Running out of gas on a country road without reception. Getting stuck in traffic while trying to evacuate before a hurricane hits. There are plenty of anxiety-inducing situations where you could get stuck in a car for hours or days on end. However, many motorists are unprepared for even the most basic car troubles.
Today, I’m going to share helpful advice for what to do if you're in your car when disaster strikes. Specifically, I’ll share three common situations such as running out of gas while in a remote area and getting stuck in evacuation lines.
But first things first--no matter what the specific situation may be, you’ll need to have a supply of emergency equipment stored in your car. Read on to discover what to order and store in advance...
Supplies for Your Car Bug-Out Bag
If you’re stocked up on the essentials at home--great. But the preparation shouldn’t stop there. In addition to stocking up on preparedness supplies at home, you’ll want to have a bug-out bag stored in your car. In it, make sure you have the following essentials:
- Jumper cables
- Up-to-date maps
- Emergency flares
- Flat tire inflation canister (nonexplosive)
- Spare car fuses
- No-spill gas can (2-5 gal.)
- Waterproof poncho
- First aid kit
- Small, foldable shovel
- Extra blankets
- Roll of duct tape
- Spare tire and batteries
- Battery-operated radio
- Manual can opener
- Paper and pen
- Solar-powered cell phone charger
- Bottled water
- Nonperishable food supply
Situation #1: Running out of gas in rural areas
Sometimes, despite the best-laid plans, things line up and disaster strikes at the worst moment possible. One of these situations may be running out of gas while traveling in a rural or remote area. Oftentimes, these areas also lack cell phone reception--adding further complication to an already dire situation.
In general, it’s good to practice the principle of never letting your tank dip below the halfway mark. This will prove to be beneficial in a wide range of circumstances. For example, hundreds of people who attempted to evacuate before Hurricane Rita became stranded because they had nearly empty fuel tanks.
Amber VanHecke learned this lesson the hard way when she became stranded in the middle of nowhere in Arizona without gas, cell service, or navigation. As ABC News reported, Amber spent 119 hours stranded on the outskirts of a cattle ranch, and almost gave up. She waved at a helicopter that flew overhead, but without flares, wasn’t able to get its attention. A former Girl Scout and ROTC cadet, Amber brought enough food and water to ration for several days.
She finally decided to walk towards Flagstaff Mountain in the distance, where she knew there were cell towers. After calling 911 over 70 times, she finally got a signal. Ultimately, the Arizona Department of Public Safety was able to locate and find her via helicopter and with the help of a note she left next to her car.
Additionally, to avoid running out of gas on a long road trip, download an app on your phone to locate gas stations along your route. Unfortunately, things happen, and everything can change in an instant. If you do find yourself stranded, utilize the items in your emergency bag and exercise common sense.
Situation #2: Getting caught in a winter storm
Driving during a winter storm is treacherous but, at times, unavoidable. Visibility plummets, roads become slippery and impassable, and your car may simply stop working. Lauren Weinberg experienced this situation firsthand when her Toyota Corolla was stuck in the snow for 10 days in, yet again, Arizona. As ABC News shared, “Weinberg had last been seen leaving her mother's house in Phoenix on the night of Dec. 11. She drove four hours toward Arizona's Mogollon Rim when a gate blocked her from traveling any farther. It was when she attempted to turn her car around that she became stuck.” Lauren survived on candy bars and melted snow for water. Her cell phone battery was, unfortunately, dead, which could have been recharged if she had a Solar PowerBank Charger.
Eventually, she was discovered by park rangers and transported to safety. According to the sheriff department’s spokesperson Gerry Blair, "When people are stranded like that, if they leave their vehicle and try to walk out, the mortality rate goes up. The survival rate is much higher when people stay with their vehicle. We are thankful that she was with her vehicle when we found her.”
Additionally, staying warm is a huge priority when stranded in the snow and freezing temperatures. That’s why items like an Emergency Blanket, Hand Warmers (for a 72-hour period, plan on stocking at least 15 hand warmers per person), and other methods for retaining heat are of the utmost importance to include in your emergency supply. However, carbon monoxide poisoning is a real threat in these kinds of circumstances, so keep the following in mind:
- If you use candles or any other open flame inside a car, keep a window cracked for ventilation.
- If you keep the car heater on, make sure that the car’s exhaust does not become clogged with snow.
Situation #3: Getting stuck in evacuation lines
If your area receives an evacuation warning or order, the longer you wait to evacuate, the higher your risk is of getting stuck in traffic and facing emergency conditions on the road. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to ensure that your gas tank never drops below a half tank, and I also recommend investing in a fuel-efficient vehicle.
Whether you’re evacuating before a hurricane or wildfire, there are several things to keep in mind, including…
- Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes in case you need to abandon your vehicle or evacuate by foot. Even attaching a bicycle to your vehicle can be a huge help in the long run.
- Have a backup route in mind in case the main evacuation route becomes blocked. If you are evacuating during a wildfire in the area and see smoke, turn around and head in the opposite direction. As the Washington Post shares, “Roll up your windows, turn on the AC to recirculate, and close or block air vents when trying to evacuate from a fire, as the smoke can irritate the eyes and respiratory system. Drive slowly with headlights and hazard lights on.”
- In the case of a flood, plan for a vertical evacuation. It’s safer to evacuate to a higher floor than it is to try to evacuate over nonelevated roads.
Again, at the end of the day, planning for worst-case scenarios in advance can make all the difference, whether that means evacuating as soon as possible, or stocking your car with the correct emergency gear.
Take all of this advice into account when planning for the future, and you and your family members will be more likely to survive.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply