A Level 1 Event – Stuck In Your Car

You have an accident in a deserted middle-of-nowhere location. How do you survive for possibly several days until help arrives?

You are probably prepared – in your home – for Level 1 events (see our definition of Level 1/2/3 events here).  But what say you are somewhere else – such as, for example, your car, when something occurs, not to much to the region, but to you directly?  How prepared are you for that?

We’ve ourselves several times experienced what might perhaps be a personal Level ¼ or Level ½ event in a vehicle – a short-term event that may be either happily trivial or alarmingly impactful, depending on our state of preparedness and the randomness of various factors such as time of day and weather.

If your vehicle breaks down in an unsafe location, for example, you’re going to have to evacuate the vehicle and wait for assistance in a place of safety.  No big deal, you might say.  But what if it is snowing, with a bitterly cold wind, and what say when you got into your vehicle in your nice warm garage, all you were wearing was a shirt and trousers?  How long are you going to last, standing around outside, in thin trousers and a short-sleeved shirt when the wind chill factor is bringing the temperature down to -20°?

Temperature extremes are probably the biggest thing you need to prepare for and protect against.  And it isn’t just extremes of cold.  Heat can be a concern, too.  Maybe you’re driving in a remote area and your vehicle stalls and won’t restart.  You’re on a road which has maybe one, maybe two cars a day, and let’s say, instead of a blizzard, this time you’re in the desert in 100° heat (massively more in the car due to the ‘hothouse’ effect as the sun shines in the window, and outside the car, you’ve still got the sun bearing straight down on you.  How much water do you have, if you end up out there for a day or two or three before someone comes along and agrees to help?

Or maybe the car runs just fine, but a tire punctured, and your spare is either missing or flat.  Maybe it is something even more frustrating such as not being able to take the nuts off the lugs that secure the wheel to the axle due to a missing tire tool.  The good news is you can shelter inside the car, with the engine running, and you can use the vehicle’s heater or a/c to maintain a comfortable temperature.  The bad news is, you’re burning gas at a rate of 0.5 – 1.0 gallons/hour.  How many gallons of gas do you have with you?

What happens if your car runs off the road, down a cliff, and ends up in a stream at the bottom.  Maybe you have broken a limb, and can’t go far from the vehicle for help.  Will you have warm clothing, and some water and food, to keep you alive and comfortable until rescuers find you?

Another issue/risk is any type of vehicle accident at all that might injure people in your or another car.

Our point is simply this.  We spend large amounts of our lives in our cars, and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong in the car.  These problems aren’t always life threatening, but they sometimes could be, and even if not life threatening, they can certainly be massively inconvenient and mini Level 1 situations for you and anyone else in the car with you.

Checklists of Things to Keep in Your Vehicles

We recommend you should keep the following things in your car at all times to assist you in an emergency :

  • Warm clothing and blankets sufficient for one person more than normally travels in your car
  • Wet weather gear – ponchos, umbrellas
  • Fresh water (a gallon or more), maybe some long life food as well
  • First Aid Kit – the more extensive, the better, ideally in a professional green colored carry bag
  • Fuses (at least three of each type)
  • Spare windshield wipers
  • Everything you need to change a tire
  • Spare engine fluids (anti-freeze, washer fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, engine oil)
  • LED flashlight
  • Car charger for your and other family members’ cell phones
  • Emergency Cash
  • Whistle
  • Knife – perhaps a Swiss Army type multifunction knife
  • Five gallon can of fuel

Beyond these high priority essentials, you might want to add some additional items :

  • Jumper cables
  • Tow strap
  • CB Radio (and external antenna) that will run from car battery or included internal batteries
  • Roadside Flares
  • In-the-air signaling flares
  • Emergency (LED) strobe lights
  • Duct tape
  • Air compressor for tires and tire pressure gauge
  • Fire extinguisher (1A10BC or a 5lb ABC or larger unit)
  • Basic tool kit – assorted screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrenches
  • Gloves, cloths/towels, and wetwipes

Extra Cold Weather Gear

If you are going somewhere cold, you should add some or all of these extra items :

  • Chains/cables
  • Shovel – with a handle that, when extended, can reach at least half way under the vehicle
  • Windshield scraper
  • Gumboots/snow boots
  • Gloves and hats and scarves
  • Spare batteries for flashlights
  • Handwarmers

Extra Remote Location Gear

If you are going somewhere remote, you might want to add extra spare parts such as fan belts, hoses, and more tools such as a complete socket set.  How about some spare headlight bulbs, too?

Ask your car dealer’s repair department what items occasionally (regularly!) fail on your model vehicle, and if they are user replaceable, keep spares of those.  Maybe a service manual would be helpful, too.

If you’ll be spending some time in a remote location, check on the coverage maps for your wireless service provider.  Will there be cell phone coverage where you’ll be?

If it is very marginal, you might want to consider a cell phone repeater/signal booster – Wilson Electronics make the best ones.  Even their entry-level cradle model units (under $100 on Amazon) can make a big difference to the range of your phone.  Don’t get the $10 sticker things you stick on your phone – they do absolutely nothing at all.

Even More Things

Here is a list of additional items to consider for you and your vehicle.  You can decide which might be useful or justifiable based on your vehicles, your travel habits, and your lifestyle.

For example, if you’re a lady often driving in high-heeled shoes, keeping a pair of walking shoes in the car would be a good thing to do; but if you’re a man driving to and from outdoor work sites, you probably have functional shoes on already.

  • Foam tire sealant
  • Traffic cones or triangles
  • Hi-viz jacket
  • Walking shoes
  • Battery powered AM/FM/Weather radio
  • Paper, pens, pencils
  • Paracord – 100ft or more of 550 paracord
  • Signaling mirror
  • List of emergency contacts, numbers, details
  • Self defense items such as pepper spray or firearms
  • Toilet paper and tissues
  • Books, games, cards
  • Tarpaulin
  • Kitty litter – lighter than sand to sprinkle on ice/snow for traction

The Weight Penalty of Emergency Equipment

You might be thinking ‘If I load all of this into my vehicle’s trunk, I’ve added another 100lbs to the deadweight of the car.  That’ll kill my fuel efficiency and engine performance.’

As for engine performance, the chances are your vehicle weighs something over 4000lbs already.  Adding 100 lbs to it is a very small percentage of its total (2.5% in this example) and is the same as adding a young teenager into the car.  The difference in performance will be minimal and almost not noticed.

Fuel efficiency is generally believed to reduce by about 1% – 2% for every 100lbs of load you add (see, for example, this site).  That’s hardly material, either.

So don’t let these concerns prevent you from having a full emergency kit in all your vehicles, all the time.  Chances are it isn’t going to weigh 100lbs anyway!


Unless you live in mid-town Manhattan and never drive off the island, you’ll at times be driving in places which could pose problems to you if your car were to fail or be in an accident.

You should always keep a core of essential items in your car, and augment them any time you are driving somewhere out of the ordinary.  Furthermore, you should regularly check the contents of your emergency kit, replacing things that have been ‘borrowed’ or which have expired.

3 Replies to “A Level 1 Event – Stuck In Your Car”

  1. Rebecca

    I used to travel Snoqualmie Pass (WA) frequently. I carried many of the items that you have listed.

    In the winter I always carried a candle in a can along with matches in a ziploc bag. When the pass closed for accidents or snow removal, I was able to stay warm without running the car engine. I lite the candle with the window slightly down. With the candle and a blanket I was warm waiting for the pass to reopen.

  2. Deb

    I use to live in Colorado and was on my way to work when one of the many blizzards hit…This one turned out to be Denver’s “100 Year Blizzard” the mixture CDOT uses on the roads to melt ice is some sort of greasy hell for a windshield.

    Anyway, after dropping the kids off at daycare and trying to make the 30 minute drive to work (along with everybody else) I managed to run out of wiper fluid in the process and the snow was so piled up already there was no way I could pull over. My options were to drive blind, or slow to stop and end up getting hit.

    The idea just came to me from my high school days working in food service…If Co2 Water can clean a soda spigots and Coke can polish chrome maybe it can get this greasy ice melting mixture off my windshield…. IT WORKED! I drove the last 5 miles or so splashing my sprite out my window onto the windshield and MYSELF but…thankfully I lived to tell the story. LOL.

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