April 27, 2009 11:09 PM | By Richard Russell, MSN Autos

How to survive being stranded

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How to survive being stranded

Stick to main roads and highways

Winter driving demands attention and respect. Even if the conditions and weather forecast are favourable, things can go very wrong in the blink of an eye. You must be prepared.

The easiest way to avoid being stuck or lost in winter is to avoid driving when conditions are poor or are forecast to be. But that's not always possible, and there's always the chance that the weatherperson is wrong.

When traveling by car at this time of year it is a good idea to let friends, family and neighbours know where you are going, the route you will take and a rough idea of when you hope to arrive. Before heading out, ensure that your cell phone is charged too.

Winter is no time to use a shortcut to avoid traffic or save time. By taking heavily-traveled routes, you'll be safer. Not only will there be more people to spot you should you slide off the road, these routes will also be cleared more often.

In addition, they are the first spots that search and rescue workers will reach and look in an emergency situation.

Stay with it

Stick with your car

The first rule of survival is to stay with the vehicle. Search and rescue experts say two words separate the saved from the statistics: stay put.

If your vehicle breaks down or you have an emergency, pull off the road, activate the four-way flashers and hang a brightly-coloured object from the antenna or the highest point of the vehicle. Make sure the exhaust outlet is not blocked by snow.

The keys to winter survival are to stay dry, hydrated and warm. A general rule of thumb is that you can survive three hours without shelter, three days without water and up to three weeks without food.

Protect yourself

Protect yourself

Getting out of the weather should be your first priority. The vehicle is the obvious spot for that and will be the object of search and rescue efforts. You can run the engine for five minutes or so every half hour or 10 minutes every hour - try to ensure this coincides with newscasts if you have radio reception. Don't run the engine without plenty of ventilation and do not fall asleep with the engine running.

Campers know how crucial it is to put something beneath themselves to prevent cold from coming from beneath and penetrating your body. Unless the vehicle is upside down, the seats serve as insulation.

Staying dry is the next step, and once again the vehicle should help unless it has become submerged or its glass is broken. If that is the case, use a waterproof poncho or plastic tarp to stay dry.

Getting heat

Help will come

While you'll want to keep water off your body, you need to put some inside it. Dehydration can be your worst enemy. Don't put snow in your mouth as a source of liquids; it will lower your body temperature - melt it first. Make sure, also, to keep active and move about to stay warm.

You should use a candle as a heat source, but in an emergency you can burn other materials. For obvious reasons, do not use gasoline or other fuel to start a fire.

Be creative and innovative - you can use the various mirrors to reflect sun light to attract attention, as well as the horn. Sun visors make pretty decent shovels or snow scoops.

In any case, be patient. Help will come.

Related Autos links:
Technology takes the worry out of winter
Winter tires 101
Your first winter: What to expect and how to cope
Wild winter wrecks
Seven things to check before facing winter driving