What to Keep in Your Car in Case of Emergencies

Updated on October 14, 2019
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C D Hundley is a parent and a writer, who writes about business, cars, and technology.

Whether you’re a new driver or an experienced one, it’s always best to be prepared for whatever the road may bring. An emergency on the road can happen any time, and while it’s impossible to plan for every possible scenario, it’s good to have some basic items on hand to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. Many drivers these days, lacking basic mechanical knowledge, defer to triple AAA. And while not everyone knows how to change a tire or jump-start a car, I highly recommend you brush up on these skills to minimize the need for those calls. Because it’s easy to rely on AAA...until you find yourself stranded somewhere without cell service. There are some situations you should be able to handle on your own without a professional, assuming you know how to do so and have the right tools with you.

Then again, there are some emergency situations - like being snowed in your vehicle - that will require your wits and whatever you have available in your vehicle to survive. So it’s best to be prepared with these essential items, most of which shouldn’t take up much space in your car or trunk. You can find these items online or at many local stores.

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The owner’s manual

Ever rip open a gift at Christmas time when you were a kid and get Legos, or electronics, or something with an instruction manual? And did you ever get so excited by the gift that you tore it open, chucked the instruction manual, and started to build / assemble it yourself?

Don’t chuck your car’s instruction manual. Read it. Read it again. And keep it in your car. If you’ve lost it, Google it, download it, print it, and keep it in your car.

To keep your car operating smoothly, your owner’s manual is your best resource when it comes to car maintenance and minor repairs. Keeping your vehicle well-maintained can minimize the risk of roadside emergencies.

A first aid kit

Parents know that sometimes a child who's suffered a bruise bumping around in the backseat may make the rest of your trip miserable unless you cover it with a Band-aid. Immediately.

On a more serious note, if you and/or your passengers are injured in a car accident, use of a well-stocked first-aid kit can minimize the damage until an ambulance arrives. In fact, that first aid kit may well save your life.

You don’t have to assemble one from scratch. There are many prepackaged first aid kits available for purchase online. Make sure that yours has the essentials:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Adhesive tape
  • Alcohol
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic pads
  • Aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Bandages
  • Burn ointments
  • Cold compress(es)
  • Gloves
  • Scissors
  • Splints
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Tweezers

If your first aid kit doesn’t have all of these elements, stock up on the missing items at your local pharmacy. When you use some of these items, make sure to replenish them so they’re there when you need them.

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A flashlight

Need to check under the car or under the hood in the dark? Keep a flashlight in the trunk. I highly recommend a Maglite for its power and durability. Keep the batteries separate in a sandwich bag to eliminate the possibility of battery leakage damaging the flashlight. Also, you can use it as a weapon if you find yourself in a dangerous situation - knock on wood.

Jumper cables

Your car has a battery and batteries die. In your decades of driving, your battery will die mid-trip at some point, if it hasn’t already. Starting your car isn’t too difficult and there are plenty of YouTube videos that can walk you through how to do so easily and safely.

A spare tire and the tools to change a tire:

Ideally, you’ll have a tire pressure gauge, but to change a flat you need a lug wrench, a car jack, and the owner’s manual (see above). Your owner’s manual will list the type of tires best for your car. Again, there are many great YouTube videos that can walk you through how to do this, but it’s best to try to remove and replace a tire long before you’re forced to change a flat.

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Water

If you’re stranded in your car or in the wilderness, you can survive for up to a week without food, but far less time without fresh water. Keep a few bottles - perhaps six to eight - of water in your trunk just in case. Oh, and keep some non-perishable food on hand just in case as well.

A bright reflective vest

Keep a bright reflective poncho in your car. Stranded on a busy road? Wearing it can keep other drivers from sideswiping you. And, of course, it’s great for handling those pesky raindrops when the sky opens up. There are some waterproof safety vests with hoods that work as well.

Duct tape

It’s uses are numerous for minor, and even more serious repairs. Have a dangling side mirror? Patch it up with duct tape. Hailstones put a crack in your window? Seal the hole with duct tape. Broken fan belts, hoses, bumper, hood, or door? Duct tape can hold your car together until you can get to a repair shop. Have a roll of this time-tested quick fix in your car at all times.

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A socket and screwdriver set

A simple set, with several sets of screwdriver and socket sizes, can help you keep things under the hood tight. Familiarize yourself with your car’s operations, and these tools may help you handle simple repairs that interrupt your trip.

A knife

Critical for everything from clearing away debris from your wheels or bumper to starting a fire, a durable and sturdy knife is another indispensable tool for your car. Check your state’s regulations concerning knives to make sure the one you buy is legal for you to possess.

Other key items for the winter months

During the winter months: Keep an ice scraper and snow brush in your trunk. Buy an ice scraper with a snow scraper in the handle to save trunk space. A folding shovel can be good to have on hand as well. Also, keep a heavy-duty blanket (mylar or wool) in your car. And a small amount of kitty litter can help with tire traction. A sock filled with kitty litter placed on the dashboard can help prevent your windows from fogging up, as well as tackle lingering odors.

What else is essential to keep in your car?

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