by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor
You’ve no doubt seen the pictures or perhaps checked out all those social media posts. You know the ones; Jeeps barreling through snow or charging over an icy, slushy trail obstacle. Maybe you’ve even felt the call yourself when those first flakes fell. Here comes that snow, they scream. Here comes another bout of cold weather. Time to fire up that Jeep and go out to play.
Whether all this means an afternoon of driving through said snow for many of you, or some weekend time at your favorite off-road area—even if it is merely getting back and forth to work—the winter months present conditions that are quite fun and unique to your choice of four-wheel-drive vehicle.
But just because that Jeep is pretty much able to go anywhere in these conditions doesn’t mean it always will. Accidents, mechanical failures, tire issues, or trail mishaps all can happen at any time no matter how closely you stick to an oil change schedule, rotate your tires, or check those brakes. And cold weather conditions can just make things worse if you are unprepared.
That’s why carrying some kind of emergency kit inside your Jeep while traveling makes sense. Just in case. We’re not talking basic common sense stuff like blankets, ice scrapers, phone chargers, bottled water, food or extra clothes either, as those should really be part of your everyday driving safety gear. Nor are we talking modification parts as we’ve already covered some good ones in our Eight Essential Jeep Parts For Winter article.
No, we mean building up that winter emergency kit with 10 highly recommended emergency items designed to help get you back on the road or trail, or even just to provide assistance or communication in the event you are stranded somewhere.
So let’s take a look.
Wipers and Washer Fluid
How many of you grab your keys, head right out to your Jeep, climb in and drive away? Well if that description fits your routine then you may want to pause next time and take a quick look under that hood before venturing out. How does your washer fluid level look? A little low? What about those windshield wipers?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that winter conditions can do a number on your driving visibility, especially in those areas prone to a bit more moisture during the season. Road salt mixes with snow or melted ice and sprays up your windshield almost everyday, and the more you use your wipers and wiper fluid, the more you wear away at those blades and drain that washer reservoir. So making sure you have a spare bottle of washer fluid included in your Jeep winter emergency kit, as well as a good set of wipers, will allow you to maintain that visibility no matter what you face during the season.
Like nearly everything else on or under your Jeep, winter temperatures can also mess with the vehicle’s battery. And when it falters, you may think the straight-out cold weather is to blame when in reality winter is actually the ‘closer’. Something that finishes off the job that warmer summer months did on the battery. Among other things, hot weather tends to accelerate corrosion in your battery over time, which can act as an insulator and reduce current flow while also damaging the battery's interior. Heat also causes the liquid inside the battery to evaporate which can weaken its charge. Then, when winter comes around, those colder temperatures mean the battery has to work that much harder to start. On average, a battery loses about 35 percent of its strength when the temperature falls to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 percent after the temperature hits 0 degrees F.
So battery failure is common during winter months. But a good set of jumper cables is a smart way to make sure you aren’t stranded somewhere for long. After all, you will most likely either be able to find a friend or Good Samaritan faster than waiting for Triple-A. Even if you know your battery is on its last legs, using jumper cables to get going will help you make it home where you can make arrangements to change out that battery.
We recommend utilizing a set of cables at least 20’ in length as you really can never predict how your Jeep will end up should the battery fail, and you may really need that extra cable length if the corresponding vehicle can’t get that close.
This is definitely a common sense item that should be a year-round staple inside the vehicle, but is often forgotten when building a winter-type emergency kit. That’s because it can be easy to overlook if you are just a daytime driver, or weekend trail junkie. However, a durable, well-powered flashlight can be helpful at any time because you won't always have perfect light conditions when you are changing a tire or peering inside that engine bay.
Now we’re not talking about some little keychain light or one of those weak-beamed dollar store versions, but a solid LED flashlight with a good lumen count behind it. That’s right, LED. These generally last longer than incandescent versions and still retain plenty of power even if the batteries are fading. Even still, it is always a good idea to pack away a few spare batteries as well.
Drive or trail ride long enough in snowy, nasty weather and odds are you will eventually have some type of traction issue causing you to spin your tires. Yes four-wheel-drive is helpful, but often those wheels can dig themselves into a spot where you are not getting out on your own. Which is why a good set of traction ramps in your winter emergency kit makes sense. Unlike sand or cat litter, which can mix up in the snow and lose effectiveness as you try to escape, you can use traction ramps to help dig into the obstruction, and then lay them down so your tires find the purchase they need.
We don’t need to tell you that winter driving conditions can change in an instant. So can life on the trail. One minute you are cruising along fine, and the next you’ve slid off the road or sideways into a ditch. Things happen. But good things happen to those who are prepared. That means having good recovery products as part of your winter emergency kit. These items can include protective gloves, tow straps, D-rings, snatch blocks and tree truck protector. Most, or all, of these items will be packaged inside inclusive recovery kits that also provide a handy storage bag so everything isn’t strewn all over your vehicle’s cargo area. These items won’t help stop you when snow or ice bump you off the trail. But they certainly can help get your rig moving again after something happens.
First Aid Kit
There are no guarantees a winter accident, no matter how minor, will keep you or other riders free from injury. Or that your trail repairs will go off without cuts and bruises. So when something like that happens, then making sure you’ve packed a good, basic first aid kit can help ensure small injuries don’t turn into something a bit more major.
An inclusive first aid kit should involve items like ice packs, gauze pads, alcohol wipes, bandages, first-aid tape, tongue depressors, vinyl gloves, antiseptic wipes, scissors and tweezers—all grouped together inside an easily accessible storage bag so you aren’t looking here or there for what you need. Also helpful would be an instruction kit providing basic first aid tips for anyone who may be performing the treatment.
Tire Repair Products
It should go without saying, but your Jeep’s tires are the only link it has to the road or trail. When that link is broken or damaged—when stuff like nails or other road debris gets sucked up and implanted in your tires—then a flat (at best) or an accident (at worse) can happen.
Additionally, vehicles with severe low tire air pressure will see reduced gas mileage and are at a greater risk for other issues like tread separation because of added heat from road friction. See, winter temperatures can change dramatically day-to-day and when that happens, tires can lose around 1 psi per 10 degrees. This pressure loss can add up quickly and cause those issues if not addressed.
So to help provide peace of mind when driving, you can use some good tire safety before you even get into the vehicle during colder winter months. A proactive Jeep walk-around can quickly diagnose potential problems like a flat or low air tire. However, without the proper tools, you won’t really be able to do anything about either. Sure, you can head to the local gas station if your tire is low on air, but that doesn't address the cause. Also, what if the tire is flat? Are you willing to risk rim damage trying to make it to the air filling station?
The best way to handle finding a nail or other debris in your tire is to have a solid tire repair kit handy. Add in a battery powered air compressor and you have the perfect solution to plug the issue, as well as airing back up to the proper pressure. Most tire repair kits give you a tool to remove the offending debris, a reamer to bore into the tire and clean up the hole, and then an insertion needle and rubber repair cords to seal up the area.
Sometimes though, you can't avoid changing out a tire after it is damaged. It could be a bent rim causing the problem or a sidewall issue on the tire that is not fixable, and when in doubt it is always wise to swap to your spare. For that to happen, you also need a high strength jack and lug wrench included in your winter Jeep emergency kit. Carrying a larger jack like the Hi-Lift series or ARB Jack is definitely important if you have added a lift kit or larger tires, as the factory jack may not have enough reach. And then, of course, you won't be able to remove that tire, or the spare, without a lug wrench.
No doubt you’ve often heard that having the right tool for a job is imperative. If you haven’t, then you should know many small issues can be solved before becoming larger ones, by having the correct tool when needed. Perhaps it is to secure a bumper or hitch that has somehow come loose. Or maybe it is something inside the engine bay like a cooling issue, or battery, that needs to be addressed. Even something that happened on the trail like a busted driveline part. Winter maintenance troubles can happen at any time which is why having a decent tool set is perfect for your winter emergency kit. You don't have to be a master mechanic to utilize these things either, as any fixes do not need to be permanent; just something adequate to get you back to the trailhead, or home and out of the elements, so you can more adequately correct the problem.
So choosing something like a 125- or 256-piece tool kit can ensure you have exactly what you need—when you need it. Now, these kits will not include stuff like air tools or other high-powered accessories, but will offer good, solid items such as wrenches, torx bits and sockets that can take on most situations. Additionally, supplementing that kit with accessories like a trail shovel and knife or axe, will give you the ability to dig or cut your way out of trouble, thus allowing an easier recovery following a trail mishap.
Employing a dry powder fire extinguisher in your Jeep winter emergency kit may seem somewhat unnecessary because, after all, how many times has your vehicle actually caught fire? And if it does, well, you have a cell phone to call for help, right? Maybe. But think about this; if a small fire did start inside your vehicle, would you be able to safely get everyone out before the fire spreads? Having a fire extinguisher handy may not be able to totally save your Jeep, but it could be enough to keep the fire from spreading while everyone inside the vehicle gets free.
Truth is, you can’t predict when or where a vehicle fire may occur so carrying an extinguisher in your winter emergency essentials kit just makes sense. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 20 percent of all reported fires are vehicle fires and most initially start because of electrical or mechanical issues. Winter months only increase that risk because these cold months can be especially tough on the vehicle’s components and electrical system.
A good fire extinguisher doesn’t just have to be for your needs, either. Having one readily available could assist another driver who encounters trouble—perhaps someone on your way to work, or even in your trail group during a weekend ride. You can even bring it along to your campsite to provide peace of mind around the campfire.
Keep in mind, fire extinguishers that work well for vehicles are generally smaller than ones you would find in a home or business, and can range in size from one to five pounds. So don't go and try to get something too large or expensive for your needs. For most, a 2.5-pound fire extinguisher is a good size to carry. Also, because your vehicle has the potential for many different types of fires—oil, electrical, gas, and an array of other potentially flammable substances—your extinguisher needs to be able to handle all of these situations. And dry powder extinguishes tend to work best as they will usually do the least amount of damage to the vehicle while extinguishing a fire; especially if it is in the engine.
In any emergency situation, whether you are broken down on the highway or dealing with some sort of trail issue, communication is crucial to getting things resolved. Especially if that crisis is something you are unable to quickly remedy yourself. And while cell phones are the primary communication source these days, they are not the most reliable.
Cell phones require a signal and battery strength to effectively work, which can present a problem during winter months if your phone dies, or when weather affects the signal. Additionally, if you are on a trail ride, you may find yourself out of signal range for that phone. Which is why a CB Radio makes a great compliment for your winter emergency essentials kit. In fact, CB radios have become even more cost efficient over the years and many off-road organizations either require, or seriously recommend, their use for any sanctioned off-road event.
These radios can be wired to your vehicle’s battery and hooked up to an antenna, all so you can effectively communicate with anyone nearby who also has a CB—usually in a 2-5 mile radius. If that fails, CB channel nine is dedicated just for law enforcement and roadside assistance which means help can only be a button push away.