I hope everyone is enjoying the Winter Survival series! If you need to catch up, here are the links for Part 1,  Part 2, and Part 3. In this article, I want to talk about survival vehicle prep – or why you should prepare your vehicle for the winter weather ahead.

You don’t have to be extreme and build a “hardcore SHTF survival vehicle”, but if you have to commute during the winter season, you need to make sure your car/truck is up to the task. In Part 4 of the Winter Survival series, I’m going to go over some maintenance tips, as well as some things to keep in your ride for some common roadside problems. In the 5th and final installment of the series, I’ll go over some actual gear and design a basic Get Home Bag in case you get stuck for a while, or decide to get home on foot.

Automotive Maintenance for Cold Weather

Tires

Good winter weather tires are going to be the most important thing you can invest in. If you live in an area that gets a regular amount of snowfall, it’s a necessity. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4×4 or AWD truck or SUV, you still need appropriate tires. Snow tires are pretty cheaply priced these days, so it’s not too expensive to switch over to a set for the season. There are also some nice “run-flat” tires available with sufficient winter season tread, if you’re looking for that extra peace of mind.

Engine Maintenance

If you live in a cold climate, check your owners manual or ask a local auto parts store for the recommended oil weights according to temperature. Most manufacturers recommend running a thinner oil in cold temperatures. Thinner viscosity oils provide easier starting in cold weather, which means less strain on your battery.

Speaking of batteries, make sure you get yours tested and see if it’s still under warranty. Extreme cold can really affect the life span of a battery, and you see a much higher failure rate during the cold season.

You also need to test your antifreeze and inspect the cooling system. Now is a great time to flush the coolant and run a cleaning agent through to get rid of any rust or contaminants. Also, consider the temperature range of your thermostat. A lot of folks like to switch to a higher temperature thermostat in the winter, to ensure the heating system performs the best it can. Top everything off with coolant mixed to the proper ratio for your climate and you’re good to go.

If you have a gasoline engine, it’s also a good idea to run a bottle of fuel-line antifreeze (such as Heet) every time you fill-up in the winter. If you have a diesel engine, you should run an anti-gel product when you fill-up. Fuel qualities seem to be sketchy these days, and it’s really easy for freeze-ups or gelling to occur in cold temperatures.

Visibility

Make sure your windshield wipers and headlights are up to the task this winter.  It may be a good time to upgrade your headlight bulbs to something better for night driving.  Replacing your wiper blades with a quality model that’s made for snow/ice is also a good idea.  Also make sure to add in a washer fluid that has a thawing agent for melting ice on the windshield.

What to Pack for Possible Emergencies

You need make sure you keep some emergency items in your car/truck. You don’t have a survival vehicle if it isn’t equipped accordingly.

I discussed some shelter and clothing options in Part 1 – but in this article, I’m only going to be talking about tools and roadside emergency items. I’ll go in to more detail on survival gear in the next post. Below is a list of items you need to have in your vehicle to get you through some common problems.

I think it’s extremely important to know some basic mechanical knowledge if you drive a car. Please learn how to fix and/or change a tire and check the fluid levels. If you’re not a mechanical kind of person, get a AAA card, and hope you have cell service and they’re not too busy.

Here’s a list of some items to consider, given your skill level:

  • Proper jack and lug wrench (Most of the factory equipped jacks in vehicles are junk. Get a decent 2-ton trolley jack like this Torin or a pump jack like this one if you have a truck. Also, get a decent 4 way like this Powerbuilt. They’re cheap and provide a lot more leverage than the mediocre cast factory wrenches.)
  • At least one can of Fix-A-Flat (Get the right size can for your application.)
  • Tire Plug Kit (Get one and learn how to plug tires. Combined with a small 12 volt air compressor, you could be back on the road in 10 minutes)
  • Jumper cables (Good ones, not 10-guage Dollar Store cables. Here’s a link to some quality 2-gauge cables that will last for years. )
  • 12-volt powered air compressor (This Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Compressor is a super good deal. Viair is a great company, they’ve been in the game for years.)
  • Basic hand tools (Get a basic mechanics set for the common fastener sizes used on your vehicle. I personally carry a Stanley 201-Piece Set in my truck. You can get sets that are as basic or elaborate as you want. Just get what you can afford. Harbor Freight is a great option if you’re on a budget.)
  • Duct Tape (Can be used to fix coolant hoses in a pinch, among the various other uses. It’s should be a staple item in any kit.)
  • Good quality knife/multi-tool (Hopefully you’ll have one or both of these in your GHB. If not, leave one in the glove box. You can always use a cutting tool)
  • Baling wire (So many good uses. I’ve seen people use it to band-aid broken tie-rods on the trail)
  • Folding Shovel (Pack one of these in every vehicle. I recommend the SOG Specialty Knives F08-N Entrenching Tool. They’re well built, fold very compactly, and they’re only around $10.  No brainer)
  • Scrap Wood (May sound crazy to some, but you can use scrap pieces of wood under the tires to help gain traction. Also, a 2 ft x 3 ft piece of plywood can be very helpful when jacking up a vehicle in the snow.  It spreads out the weight distribution and keeps the jack from sinking.)
  • Flares (If you get stuck or you have to change a flat on a dark road, and it’s not a SHTF situation, you need to make sure you can be found. LED emergency flares like these from Wagan, are insanely bright and can fit anywhere in the car)
  • Food and Water (I’ll go in to more detailed food/water preps in Part 5, but you should definitely pack some food and water, in case you have to stay a while. I always recommend meal replacement bars for the vehicle.  These 3600 Calorie Food Bars are perfect! They’re super cheap, have a 5 year shelf life, they’re packed full of calories, and you don’t have to prepare them. Also, make sure to keep a gallon of water packed in however you can)

Preparing you vehicle for a survival situation can be just as important as preparing yourself. If you get acquainted with your vehicle, start doing a little of the maintenance yourself, and store some good gear in it – you’ll be able to ride out pretty much anything in it.