illustration: Jason Schneider

What to Do (and What Not to Do) if Your Car is Stuck in the Snow

By Kellie Davenport

“Don’t ever leave your vehicle—period,” says physiologist and University of Manitoba professor Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht. Known as Professor Popsicle, Giesbrecht is a leading authority on freezing to death. The king of chill has lowered his own body temperature to the threshold of hypothermia a mind-numbing 33 times—all in the name of research.

“Cold, wet and wind are the deadly triad of hypothermia,” he explains. If your car slides into a snowbank, or you run out of gas or break down, do not leave to look for help. First, remain calm and pull off the road, away from traffic. Next, figure out where you are by checking your GPS or identifying nearby landmarks. If you’ve been in an accident or are hurt, call 911. For a tow truck, contact AMA and provide as many location details as possible. Download the AMA Mobile App or keep the number in your cell phone: 1-800-222-4357.

Then, wait it out: “Ninety-five percent of searches are successful within 24 hours,” Giesbrecht says. Stranded drivers tend to think they’ll never be found, but they will. There’s also a tendency to panic about freezing to death within a few hours. “Even at –40 C, you can easily survive 24 hours in your vehicle.” To stay warm, clear your exhaust pipe of snow (to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning) and intermittently run the vehicle for heat. When running the engine, crack a window for ventilation.

Safer winter driving: How to gain confidence on the road in just a few hours

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Before leaving town, ensure you’ve got a full tank of gas, a vehicle in good working order and an emergency kit. Pick up a ready-made kit at your local AMA centre or build your own. Pack a sleeping bag, phone charger, spare parka and boots, warm gloves and food, like chocolate bars. Water, which may freeze, isn’t as important: “You can live without water for three days—longer in the winter,” Giesbrecht says.

Brush up on cold-weather skills with one of AMA’s winter driving classes. Learn more and sign up here!