A car emergency is a really scary experience. If you’re not prepared, the results can be horrible. The good news is that a well-thought-out car emergency kit can really help. In this guide, I’ll share with you what these kits are, how important they are, what to consider when making them, and 25 items you should really include.
What Is an Emergency Kit?
There’s no trickery in the name, this is a kit that prepares you for an emergency. It isn’t going to prevent one, but it will keep you healthy and relatively comfortable during one.
In this article, we’ll be talking about emergency kits that are designed specifically for cars. In most cases, it consists of a single bag that holds a variety of different items. The bag can be stored in a trunk or the back seat of your car and serves no purpose until an emergency occurs.
In a perfect world, you’ll never have to touch the bag. Still, it’s very important that you have one.
Why Are Car Emergency Kits So Important?
Accidents and emergencies can happen to anyone. These kits are a way to prepare for a disaster and improve how well you get through the situation. Something like a flat tire has a much smaller impact if you’re prepared for it with an emergency kit.
The only kicker is that there is a lot to prepare for. Driving a car is a dangerous thing, and there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Sure, most of the occurrences are exceedingly rare, but it’s still a good idea to be prepared.
If your car becomes inoperable, you’re stranded. An emergency kit will lessen the impact of this event and greatly improve your chance of survival in certain situations. It’s a scary thought, but it’s one that we should talk about: There’s a potential for death in a car-related emergency.
A good emergency kit will keep you alive during such an emergency. That, in a nutshell, is why they’re so important.
Who Can Benefit from a Car Emergency Kit?
Anyone and everyone who operates a car should have an emergency kit. Even a brand-new car in a safe area on a temperate day with a safe driver behind the wheel can encounter an emergency.
It’s one of those things that you don’t realize how much you need until you really need it. It doesn’t hurt you to grab a kit and throw it in your trunk until you (hopefully never) need it.
Buying a Pre-Made Emergency Kit
If you want to leave the decision-making to someone else, you can grab a pre-made emergency kit. Ones from Haiphaik, Lifeline AAA, or Veetos do a pretty good job. You can even buy them right through Amazon and use Prime to get them quicker.
The only downside is that a pre-made emergency kit makes a lot of assumptions. You’ll either be buying items you already have, or items that you won’t ever use.
The benefit is that the whole kit comes pre-assembled and you don’t have to worry about sourcing and picking up individual items. Two of these three kits that I’ve listed also come with their own carrying case.
They’ll definitely help in a pinch, but they don’t consider your individual needs.
Things to Consider When Making an Emergency Kit
When you’re making an emergency kit, it’s all about prediction and planning. Clearly, you’re not going to plan when your car will break down. It’s more a matter of predicting what you’ll need if your car ever does break down.
Covering the Basics
Step one is all about covering the basics: water, food, shelter. The shelter in this case will be your car, so it boils down to food and water.
In drastic situations, you could be stranded for days on end. If you don’t have food or water prepared, you could be in big trouble.
Knowing What Can Go Wrong
In our following section, you’ll see a lot of car tools. This is because you need to know what can go wrong with your car and prepare to fix it.
Things like a dead battery, blown tire, or oil leak will strand you on the side of the road. A lot of these issues can be solved with the right equipment and knowledge.
In other situations like a car that fell into deep water, it’s not as easy as bringing a quart of oil. You’ll need to have tools that are proportionate to what could go wrong.
Surviving Long Enough for Help
If something bad enough happens to your car, you’ll have to survive until help can come. If your phone is dead and you’re in a very rural area, this could be a while.
I take this very seriously and believe your emergency kit should reflect that. Remember that you also have to stay warm during the process, it’s not just about food and water.
Getting You Back on the Road
Aside from staying alive, getting back on the road is a big focus. If there’s a small mechanical issue with your car, you might be able to sort it out and get back on the road. A roadside repair can get you home in no time. Of course, you need the right tools for the job.
Finally, you’ll need to predict what type of location you’ll be in. Being broken down in San Diego is very different than in Alaska or Death Valley.
Try to keep items in your kit that are temperature-specific depending on where you frequently travel. If you live in Alaska and only travel in the immediate area, you had better prepare for some cold weather.
What to Include in Your Car Emergency Kit: 25 Important Items
Let’s go through some of the big items you’ll need in this kit. Some of them might seem strange, but I’ll do my best to explain the importance of every item.
You should pick and choose from this list to grab items that you personally will need. At the same time, feel free to add items that aren’t on this list if you think you’ll need them.
Your car should come with a spare tire, but if it doesn’t then you can throw it in your kit. The tire probably won’t fit in whatever bag you have for the other items, but you can leave it where your previous spare was located.
If you have a tire blowout, then a spare is really the only solution to get you back on the road.
High-Quality Car Jack
Your car probably also comes with a car jack, but it’s most likely junk. Car manufacturers put the cheapest and flimsiest possible jack in your trunk’s liner just to check a box.
If you have to really use a jack, you’ll be happy that you have a high-quality one.
Optional: Steel Jack Stands
Energy bars are a good way to get food in your system. Plenty of bars offer expiration dates of a year or more. This allows you to stock up on bars, throw them in the emergency kit, and forget about them.
It’s worth noting that these don’t require any preparation. You simply unwrap them and eat them. Good news for someone on the side of the road who forgot to pack their oven.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a non-negotiable requirement for every kit. Things like Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, tweezers, and antiseptic solution can go a long way during an emergency.
It’s also worth splurging for the larger and more expensive first aid kit. This ensures you cover all your bases in case you really need it.
For someone who has the misfortune of running out of gas while driving on the road, a “small gas can” be a life-saver. In this case, a little gas can will change your whole day.
Definitely go for a spill-proof can. The last thing you need is an empty can during an emergency because it all leaked out.
According to the EPA, you’ll want to change the gas every quarter (three months). Still, you probably won’t need more than a gallon or two in your can so it’s not a huge deal.
You just want enough gas so you can get to your next destination. If you live in rural Wyoming, then you’ll probably need more than just a gallon to get to the next gas station.
A Good Bag
Since the whole kit is getting crammed into a single bag, you better make sure that bag is high-quality. I’m not suggesting that you drop 100 bucks on a bag to carry everything, but it helps to get one that’s large enough and made from canvas.
You don’t want it to fall apart when you go to use it for the first time or move it to your new car.
Jumper cables are something that everybody should carry in their car regardless. If you don’t have a set, then you can easily find some and add them to your collection.
If you didn’t know, these cables are used to revive a dead battery. Learn how to jump-start your car with this guide here.
If your car breaks down at night, other road-goers might not see you. To avoid getting hit by another car, throw a few roadside flares in your emergency kit.
This also helps to hail someone down and get their help during a nighttime breakdown. These flares burn for a long time and emit an unmistakable color.
If your car is stuck in the snow, then a small shovel can save the day. You can dig out your rear or front tires, depending on if your car is an RWD or FWD. With clear asphalt under your car, you can get back to driving. Maybe you should go back the way you came in if the road ahead is even uglier.
Flashlight (and Extra Batteries)
Your phone’s flashlight isn’t strong enough for you to rely on it. Plus, you need to save battery so you can reach out to people for help. You should throw a solid flashlight in your kit. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries so your flashlight doesn’t die.
3 Gallons of Water
At a bare minimum, you should have a gallon jug of water in your trunk. For hotter climates, you want to bump that up to 3 or more gallons.
A lack of water leads to dehydration which can result in death if it goes on for too long. You can buy big quantities of water at any supermarket and just leave it in your back seat or trunk.
Car Escape Tool
A car escape tool is something that you don’t want to keep in your kit. You want to keep this in your center console or glove box. The size of it is small enough to not take up too much space and even small enough even to fit on a keychain!
The tool will smash through glass or cut away a stuck seatbelt. This can save your life if your vehicle falls into water, flips, or catches on fire with you stuck in it.
Extra Clothes (if Cold Climate)
For the readers in colder climates, make sure you’re prepared to brave the cold. An extra jacket, pair of pants, boots, gloves, and a hat will keep you warm.
Fighting hypothermia is a real problem if your car won’t start and you’re in the middle of a cold night. Plenty of people have died in the past simply because they didn’t have warm enough clothes.
Another way to warm up is with a stack of blankets. This will keep your internal temperatures up in a survival scenario in a cold area.
If your phone dies, how are you going to navigate away? It’s easy enough to grab a physical map and stuff it in your car emergency kit.
I’d recommend getting a map of your general area rather than your whole state.
Spare Engine Oil
If your vehicle’s engine isn’t running right and the oil level is dangerously low, it’s a good idea to have a quart of the oil recommended for your vehicle in the trunk. Just in case you need to top it off.
Some vehicles are just designed to consume a certain amount of oil. Find out if this pertains to your vehicle and gauge how often it reaches a certain oil level. It’s important to make sure the correct oil is being used, the vehicle is on level ground, and that you don’t overfill the engine.
Rags and Paper Towels
In general, rags and paper towels will help clean up messes. If something spills in your car or you need to wipe it up after working on your car, you can use these shop towels.
A lot of work on your car can’t be done without a good wrench set. These will help you do quick repairs on the side of the road and fix your car.
Paper and Something to Write With
Jotting down thoughts, phone numbers, or a message without a phone is tough. That is unless you have paper and something to write with. I recommend keeping it in your glove box just in case you can’t access your trunk.
Rain and Ice Gear
If inclement weather is the reason you’re stuck on the side of the road, you should be prepared. Bringing rain and ice gear will help you combat Mother Nature while getting help or fixing your car.
You can plan on staying in your car, but it’s a better idea to be prepared to venture outside if necessary.
Chain or Towing Strap
If your car breaks down and you flag down a fellow motorist on the road, it’s no good unless you have something to tow your vehicle with. I’d recommend adding a chain or towing strap to your emergency kit. Attach it to your vehicle’s tie-off point and allow the kind stranger to tow you somewhere safer.
Car Battery Charger
You can get a portable car battery charger that will bring your vehicle back to life. This battery charger doesn’t require a second car since it doesn’t work like a “traditional jump-starter.”
You just connect the charger to your battery, wait a little bit, then your battery should have enough juice to start up. The one I love from NOCO will charge your car up to 20 times on a single charge!
Portable Battery and Phone Charger
You can also get a portable battery to charge your personal electronic devices. This high-speed charger will let you get some juice in your phone so you can make an emergency call and get some help.
Soap, Toilet Paper
When nature calls, you’ll want something to clean up with. Leaves can only get you so far. If you know you’re going to driving on a long stretch of road with no exit in sight, I’d recommend carrying a little soap and toilet paper in the trunk just in case an emergency happens.
Washing your hands will help you prevent sickness while stranded in your car. Instead of soap, you can also consider using hand sanitizer.
Tire Patch Kit
A tire patch kit will fill a small hole in your tire. Doing this allows you to drive to safety before too much air escapes. Check out this article about safely patching a hole in your tire.
A good car emergency kit can help you stay alive during a true emergency. I’ve outlined 25 items that you should have and shared with you about the importance of these kits. I hope you never have to use it, but it’s always a good thing to have.