Let’s face it: Winter driving isn’t fun. Whether you have to shovel your car out, or you’re marooned on a snowed-in highway, getting where you need to go may take some extra preparation.
I should know. I’ve driven through nasty Boston winters my whole life, and I’m also a juror for the New England Motor Press Association’s Winter Car of the Year Award. I know how to prepare my car for winter, and I know I should keep a few tools in the trunk at all times.
I put nearly all of these tools in the trunk and glovebox of my own car, and I recommend you do the same if you live in the Snowbelt. These winter driving must-haves are also great gift ideas for a new driver or loved one—especially if they need to be on the road, no matter the weather.
1. Snow tires to keep your wheels on the road
It doesn’t matter that your car has all-wheel drive if those wheels can’t maintain their grip, and that’s why snow tires are so important. Snow tires have a deeper tread pattern that’s designed to improve traction on wet, slippery surfaces.
But it isn’t just about driving through slop. The tires are also made of a slightly different rubber composition than the all-seasons you probably have on your car right now—and that keeps them more pliable at lower temperatures so you can get better handling and grip on the road.
Sure, snow tires can be expensive—but they’ll also help save wear and tear on your all-seasons. Plus, wouldn’t you rather spend $500 on new tires and wheels that can prevent an accident than $500 on an insurance deductible to get your car fixed after a crash?
2. This emergency tool with everything you need
You should always carry a flashlight in your car in case of a nighttime emergency, a hammer to break safety glass so you can escape if your car starts to submerge in water, and a pressure gauge to check your tires—which can really fluctuate in wintertime.
If you’re like me, though, you want to keep your car as clean and uncluttered as possible. With this one by Roadside Emegency Tool, you get a safety hammer, LED flashlight, and a seatbelt cutter. It makes a great gift for a new driver—and it just might make them think twice about safety.
3. A snow brush/scraper that does it all
Obviously, you’ll need something bigger if you have a tall SUV—but I’ve used this Mallory brush on more than 20 cars over three winters, and I’ve never had an issue or complaint.
The foam grip is thick and easy to handle, the scraper is strong and won’t shatter, and the brush is wide enough to get snow off the roof, too. No wonder it’s also a best-seller on Amazon.
4. Windshield washer fluid to clean off the mess
Doesn’t it always seem like your car runs out of wiper fluid as soon as your windshield is covered in salty, icy muck? Good luck refilling with de-icer at a gas station—your local convenience store will probably jack up the price to $5 or $6 a gallon in the middle of a storm.
If you have a garage, I think you should stock up on this concentrated fluid. It takes up less space than buying pre-mixed solution, and you’ll always have some on hand—no convenience store trip required.
5. This shovel for deep digs
Everyone should have a good show shovel for walkways and parking spots. But what if you get stuck while you’re on the road? I like this shovel because it folds up small enough to fit in a trunk. It has a curved digging blade for lifting up snow, but a pointed tip and serrated edge for chipping away at hard-packed ice.
In fact, just last winter I used a similar shovel to help dig out an elderly motorist I came across on a snowy road. She had spun her Toyota into a snowbank, but a few minutes of picking at ice got her tires some traction. Instead of calling for a tow, she got to drive straight home.
6. A blanket just in case
During the great New England Blizzard of 1978, roads shut down due to rapid accumulation of snow and ice. Until rescue vehicles could reach them, drivers had to stay in their cars even as temperatures fell.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen similar strandings play out in cities from Chicago to Atlanta—which is why I recommend having an inexpensive, easy-to-store emergency blanket like this one inside your car all winter long.
7. Emergency recovery traction ramps to get you on your way
My mother bought me a pair of these emergency ramps as a gift shortly after I got my first car—a big, old rear-wheel drive sedan with no traction control. Years later, I still keep them in my trunk—and they’ve got me out of a lot of jams in the meantime.
Just push the flat side as far under your stuck tire as it can go, and push the jagged edge into the snow and ice below. Now, when your wheel spins, it will make contact with the ramp’s hard metal surface instead of slippery ice—which is just enough traction to get your car moving in no time.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.