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Put Alpo in your winter car emergency kit

Phil Berg
Car Culture

When mom used to harp at us to wear a scarf as we busted out the door in near-zero temperatures, most of the time we stopped listening to the repetitive warnings — regardless that she was right. But it was her job.

These wintry days we all get that same message from every communication method: Internet news, broadcast news, and all of our subscribed social sites. It’s like a thousand mothers shouting.

What they’re all saying is driving in freezing storm conditions, like we have here, is dangerous.

In the past few years we’ve heard these stories: Rita Chretien, 56, was found in a remote part of Nevada in May 2011 after being stranded for seven weeks, her car stuck in the mud. Chretien used a plastic bag to catch rainwater to drink. In December 2011, 23-year-old Lauren Weinberg was stranded on a snowy forest road southeast of Winslow, Arizona, for nine days and survived on two candy bars and a bottle of water.

In 2012, Lynn S. Keelser, 61, survived for a week on peanut butter M&Ms when she took a wrong turn in a rental car and got stuck in an Idaho dairy wastewater pond. Last year, 43-year-old Kristin Hopkins was trapped in her car for six days after it rolled down an embankment about 90 miles away from her Colorado home. She had no water or food and was pinned in the wreckage, until a passer-by spotted the car. She doesn’t remember much of the ordeal.

We’ve all heard what to keep in our cars this winter to mitigate the danger. But I’m adding some tweaks to mom’s scarf warning. There are some things that I’ve found are not on the list from Michigan Department of Transportation. The top five things the MDOT counsels us to do are: Carry a spare tire, cellphone, blanket, water and a flashlight. Yes, mom. They’re almost the same as the suggestions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army, the American Automobile Association, and the Red Cross.

However, here are my emergency kit tips:

A can of dog food. Arctic rescuers have told me that people stranded in their cars tend to eat their emergency human food too soon. You likely won’t eat the Alpo unless you’re truly starving. Once at a party I set out a plate of Liv-A Snaps, and at the end of the night all of the little white crackers were gone, without complaint.

Whistle. Many stranded motorists have been found because someone heard them yelling. Battery-powered radios and flashlights and even cellphones I’ve found to be long shots to keep operating — even if you follow advice to change batteries every year on a notable date, such as your birthday.

Shovel. Carrying kitty litter or sand for traction on ice or snow used to be good advice for old rear-drive cars, but it’s heavy and unbalances today’s cars. Better to carry a shovel and dig up some dirt. It’s also useful to uncover the exhaust pipes of a stuck car.

At least one jumper cable. A rural legend is repeated all across the North about the usefulness of the “Alaskan Jump Start.” That’s where someone with a frozen battery attaches jumper cables to it, and lacking a second car to connect the cables to, clamps the cables together, making a short circuit for 20 seconds. The resulting heat increases battery output.

Ace bandages. These thick elastic support bandages make good insulation, so if you’re freezing, look through your first aid kit.

Plastic garbage bags. When you layer a plastic bag over an absorptive garment, you’ll add to the conservation of heat, say some wilderness survival experts.

The infamous Donner party got stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846, and 39 of the 87 hardy trekkers died, after which some of the deceased actually became dinner for the survivors. To me that’s not so much a nod toward mankind’s drive to survive as it is a great argument to carry dog food.