You're stuck, now what?

Created Thursday 05 January 2023

Say you decided to drive and the weather left you stranded. The first thing to do is avoid panicking. The Minnesota HSEM advises people to “keep cool” and contact the authorities to let them know where you’re stuck. A 911 call should do the trick, but many areas have numbers for driver problems, such as Virginia’s 1-800-FOR-ROAD.

While you’re waiting, treat your car as your shelter. It will not only keep you warm but it also makes it easier for rescuers to locate you — so try to stay inside. If you try to dig out your vehicle, don’t overexert yourself (it can trigger a heart attack, according to FEMA and AAA).

The next thing to do is to be visible for other vehicles and rescuers. Here’s where those whistles, bandannas and flares come in. Tie a bright cloth — preferably red — to your antenna or door. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. After the snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate that you need help

Clear the exhaust pipe from any snow, ice or mud to prevent potentially deadly carbon monoxide poisoning while the engine is running. You can also open the window a little for fresh air.

The key in this situation is to conserve fuel as much as possible — you should only run the engine and heater long enough to remove the chill.
Keep warm inside the car

You’re only supposed to run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes each hour, according to FEMA. So how do you prevent hypothermia when the weather is frigid?
Use those blankets and warm clothes: Layer up as much as possible to trap your body heat. If you don’t have blankets or extra clothing, opt for whatever is available to insulate your body — for instance floor mats and paper maps.

Enclose your space: You’ll also want to keep the heat inside your car. To do this, make sure heat is concentrated in a smaller area (think of it as making yourself a little fort). Seal off your space by taping blankets down from the roof to create a wall between yourself and the back seat.

Newspapers will keep you warm: News is handy in these situations. Tape newspaper pages — or magazines or any paper — in the windows to trap your body heat in the car. This can also serve as a barrier against the wind.

Ration your handwarmers: You never know how long you’ll be stuck, so use them strategically. You can put handwarmers in your gloves and pockets or stuff them into your socks and under your hat.