When it gets cold outside, staying warm usually isn’t too difficult. You can slip under a cozy blanket with a hot cup of cocoa or bundle up under multiple layers to brave the elements. But what do you do when your only shelter is a car that may not have enough gas to keep its heater going overnight? Here are some effective tips for how to stay warm in a car overnight.
How to stay warm in a car overnight
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1. Stay hydrated
It’s easy to forget that water is essential for both heat regulation and overall health. So, ensure you drink enough water if you plan on spending the night in your car. It might be tough to find a source of water with which to keep hydrated. If you have the option, drinking warm fluids such as tea or soup can help your body produce and retain more heat.
2. Dress warmly
If you’re going to ride out a winter storm in your car, make sure you dress in multiple layers to protect yourself. Have the following with you:
- A base layer of moisture-wicking clothing helps pull sweat away from your body, keeping you dry and warm.
- Thermal layers trap air pockets which provide insulation against the cold. Make sure your thermal clothing isn’t restrictive, or it might create more problems than warmth.
- Don’t forget to cover your head! A hat that covers your ears is better than a knit cap, and mittens are warmer than gloves.
Related: What to wear while hiking in cold weather
3. Bundle up your car
Bundle up your car before you sleep! If possible, keep a soft blanket tucked away that you can lay across the front seats of your vehicle and the passenger seat (if there’s someone else with you) before going to sleep. This will help insulate your car against the cold. If you don’t have a blanket available, you can use an old comforter or sleeping bag to do the same thing.
4. Run your engine periodically
If possible, run your car’s engine for 10-15 minutes every hour or two to keep its fluids moving and heat circulating through the vehicle. This will keep your car much warmer for longer, but be sure to turn your engine off before it starts to overheat to prevent damage.
5. Clear your windows
Before you settle in for the night, clear away any snow and ice from your windshield and side windows with a scraper or brush. This will help your car warm up more quickly once its heat turns on. If possible, consider covering your windshield wipers with plastic bags to keep them from freezing overnight.
6. Park facing south
If you’re staying in your car for the night, try to park it facing south so that the sun can help warm up and dry out your car when it rises in the morning. If you’re concerned about security, consider parking near a business or store-you may even get some free coffee from a manager or owner who is happy to see a stranded motorist staying warm and safe!
7. Stay in your car
As a last resort, if you have no way to keep yourself warm or the cold weather is causing health problems, consider staying in your car for as long as possible rather than walking around outside. Just make sure there’s plenty of supplies and emergency equipment available to keep yourself safe and healthy until help arrives.
8. Call for help
If you don’t have a phone available, try flagging down a car or truck passing by on the road to call 911 and let them know about your situation. Make sure to call for help as soon as possible so that you receive assistance before hypothermia sets in and endangers your life.
It’s important to remember that staying in your car overnight is a last resort and should be avoided whenever possible. If the weather isn’t life-threatening, park safely at a rest stop or truck stop until help arrives.
9. Watch for exhaust
If you do choose to stay in your car, make sure there’s a steady stream of fresh air entering the car. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause death. Therefore, if you are trapped inside your car during bad weather, make sure no harmful fumes are coming into your vehicle before going to sleep.
Always stay by your vehicle if you think help isn’t coming anytime soon! Never wander off into the night or leave your car to find warmth-you never know when a jackknifed tractor-trailer might block the road or if a patch of ice might be hidden under the snow.
Even if you can walk to a gas station or truck stop, there’s no guarantee that you will find your vehicle when you get back-and prevention is always better than finding yourself stranded and alone in sub-zero temperatures. Be safe! Car crashes are the leading cause of weather-related deaths, so never assume you’re entirely out of danger until your car is parked in a warm garage!
10. Get comfortable
Staying warm in your car overnight might seem difficult or impossible, but with a bit of forethought and preparation, you can ride out winter storms safely until the roads are clear. No matter how long you’re stranded, make sure to get comfortable inside of your vehicle-this will help keep you warm and occupied while you wait for help.
11. Stay well-fed
Your body will have a more difficult time generating heat if you aren’t getting enough food and water, so always have plenty of snacks and fluids on hand during cold weather. If possible, keep a few granola bars or other high-energy foods in your car at all times-it’s better to have them and not need them than to wish you had some when your stomach starts growling! Other high-energy foods include peanut butter crackers and jerky. Also, have bottled water or sports drinks.
12. Get some sleep
Whether you spend the night awake, listening to the radio, or sleeping soundly in your warm car (or both!), it’s crucial that you get adequate rest. Not only will a good night’s sleep keep you refreshed and on-point if unexpected company comes knocking, but getting enough sleep can also help lower your risk of hypothermia.
13. Keep an emergency preparedness kit with you
No matter how long you’re in your car overnight, it’s a good idea to keep a well-stocked emergency preparedness kit close by at all times. Your essentials should include:
- Warm clothes (thermal layer and extra hats/gloves/boots)
- Water and food (that can last a day, but more is better)
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered radio and flashlights
- Change of clothes
- Ice scraper and/or brush. If you’re unable to drive at night because of a winter storm, make sure to keep extra blankets in your car as well-even if you’re warm enough with your coat on.
Related: Tips for hiking in the rain
What if you have to abandon your car?
If the situation is dire and you can’t stay in your vehicle or find nearby shelter, pack all your supplies and be ready to go-you may have to jump out at a moment’s notice! When walking around during an ice storm, avoid touching metal surfaces with your bare hands. If you find yourself falling or slipping on ice or snow and unable to catch yourself, try to roll into a ball and use your arms as shock absorbers-you’re less likely to injure yourself this way than if you just drop straight down.
If you have a shovel or something to dig with, try digging a small trench behind your vehicle to give it more traction and prevent it from sliding. Make sure the ground is completely covered in snow before attempting this-ice underneath can result in broken tools or sprained muscles! If you have nothing available, try putting some heavy objects in front of and behind your car to give it more traction.
Do not ever attempt to climb a tree or a hill-you could slip and fall due to the icy conditions, which can be especially dangerous if you’re stranded in your car. If possible, try building an ice wall around yourself to keep warm.
If the temperatures are too low and you can’t stay in your vehicle or find nearby shelter, then go ahead and make a run for it. Sprint as fast as you can to the nearest location with a warm indoor waiting area and call for help. Get rid of all the snow on your car windows so that police can easily see inside if they arrive before you do.
14. Stay warm and safe out there!
If your car isn’t running for whatever reason, be sure that you’re appropriately dressed for the weather–not only will this help keep you safer and warmer, but it’ll also prevent you from losing unnecessary body heat. Even if you don’t think you’ll be outside for long, spending a few minutes in the cold can cause hypothermia to set in-which is something you definitely want to avoid!
If you have children or pets with you and must stay warm inside your car overnight, make sure they are comfortable and safe. Keeping food and water available to them and ensuring that everyone is dressed warmly can help you all keep each other’s spirits up while you wait for help.
15. Stay alert
Even if being stuck in your car overnight seems like a nightmare, remember that it’s important to keep a positive mindset-especially during or after a crisis. Tell yourself the situation is temporary. Keeping a positive outlook will help you make the best possible decisions while stuck in your car.!
16. Get some fresh air
If you’re stuck in your car for an extended period, make sure to crack the window open slightly so that you don’t suffocate! If it’s too cold outside for your comfort, stretch out one leg and let it hang outside of the car. You’ll still be warm if your lower half is in the car, and fresh air will help keep you alert.
If you have a blanket, pillow, or sleeping bag, consider taking it out of the car with you. Sleeping in your car can be cold at first, but if you spread everything out and bundle up, it’s actually pretty cozy once you settle down!
17. Stop the condensation
When you sleep in your car overnight, condensation can get trapped inside your window and cause frost to form on the glass. A credit card or a squeegee can help you scrape off any ice that has built up on your windows before it turns into frost-defrosting your windshield with warm water can also help you avoid a dangerous situation.
If possible, try to position your car in a place where it will be well-lit and visible to passing cars and emergency personnel when the sun comes up. Make sure you unlock all your doors so that you can get out quickly if necessary.
I hope that’s everything you need to know about how to stay warm in a car overnight-if you have any additional tricks or advice, please post them in the comments below! Thanks for reading.