Breaking down a breakdown

If your car breaks down while driving in winter and you don’t have a rescue plan, it’s already too late.

Laura Ell, an instructor in Mount Royal University’s Faculty of Health and Physical Education, knows first-hand about being stranded on the side of the road.

Ell was stranded for two hours when she was a young adult and now carries an emergency winter kit in her husband’s vehicle because of the incident. 

“I was stuck. We had to wait for AMA,” said Ell.

A small emergency kit can be the difference between waiting for help in relative comfort, or fighting to maintain heat, which in colder weather becomes a matter of survival.

It’s best to have an emergency kit that covers all the bases and gives maximum utility until rescue comes.  Relying only on a cellphone for rescue is not an option. 

The Government of Canada website recommends that every vehicle store  these basic roadside assistance items: sand, antifreeze, towrope, jumper cables, warning lights and road flares.

Lukas Gesell, an International Student Report Specialist at SAIT, doesn’t have anything other than jumper cables in his vehicle.

Gesell said that calling family members is his emergency plan during the winter.

Gesell is aware that survival kits don’t need to cost more than $40 and expressed a desire to acquire one.

A good winter survival kit should be crafted with the elements in mind, to maximize heat retention and to prepare a stranded individual when waiting for rescue. 

Non-perishable food, water, an alternative source of heat, blankets, extra winter clothing, and a means of attracting attention are all vital in stranded situations. 

None of these items should break the bank, and all of them are important if stranded in an emergency situation.

For food, chocolate or energy bars will last the longest without spoiling and provide a good source of calorie dense food to keep energy up until help arrives.

Water should be stored in plastic containers that won’t break in the cold, and needs to be cycled out every six months. 

Your blanket should be one that traps as much heat as possible, and also a bright colour to use to attract attention if need be. 

A hand-cranked flashlight should be included in the kit to provide light in case the car battery is inoperable or to signal for help at night.

If the car has gone into the ditch with its tail pipe in the snow or if it is suspected that the tail pipe is blocked, do not run the vehicle for heat. Instead, light candles in a fireproof container. This combined with blankets and extra winter clothing will allow the vehicle to retain enough heat and avoid frostbite or worse. 

However, the best breakdown strategy is to recognize an imminent breakdown before it happens.

Before traveling any distance, and especially if you are traveling on a highway, top the vehicle up with fuel and make sure it has plenty of fluids. If traveling late at night or long distances, make a check-in plan with someone you trust. This will ensure that someone knows where you are.

If the vehicle starts acting differently or if dash lights come on, find the nearest safe place to pull over and try to correct the issues before continuing.

If the vehicle starts to have a major fault, always prioritize safety when pulling over. Put on your hazard lights and pull over to the right.

Do not exit the vehicle unless it is absolutely necessary and always exit through the side of the vehicle furthest away from traffic. 

Avoid flagging down passing vehicles unless it is absolutely necessary. They may not see you until it is too late. Instead, phone roadside assistance and try to make your vehicle as visible as possible. 

Safety is the number one priority during a breakdown and with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to become a disaster. 

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