Some time ago, while driving on a snowy road, someone told me a kind of horror story.

It involved a guy who was driving alone with an old car on an overland road in Siberia during winter, so the temperature was supposedly well below freezing. The car stopped working, and with no cellphone reception or anyone else driving on this road, he consequently froze to death.

While I don't think this was a true story and was of course very careless, it nevertheless made me wonder. What would be the best course of action in such a situation, i.e. where I find myself with a broken car many (possible hundreds) of miles away from larger roads, cell towers and villages?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:16

14 Answers 14


When travelling on extremely remote roads, you need to prepare for the worst. This is even more true if you are travelling in a climate where the weather might kill you within days, such as in extreme cold.

I've had a car break down once at -35°C. That road in Northern Sweden wasn't as remote as the one in Siberia you describe, as it still had maybe two cars per hour during the day. We were around 30 km from the nearest town. It could have been quite bad at night, as apart from travelling together, we had not really prepared as we should have, although I do think we had mobile phone coverage (but batteries can die quickly when it's very cold!). Fortunately we were travelling with two cars so we were fine.

The day before our car broke down (the road in the picture is much busier than the road where our car broke down).

Good advice:

  • Travel in a group. That means a group of cars. If one car breaks down, you might be surprised how many can squeeze into the other when they must. You may also be able to tow the broken car with people in it, but it gets very cold very quickly in the car being towed, so you may not want to do this for too long.
  • Always bring enough food and shelter such that you can survive for some days in case your car breaks down and you need to wait a long time. That may mean full camping gear (at least a warm sleeping bag) and perhaps fuel to make a fire (making a fire from wood alone can reportedly be hard at -40°C).
  • Bring a satellite-phone or similar, so you can call for help (unless you're absolutely certain of full mobile phone coverage). A satellite texting device, a PLB, or a similar emergency beacon might work as well. Make sure your emergency beacon has global coverage, including high latitudes, and does not rely on mobile networks or geostationary satellites. In some remote areas, such as along the Labrador Highway, motorists can rent or borrow those from the authorities. Make sure the batteries are full and that both device and batteries are designed to work at low temperatures.
  • (Thanks to Pont for reminding me of this one): Leave a travel plan with a trusted source. Tell them when you expect to be in safety, and report that you are when you have arrived.
  • (Thanks to Willekes answer): See if you can repair the car! Even if you are prepared, surviving for days at -40°C is not funny (unless you're a hardcore polar adventurer). As a corollary, when you venture out in remote areas with dangerous weather, bring spare car parts to cover common faults, and practice the skill of carrying out those fixes in the field. It might save your life. Several other answers have specific advice related to emergency car repair. See also this MakeShift Challenge article going into some detail.

Similar principles apply when travelling in a hot desert, although then the primary danger is dehydration and/or heat stroke rather than freezing to death. In hot deserts I tend to have about 20 litre of water per person in the car (which should be enough to survive a week).

What if you've done nothing of this? What if you decided you only needed shorts and sandals because it's warm in the car and at your destination, and you didn't bring much food because it was "only" an 8 hour drive? In this case, there is very little you can do but to hope for survival (or pray, if that's your thing). The situation is described in a Swedish pop song, where someone does exactly that. Ultimately he stumbles out of the car and starts to walk (he has no clue exactly where he is, the song predates both satellite navigation or mobile phones), only to fall into the snow, be pushed off the road when the snowplough comes along, and die a cold death out on a frozen swamp. Don't let that be you.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:28
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    This is indeed a very detailed guide for such kind of trips, meanwhile, besides Russian SIberia there is also Canada. Some time ago I was impressed by this topic on the drive2.ru site (a social network mostly dedicated to cars), which describes the real experience of a Russian guy who lives in Canada. Unfortunately it is written in Russian, but I guess it should be easy to translate it into English our days ;)
    – RAM237
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:00
  • Plus, remember Fridtjof Nansen experience, he even didn't have a car being just several hundred kilometers far from North Pole! :)
    – RAM237
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:16
  • Add to your list the intermediate step between PLB and satellite phone: satellite texting. There is a monthly cost, but nowhere near what a satellite phone costs. Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 1:16

First, if you go somewhere in a car, take along the clothes necessary to be outside for an extended period.

406 MHz PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)

All the tragedies have one thing in common: they did not have one of these and/or did not activate it.

This is the gold-standard, same as aircraft ELTs and ship EPIRBs and works worldwide on the COSPAS-SARSAT network, whose purpose is this. They don't maintain one sat system for supertankers and another one for the rabble. It's the same system so you get airliner tier locator service.

By treaty it's tied to rescue services worldwide (some of the pretenders can't say that).

Each unit has a serial number. When you trigger it, the monitoring authority first call the phone number that you registered with the device, the purpose being to swiftly deal with false alerts (which was a huge problem with the previous generation of system).

When you fail to answer or your wife says she can't account for you, they look at the transmitted GPS coordinates (100m radius, if equipped) otherwise they use doppler data from the satellites (3000m radius), and dispatch the call to the appropriate response agency based on geography - e.g. in the USA, Coast Guard if off the coast, Forest Service, CalFire, police if in an urbanized area, highway patrol if along a highway, etc.

The unit also beacons on 121.5 MHz, an older, short-range signal which can be picked up by passing aircraft, and it is retained to allow Civil Air Patrol and walk-in rescuers to triangulate on your exact location. It's nice at this point to have flags or strobes.

What a 406MHz beacon cannot do is let you tweet. There are other services that do, but have a monthly service fee and they aren't very good PLBs - they're on an inferior sat network and have been sued about that, and no longer brag so loudly about being an emergency device.

  • 5
    Yes, my "survival at sea" course taught the priorities of "1. Protection (stay in the car) 2. Location (PLB/EPIRB) 3. Water 4. Food". There is simply nothing that provides (2) like a PLB. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 11:34
  • 100m?! I think you got an extra zero in there. Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 1:17

Well, I'm from Russia, and I heard that in the most desperate situation like this you can burn your car's tires. The tires are made of oil, so they burn well. Using fire from tires you can use other car parts that burn well, like a seat. This will allow you to last at least for a day and if you're driving a big car, like a semi, you can last several days.

Obviously, it's better to have a survival kit, but in an emergency situation like this, when you don't have anything but lighter, such strategy might save your life.

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    I have never heard this one before, but I suppose it would work. Seems like a lot better strategy then waiting to die. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 0:36
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    @CharlieBrumbaugh Though you'd want to be very sure that your car was irreparable before turning it into a hut by burning the tyres. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 14:29
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    In addition to heat, the tires produce a thick, black smoke that will be visible from a long ways away.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 1:15
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    @DavidRicherby you could start with the spare tire at least
    – Brad
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 17:13
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    I was hoping someone would say this but I figured nobody would be brave enough to answer this way. You might want to add that the smoke could attract rescuers. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 20:02

This is not constrained to Siberia. A snowstorm/blizzard can occur at many locations and throw down so much snow that roads are blocked and people outside the main routes (or even on main routes) get trapped.

As most of the answers give good advice on preparation (telling the route and estimated time of arrival, having a kit and good clothing or even an PLB), I give some advice if you haven't all those nice things.

  • If the snow is really dense and visibility drops below 50 meters/yards, you should use high beam and fog warning lamp.If you recognize that more and more snow is coming and the street is fully covered in snow you should immediately put on the snow-chains if you have them. It can always happen that you make an accident and hit a tree or oversee a ditch so your car is broken down which makes your snow-chains useless. Make a pause and notice on your mobile (GPS) and/or street maps where your last position is. Look deliberately how many others cars/people you are meeting to get a feeling how deserted your location is. Once you come through a village/city, stay there.

  • Ok, the road is blocked. The bridge has collapsed, a tree has fallen, you ditched your car or drive against a tree. You are quite unharmed, but you are stuck.Chances are that if you are on a remote location, even a working mobile does you not much good. Many people will have the same problems and the emergencies will assign you a low priority. Still it could work out, so trying is absolutely necessary. How remote is your location? If you met some people/cars, you may look out for help. While in the civilization people are less prone to help, in remote areas people know that getting stuck sucks and will likely help out or at least inform someone about your trouble.

Let's say up to this point it did not work out. You are stuck and you are in a remote area. Your phone is either in a dead spot or the emergency informs you politely that it could take some time because they are overstrained. What now?

  • Are you drunk? In this case you must avoid sleep at all costs because not only your body loses heat disproportionally (the normal reaction of blood vessels for cold is contracting to minimize heat loss), but the pain and uncontrolling shivering which at least warns people and help them stay awake is strongly suppressed. One young woman, 18 years old, in my original town came back from a party intoxicated and never made it home. They found her next morning in a small wood under a tree; she must have shortly leaned on it, started sleeping and froze to death :(. So put your face into snow, beat yourself or do whatever it takes to stay awake. If, on the other hand, you know it's over, alcohol can accelerate death.

  • If it is heavily snowing/foggy, you most likely cannot walk away from the car. It does not need to be a whiteout, it only needs a remote location where visibility is so reduced that you are in danger to get lost. Your car has at least some visibility, a human figure in snow is practically invisible. Snow has also its advantages, if it is not stormy, it will build up on the car, adding insulation (Do not remove snow from your car for this exact purpose). Stay in your car and use the time to find out where you are and if there is anything in walking range. If you don't have maps or a mobile with maps and GPS, now is the time to curse.

If you cannot stay in the car because it gets too cold...

  • Insulate yourself as good as possible. If you have some clothes, put them all on. Scrap everything together which helps you to stay warm. Newspaper or paper in general: Put it around your arms and legs. Use the foot mat around your torso. Rip off the seat cover. Aluminum foil or plastic foil...does not matter: around the body. If you have fat (like butter or oil), put it on your face and on your body. Does not matter if you look like a kidnapped scarecrow.

  • Build a snow cave If you are in a snowstorm or blizzard, you should be able to build a cave inside a snowbank. Rightly build, it is an excellent shelter against the cold.

  • If you are near trees and you don't have snow, start a fire. Get firewood together, put tinder under it and light it. In this very specific circumstances you can use gasoline from the car for the tinder which will work wonders for igniting (BUT BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL. It is only because the risk of freezing to death that I mention this at all.). Smokers have it easy because they have matches or a lighter, other people can use e.g. the car lighter and if there is not anything, use the car battery. Build it up and short circuit it with metal to get sparks and fire. To have a homely place, you need to build a reflector, something in your back which reflects the warmth going out from the fire into your back, e.g. your car chassis.

I don't have anything of it. There is a bare field, no wood, nothing burnable in the car, there's no snow, nothing. And it is getting colder. What now?

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    But what if you don't have any paper to write on? Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 22:08
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    @immibis Improvised holographic wills are in most jurisdictions considered valid. Farmer Cecil George Harris, trapped 1948 under this tractor, carved his last will which gives everything to his wife into the fender and this will was accepted. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 22:25
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    "Chances are that if you are on a remote location, even a working mobile does you not much good. Many people will have the same problems and the emergencies will assign you a low priority." -- No. At least in Russia, if you dial 112 on a remote road for things, such as even just a blown tire, help will come. Source: acquaintance works receiving calls from 112 in the Rostov Oblast. Even there, even in summer, she told me that help will be on its way.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:52
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    @ThorstenS., under this tractor? What tractor? I don't see one. :P (I'm guessing you meant "his," but that wasn't my first thought: I thought you were linking to a gruesome picture of a body under a tractor....)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 6:48
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    This really does cover everything. The one answer that gives advice about what to do when you aren't prepared. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 20:08

I have always learned that when you go to remote areas you should have at least a basic knowledge of car repair and depending on the make of car and the area you go to your knowledge should be good to expert.

So your first action should be looking whether you can repair it, with what you have and where you are.

If that is not possible, you go to what the answer by @Gerrit tells you and you use your emergency pack as well as trying to contact people.
If there might be people in line of sight, even not in direct sight, starting a fire which smokes by day might help.

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    While basically correct, fixing a car in -35C is not an easy things, and should be done carefully not to cause any more damage like tearing your gloves
    – Rsf
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:17
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    Roadside car repair may be possible with a Lada on a mild automn day, but try repairing a failed modern day Euro6 diesel car at even -10° C (warm day by Siberia winter's standards), when everything is either too hot or too cold to touch and your car is designed so that you need to remove a wheel in order to change a low beam bulb.
    – Pavel
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 12:52
  • Not all cars stopped at the side of the road are in need of replaced parts. The preparations for traveling in those kind of conditions should include recognizing what failures can be 'repaired' on the side of the road in the cold.
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 20:18

I live in Siberia.

First, roads that are cleaned in winter have significant traffic. Less important ground tracks get covered by snow and impossible to use in the first weeks of winter. So if you're driving down a highway in winter, at least minimal traffic must be there, even in remote areas.

The more remote you are, the more likely people will help you if they see a stopped car.

Problems start if you suffer break down at night, when traffic is almost absent in frosts below -25°C..-30°C. In some colder and drier places like in Yakutia, there's not much snow, so roads are cleaned rarely and seem maintained and used, but traffic is almost nonexistent in the coldest days.

So, the simple precaution is to go in 2 or 3 cars between cities, to help each other.

What not to do

I heard anecdotes of people getting stuck in such conditions, but on major highways, and being saved. Some of the stories mention them having burned almost entire car: gasoline, seats, tires, etc. And usually they did this within a couple of hours.

So burning any stuff outdoors, as Sergey Gulbin suggests above, is barely useful. It won't keep you warm long enough. Everything gets burned soon, and still there's no by-passer, and you're doomed. Burning wood is problematic too: live trees burn poorly, dry trees and logs on the ground were wet in autumn and now have a lot of frozen water in them. Tourists do use them, but with help of other fuel, and definitely not in an emergency.

Secondly, if you try keeping small fire outdoors over long time, in such frost, you surely get nose and toes frostbitten.

Not to mention poisonous smoke, and that extracting gasoline from the tank and burning it is a stupidly dangerous act.

edit: Extra note: car body is made of metal which conducts heat easily, and in extreme cold is a bad shelter.

What to do

Prevention measure #2 have a truck drivers radio if possible. Then getting help will be very easy.

Above things mentioned, I'll point out the key measure: shelter. Winter tourists go hiking for a week in -20°C and come home unharmed thanks to tents, sleeping bags and tourist gas cylinders to heat up food, melt snow, and boil water. Since gas is finite, they still have to gather some wood, but for one night or emergency, one cylinder is more than enough.

So take a few things to make a shelter:

  1. either a minimalist tent or
  2. a big enough piece of hard textile and ropes.
  3. at least a lighter, or small gas cylinder and burner.
  4. maybe a winter sleeping bag, if you have space for it.

If snow is deep, digging a shelter is quite easy. Make a pit and an entrance downwind, then cover the pit with the textile/tent, leaving small hole for ventilation, and cover from above for more heat insulation. If snow is shallow, use terrain features as protection from the wind, and probably put some snow above the tent to serve as extra insulation. (Snow depth depends a lot on region, some have just centimeters, while others have 1 meter by the middle of the winter, when dangerous frost may happen.)

Then make it noticeable to the bypassers that you need help.

Regarding probably fixing the car, as Knuckleballerr suggests, I'd say it's safer to make a shelter first, then have a safe place to retreat if you can't fix it. (edit: in Yakutia the advice is the opposite: try fixing first, because oils and battery may freeze in half an hour).

  • 1
    I agree that -20°C is not much of a problem. But it might be -50°C or even -60°C or below if someone is unwise and unlucky enough to have this problem in February along the Kolyma Highway, or worse, one of its sideroads. But perhaps the part of Siberia where you live has a nearly tropical climate in comparison to Sakha ;-)
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 19:42
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    I'd considerably upvote the sleeping bag. From if you have it to definitively bring one. Or 2 sleeping bags for summer/3-seasons, the outer one large enough to not compress the inner one.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 16:48

There are times when a car will not drive, but its engine will run. In such cases, if you can spare the fuel, use the engine to generate heat. Ventilation from time to time would help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

If the engine won’t run, perhaps the battery is fully charged. All of that power will produce a decent amount of heat if you can rig something up with the materials at hand. A headlamp might generate heat, depending on its age and type, and wouldn’t be too difficult to transfer to the car's inter¡or.

If you have any vessels with which to capture the engine oil and coolant, and if you know how to drain them from the engine, you’ll have hot water bottles for a while.

As was suggested earlier, the upholstery and carpets can be repurposed for garments and blankets. Don’t forget to look up. The headliner might be of use if it is fabric that you can peel off, and the underside of the hood might yield up some felt for additional insulation.

Your fuel will be helpful in starting fires, and you might be lucky enough to have some useful parts like this metal air filter housing on which to build a fire. You’ll need a tube to siphon gasoline from the gas tank. If you have jumper cables, you should be able to fashion a tube by pulling the wires completely out of the vinyl sheathing. Failing that, there might be a hose in the engine you can use.

The engine compartment of this 1960s Citröen sedan has the makings of a fireplace, complete with chimney.

  • I like the hot "water"/fluid bottle idea too.
    – Brad
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 17:34
  • It's impossible to siphon gas from modern cars. Virtually all of them have anti-siphon baffles built into the fill tube. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 20:15
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    A screwdriver in the fuel tank would work if you know you're never going to get the car going. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 11:13

If you are hundreds of miles away from anyone else, getting out of the car and walking is a stupid idea. Chances are you'll die before reaching anyone or you get lost. If someone goes out looking for you they'll probably take the road/fly along the road to search for you, so as long as you stay close to the road eventually they'll find our car. Thus, keeping the car on/close to the road and staying close to or inside your car is the best course of action.

In addition to what gerrit said, how about taking a flare gun and enough ammo with you? In case you hear a rescue helicopter flying around or people calling your name it's a good way to signal them where you are. Especially when there is a snowstorm or heavy fog this will help the search teams find you.

Also, and this might sound silly: If there is absolutely nothing you can do, like not being able to get the car working again and walking is not an option, but the only option is to wait, possibly for several days, then I think having a book, a guitar or something else to keep your mind calm and occupied would be a good idea. Boredom combined with fear of death can have bad effects on a person's rationality.

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    We had a case locally where a woman had her car break down maybe 3 km from an exit, and she got out and walked (Canada, near Toronto, winter time, night, busy 4 or 6 lane highway). She walked away from the road, towards a light she saw, likely assuming it was a house or civilization. It was a across a reservoir and she fell through the ice and drowned. 3km along the road and she would have found hotels, restaurants etc. Or if she had waved someone would have stopped in no time. Bringing sufficient survival gear and supplies when driving in remote cold or desert areas is just common sense. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:56
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    Are flare guns actually useful in a snowstorm of heavy fog? I wouldn't have thought so. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 14:52
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    @DavidRicherby : Well, i've never used a flare gun in real life, but from experience with fireworks during new years eve a very bright red flare gun shot should surround its nearby foggy area with a very intense red color. And while a rescue team maybe won't be able to pinpoint your location exactly due to the light being spread because of the fog, at least they'd know you're in that general area. And it's still far better than NOT having a flare gun for emergency situations. :) Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 19:54
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    In such situation, my preferred way of "having a book" would be by burning it. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:07
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    If there's even a remote possibility of having to wait for weeks or months before rescue then you shouldn't be travelling that route, or you should prepare in some of the ways from the other answers (radio beacons etc.).
    – WhatEvil
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 13:51

Basic car survival kit

  • Flares

  • Dehydrated food

  • Signal mirror

  • Map and compass (not for hiking. Need to know what direction the nearest people would be to use the sinal mirror effectively)

  • Water (at least 1 gal, more if you will be more than 50 miles from help at any point)

  • Battery operated multi-channel handheld radio (many places have relays along the highway, so as long as range is better than a mile or so, should be okay. A 10-20min walk would get a response)

  • Spare tire, car battery, jack, 1st aid kit, and a car charger.

This should be altered depending on climate, but it's good for a start and every car should have this before any trip anyway. Even to work. Never know what might happen or what might be useful at any given time.

  • Just an anectdote... Once watched a fire-rescue crew get a couple wrecked cars off a railroad crossing using another driver's jacks (two) and winch.
    – wolf
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 21:55
  • What use would a charger be in an isolated location? It needs grid electricity to work. Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 22:46
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    A car charger, one that runs on 12V and plugs into a cig lighter. They are sold everywhere. The car charger would be used before the breakdown. How to know when to plug it in so you're fully charged at breakdown time, I leave as an exercise for the reader :) Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 23:39
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    @Harper breakdown doesnt mean the battery dies, plus basic electrical skill could rewire the charger for a direct link to the battery... As an absolute last resort. Also, forgot the 9v batteries and steel wool in my list.
    – wolf
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 13:23
  • @Harper Do you mean a phone charger? Based on your comment, and wolf's after it, I'm picturing someone running a wire from the cig lighter out the window to the car battery to jump-start the car. But I assume you instead mean to charge your other devices, such as mobile phones?
    – Loduwijk
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 14:49

One of the best things you can do in this situation is actually what you could do before it happens: bring preparations. Other comments have already mentioned different items already and ultimately you need to have brought those with you for them to be of any use, or what you lack in items you need skills to make up for them.

Whether by items or skills, you need to be prepared to address a few major goals/needs. I think about this in part with the classical elements, an helpful checklist to consider.

  • Signaling/rescue: devices like a PLB or EPERB like @Harper mentioned in their answer
  • Personal safety: this is actually mostly a skills thing I think, but some items may be helpful if you practice the right techniques to use them
  • Temperature: fire; be it blankets, hand warmer packets, the ability to start a fire safely even in difficult weather, appropriate clothes to be outdoors or even spending the night though that relates more to shelter
  • Communication: wind; related to signaling
  • Shelter: earth; the ability to use what's with you and your immediate environment to safely (and even sort of comfortably?) spend the night or hide from foul weather, base camp & resources like rope and shelter building/sustaining materials
  • Water: water; supply, filter or tablets, container to boil in, etc.
  • Food: snack bars in the center console, that sorta thing
  • Repairs: spare tire and kit at the least, portable battery, basic tools and knowledge can go a long way keeping you on track and out of potential stranding

This list not only applies to what to prepare with beforehand, but also with what you need to put into practice to address the situation. Refer to this checklist in times of peace and challenges, and if you do both you'll probably get out of a disaster painlessly.


I read an article somewhere, about a family who got stuck in the cold.

They were able to start a fire, and heat rocks. The hot rocks were brought into the car, and of course the cold rocks were placed back into the fire and swapped on regular intervals.


Everybody seems to be addressing survival tips; so I want to instead focus on restarting that car to get back.

While all cars/trucks behave differently, its important to understand how diesel vs gasoline engines work. But generally speaking, in severe cold you need to cover the cars radiator to maintain heat within the engine; perhaps with something more insulating than just cardboard. A lot of people actually insulate the entirety of the engine bay.

Sometimes people will desperately start small fires under the engine (not exactly recommended) but I would suggest preparing yourself for the possibility you may need to boil a pot of water to pour over the top of the engine to get it started. The key is heat; keep your engine and battery warm. Fuel lines can also freeze up, This immediately makes me think of the straight vegetable oil modifications which send engine coolant directly to a heating coil in the fuel tank.

Diesel fuel will gel at low temperatures. Adding a small amount of gasoline will mediate this; but will only do so much and may not necessarily work on direct injection vehicles. (old trucker trick)

Also, traction is very important in snow and ice. One trick I like to use is carry a length of rope to tie my tires up in just in case it becomes a dangerous situation.


Disclaimer, my car broke in extreme cold in Siberia many times.

Many things were already said, I just want to share my own experience from living in rural Siberia for 5 winters in a row.

We do not travel in Siberian winter, instead we run from A to B, we do quick short well planned runs. Advice: know the map very well, know which direction and how far is the next town. Very good advice: let others know your plans, so when you are not arrived in time, they will send help knowing you are in trouble. Maybe Russians are good planners because if you do not plan well you die in winter in this country, so plan and let your friends know your plans.

If you stuck near 30 km of town without help/phone coverage, start walking after one-two hour of wait.

Advice: use a big car. This may sound simple, but bigger cars are really much less prone to failures, I mean REALLY. Large 4+ liter motors are so much more reliable, basically they do not fail all of a sudden ever, suspension and tires are also very strong for larger cars. Recently Siberian roads are flooded with what locals call a "big jeep", most prominent and popular one being Toyota Land Cruser. Also you can store much more gas tubes, food, cloth inside the big car.

The real problem we have in winter is not "car broke" but rather "cannot start engine" this problem is the real killler, even the best, new and reliable cars can be hard to do a motor start when it is under -30 C outside, be prepared for this scenario most of all, have gas heater to warm the motor from down under, try not to stop your engine ever in the wild, have bigger batteries, better "coolant" (use of plain vodka for coolant is very common), better engine oil, more fuel.

Expect help from people when they arrive. Siberian drivers may not look gentleman, but very willing to help in such situations, also almost every local driver can fix cars to some extent.

It was already told in other answers that in cold winter the snow cover is vast, and if you can use your car, then the road is either cleaned routinely or used frequently enough to be safe, having said that, there are nights, mornings, Sundays and especially Sunday nights and Sunday mornings, so long wait is still possible. Also there are snowless winters, especially late November and early December in some rare years are snowless, but can already be freezing, but again, most of the time if you can proceed by road on a working car for long periods then the road is clean because it is active and others will come soon.

Now back to distances, yes, there are roads in Siberia where you can be located about 100 km from the nearby human life, BUT those roads are federal roads, with frequent or at least regular federal traffic, smaller roads are shorter, and you can just do a long walk back or forth when in danger. There are distant roads but those are rather "off roads" and taking them is a special kind of extreme sport close to Everest climbing you do not just "travel" them.

Very popular measure is to install a separate interior heater, that runs on the same fuel, basically burning it safely inside the inhabitable area of the car, you can install one in any big city (300K+ inhabitants). Other thing is using gas tubes, blankets, cloth, food and alcohol and wall/window insulation to keep bodies warm within the car. All together those stuff in a big car turn a car into a home, which can safely be alive for days. Also many people install real small stoves in their cars, especially in trucks and vans, but also sometimes in "big jeeps", to burn wood.

As for flare rockets and other similar devices popular in the West to do a SOS thing, in Siberia there is a big chance that it will not help even when being noticed by other human beings, I do not know anyone who ever used this, or helped anyone using this, or knowing any actual story about using such a thing. Maybe we just do not have enough flares in this country for people to recognize it in a SOS way. Normally if in Russia someone notices such a signal they will think "people are celebrating something" or at best: "military business here", I do not think a regular person seeing such sight will immediately think that someone is in trouble and will hurry to help.


People here are posting horror stories about being 30km from nearest habitation (this is walkable distance). If you're in Siberia, you're likely to be 300km from nearest habitation on a road with traffic some 2 cars/week. So if your car broke, you die. It happens (often) in Siberia. Never ever travel alone/in a single car.

So, you can try call for help via sattelite phone (note: not all sattelite providers work well in high latitudes!), this is it. But likely the help won't be there in time to get you alive.

If it is -50C outside (again, -50 is a normal winter in Siberia) you can stay warm for a while by burning the car (since there's nothing else to burn; also it provides a fair amount of smoke that can be noticed by a nomadic family).

  • 2
    When it's -35°C and you're not properly prepared for bad weather, 30 km or 300 km makes little difference. And I didn't post a "horror story"; I said that we were fine. And how long do you stay warm while burning your only source of shelter anyway? Isn't this as wise a strategy to stay warm as is peeing your pants?
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 16:09
  • you don't have to set the entire car on fire. Tires then seats then some more plastic then it makes no real difference shelter or not.
    – agathis
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 16:57
  • -35 is walkable with some winter clothing of course. But leaving home without even winter clothing when it's -35 outside is a bit unwise :) Btw I HAD an experience like that. -35 in the middle of a forest and the only battery (that was powering Webasto, with engine stopped. Stupid, I know) went flat in the dark of night. Luckily I had a small generator in my stuff so I've been able to recharge it and start the engine. But I was seriously planning to walk if it didnt work out.
    – agathis
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 17:03
  • 3
    It's very unlikely to get 300 from the nearest habitable place even in Siberia. In a car, you rarely go far from civilization. If you look at highways in OpenStreetMap, there are villages, even on highway P-504 Yakutsk-Magadan.
    – culebrón
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 8:03
  • 1
    @culebrón Even in Western Russia it is very easy to drive on a road which maybe on Google Maps has villages alongside it, but in reality is just empty for 50km without any road signs, phone reception, other cars or indication if the road just ends suddenly and you need to drive all the way back. This has happened to me personally already twice (in Tver' oblast and Karelia), so that's definitely a likely scenario.
    – DK2AX
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 22:28

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