Let’s say you’re stuck somewhere for the night. Is it better to stay inside your vehicle or take your in-care gear bag and hustle out of there? Much of this choice depends on your own level of training, the gear you have, and the particular situation you’re in.

Being in a car gives a sense of security, because you’re protected from the elements and have some comfort. But . . . there can be detrimental reasons why you would not want to stay in your vehicle.

The vehicle could become a trap. If you’re surrounded by a mob, you might not have a way to get out.

If there’s a broken window, the car will let in the cold outside air. Can you patch up that broken window with a piece of cardboard or an emergency blanket?

The car holds in the cold. Cars don’t hold in heat, so not staying warm is a real concern. If you’re out of the car, you can possibly gather wood and use your fire starter to make a sheltering fire.

The vehicle is conductive metal. It’s a myth that the rubber tires on a car protect a vehicle from lightning strikes. A fully enclosed metal vehicle is safe, as long as you’re not touching any part of the metal frame in the event that there is a lightning strike–this means no touching door and window handles, steering wheels, gear shifts, etc. In order for this to be effective, the windows must be closed. Vehicles can still be damaged by a strike.

Close off part of the space. An emergency blanket doesn’t take up much space and they’re cheap. Get a few extra a keep them in the car. You can use these to close off the back or front of your car’s space to make it easier to stay warm. Plus, you might have extra people in your car (kid’s birthday party? or whatever) and you’ll need more than one blanket just for yourself.

If you have to vacate your vehicle, is your gear accessible? Get your bag out of the trunk and keep it nearby. Ahead of time, sort through whatever’s in there and make sure you know what’s in there and how to use it.

Think through scenarios. Based on where you live and the weather, think through what might happen and what you need. If it’s rainy or hot, think about those things and prepare for them. If you have to cross bridges to get home, think about what you might do if you can’t use the bridge. Thinking things through helps your brain to be more able to maintain when there really is an emergency.

We recently learned that a Texas woman got stranded in a remote part of Arizona after she ran out of gas during a solo trip to the Grand Canyon. We didn’t hear about this case until after the show about this woman’s rescue aired on 20/20 in March. But it is an interesting example of many survival scenarios coming together along with something we’ve written about before . . . surviving in the desert. (Read: Seven Rules of Desert Survival). How did this young woman do? Let’s check it out.

Amber VanHecke is 24 years old and was stranded for five days. When I was 24 I would have had no idea how to survive,  having given emergency preparation zero thought back then, so she probably automatically did better than I would have at her age. A mishap with Google Maps caused her to go way off track in the Havasupai Reservation and consequently she ran out of gas. You can watch a short, minute-long video of her 20/20 appearance on this Dallas News.com page.


She prepared for the possibility of being stranded. She had extra food and water with her, including high energy foods like almonds, pumpkin seeds, Goldfish and dried fruit. And she ate only enough to keep from starving. She said her stash of food could have lasted her 18 days. She cooked ramen noodles by leaving them on the dashboard of the car.

She built a HELP sign out of rocks. She noticed that planes occasionally flew overhead. I’m not sure whether her sign was large enough to be visible from the planes, but it couldn’t have hurt.

She parked her car by a man-made structure. This increased the chances that someone would come by the structure, and it provided some shade. Unfortunately, though, this structure blocked the view of her car by the one truck that drove by.

She left a note in her vehicle explaining where she had gone when she left the car. She left the vehicle and hiked an estimated 11 miles to make a 911 call. The call dropped before her location could be pinpointed, but rescuers were able to zero in on an area where they started looking. They found her car, but it was empty. They went down the road the note indicated and found her.


She turned onto a road that didn’t exist. People are leaving nasty comments online about this decision and we admit that this as not a smart choice. After going so far on the initial Google Maps directions and then finding out that there was not a road where it was telling her to turn, that should have been her warning that she was not in the right place. The post she put on her Facebook page about the incident says that she thought the road may have washed away, so she turned anyway thinking she would encounter the road shortly. Instead, she came to a fence with no road in sight. At this point she had also lost her GPS.She backtracked then and found the road she was supposed to be on, but by then was out of gas. If your directions are telling you to turn and there’s no road where it’s telling you to turn, take this as a sign that you are doing something wrong.


  • Approximately 80 percent of people who get lost are day hikers who did not plan for emergency situations.
  • Before you go out on a trip, tell someone your planned route. If you get off course like this, chances are you will be in an area close enough to your planned route that someone will have some idea of where to look for you.
  • If you’re in the desert, or truly, anywhere where there is harsh summer weather, always take extra water. You can’t survive without water and you may use all of your physical reserves looking for it.
  • Carry an emergency blanket. In the desert, temperatures drop wildly at night and rise high during the day.
  • Bring sunscreen and protective clothing such as hats and long sleeves.
  • Bring something to signal with, like a mirror, whistle or something brightly colored.
  • Carry a first-aid kit with basic supplies.
  • Rest. Conserve your energy as much as you can.
  • Keep a positive mental attitude. Keep something in your pack or car, like a deck of cards at a minimum, that can help you pass some time.
  • Keep a notebook and pen in your car so you can leave notes, as Amber did.

Image from Associated Press showing the positioning of Amber Van Hecke’s car by the silo and her HELP sign made of rocks.

Here in the Pacific Northwest Spring is just around the corner. We keep getting glimpses of the sun but not a whole day of sunshine yet. Around here, as soon as the weather warms up people hit the road. When Northwesterners aren’t snowboarding or skiing, they’re at the ocean, hiking, fishing, camping or on a lake.

All of those summertime outdoor activities mean we’re spending a lot of time in our cars, taking road trips. You should have some supplies in your car at all times, but summertime preparation requires a slightly different approach than winter.

In my car (and in my teenage daughter’s car), I have a bug-out bag with a crank flashlight, a few of these emergency food ration bars, reflective blanket, multi-tool, glassbreaker, hand warmers, rain poncho, knife, firestarter, whistle, paracord and basic stuff like that.

I also keep a hooded warm sweatshirt in the car, along with an old pair of yoga pants, a pair of cowboy boots and a good pair of socks. These are just always in there. My worry is that I will be stuck at work when there’s an emergency and I’m a half an hour’s drive away from home. I may need to walk home. While I wear sensible clothes and shoes to work on a daily basis, sometimes I wear clothes or shoes that I would not want to have to walk 30 miles in. This way, I know that I can switch out my work sandals for a good pair of work boots and hike home if I need to. Gloves wouldn’t be a bad idea, now that I think about it, but I’m less worried about that in summertime.

Basic first aid kit
My own car first aid kit could be better, honestly. I’m going to work on this over the summer and get better prepared. Have basic first aid kit items at all times, like gauze, tape, bandages, antiseptic and the like. Depending on your geographic region, you may definitely want to add anti-venom kit for rattlesnake bites or an epi-pen if you’re allergic to stinging insects.

Choose foods that can take the heat of being packed up in a close-up car in full sun. Many food items wilt. Some things that do stand up to summertime heat are nuts and seeds and nut butters in foil packs. Jerky, Dried fruit. Boxed crackers. Don’t choose anything like granola bars with chocolate chips, as these will melt and turn your bars into a huge mess.

This really is key. You can try some of our hacks to collect water that will work even in the desert, if you need to, but there’s also plenty of room in your car for a gallon of water. If you’re worried about kids and pets and other people who might be with you, then add a gallon of water for each person you’re going out with.

Gallons of water can take up a lot of room. If you’re space is at a premium, choose the boxed water which will stack more easily and fit in a supply box.

Plan for your good ol’ animal friends. It’s probably a dog you’re concerned about, so pack some high energy foods for them. Extra water. A leash and collar, even if you don’t normally keep them on one. If you’re in trouble at night, having a light on your pet could be really nice, so they don’t get lost. I suggest this Dog Brite waterproof lighted dog collar by Stoney-Wold Productions. If your animals become separated from you in the dark, you can find them more easily with a lighted collar.

Things you should consider having in your car:

  • Duct tape
  • Tarp
  • Sheet of plastic (for water collecting)
  • Paracord – even more than you think you need
  • a JIT phone charger/lighter/flashlight  – I recently got one of these and love it! Read my review for how long the flashlight worked when left on continuously. The JIT will give you enough power on your phone to send a text message or make a call, even from a dead battery. It’s small and the charged lighter heats up like a cigarette lighter to give you precious heat to light a fire.
  • A map of your area. Preferably one that is laminated.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Bug repellent – boy, there have been times I was glad I had that old can of Deep Woods Off in the car!
  • Pepper spray
  • Deck of cards
  • Pen and Paper

I know I could come up with 20 more things that would be good ideas to have, but this is really just a general survival kit. We’re not talking about being out in the woods and living from your car for the foreseeable future. In my mind, the things I have in my car are minimal and are designed to get me and whoever I may be with home safely. That’s all starting to sound like kind of a lot. But really, these things don’t take up much room. I have my bag packed in the car, with a jug of water and a couple of sealable plastic bins. All of that gets pushed to the back of the trunk and I really don’t ever think about them being there or not. I still have plenty of room to put other stuff in the trunk like groceries.

What do you think you need in your car emergency box?



Summer heat presents all types of hazards in regards to sensitive items and chemicals that don’t like extreme temperatures. In some scenarios, dangerous items have warnings posted on them because they may burst, explode, or have an otherwise unfavorable affect that can be harmful to people or surroundings. This is especially true when certain items are contained inside a car, where heat is even more prevalent because it can’t escape. Temperatures can rise to 140 degrees or more within an hour-and-a-half.

See why these 10 items are dangerous inside a car on a hot summer day and why it’s best to keep them out when temperatures get over 120-degrees.

1 – Lighters. Lighters are filled with flammable liquid. They aren’t meant to be exposed to extended sunlight or escalating temperatures. If they’re left inside a car on a hot summer day, they can explode and cause damage to the interior by leaving behind particles or burning holes.

2- Pens. These small objects can burst and leave ink all over the car. Cleanup can be a challenge, leaving stains everywhere.

3 – Batteries. Heat can make acid in batteries prone to leaking. If this happens, acid can cause people to have eye, skin, and respiratory infections.

4 – Electronics. Memory cards and lenses on cameras may get ruined if exposed to prolonged heat in a car during the summer. This can be costly for the owner.

5 – Canned carbonated beverage. This is a sneaky one that can be left in a car on a hot summer day without realizing it. This goes for beer as well. Cans can roll under a seat, hide in a trunk, or get lodged under a floor mat. If left inside the vehicle in blistering heat, a canned carbonated beverage can blow up. Since these canned items are compressed to keep air locked inside the container and maintain bubbles in the soda, there is no way for heat to escape.

The metal in the can conducts heat into the liquid inside. A rise in temperature on the outside of the container will also result in a rise of the liquid’s temperature inside. Liquid components expand as heat spikes and that causes undue pressure inside the canned beverage. The car’s motion will shake the soda around, leading it to explode. Not only can this do damage to your car, but it can inflict serious injury on the driver or passenger.

6 – Milk. A closed gallon or half-gallon of milk left exposed to the hot elements in a confined car will cause it to explode. This will leave a horrendous stench and mess that isn’t for the faint of heart.

7 – Wine. Wine shouldn’t be left in heat greater than 78-degrees because it not only changes the composition and complexity of the liquid, but a cork could pop out of it, or the bottle can explode.

8 – Perishable foods. While many of these may not explode, unlike milk, perishable foods should not be left inside a car over an hour in 90-degree heat, according to the USDA. Food can be dangerous to consume after that time.

9 – Hairspray and sunscreen. Women may carry a can of aerosol hairspray in their car, in addition to touch-up with makeup. While cosmetics may get sticky and melt, hairspray is a dangerous item to have inside a car. If temperatures reach above 120 degrees, the pressure inside the container will build-up and explode. It’s not just hairspray, but other aerosol canister products that will explode in a car (WD-40, Fix-A-Flat, etc.).

Sunscreen is useful to have in a car during the hot summer months, but the plastic bottle an quickly heat up and burst, leading to a sticky mess that may never be completely cleaned up.

10 – Explosive medications. Certain medications and supplies are dangerous inside a hot car. Albuterol inhalers, for instance, shouldn’t be in temperatures above 120 degrees or they may burst. Formoterol inhalers have the same impact. Any medication available in an aerosol can may burst as well under these temperatures.

Winter weather can cause flash floods that make roads you thought you knew take on a new, and very deadly, risk.

Trevor Thorlakson, 16, didn’t notice the water until it was too late when he was driving on a rural road in in Gerald, Missouri. He and a friend were crossing a bridge when trouble began.

Trevor said that the creek was about 20 or 30-feet below, so he didn’t think that the water would’ve been over the road. After two straight days of torrential rains, the creek was flooded after water covered part of the bridge. The teen reveals that he didn’t see the water — which was about waist-high — before his car got submerged.

It was a nerve-racking moment, but the teen didn’t panic. Instead, he used smart survival skills in order to get himself and his friend out of the harrowing situation. He said that he and his friend stayed in the car as it floated. Eventually it stopped. The two managed to call 911.

Rescue crews found the pair clinging to the top of the car. They reached the teens by boat; both were uninjured.

His harrowing survival story should wake drivers up to the dangers of bridges and quickly rising creeks or rivers. The swift current makes these waterways unpredictable.Take note of weather conditions before getting on the road and tell someone what route you’ll be taking.

If you find yourself in a submerged car, don’t panic. In this scenario the car floated along with the current but every situation will be different. Attempt to get to the highest point possible and use a flashlight or bright clothing to remain visible to rescue personnel.

If you’re not sure about the depth of the flooded roadway, don’t try to test it. Water can move quickly and depth can be unpredictable. It’s tempting to speed through it, but it could end up causing you much more trouble than it’s worth.

Don’t get stranded out in the cold. Winter is here. The cold winds and snow are beautiful but deadly if you’re not prepared. Here’s how to get ready for anything Old Man Winter can throw at you.

The two main places people are at the most are in their homes or cars. You must have the right tools at your disposal in the event of a winter weather emergency. The worst can happen when you least expect it.

Ride out Winter Storms at Home
One of the biggest survival tips is having enough food and supplies. Winter is the time of year to always be prepared in case of a blizzard, ice storm, or other turbulent storms that sweep through.

Be certain to have fully charged cell phones in case electricity goes out. Have functioning chargers and a good stock of batteries on-hand for flashlights and radios. Don’t forget to have smoke detectors in good working order as well. Be certain there’s plenty of water around and that you have an emergency heating source. Lastly, it’s smart to have a fire extinguisher at home.

Prepare Your Car for Treacherous Roads
When traveling in your car, you never know when a winter emergency will arise. Sometimes things will be going along just fine until a rapid cold front changes everything in the way of a weather pattern. This makes roads treacherous and unpredictable. If something happens, you’re in the middle of nowhere and on your own. Depending on help isn’t the way to think in a dire situation. This is where self-preservation must kick in.

Having a fully charged cell phone is one of the top survival tips when going out. Call friends and give them an estimated time of arrival so someone has an idea as to when they should hunt you up if you don’t show up when expected. Have a full tank of gas and emergency fuel with you.

Other winter survival tips for cars is to have warm blankets and extra food and water. In case you’re stranded, you want to be cover up and not go hungry.

Preparing for emergencies is what winter survival tips are all about. These valuable tools may save your life.

When Carrie Mattingly lost control of her SUV on an icy road, she and her daughter went headlong into a nearby pond. The Washington state residents crashed through a fence and had precious seconds to get out with their lives. Continue reading “How to Escape a Sinking Car” »

In an emergency situation, every possible route to survival must be considered. A car or truck can play a huge role in protecting you and your loved ones. Prepare for anything by planning ahead. Maps, weapons, and survival tools should all have a place in your ride. Keep survival  in mind when you’re ready to make a vehicle purchase, too.

What to Consider in a Vehicle
If you force the wrong vehicle to perform certain maneuvers you might just make the situation more dangerous. For example, large trucks with very little weight in the back or tall vehicles like Jeeps are not built to take turns and corners quickly. They have a high risk of flipping over. They are best for off-road and bad weather situations.

  • A car that is powerful and easy to handle is the best option for evasive driving. A reliable and well-constructed car can be a friend in desperate circumstances. An automatic transmission can allow the driver to concentrate more on the road, but a manual transmission can give you more power if used properly.
  • Four-wheel drive is great for off-road, snow, or muddy conditions, but really slows down the vehicle’s potential speed out on the open road. For some more complex evasive maneuvers and negotiating tight corners, a rear-wheel drive is the most reliable option.

How to Prepare Your Vehicle for Emergency Driving
It is very important to keep your car in good condition so that, if disaster strikes, you can be sure it will perform. Does your car have all it needs?

  • Keep the car’s tires in good condition. Evasive driving requires strong tires for tight turns and ugly road conditions. Keep a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle. You can lower your air pressure a little to increase grip in snowy or heavy dirt environments.
  • Brakes, battery, and headlights should all be in good working order. Oil levels and radiator condition should be checked and maintained. Keep at least half of a tank of gas in the car at all times to cut down on your need to stop and fill up when time is short.
  • Protect yourself from thieves. Add a locking gas cap if possible. Items like gasoline become very precious during emergencies because they are a limited resource.
  • Add a CB Radio or Police Scanner. These items are always in use by law enforcement, so you can use them to either find help or avoid possible dangerous situations. Keep your scanner tuned to stay informed about emergency situations in your area. A call about a nearby house fire or vehicle accident can help you stay on a route clear of traffic.
  • You may need to use a weapon to disable the tires of a threatening car. Shots from a pistol like a .45 will damage the tires but they will deflate slowly. Use a shotgun with slug ammunition or a rifle to totally disable the tires of a car that poses a threat to you.
  • Add an escape tool to your vehicle’s arsenal. These tools are used by professionals and are safe and reliable. They can feature a blade with which to cut seatbelts as well as a pointed steel head that shatters car windows. Tools like this are crucial if you find yourself in vehicle stuck in water or flipped over on the highway.

Your car or truck can be a safe place during an emergency. Make sure that you have it equipped for any situation. The tools and preparations you make don’t have to cost much, but can end up saving your life.

The evening rush hour and the holidays are the times when you’ll see the most drivers on the road. After a long day at the office, many drivers are feeling tired. When a driver is tired or stressed, they might take it out on others using the road.  If there is a local natural disaster or emergency, roads might be filled with desperate people.

Prepare to keep yourself and your loved ones safe while driving. Evasive driving requires lots of practice. Attend a driving school or hire a professional instructor in order to learn advanced techniques. There are, however, simple strategies that can help to save you in desperate times.

Approaching Vehicle Road Blockades

Sharp and evasive turning techniques like the Bootlegger’s Turn and the Moonshiner’s Turn (or J Turn) will take practice and can take a real toll on your tires. A Bootlegger’s Turn requires high speed, a sharp turn of the steering wheel, and a hard pull of the parking break. This will totally turn a forward driving car completely around, allowing you to speed away. A Moonshiner’s Turn is the same, but the driver starts off backing away from the threat in reverse, then using the technique to turn that car around and speed away. Of course, have an experienced evasive driver help you master these techniques in a place where no other cars or people can be harmed if you don’t nail it.

Drivers don’t always need to avoid a threat on the road. A car is a strong weapon if used correctly. The front and rear ends of a vehicle are the most vulnerable. Aiming at either the rear or front of a single car blocking the road will cause it to spin out of the way. If two cars are blocking the road, the place where the two cars meet is the weakest point. Aim for this area to break the cars apart and get through the blockade.

What to do if You’re Being Followed
A driver may notice that someone is following their every move on the road. In this scenario, it is not wise to get out and confront the other driver. Confrontations that take place outside of your car can put you in significant danger. Maintain as much control of the situation as possible by staying in a locked car or truck. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself in this situation.

  • Keep your speed manageable. Trying to zoom away can cause you to lose control and wreck. That not only makes you more vulnerable, but also puts other innocent drivers in danger. Maintain your current speed and drive responsibly. Making good decisions and staying in one piece is the ultimate goal. Leave the high speed car chases for the movies. If a following car is threatening your safety by ramming or other attacks, keep both hands on the wheel and try to remain calm. In these situations, whoever makes the first serious driving mistake first is the one who takes the impact. An attacker swerving and hitting your car is the most likely to mess up first.
  • Don’t give up. You should stay in your vehicle and keep moving if at all possible. If you must exit your vehicle, drive to a popular location with other people around. Exit your car and find help and cover immediately. If you aren’t in a populated place, drive to the nearest place that provides as much cover as possible. Anything that comes between you and the threat is some kind of protection. Exit your car and try to hide. In either case, exit your vehicle. This forces your pursuer to leave the safety and comfort of their car, too.
  • Turn down small alleyways or streets to see if the other vehicle stays on your tail. If the other vehicle stays with you even through intersections and parking lots, get on the phone with law enforcement if you can to let them know you feel that you are in danger. Let them know as many specifics as possible. Keep track of your approximate location and route so that even when you are feeling stress you can help emergency services locate you.

Get Out of Town Fast
Prepare for evasive driving situations by being familiar with the roads and highways around your location. As with many other survival situations, being prepared ahead of time is the best way to pull off these techniques.

  • If you’re in a new area, take the time to look over a map and learn the location of popular places like large shopping centers, police stations, and hospitals. Drive around to find the quickest route from your home or office to the nearest highway. You can avoid dangerous situations by having a knowledge of the local roads.
  • Keep a road atlas available and have your local areas marked for easy access. Do not rely solely on your cell phone or GPS, they aren’t always reliable in bad weather. Prepare to bug out for emergency evacuations by highlighting the best routes out of town in your atlas ahead of time.

Practice these driving techniques to increase your chances of safety on roadways. Any time a driver feels threatened or desperate, they are a danger to everyone else on the road. Avoid unprepared drivers and other threats by being informed about local roadways and evasive driving techniques.

Your car can be many things: a safe haven from the rain during a storm, your own concert hall when you’re driving by yourself, and what gets you from point A to B. We spend a lot of time in our cars. Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot that can go wrong while we’re in them. Some emergencies you may experience in a vehicle might seem obvious: getting stranded in the snow, an unexpected breakdown, or an accident. But, there are many other events that can either force you into utilizing your vehicle for shelter or disrupt your trip while you’re already driving.

Natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods mean that you and your family might need to evacuate your home. But, what happens if that disaster strikes while you’re driving? Will you have what you need to survive? In the event of an emergency, you may find yourself having to rely on your vehicle for more than just transportation, and that’s why you should be prepared to deal with any situation that may occur.

Prepare Your Vehicle

First things first: make sure that your car is always well maintained and fueled up. In an emergency, you need to trust that your vehicle will get you where you need to go without failing mechanically. Also, keep in mind that in a disaster situation that necessitates evacuation, fuel will quickly become scarce and stopping to gas up takes precious time you could be using to get to safety. Imagine that half a tank is your new empty and never let the level get below that. Get familiar with basic auto repairs and always keep a tool kit in your car. Check your spare tire to make sure it’s properly inflated and learn how to use the jack to change a flat if needed.

Other items you should include:

  • Your vehicle’s repair manual
  • Jumper cables
  • Battery charger
  • Fix-a-flat or other tire sealant
  • Extra motor oil
  • Gas can
  • Flares or a reflective triangle
  • Ice scraper
  • Work gloves


Items Essential For Your Comfort and Survival

Even in the best conditions, car rides can be uncomfortable. During an emergency, you never know how long you’ll be in your vehicle or what conditions you may face outside. While you could bring along everything but the kitchen sink, you should include items you absolutely must have in your car no matter the circumstances.

Tailor your list as needed, but here are a few things that you should keep in your car at all times to ensure your comfort and survival:

  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • High calorie, portable food (MRE’s, protein bars, etc.)
  • Wool blanket
  • Survival knife
  • Drinking water
  • Matches or other fire starter
  • Spare clothes
  • Duct tape
  • Note pad and pen
  • Folding shovel
  • Backpack to carry everything above if you have to leave your vehicle


Your Preparedness Matters

No matter what gear or tools you have, the most important aspect is your own mental preparedness. Staying calm and knowing what to do during an emergency can be the deciding factor in your survival. Take the time to study essential skills and learn about different types of emergencies. Get started today at Shadow Fox.