Helping Stranded Motorists (In Cold Weather)

First thing to remember when helping people, keep in mind that they are in fact entirely too human. People make simple mistakes that can be dangerous to their safety, and to your’s. So you have to assume the safety of everyone in a situation when you arrive on the scene. You just might save someone’s life.. including your own!
Make sure the vehicle is safely out of the lane of flowing traffic. Either push it out of the road, or use tow straps. Be careful, as most people strain their back muscles during this phase and often have no clue, until later, that they hurt themselves pretty badly.
Make sure that that everyone from the stranded vehicle is warm and protected from the elements. A lot of people jump into their cars without a jacket because they think they’ll just be out for a few minutes and don’t need a coat. Make sure to carry a few heavy blankets in your trunk, if you don’t have a few old coats Some motorists also get soaked through even if they have a winter jacket, so they need to get them off immediately. Remember to stock extra gloves, knit caps, and scarves! Dress in layers so you can remove them as you heat up from working and shoveling. Stay away from cotton under layers as these retain moisture and keep you cold.
Having people sit in the vehicle you are working on isn’t a good idea. People move unexpectedly, they also add weight to the vehicle, and both conditions add stress to the support jack which can cause it to collapse. Have them wait in your vehicle if they have to stay out of the elements. And yes, I know.. you’re concerned about someone stealing things from your car. Take reasonable precautions, but safety and preventing cold related injuries are also important.
Even if someone has their own jack, I never use it. I carry my own, heavy duty scissor jack. I am familiar with it. It’s heavy duty so that I can use it even under a pick-up truck. And all I need to do is make sure it is secured in place on the frame to lift and support the vehicle. Even if someone has already jacked up their vehicle, I slide my jack under and tighten it up. Most people have changed very few tires, and if they have they might not have done so on their current vehicle, or with the current style of equipped jack they have.. this means they might not have done it right. Always assume that unless you’ve secured the vehicle yourself, it is not secure.
While I’m on the subject, I also carry my own tire irons, two of them. One standard measurements, the other metric. Never trust someone’s dealer equipped tire iron.. these are often cheaply made and likely to strip lug nuts, bend, or break. Wear heavy work gloves, and keep your first aid kit near by. Cuts and bruised knuckles are common injuries. You might even break a finger or hand if you’re not careful. Mother Nature loves to strand motorists in snow, or freezing rain, and these conditions make tools slip in the blink of an eye. Go at a steady pace.. this isn’t a race.
Wear a reflective, brightly colored vest if you can. Even in daylight you can go unseen, especially if there is snow blowing about. Some accidents happen because a driver passing by will unconsciously turn toward you and the vehicle you are working on because they have a tendency to steer slightly toward the direction they are looking. Wearing emergency colors helps, but does not eliminate this danger Have someone use a flashlight, or road flares, for warning traffic around you if you’re in or beside the road working.
Buy a good ergonomic shovel to help you shovel out. They’re worth the price! You can lift snow easier without killing your back. Have salt (and sand if you can get it) available too. Motorists often don’t have either a shovel or grit for traction, so you’ll have to provide both.
Standard Emergency Aid Supplies For Your Vehicle
Towing straps (cold, or old, chains sometimes snap and become shrapnel!)
Tire chains
Heavy duty jack
First Aid Kit
Heavy work gloves, and safety glasses (stuff gets splashed off the road, or rust flecks off tires and lug nuts)
Good ergonomic shovel
Salt and sand (grit) for traction
Extra blankets, old jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves
Granola bars, or other emergency food (some folks may have been stranded for hours without anything to eat)
Bottled water (though be careful storing in your vehicle in winter)
Flashlights (more than one is best), extra batteries too
Road flares
Emergency repair / jump-starting kit
In some areas you are not allowed to use tire chains while driving. But they can be used to help a stranded vehicle get unstuck, then remove them. Do not use tire chains unless they are in good shape, you are familiar with their use, and that they are secured properly.
Emergency battery powered glow sticks–which include a flash light, solid color, or blinking mode–can be used in lieu of road flares. (Thank you, Phantom Zero and Nyx, for this contribution.)