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What You Need to Have in Your Car Emergency Kit

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Imagine you you’re pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire. In the fog. And rain.

Or you’ve slid off the road into a snowbank in the middle of a storm. At night.

Maybe you just ran out of gas. At dinnertime.

The AAA reports that three out of five drivers deal with some kind of roadside incident that leaves them stranded. So, we put together a list of everything you need for a car emergency kit; it will keep you safe and warm until you can get from the side of the road and to a safer spot, where you can wait for help.

The Basics

#1 Cell phone charger: If you’re stranded, a cell phone can be your lifeline. You can call for help, find the nearest gas station, get directions if you’re lost…the last thing you want is to be stranded with a dead battery.

#2 Portable emergency radio with a solar powered & hand-powered charger: If you’re out of gas (or close to it), or if you think you might be stranded for a while, it may not be a good idea to leave your car running. Small enough that you can Velcro it on the side of your dashboard or rear window to keep it charged, an emergency radio will give you access to emergency broadcasts, a backup power source for your cell phone, a little music to break up the silence, and even a flashlight. We recommend a radio that has a hand crank and/or battery backup too, in case you’re stranded at night and can’t use the solar powered charging feature.

#3 Basic emergency car tools: These include jumper cables, reflectors and roadside flares to identify your location and flag down another driver or emergency services, a tire-pressure gauge and a multi-tool with pliers, screwdriver and small knife. These tools will help keep you safe on the side of the road, and hopefully get you moving again sooner.

#4 First-aid kit: You never know when something could happen. A well-stocked kit can help you care for small injuries, such as a child’s scrape or blisters on your feet after a hike. Look for a first aid kit that includes disinfectant, different size bandages, gauze pads, antibacterial ointment or salve and packets of generic ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

#5 Food and water: Being stranded is miserable enough. You wouldn’t want to be hungry on top of it! And if you’re stranded for an extended period of time, such as during a blizzard or in a remote area, have food and water in your car could be lifesaving. We suggest water bottles and non-perishables, such as granola bars.

#6 Blankets: Having blankets on hand can help kids get comfortable for a long wait, and keep you warm in cold weather.

#7 Dry Clothes: Maybe you aren’t having car trouble, but you did get caught in a sudden rainstorm. Dry clothes can make the drive, or the wait, much more bearable. If you have kids, we definitely suggest several extra diapers and undies, too.

#8 Rain Poncho: Ever try to figure out what’s going on under the hood in the pouring rain? Not fun. At all. Rain ponchos fold up very small and won’t take up much space, but they’ll come in really handy in an emergency.

#9 Flashlight: If you’re stranded at night, a flashlight can not only help you see in the dark but can also be used to flag down a passing driver. Especially if you have a dead battery, which means no headlights.

#10 Emergency Cash: So, you just drove 2 hours to the beach and then realized you left your wallet at home? That’s what the emergency cash is for.

#11 Spare tire, jack, and foam tire sealant: Most cars come with a spare tire and jack in the trunk, but adding an inexpensive canister of foam tire sealant could mean the difference between a quick fix and manually changing your tire along a busy road. If the tire leak is small, your will likely be able to get somewhere where you can get help.

#12 Paper and pen: If you decide to try walking to a nearby gas station, or need to leave your car on the side of the road for any reason, you’ll want to leave a note letting other drivers and the police know what happened and when you’ll be returning.

Now, do you want to get really serious?

The Extras

#13 Seasonal items: You’ll want to have a few extras in the winter, such as an ice scraper, snow shovel, and sleeping bags. If you end up in a snowbank, a small snow shovel could help you dig out enough to get back on the road. If you can’t get out and you have to wait for help, sleeping bags are warmer than blankets and could be critical in the extreme cold if you can’t keep your car running for an extended period of time.

#14 Paper maps: If you’re going to be traveling in areas you aren’t familiar with, or planning to go on a road trip, then paper maps are a must. You never know when you’ll lose the GPS on your phone because there is no phone service. Or when you’ll lose GPS because of no phone service AND you have to take an unmarked detour because of weather or an accident. It happens.

#15 Rope, towing strap or chain: This could be considered an extra, unless you like to go off-roading. A fellow driver may be able to connect your car and tow you to safety if you have these tools.

#16 Small empty fuel canister & spare car fluids: It’s dangerous to drive with fuel in the car, but if you need to walk to a gas station, an empty canister will come in really handy. Plus having small containers of oil, coolant or radiator fluid, and windshield washing fluid could mean the difference between getting back on the road quickly and waiting for an emergency service.

#17 Water purification tablets or filters: Water bottles take up a lot of space, so if you travel in remote areas, or do a lot of camping and hiking, you should keep water purification tablets and filters in the car as well. This way if you run out of bottled water, and you have access to flowing water like a stream or river, you can safely stay hydrated.

#18 Larger first aid kit: You could go all in on a bigger first aid kit to be prepared for more serious injuries. This is also more important if you camp, hike, or go off-roading.

#19 GPS beacon: If your situation is so dire that you need to call for a search-and-rescue mission, there are GPS devices designed to do just that at the push of a button. These devices typically cost from $100 to $150, but if you’re often in remote areas with rough terrain, it could be a worthwhile investment.

#20 MREs or calorie bars: If you’re stranded for an extended period of time, MREs – meals-ready-to-eat – or calorie bars from hard-core emergency kits will provide you with more nutrition than granola bars. They also have a longer shelf life and are, honestly, not very appetizing, so you won’t be tempted to grab one unless you're truly desperate.

That’s it!

You now have everything you need for any car emergency…and not much room left in your trunk either. Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a bigger car? We’ll help you get your insurance switched over.

Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you think we missed!


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