Stranded In My Car. What’s Next?

Well, that sucks. Hopefully, a friend is on the way or your insurance company has free towing. Not Self-Reliant enough for you? Fine! Let’s take this from a more extreme position (because it’s what we do) and let’s assume you can’t call for help or fix the problem with what you have prepared in the vehicle. In other words, you need to survive until you are rescued. Here are some tips and tricks to help you make it.

  1. Open your front hood – This signals a vehicle in distress and not just someone who is pulling over because they can’t wait until the next rest stop.
  2. Put a red flag on your antenna – This is a second way to signal that things are not well. If you don’t have red then use another color. If you have an American Flag, hanging it upside down is a signal of distress. I would normally not fly it that way, but let’s focus on staying alive here. My truck doesn’t really have an antenna so I would need to put the red flag I use when I haul lumber home that sticks out the back and attach it to a trekking pole I have then shove that into one of the holes in the top of my truck bed. That should do the trick! Be creative.
  3. Use your flares – We put them in there for a reason. Light them up and let’s get some attention.
  4. Stay Awake – When you are awake and moving you metabolize at a higher rate which creates more heat. If you are not alone, then you can take turns sleeping for an hour each. Don’t fall asleep! Your temperature will drop and your ability to flag help will also drop to zero.
  5. Keep Moving – Blood flowing will help move the heat you have in your core to your extremities which will ward off frostbite. It also will help you stay awake.
  6. Don’t leave the vehicle – Unless you can see where you need to be and it is less than 100 Yards (Meters) away, don’t get out except to repair the vehicle, raise the hood, or plant the flag. The more time you spend outside of the vehicle the lower your chances of survival will be. Most people who die of exposure to the elements, left shelter to find help.
  7. Huddle – If you are not alone, and not close friends with your passenger – you are about to be. Huddling together takes the parts of your body that were leaking heat and presses them against another heat source which removes the heat leak from that side. It basically protects the inward-facing portion of your bodies from reducing temperature so each of you can last about twice as long together. Yes, skin contact would save even more heat but not if you are losing the layering system that you have in place. Plus, if you don’t make it there are going to be a lot of questions and even more stories when they find you like that.
  8. Wrap up – Whether you are by your self or as a group, find anything that you can wrap yourself in as an insulation layer. This is the moment that the mylar space blanket everyone joked about you having in your glovebox is going to save your life.  Use blankets or even removable mats from the car. Anything you can put on top of you to retain heat is worth piling on.
  9. Check the tailpipe – Before you start the vehicle for any duration of time, make sure the tailpipe is clear of ice and snow. Blocking the exhaust will only redirect the CO somewhere else which could be back in the cabin if there is a leak. Don’t die of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning trying to not freeze.
  10. Run the vehicle, just not all the time – Don’t leave the vehicle running for a few reasons. First, you don’t want to run out of fuel and have no heat source. It only takes about 10 minutes of run time to heat the car to a pretty balmy temperature. Of course, you’re going to want to put the heat as hot as it gets so that you get the maximum heat for the fuel you are consuming. Don’t make it too hot or you will start to sweat and that will ruin your insulation. I would plan to run the engine for 10 minutes with a small crack in a window to let oxygen circulate. Then seal it up and for the rest of the hour. You should be able to keep your car at a reasonable temperature for a sustained amount of time depending on if you remembered to never let the fuel get below half.
  11. Don’t eat the snow – The snow is cold and you are fighting the more imperative of the “rules of 3”. A person left in the elements can last for about 3 hours and you can survive 3 days without water. Keep your priorities straight.

Stay smart. Stay warm. Reduce risk. Just be a good person. Those are the keys to living through winter weather.

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