Being prepared in case of being stuck in your vehicle
In light of the recent havoc caused by the weather on Pennsylvania's Highways where some people were confined to their automobiles for 16 or more hours without food and water- I wonder what an we safely keep in our cars/trucks in case of an emergency situation such as this?
First I will tell you an old truckdriver's trick. A small votive candle when ignited, creates just enough heat to keep the inside of a Kenworth cab above freezing. I used to use two of them in a specially constructed metal tray. NO NEWSPAPERS ANYWHERE NEAR THEM. Now we come to the issue of sleeping bags and tips on keeping warm. United States Special Forces do not use the military issue sleeping bags. They purchase from a company named "Wiggys". Do a google search. Wiggy makes the best sleeping bags I have ever slept in, and you can purchase them ceertified to many degrees below zero. What is even better is that Wiggy is an outdoorsman and publishes a monthly newsletter on their site on the subject of keeping warm in an emergcy. And as one who has spent many a night in the wilderness at subzero temperatures, I can tell you Wiggys newsletters tells you all you want to know. The issue of road flares is controversial. If there are gasoline fumes and you ignite a flare you can cause a catastrophe. The fumes run downhill and can be ignited by a flare a long distance away. On the other hand, having conducted air-search operations, anything less than a regulation flare is unlikely to be noticed by an overflying aircraft. On a highway, in the snow, that eighteen wheeler will not see your triangles. Ideally, if you break down on a highway or road and the car is in a traffic lane you MUST GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE and remain far away from the vehicle in the direction of approaching traffic. Nice advice, esxcept when the wind chill is twenty below and there is no shoulder. The worst situation is on a blind curve. In that case flares are the only thing that will protect you from being rear ended. I had this discussion three months ago with a very nice young attorney friend, who opted for reflective triangles. In December her car broke down, the weather was sub-zero, there was no shoulder, she put out her triangles and called for help on her cell. She gfot into her car, was rear-ended, and suffered severe brain injury when she was thrown through the windshield. The chances of a modern flare igniting on its own if kept in a fishing tackle box in the trunk are virtually non-existent. You want a thirty minute flare and by taping two of them together one will ignite the other. You can tape as many as four flares together in this fashion, placing them on the edge of the road at least a hundred meters behind your stalled automobile. If you happen to be near a rail line do not hesitate to stop a train. The signal to stop a train is a "washout" waving a flag parallel to the ground side to side. Theoretically they will stop of you simply place a road flare beside the track. Do not worry about "rail" regulations". You want them on the edge so a truck or car won't knock them over. If the roiad is being traversed by plows (snow country) consider keeping a pipe in the trunk that you can slip a road flare in nwith a beveled end, a bolt through the pipe to prevent the road flare from dropping through, and make sure the pipe is at least three foot long so it can be stuck in a snowbank. Many truckers use such a contrivance. Do not run your engine to keep warm, especially if the exhaust pipe is under the snow. Conserve your vehicular battery. Rememember that if the battery goes completely dead, it won't take a charge. A "come-along", available in many large discount hardware stores, will enable you to pull your vehicle out of many a situation. They are worth their weight in gold. A small military-type folding shovel is also worth it's weight in gold. If you get stuck in mud, you cannot create traction by putting earth into the mud. You have to shovel all the mud out to dry ground, then put in dry earth. If you can build a fire outside, use it to heat a large rock or brick, and then bring the brick inside the vehicle and place it on the floor on a metal plate after you have removed the rubber mat. I keep a military ammo box in my trunk, and in an emergency that would be an excellent place to put hot rocks to provide warmth. In a sleeping bag, take your socks off at night and do not sleep with them on. Let them dry. If you are stuck on a highway, take both mirrors and turn them so they will reflect headlight beams. Remember than you have them adjusted to you can see the vehicles behind you. They will not reflect headlight beams back into the eyes of oncoming drivers. I am also in great favor of purchasing additional reflectors to attach to the rear of your vehicle, regardless of the aesthetic issue. I always have a pair of "Tasco" binoculars with me. They are inexpensive, and preferred byt many hunters. A small reflective mirror of the kind sold in survival stores is helpful to attract the attention of passing vehicles and airplanes (although they are very hard to use to signal a pilot). Always have several gallons of water, especially in high desert country. I always keep a compass in the vehicle, but then again, I'm not exactly normal. If you drive off the main highways on fire-roads, for example, a compass is extremely helpful. Remember that the sun always rises in one direction and sets in the other. I'm not going to tell you which direction. But there will be a pop quiz. Waterproof matches and salt tablets are also nice to have. Be aware that hypothermia affects judgement. Oh yes. Be prepared for your companions (and yourself) to think illogically. I was in a life-threatening survival; situation decades ago with a body-building special Forces Captain. A man's man - make no mistake. And we almost got into a death-fight over starting a fire with a library book. We were almost dead and his mind cou;d not focus on anything but the fact that destroying that book to make a fire was illegal and he would have pay for the book. This was not his fault. He has fallen in a pond, was soaked, and near death. It was the cold. His reasoning powers were gone. In a life threatening situation it is time for leadership. And you may be the only one to provide it.
Also be advised than many fuel injected cars have an inertially operated cut-off. This is to prevent fire in an accident. It also means that if you are involved in a small "bumper hit" the switch may activate and your car engine will stop! In my younger and more irresponsible days I used to activate this feature on cars in supermarket parking lots that parked too close. Also to people in the hospital where I worked who annoyed me on icy cold snowy days. In some cars the "reset-start" switch is located under the mat in the trunk. I'll bet you didn't know that little tidbit. If you hit a deer, the impact is enough to activate the fiel cut-off and you are STRANDED until you reset the switch. If you have a fuel injected car or rent one, ask the dealer where the reset switch is.
With due respects, I shall address the issue of road flares. It is an "urban legend" that road flares explode. This is an impossibility. There is some foundation in fact because prior to 1950 some flares were manufactured that COULD expode on impact. Currently DOT (Department of Transportation) regulations promulgated under CFR 393.95 specify that each fusee manufactured and sold within the United States shall conform with the requirements of Underwriters Laboratories specification 912, "Highway Emergency Signals, Fourth Edition July 30, 1970 (amended November n8th, 1981) (See section 393.7(c) Each fusee manufactured in accordance with this standard shall be marked with the UL symbol in accordance with the requirements of UL 812. A study was performed on the impact of Highway Safety Flares on Driver behavior by Miguel de la Rive, traffic engineer, and Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP, Baltimore Maryland 21217 e-mail ***@**** This study was performed under a grant by the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, 201 Transportation Research Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802 and Martin T. Pietrucha, PhD, Associate Professor of Engineering, Pennsylvania Transportation Institute. Abstracted the study substantiated nearly 350,000 parked/disab;led motor vehicle chrashes occur in with an annual average of 507 occupants and non-motorists are killed. In the study, the behavior of 4,000 passing vehicles were tracked when passing "test" road flares. Roadway sensors counted the vehicles and measured lane speed, reduction in speed, and FLARES were found to be the most effective means of attracting the attention and encouraging speed reduction and situational awareness of the passing drivers.
I might add flares come in several colors and styles. Railroad flares come with a SPIKE. Highway flares come without a spike, but with two bendable wires that form a "Y" to support the flare on the highway. Flares are NOT designed to be held in the hand, although in an emergency people have done so. This can be VERY dangerous. If you purchase flares, have EVERY member of the family demonstrate how to ignite and safely place a flare. Commercial vehicles are required to carry a minimum of six (6) thirty minutes flares, although bi-directional reflective devices may be substituted. These are to be placed in accordance with CFR 392.20 a minimum of 100 to 500 feet behind the vehicle, and in no case closer than 25 foot. Road cones are also helpful, in addition to flares. Flares are also very useful to start a fire in sub-zero weather. Much better than rubbing sticks together. If you purchaser reflective triangles they should be bi-directional and conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 125. Road flares and reflectors (and flags) conforming to these standards can generally be found sold at truck stops on the highway where the eighteen wheelers hang out. Eighteen wheels and a dozen roses. I am going to make another suggestion that may not be considered kosher. In front of that first flare five hundred foor behind your stopped four-wheeler (of course you have two or three more ahead), drag out a branch about one inch inch and lay it across the highway in front of the flare. You don't want to blow his tires, but you want him to experience a "bump". This guy has 80,000 pounds of hot freight, ten foward gears and Georgia Overdrive, his log books three days behind, his brakes aren't up to snuff (but he'll get fired if he doesn't take out that rig - bet your boobies on that - and he has kids to feed), and yeah, regulations to the contrary he's popping little white pills to keep his eyes open wide. And when he sees that first flare you want his Jake brake on snd you want the words "Jack-knife" to flash in his windshield in bright glowing neon letters. It's going to be raining and he's going to be going too fast for road conditions, and hell is coming hard and heavy, and you're in a good position to meet your maker in the next few moments. Sixty miles per hour works out to 88 foot per second.
The question arises: "How fare back" should the road flares be places. Regulation NFPA 1500,84.27 specifies "8-12 times the posted speed limit". Thus, in a road with a 50mph speed limit the first flare should be positioned (50X8) or 400 feet behind the stopped vehicle at a MINIMUM. They recommend 12 times, which would be 500 feet for a 500mph highway. If you have a CONE, use the flare and cone together, placing the road flare two foot in front of the cone to illuminate the cone.
I alsokind of like the Swiss Army Knife for your keychain. That blade is crummy and needs to be sharpened regularly. On the other hand, the darned thing some models built in slide out tweezers and I have used those tweezers a half dozen times. My fingers have an affinity for splinters. Plus a small scissors and a bottle opener. Also get yourself a "P-38". They sell them at army surplus stores and gun shows and on the net. This is a tiny teensey-weensey folding can opener that attaches to your key ring (or dog tags). They used to be issued free with every issue of C-rats.
You really don't want to use duct tape. Actually, what many people call "DuctTape" isn't really duct tape. Duct tape is...for wrapping ducts. What you want is GAFFER TAPE, which is sold in two forms - Permacel P-665 and Permacel P-672. This is the tape used by NASCAR. It comes in two inch, three inch, and four inch widths, is stronger than duct tape and can be torn with the fingers. It is universally used in the motion picture inductry to attach wood and metal to the insides of buildings because it can be peeled off without damaging wood, paint or wallpaper. I use the four inch width to tape down carpets in the home of a handicapped person because it won't damage the expensive inlaid wood floor, nor the carpet. It lookspretty much exactly like duct tape and comes in colors. P-665 is the regular kind and P-672 is designed for sub zero temperatures. It is available in camera and motion picture supply houses and on the internet. It's the best thing since sliced bread.
I want to go over this business of the "inertial cut-off switch" again. Some of these switches are more sensitive than others. They are designed to prevent fuel from spraying out in the event of a fuelline rupture. It is possible to activate the intertial cut-off switch and NOT the air bags. A typical situation. There is a storm. A tree falls across the road. You see it, brake and just bump the tree. Not that hard. Chances are the fuel intertial cutoff switch on a fuel injected car will activate. In some Fords the switch to re-activate is located inside the trunk above the left rear shock mount. If you don't know where this re-set switch is you are STUCK FOR THE DURATION.
This is controversial, but to me it is a no-brainer. Have your tires filled with nitrogen, instead of air. Many truck-stops will perform this for a modest fee and usually put a green cap on the wheel to signify this. I know ambient air has a large percentage of nitrogen. Over the road truckers and race car drivers use nitrogen in the tires because you get longer tread life, better gas mileage, and better pressure retention. All United States Commercial Jets use nitrogen in the tires. Last I heard Canada was a little behind the times. Many disagree. Do a google search and come to your own conclusions.
Here is another situation.You are stuck in traffic and your vehicle is overheating. First, shut off the air conditioning and turn on the heater full blast. I KNOW this will be uncomfortable. If possible, pull over into a safe area and shut down. If your engine really overheats, pull over and let the engine cool down for twenty-thirty minutes. Adding cold water to a red hot engine can crack the block. After a while use heavy cloth over the radiator cap whenyou open it. Don't open it right away or you will lose all your coolent. Finally, when you add coolent, the engine should be running.
I have another suggestion.If you transport an elderly passenger have them practice how to open the door. This may seem obvious, but with age, people become easily confused. I have ridden in cars in which I have had difficulty in figuring out how to open the doors.If traffic is heavy and you pull over in a rest area, your elderly passenger may elect to initially stay in the car. You go to the snack bar and return to find them frantic and crying. It is not an insult to take the time to insure older passengers can both release their seat belts easily, and know how to open the windows and the doors. The buttons to open the doors are frequently tiny, and the operation not intuitive to someone with age related disabilities.
My dad used to tell me "there's no such thing as constructive criticism". I want to amplify my comments regarding the use of "duct tape" because FEMA and many governmental organizations mention and recommend keeping it handy. I suggested instead, using what is called "GAFFER TAPE". One big advantage is gaffer tape is engineered to be easily removed (within a reasonable time) from painted surfaces, wallpaper, and automobile pains and windows with out damaging the surface. And although it can be torn easily, it is extremely strong, and used in stage construction to secure wooden beams. It is also available in highly visible flourescent colors on special order and is used by film electricians to secure cable to macadem or the sidewalk. It is manufactured in extra wide widths (6 foot) for the British Army and it they nicknamed this product "Black and Nasty". The four inch wide rolls are often called "Dutchman's rolla" because they are used in motion pictures and stage production to secure two flats together. It is much more expensive than duct tape, but is far more friendly to paint. If you tape a red flag to the side of your car with this tape, it can be removed easily. If you "X" your windows in a storm, it can be pulled off without leaving residue. So duct tape is not "bad" or "wrong" to store and use. Gaffer tape is simply superior. If you tape a surface where the tape must be removed, fold over the end of the tape 180 degrees for a half inch or so to form a "lip" upon which to pull it off.
One issue that was recently discussed with me was whether or not to "shut down the engine" if you are stuck in traffic for long periods of time. Shutting the engine down and then restarting it will probably save fuel and prevent overheating. The down side is that the highest probability of an engine failure is when starting. That is my personal opinion. You have less battery power available. For example a typical battery that will produce full power at 80 degrees F, will develop 46% of power at 0 degrees F. In cold weather engines are about 2.5 times harder to start. If the weather is really cold, your oil will begin to congeal, which will make starting harder and produce more wear. Let's take an example. You are at a railroad crossing on a normal day that is blocked. You know you have a ten minute wait. Shutting your engine down makes sense. On an interstate, where you will have to stop and start again and again, I feel it's better to keep the engine going. In cold weather keep tanks topped to prevent condensation. And in cold weather, if you have a diesel and both Diesel# 1 and Diesel # 2 are available, choose Diesel # 1 because it is more volatile and makes cold weather operation more reliable. Choose the proper oil viscosity for the outside temperature. Multi-viscosity oils are available, but if the weather is going to near zero for the next three months, and you know that, choose a winter oil. All cars have thermostats, and when you have your car serviced, have the winter thermostat changed when summer comes ands the summer thermostat changed when winter arrived. The thermostats are inexpensive and easily changes by a novice, except you usually loose all your radiator coolent when you do so, so you should have a replacement available. If you do not change your summer thermostat to a winter thermostate your car heater will not provide maximum heat. This discussion involves a survival situation, when that extra may mean the difference between life and death. So there are judgement calls involve.
At this point I want to address the issue of fire extinguishers, confining the subject to the automobile/pick-up truck extinguisher. The national organization that rates extinguishers and establishes standards is the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). You will note that extinguishers have both numbers and letters on them. The letter "A" means the extinguisher is good for wood and paper. Also car seats. A 2 1/2 gallon pressurized water extinguisher is a good example of this type. The letter "B" means the extinguisher is appropriate for oil and gasoline fires. The letter "C" means for electrical fires. There is another letter "D" for metal fires, that you will probably never see. Aluminum will burn, however, and I have seen an aluminum engine block on fire and it was a sight to see. That being said there is a number before every letter. For a civilian car I recomment nothing less than a 2A10BC, but a larger number is, of course, more desireable. Butmopre expensive, heavier and it takes up more space. Many stores sell extinguishers without these ratings. NEVER EVER PURCHASE AN EXTINGUISHER WITHOUT THESE MARKED RATINGS. Don't buy them no matter the discount or the line from the salesman. In the United States, if it doesn't have an NFPA rating, consider it worthless. So what exactly sort of a fire can a 2A10BC extingisher put out? The standard is UL711. For the 2A rating 78 pieces of trade 2 X 2 X 25 5/8 inch spruce or fir is arranged in a crib of 13, ignited and allowed to burn for 10 minutes. A 2A extinguisher should easily extinguish this fire. The 10 B test involves pouring Heptane in a 25 square foot pan and igniting it. The extinguisher should completely extinguish this fire before being exhausted. The "C" rating means the extinguisher won't conduct electricity when discharging between a ten inch air gap and a potential of 100,000 volts AC.
Let's return to the issue of Road Flares. A road flare burns at 70 candella. (A Candella is the unit defining luminous intensity). For comparison a flashlight shines at at oncoming vehicle is about 5 candella. Highway flares can be obtained for $40-$80 per case of 36. A single FMVSS plastic reflective road triangle meeting DOT standards costs between $20-$30. Three are required by regulation. The road flares have an indefinite life. I have some that work well after 45 years. As for batteries? Try a year, at best. Yeah, they guarantee them for longer periods. Complain to them on the internet when your light doesn't work and it's five below zero and your car with your four children are stuck on a blind curve with a broken axle. You are likely to be deploying these devices under conditions of driving sleet, fog and snow or rain. A road flare does not have to be retrieved. You don't have to walk back sixt hundreed foor in sleet to bring it back. There is considerable danger in doing so. And on the way back your vehicle is unprotected. Tell me you baren't going to do that for your $60 electric strobe. Or your $30 reflective triangles. By the way, this isn't Mayberry. A volunteer fire department I know purchased some expensive electrical strobes, set them out, and all were stolen by passing motorists in between seven and nine minutes. Put one out in Newark and you have about fouty seconds before it's gone. NOBODY is going to remove or steal a road flare. If there is any doubt about the explosiveness of road flares consult the "MSDA" (Material Data Safety Sheet) required by Federal law. Ther are absolutely positively non-explosive. Remember that under the best conditions a civilian car traveling at 60 mph requires 200 foot to stop. Something else to think about is to burn a tire as a distress signal. Let the air out, pour a little oil on it (from the spare can you have in your trunk), or a little flammable fluid and use the road flare to ignite the tire. While I was at it I would also carry a reflective slip on vest. DOT complient reflective vests sell for from $15 to $30.
I appreciate your info on road flares with some good points:
1) not explosive
3) not needing to be retrieved in dangerous conditions/bad weather
4) noone wants to touch/steal them
I've been using powerflares (electric strobes) on my helmet and segway to avoid being hit by motorists. It's worked well for that use since I couldn't imagine hanging a flare around my neck or perched on my head ;)
Thanks for all of your extensive comments here and on other posts. I'm going to have to name you as MVP of this forum they way you're keeping up (most valuable participant)!
Thank you for your kind comments Dr. Choi. They are truly appreciated. I always wanted to own a Segway. You are pretty cool. I truly admire the designer of that device. Since I am not boring everyone too much, I will mention that a bright orange flag is appropriate for slowing traffic. Inappropriately, red flags are sometimes used. The history of the "Red" stop signal is interesting, because a red light does not mean stop in all cultures. Originally, the stop signal on railroads in America was a white light. So here's the tale. The Roman Legions were commanded by Centurians, and the badge of a Centurian was a helmet with an ear-to-ear red plume. The European roads where the legions conquered were constructed quite narrowly and designed primarily for military purposes. The Legions were not always fighting, however, and the fine stone pathways became routinely cl;ogges with animal drawn wagons and carts bearing civilians and farm goods. When a military march order was issued those roasds through the mountain passes had to be cleared of civilian traffic. Speed was essential and lives were at stake. To clear such a road a centurian would issue an order that a red flag be emplaced, forbiding other than military traffic. The red color signified the plume of the centurian and the authority under which the flag was posted. To pass a red flag posted by the legion was to suffer death. And that is why fire engines are painted red.
I have lately become a fan of the small two-way radios that have a range of about a half mile and are now very small, inexpensive and reliable. Good glove compartment companions. Helpful to find thre kids in an amusement park or a super store, as well as the woods. My last experiences in very minor disasters resulted in complete cut-off of cell phone service. Get a charger you can use in your automobile or extra batteries. And impress upon the children they are not play things. To conserve batteries in an emergency it is best to have everyone synchronize watches and "turn radios on for ten minutes after every hour". I would always keep an extra set of keys in the car, preferably in a magnetic attachment container. It is very easy to lose keys in the snow or in a flood. With the advent of the electronic car maps, many people no longer keep highway maps around. Remember that those electronic maps are likely to disappear in a disaster. If you camp regularly in an area purchase the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Maps, which are topographical. They are wonderful maps.
Scarlet37 wrote:"...automobiles for 16 or more hours without food and water- I wonder what an we safely keep in our cars/trucks in case of an emergency..."
I keep a small jar of nuts, two can's of tuna, P-38, four bottles of water and some hard candy.
Plus, I have nearly all of the emergency equipment care caregiver222 mentions in the truck, (he sounds normal to me). I have six flares, jumper cables, extra set of keys, map, pencil & paper, hand crank flashlight, candle in a can with matches, emergency foil blanket, First-Aid Kit, ABC fire extinguisher, chains, flat-tire goo inflate can, tire plugs, electric cigarette plug in air pump (cheap one), and yes even a Swiss Army Knife on my key-chain.
Oh yes, I also keep a wind breaker jacket, a pair of coveralls, and a pair of flat shoes in case I break down wearing heals and need to walk.
There is one issue I haven't seen mentioned yet in this forum. Many new vehicles have power windows and locks that do not operate if the battery is damaged. It would be easy to have a battery cracked in an accident (I know people to whom this has happened). It would also be possible in the situations described above to simply run the battery down to exhaustion. In those cases, you would be trapped in the car without possibility of opening either a door or window. Windows are designed to prevent breakage, making it hard to break them if you are injured, sick, or elderly or otherwise just don't have a lot of upper body strength. It is good to keep a small hammer in your emergency kit for this purpose.
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