With an initial blast of winter weather earlier this week and more possibly on the way, it’s important to make sure that you have a few safety items with you in your car. What you keep in your trunk could mean the difference between getting to your destination safely and being stuck on the side of a snowy road until help shows up.

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Windshield Washer Fluid – When snow or a wintry mix is in the forecast, our friends at the State Highway Administration do a great job of anticipating conditions, mobilizing trucks, and getting salt on the roads. However, all of that salt and road-spray usually results in a thick, visibility-blocking film on your windshield, which will require you to use your washer fluid much more frequently. Instead of waiting until you’re out of fluid, and trying to see through a salty windshield to get to a gas station (and hoping they haven’t sold out), keep a gallon in the trunk so that you have it when you need it.

Salt – If you get stuck on a slick patch and can’t get traction, having a container of salt can help you get back on your way. Sprinkle some in front and behind each tire, give it a few minutes, and you may be able to get right back on your way.

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Shovels (large and small) – You might want to pick up a cheap snow shovel to keep in your trunk, just in case you need to clear snow out from around your car. In conjunction with salt, a small metal shovel (the kind you might use for camping) can be a helpful tool for getting loose from an icy patch of road. Sprinkle salt in front and behind the tires to loosen the ice, then chip it away with the shovel. This gives your tires a place to grab the road and get out (be careful not to puncture your tire with the shovel).

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Kitty Litter or Sand – In some situations, sprinkling kitty litter or sand around your tires can also work. These abrasive materials will give your tires something to grab onto for traction. In a bind, your car’s floor mat can also work to give your tires traction. Put the rubber side down against the ground, as close to the tire as you can get it, and slowly pull forward. Just make sure not to get stuck again when you go back to get your floor mat.

Snow Gear – If you find yourself stuck…or even worse, stranded…you may want to keep boots, gloves, and a good winter coat in the car. What you wore to work or school that day might not be what you want to wear to try to dig your car out of the snow or walk an extended distance through a storm.

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Food & Blankets – While we don’t typically have large enough snowstorms to leave drivers stranded for long periods, it’s not a bad idea to keep a spare blanket or two in the car as well as some water and emergency food (non-perishable items or snack bars), in case you need to stay in your car overnight.

GAS! – Your car can burn through gas more quickly in the colder weather. Make sure to fill up before the snow hits. If you get stranded and have to shelter in your vehicle, you’ll appreciate having the option to turn your car on periodically to run the heat!

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Emergency Indicators – If visibility is an issue, you should place an emergency triangle or a flare from your emergency kit well behind your car to give approaching drivers a warning to look out for you.

And the most important thing to bring with you for winter weather travel: good judgment. Please be safe. If your car is stuck on a highway or high-traffic area, you may not want to attempt to dig out. The same patch of slick road that stranded your car could easily send another car to the same spot. You don’t want to be chipping away at ice near your tires if there’s a chance another vehicle could lose control and come your way. Our friends at the Maryland Department of Transportation advise you to remain in your car and dial #77 to call for assistance.

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On days when bad weather is a concern, make an extra effort to keep your phone fully charged with enough battery to make an emergency call. There’s nothing worse than being stuck and having a dead cell phone.

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As always, the best bet in dangerous weather is to stay off the roads. Unless it’s an emergency, let the storm pass and the road crews do their work before you venture out.

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