It’s a human impulse to take action, especially in potentially dire circumstances. You might think striking out in search of help is the best thing to do when stranded in your car. It’s not.
Unless you’re absolutely sure of where you are and know there’s a petrol station within walking distance, you should be staying put. That’s because the people searching for you are much more likely to find your vehicle before they find a lone person out in the wilderness, according to u/MorsOmnibusCommunis, who posted this message to r/LifeProTips:
If you ever find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, stay with your vehicle. You are much more likely to be found by searchers and will have shelter if needed.
As a local search for a missing 74 year old hunter enters the fifth day, I’m reminded of what a Search and Rescue worker once told me, “Stay with your car, because we always find the car”. This has proven true in the case of this hunter. His truck was found stuck in a ditch one day after he was reported missing, but unfortunately he has yet to be found.
This makes sense; a car has much higher visibility than a single person, from above and on the ground. Especially if that single person has sat or laid down to rest, or met with some sort of accident keeping them close to the ground. The car also provides shelter in bad weather.
As long as you have water, you can live for a number of days. If someone knows where you were headed, the search party will be on your trail, so stick it out.
As long as we’re being car survivalists, the responses were full of extra preparatory tips in case the worst does happen, like this one from u/Rycross:
During winter you should also put some extra blankets in the trunk in case you get stranded. It also doesn’t hurt to have some water too.
Then u/nospamkhanman suggested adding a candle and waterproof matches to your kit, because a single lit candle can “raise the temp in your car something like 10 degree,” or so they say. There was some debate about the safety of this, because though a car can be drafty, a candle can quickly eat up oxygen. A safer alternative to keeping toasty are hand warmers, according to u/corgibutt19.
Other suggestions for emergency kits included accelerants for starting a fire, like this one from u/Corey307:
A warm set of clothes, emergency blanket, flashlight, matches, lighter, small bottle of naphtha, gallon of water and box of granola bars or similar. A simple first aid kit of gauze compresses, rolled gauze and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol is great too. You can start a fire, stay warm and have food and water for 2-3 days plus treat bleeding.
Making a fire is easy if you have accelerant. Scrounge up various small twigs and dry leaves or needles. If everything is wet look under downed logs or dig into a pile of leaves or needles. Add some accelerant to the tinder. Make a teepee or crosshatch pattern of larger sticks and light the fire. Once it’s going good you can start adding bigger pieces over time.
Several people suggested setting a fire to attract attention, even going so far as to remove a tire from a disabled car and burning it; that will produce a dark black smoke. It’s possible that a stream of smoke will attract searchers, but it’s also possible that you could start a forest fire. That won’t just endanger the forest, it will also endanger you even further, so if you’re ever in such an extreme situation, proceed with caution.
Just remember that the safest thing to do is not proceed at all — stay right where you are.