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Stay with your car if you have winter trouble in a snowstorm or on the road

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There's an old cliché in the public safety field that says that in snow, ice or other winter trouble, it pays to stay with your car and not go wandering about where you are likely to run into trouble.

Numerous blizzards, snowstorms, ice storms and the like have confirmed that this is more than a cliché. Indeed, just this past Tuesday, a group of six – two adults, their children and two other family members – proved just how true it is as it saved their lives in the Nevada bush country.

Don't bail out

For those who don't choose to stay with their vehicles only heartache can follow, notes www.rgj.com's Jeff DeLong and the Associated Press, twice in the last 12 months people have left the relative safety of their stranded vehicles and have paid the ultimate price.

For example, just a year ago, according to www.rgj.com, Paula Lund of Gardenville, Colo., was found alive and a bit disoriented walking down a road near her stranded vehicle a week after she and her boyfriend Rod Clifton became stranded in California's bush country in Alpine County when their vehicle was stranded sound of Lake Tahoe. After spending nearly a week stranded, Lund was found walking while Clifton, who had headed out earlier was found dead nearby.

And, notes www.rgj.com's DeLong and the Associated Press, just last March, James Klemovich, 76, of Colorado was found alive and well after spending 10 days stranded in the bush in Nevada's Pershing County, awaiting rescue. His passenger and partner on the trip, Laszlo Szabo, 75, was found dead about a-mile-and-a-half from the vehicle. He had ventured out several days earlier in horrendous weather to find a cellphone signal and it had cost him his life.

Survival chances increase

These two incidents illustrate that what the safety experts at the National Safety Council and the American Automobile Assn say is true: If you have trouble in the snow with your car stay with the vehicle and your chances of survival rise geometrically.

This is exactly what happened for James Glanton and his girlfriend Christina McIntee, their two children, a niece and a nephew. They were doing some back country touring in what appears to have been a Jeep Wrangler that rolled down a slope stranding them. They left last Sunday on their outing and they were rescued on Tuesday at the site of the rollover near Lovelock, Nev.

With four young children in the party, Glanton and McIntee apparently made the right decision – remain with the Jeep until help arrived. That was their key decision and lifesaver, wilderness survival experts and responders, noted to www.rgj.com's DeLong and the AP. The six were found cold, but safe, after spending two nights in brutal cold where temperatures dipped as low as minus 16 degrees.

Wilderness survival expert Peter Kummerfelt, who has worked with the Air Force and Nevada Department of Wildlife, noted to www.rgj.com and the AP, that they were “in trouble...It was a function of staying alive until they were found.” He noted that every hour that passed made things more critical.

Novel way to stay warm

When the rescue party found the six they found that those stranded did something a bit novel to stay warm. The usual advice is start the engine for a little while with the windows cracked, turn on the heater and keep heat in the vehicle that way. Since the Jeep had rolled no on knew if the engine would have turned over, so they did something unique, to say the least.

According to www.rjg.com's DeLong and the AP, they took the tires off the Jeep and burned them amongst rocks and then took the rocks into the Jeep's cab where things were warmed and they could await rescue. They also rationed the food they were carrying with them until they were rescued.

Kummerfelt and others interviewed by DeLong and the AP, noted that the key to this was staying with the car. As noted, those who didn't paid a high price.

This fits nicely with some information provided by the National Safety Council and American Automobile Assn (AAA), both of which, in the past have provided similar advice.

AAA goes even further at its website (www.aaa.com) when it advises motorists not only to remain with their vehicles during snowstorms or ice storms, but also to make sure they have a box of what can only be called “trunk treasures,” packed away, just in case trouble happens.

"Trunk treasures"

That box should contain the following equipment:

  • A blanket or blanket for extra warmth

  • A heavy winter coat or coats for warmth

  • Litter box sand for traction in a spinout

  • A starter box or jumper cables

  • Some dried food, such as trail mix which provides high energy and protein

  • A set of snow tracks, in case you can drive out of a drift

  • A collapsible shovel (military or heavy duty)

  • A basic toolkit containing a variety of screwdrivers, wrenches, spare fuses and the like

  • Spare cash because ATMs are scarce if you roll into a ditch

  • Proper footwear and/or extra snow-proof clothing

  • A cellphone and charger or, possibly, and FRS radio, available just about everywhere

This is the basic set of “trunk treasures,” the AAA has noted in the past. It is listed on their national website and on your local club website.

Long time advice

Various safety spokesmen have also spoken with the author of this column and have further advice. (Ed. Note: the author of this column, Marc Stern, has more than 30 years of experience as an automotive writer and columnist and has explored this topic as part of his ongoing safety campaign throughout his career.)

That advice includes:

  • Always ensuring that your car's gas tank is at least half-full at this time of year.

  • Ensuring that your car's battery is in good shape with a pre-winter stress test of early winter check.

  • Ensuring all the fluids tanks are full and that the various hoses and clamps under the hood are in good shape.

  • Paying close attention to any flashing lights on the vehicle's dash before a storm and ensuring they are fixed.

Sound tips

If you do run into trouble the best safety tips include:

  • Remaining with your car as noted.

  • Keeping the car warm by running the engine every hour or so to ensure the engine heats through and the heater cores also generate heat.

  • Using the blanket or jackets, if needed for extra warmth.

  • Clearing the area around your car's tailpipe (for a good distance so the wind can blow through the hole) to carry any fatal fumes away from the passenger compartment.

  • Cracking the windows to make sure there's a supply of fresh air in the vehicle.

  • Digging trenches around your car's wheels, if you skid into a snowbank so that you can use the kitty sand (perhaps the best traction aid out there) and moving your car, if the storm breaks and you can).

The best thing you can do, note the experts, is remain with your car and help will get there.

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