 - Put on your extra clothes; wear a hat or wrap your head in an article of clothing. This is the place your body loses most of its heat. Keeping your head warm will help you avoid hypothermia and frostbite.  

  5. Step 5 – If your vehicle is broken down, determine if you can quickly fix the problem. If so,  create a sensible plan to repair the issue and be sure to stay warm and dry.

  6. Step 6 - Run the heater of your car for 10 minutes every hour. Open one window slightly to let air in and make sure snow isn’t blocking the exhaust pipe of your vehicle. 

  7. Step 7 – Huddle with any others traveling with you for warmth.  


US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA)
UStiA is a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.