Let’s face it: Winter driving isn’t fun. Whether you have to shovel your car out, or you’re marooned on a snowy highway, getting where you need to go may take some extra preparation.
As writers at a Boston-based editorial office, we should know. We’ve all had to slog through the snow for years, which has a nasty tendency to shine a spotlight on every way you weren’t as prepared as you thought you were for a winter commute.
Reviewed staff swears by the following winter safety essentials, which are great whether you’re expecting a single foot of snow or several. These winter driving must-haves are also great gift ideas for those who need to be on the road, no matter the weather.
1. Snow tires keep your wheels on the road
It doesn’t matter that your car has all-wheel drive if those wheels can’t maintain a grip. This is why snow tires are so important—they have a deeper tread pattern that’s designed to improve traction on wet, slippery surfaces.
But, it isn’t just about driving through slop. The tires are also made of a slightly different rubber composition than the all-seasons you probably have on your car right now. This keeps them more pliable at lower temperatures so you can get better handling and grip on the road.
If you’re in an area with very heavy snow, and you’re in the market for snow chains for your tires, we recommend this popular set from Security Chain Company. They have high ratings with thousands of user reviews.
Snow tires and chains can be expensive, but they also help save wear and tear on your all-seasons. Plus, spending a bit on your winter tire set-up can prevent an accident that could cost you significantly more. If you’re a nervous or newer driver, the additional traction just feels great, and it can provide you with ample peace of mind.
Buy Snow Tires at Amazon
There are a few essentials you should always carry in your car, no matter the season: a flashlight in case of a nighttime emergency, a hammer to break safety glass so you can escape if your car starts to submerge in water, and a pressure gauge to check your tires. It’s important to note that tire pressure can really fluctuate in wintertime.
If you’re like us, though, you want to keep your car as clean and uncluttered as possible. This single Roadside Emergency Tool features a safety hammer, LED flashlight, a seatbelt cutter, and a hand-cranking USB charger. We especially like this tool’s ability to cover the basics, as well as charge a dead phone.
However, if you’re looking to build out a more comprehensive winter emergency car kit, read this round-up of all the emergency essentials.
Get the 7-in-1 Emergency Tool Kit at Amazon for $26.99
3. A snow brush and ice scraper keeps your vision clear
The Mallory brush is an office favorite that can tackle everything from a smaller car to a gigantic SUV. Its foam grip is thick and easy to handle, the scraper is strong and won’t shatter, and the brush is wide enough to get snow off the roof, too. The combination of its low price, sturdy build, and easy-to-use design is probably why it’s a bestseller on Amazon.
Another popular option is the conical Magical Ice Scrapers, which is a smaller, hand-held option that lacks a brush. The cone-shaped scraper won’t scratch your car or scuff your new paint job.
If you do have a tall SUV and need something a bit longer, we like the popular Snow MOOver Extendable Snow Brush, which combines a foam grip with a telescoping handle to help you reach the snow that’s piled high on top of your vehicle. Invest in this, keep your roof clear, and you’ll never find yourself dealing with a windshield-covering avalanche the next time you stop at an intersection.
4. Windshield washer fluid cleans off the mess
Before the bad weather starts to hit, double-check to make sure your windshield fluid levels are full. You don’t want to get stuck without fluid after your windshield is covered in salty, icy muck—not to mention refilling the tank while it’s sleeting outside is less than ideal. Finding de-icer for your car in a pinch can also be difficult, as most convenience stores tend to jack up the prices in the middle of a storm.
We recommend investing in some concentrated fluid, because one bottle of concentrate can make up to 55 gallons. That means you’ll always have some on hand, without having to sacrifice 55 gallons worth of storage space.
Get 2010 Windshield Washer Fluid Concentrate at Amazon for $18.96
5. A portable shovel saves you when you have to dig deep
Nobody likes coming outside from a long series of errands to find their car buried under an unexpected snowfall. This is where a shovel can come in handy, either for digging yourself out or helping to create a pathway back to your front door once you’ve made it home.
Our pick for best snow shovel (yes, we’ve done some testing) is the Forest Hill Homeowner Aluminum Scoop Shovel. Its shorter handle makes it easy to fit inside your trunk, and its well-balanced design makes it easy to use. This shovel is on the expensive side, but it’s also a great all-around option. You can use it for yard work, too, when the season changes.
Get the Forest Hill Homeowner Aluminum Scoop Shovel at Amazon for $64.99
6. A blanket keeps you warm
During New England’s Blizzard of 1978, roads shut down due to rapid accumulation of snow and ice. Until rescue vehicles could reach them, drivers had to stay in their cars, even as temperatures fell. With today’s technology, it’s much easier to signal for help, but it will still take emergency services time to reach you, especially if it’s a widespread storm.
For these scenarios, although rare, you should stock a warm blanket in your car. Mylar blankets are insulating, inexpensive, and easy to store, making it a no-brainer inclusion in any emergency preparedness kit.
Get Mylar Blanket 2-pack at Amazon for $5
7. A car seat cover keeps babies warm
In the same vein as above, parents want to be able to keep their children warm, especially when they’re littlest. In the even that you are stranded in your car, or even when driving on a really cold day and you’re not sure the car’s heater reaches the back seat, a car seat cover not only provides your baby with extra warmth in their car seat, it’s also flexible enough to switch over to their stroller once you’ve arrived at your destination.
Get the JJ Cole Car Seat Cover at Amazon for $29.99
8. Emergency recovery traction ramps get you on your way
Shovels can’t always dig you out of a jam. If the snow is really deep and packed, or you’re parked on a layer of ice, traction ramps are a trump card for getting your car back on the road. Just push the flat side as far under your stuck tire as it can go, and push the jagged edge into the snow and ice below. Now, when your wheel spins, it will make contact with the ramp’s hard metal surface instead of slippery ice—which is just enough traction to get your car moving in no time.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.