How to Keep From Freezing to Death in Your Car

Nearly freezing to death is terrible!

Here’s how it happens.

It’s a beautiful day. The snow is falling, and you’re feeling fabulous. You and your family are racing comfortably down the highway to your parent’s house for Christmas. The heat is blasting — the mood idyllic. Your mind begins to wander. Old memories occupy your thoughts. Everything is perfect.

And then, snap! You’re jolted back to reality as a large deer magically appears right in front of your vehicle. You react, but it’s already too late.

When everything comes to a stop, you are well off the highway and stuck in the snow.

You immediately realize this could be a dangerous situation, maybe even life threatening. What do you do? How do your survive? How do you keep from freezing to death in your car?

1. Stay Hydrated

Even though it’s crazy cold outside, it’s still important to stay hydrated. When the temperatures drop and winds increase, the air becomes drier, meaning our bodies aren’t getting as much moisture.

In this situation, as in any, drinking water is essential.

Water you say? What if I am not prepared for that and didn’t bring any?

Well, you should always carry water. I recommend the Datrex Water Packets.

However, if you don’t take heed and find yourself stuck without water, snow is an excellent alternative. Here are some factors to consider.

Snow is cold, and your core body temperature is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The two don’t mix very well. So melt the snow to take the freezing factor out — the warmer the water, the better. Hot Water can be just as hard on the body as cold water. Your body uses just as much energy to cool down the water as it does to heat it up.

All right, enough about water. Let’s talk about warmth. Staying warm is crucial. Getting too cold can impair rational decision-making, and that could cost you your life.

Here are some tips:

2. Stay in the car unless you see a building nearby.

While it might be tempting to try to walk for help, your chances of survival significantly increase when you stay with your vehicle.

3. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear, so you don’t get carbon monoxide buildup inside your vehicle.

4. Keep the car at a moderate temperature.

Temperatures too hot can cause you to sweat. Sweating in cold temperatures is bad because when you sweat, you get wet. Damp skin will cause heat loss and increase the risk of hypothermia.  The object is to stay warm and dry!

5. Turn the car off periodically to conserve gas.

When you don’t know how long it’s going to be before help arrives, rationing gas is crucial.

6. Exercise.

Do push-ups on the back seat, or sit-ups to warm yourself and the temperature inside the vehicle. Avoid getting out as much as possible. Every time you open the door heat escapes.

7. Make sure your car is visible to other people.

Use your hazard lights, flares, and caution cones or triangles. Anything that draws attention is important and worth a shot. Remember three short bursts then three long bursts, then three short (· · · – – – · · ·) is the International Morse code distress signal.

8. Stay active and don’t panic.

An active mind is open to creative thinking and improvisation.

9. Prepare a survival kit now!

Lastly, while all of the things listed above will help you survive the cold, nothing can replace having a well-prepared vehicle survival kit. If you need help making a vehicle kit, please read our article titled, “How to Build the Ultimate Survival Kit: with Checklist.

  • Show Comments

  • Linda S

    Hey, Stephen, I’m in Mountain Home; we’re practically neighbors! It’s been the right weather for sharpening winter survival skills around here. Do you have a mylar blanket? I keep extra socks & old shoes in the car as well in case I get my feet wet. Nice article.

    • Stephen Roehrig

      Hello Linda
      Thanks for reading. It most definitely has been the right weather to sharpen winter survival skills. And to answer your question, yes I do. I have several mylar blankets. They are probably the most affordable, life saving tool out there. I also carry wool socks and a thermal shirt, and more. All of it is listed in the article on the vehicle survival kit.

  • Padre

    Two other points that I think you are missing. If you are going to stay inside the car 1) heat less space by creating a thermal pocket inside your car (like you might inside a home). Blankets, jackets, cardboard can all serve to segregate unsed areas of your car and insulate the area you are in. If the situation is long term (more than a few hours to a day) consider staying with the car not in it… and 2) don’t be afraid to canibalize your car. Car’s aren’t designed to be great shelters, they are thermally very inefficient, and without a running engine will become very cold. However, a car contains everything you need to get a decent shelter and fire going if you are willing to canibalize the car. In a life and death situation normalacy bias may prompt you to baby your ride… don’t its just a thing, it can be replaced, your life can’t! Don’t hesitate to rip up seats for upostry for insulation, spike your gas tank to get access to fuel, or rip up wiring for cordage.

    • Stephen Roehrig

      Hello Padre, thank you so much for commenting. I would strongly agree with the points you made about cannabalizing your car! Your car can be replaced but your life cannot.

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