I learned about the essentials for car emergencies through the school of hard knocks. At one time or another, I have needed every single item on this list and, disappointingly, not had a few of them at the worst time possible. So, I put together this list to help you build your own car kit, so you don’t make the same mistakes as me.
A car emergency kit should comprise everything you will most likely need to quickly diagnose and repair minor problems, as well as items to keep you safe while performing maintenance or waiting for help. Always tailor your kit to suit the conditions you will be traveling in, whether it be rain, snow, or shine.
An emergency roadside kit for your car should contain items to get you back on the road, as well as provisions to keep yourself healthy. Some objects are essential to ensure you and your vehicle are seen by oncoming traffic.
20 Things You Should Always Have In Your Car Kit
There are many things that are worth having in your car to help you when you are stranded. Below are the essential items you should have with you at all times to get you through most eventualities. It’s good to get yourself a durable canvas bag to store everything in so that your emergency kit is easy to find at a moment’s notice.
Here are the essentials you need, along with a bonus list of situation-based items you may want to consider adding:
1. Jumper cables
Car batteries typically last around five years before they need replacing. Unfortunately, they don’t give you much warning as to when that will happen. Of course, a dead battery might occur after accidentally leaving your lights on, rather than because it’s reached the end of its lifespan.
Instead of calling and waiting for roadside assistance, a pair of jumper cables, like these good ones found on Amazon, can get you on your way. Alternatively, you could opt for a portable lithium-ion battery with jumper cables attached. With this gadget, you don’t need a good samaritan to jump your car. These batteries can also charge your cell phone and other electronics. Just make sure you keep it charged.
2. Spare tire and jack
Most cars come with a jack and a spare tire, or sometimes an inflatable tire kit. Most of the time, you will be stranded at the roadside because of a flat tire. Having a spare and jack can get you on your way far quicker and will save you the time and expense of calling for help.
3. Can of tire inflator
Depending on the damage to your tire, dispensing a can of tire inflator into it can be enough to repair the damage to get you to the nearest tire shop. It adds pressure to the tire as well as the material can close up small leaks. Usually, this can buy you 30 miles of inflated tire – enough to get you to safety.
4. Power tire inflator
If you get frustrated having to find a gas station every time your tires need air, you may opt for a portable, power-operated tire compressor. These devices add air into the tires until it reaches the required PSI. It is essential as your spare tire is often overlooked when you fill your tires, and it can sometimes be flat when you go to use it. It can also assist the can of tire inflator in getting the right PSI.
5. Tire pressure gauge
It’s always wise to have some way of checking your tire pressure at any time. While you might not need it during a dire situation, it’s good to ensure your tires are correctly inflated at all times. A tire gauge is the quickest way to evaluate the pressure.
Don’t get caught up in buying one of the newer fancy digital gauges. Take my advice and stick with the old-fashioned versions, like this one.
6. Multifunctional tool
Either get a multitool, like this one from Amazon, or a small tool kit that includes screwdrivers, pliers, an adjustable wrench, and a pocket knife. This tool is perfect for a multitude of maintenance operations. Whether you need to change a fuse or something more intricate, this tool will make sure you have whatever you need.
A significant component of a car emergency kit is to have what you need to make you and your car visible should it break down. The last thing you want is to be hit by an oncoming motorist while you change a tire because they could not see you. Having these items in your kit will keep you safe.
7. Flares or triangle reflectors
When broken down at the side of the road, you need to be visible to oncoming traffic. By placing reflective triangles on the road leading up to your car, fellow drivers will see you and either slow down or move lanes. If you are changing a tire, this can be vital.
Flares do the same job and are a good option if you find yourself on windy roads often. That way, you can set beacons up on the bend before your car to highlight the danger ahead. This is especially valuable if your vehicle has been in an accident and is straddling the road.
8. First-aid kit
Injuries frequently happen in our daily lives. Something simple like a cut to a finger or a scuffed knee needs treatment. That’s before we consider more severe injuries that can occur around vehicles. It’s always wise to have a fully stocked first aid kit in the car.
9. Emergency Blanket
Every car should have one emergency blanket in it for every family member. It may be to protect yourself in cold weather, but it can also help an injured person who is going into shock.
10. Portable cell phone charger
Having a small charger that can power up your cell phone can keep you connected when your car breaks down can be vital to getting assistance, calling your loved ones, and researching what to do in a given situation.
11. Flashlight and extra batteries
Whether you want to find your way or signal for help, a flashlight is a powerful tool. It can also help you see when doing maintenance on your car in the dark.
Either get a standard flashlight from your local store or invest in a survival flashlight, that is hand crank or solar and includes multiple other functions. Here is a really nice one that you can get from Amazon that fits the bill nicely.
12. Car escape tool
We all hate to think about it, but you might need to escape from your car one day. In the event of a car accident, your seatbelt can become stuck, and the only way to break out is to cut it. Similarly, smashing your window may be the only way out of your car. Keep this in your glove compartment, or inside the console between the front seats so it is easily accessible.
I recommend getting a car escape tool that both can break glass and cut through seatbelts.
13. Small fire extinguisher
Car fires can happen for a variety of reasons, including engine failure and damage to the fuel lines following an accident. A small fire extinguisher can prevent a fire from starting or spreading. You may also come across an accident scene, and using your fire extinguisher could save lives.
14. Rain poncho
One thing that can make car maintenance incredibly tricky is doing something in heavy rain. Get yourself a brightly colored poncho; that way, you will stand out against a dark background. Keeping dry is also vital to staying warm while you wait for emergency services. Remember, you should never sit in your car at the side of the road.
Cars need fluids to run correctly and safely. These are items you want to have in your vehicle to make sure you never drive dangerously.
15. A quart of motor oil
Depending on the type and age of your vehicle, you might need to top off your oil during a more extended excursion.
16. A gallon of coolant
Similar to oil, having coolant in your car is wise if you have a vehicle with known problems with the radiator. That way, you can top it off and avoid breaking down. It is also a wise decision to have this in your car if you are going on a long excursion.
17. Spray bottle with washer fluid
Vision is vital while driving, and you never know when you will run out of washer fluid or when the washer pump might stop working. When you need to clean your windshield, pull over, spray the washer fluid, and you can be back on the road, able to see where you are going.
You never know when you might be stranded in your car for a prolonged period. It could be due to inclement weather like a flood, a snowdrift, or because your vehicle lets you down and you get stranded. For whatever reason, you can get caught needing to spend hours by the side of the road. So, you will need a few things to keep away hunger and thirst.
Packing non-perishable, high-energy foods into your car is a great way to ensure you always have something to get you through a long period in your vehicle. Granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, or peanut butter are good options to store in your glove compartment.
Fluids are more vital to survival than food. Always have a few bottles of water in your car for emergencies.
20. Pen and Paper
In the event of an accident, you may need to share your insurance and/or personal information with other motorists or the police. While cell phones have almost rendered the traditional pen and paper old-fashioned, it is always good to have a backup and to have a way to take down and share information.
For Cold Environments
If you are traveling in severely cold and wintery conditions, you need to have some extra items in your car to ensure your safety.
- Ice and snow scrapper- You are not going to get far if your vehicle is covered in ice and snow. Make sure you always have a scraper and snow brush in your car to remove the wintery buildup.
- Extra clothing- It is a good idea to have a spare pair of gloves, socks, and a thick sweater in your car in the event you need to spend an extended period of time in your car or by the side of the road. While everyone should have a blanket, these extra layers can make all the difference in sub-zero temperatures.
- Snow shovel- Sometimes, it snows so much that you need to dig your way out of trouble. It can happen fast, too – in the course of a meal, inches of snow can fall, or a snowplow has come by and buried your car underneath enough material you have to dig your way out. Always have a shovel in your vehicle so you can get yourself back on the road.
Other Things to Consider:
These items aren’t “essential,” but they can be useful things to pick up over time and have in your car.
- No-spill gas can (2-5 gal.)
If you often go on long trips away from metropolitan areas, you might want to carry a gas can with you. While transporting gas is a hazard if done incorrectly, it is an excellent way to transport gas from a gas station to your vehicle that has run out of fuel. It can be useful if the gas station you end up at doesn’t sell them!
- Spare car fuses
These can be great to pick up, so whenever your car just needs a new fuse for the radio or light, it’s easy to make that fix.
- Road maps
Many of us have switched to using only electronic maps on your GPS systems or smartphones. However, in a “dead zone” or when power is finite, having a physical map can help you know where you are to guide assistance to your location or for you to understand what direction to walk to get some help or shelter.
- Cat litter or sand
This isn’t an intuitive one, but the day you are stranded and need traction to get your car back on the road, you will be grateful you have it.
- Spare change and cash
While the world becomes increasingly digitalized, there are instances where you need some cash. Toll roads are a prime example. If you run out of power and you need to use a pay phone, some spare change can help you out!
Being stranded at the roadside is a frightening prospect. Roadside assistance can ease the anxiety, but what if you run into trouble out of cell range? What if the weather is treacherous and no one can get to you? Will you have everything you need in your car to correct the issue or at least stay safe until help arrives?
Therefore, everyone should carry an essentials car kit in their trunk. By being prepared with just a few items, you can save yourself from having to call for roadside assistance, or you can get yourself out of a dangerous situation. There are also items in your kit that can save your life or the lives of others. Depending on your environment and the condition of your car, there are other items you should carry, like oil and additional clothing. In this instance, it is better to be over-prepared than underprepared.
Don’t be like me and learn the hard way. Get prepared now. Thanks for reading.
Recommended Helpful Products Checklist
To make things easy on you, here is a detailed list showing the Amazon products that I recommend to save you the hassle of comparison shopping. I’ve done the hard work for you and have found a balance between quality and price.
- Jumper Cables
- Can of Tire Inflator
- Power Inflator
- Pressure Guage
- Multifunctional Tool
- Road Flares
- Triangle Reflectors
- First Aid Kit
- Emergency Blanket
- Car Escape Tool
- Small Fire Extinguisher
- Rain Poncho
The rest of the items on my list you probably already have or can just pick up at Walmart based on your personal preference.
How Often Should You Check Your Car Essentials Kit? It’s easy to prepare your car essentials kit, pop it in the trunk, and forget about it. However, you should evaluate the equipment every six months to check for damaged or expired items. Do things like ensuring your flashlight works and make sure your tools haven’t rusted. Replace food often and rotate your water bottles and car fluids. When doing this, check your first aid kit and confirm your spare tire is inflated. Replace used items as soon as you can to make sure your kit is up to date.
What Should Your First Aid Kit Contain? Your first aid kit needs to be kept in a hard container as many items within it can get squashed easily. It doesn’t need to be large, but it should have everything you need, including adhesive bandages, gauze pads, tape, safety pins, antibiotics, antiseptic, hydrocortisone ointments, antihistamines, painkillers, and curved scissors. You can include other items like vaseline, insect bite relief, sunscreen, and a thermometer too. Try to include infant and child versions of any medications also. With a kit this well-stocked, you’ll be prepared for most eventualities.
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Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!