Having grown up rural and now living rural, I know first hand the types of experiences people can have when they’re caught out in the middle of nowhere and something goes wrong with their car with no help in sight. The end result was expensive towing, lots of time wasted, and in one case, one extremely cold night in a ditch.
With that being said, here are twenty five things you should always keep in your automobile for emergency’s sake. How on earth do I pack all of this up? Almost everything listed here can fit into a small, well-packed box in your trunk. You’ll be shocked how much you can fit into a well-packed shoebox, and then how little space the shoebox takes up.
Owner’s manual This should naturally be in your glove compartment anyway, but you want to make sure that it is indeed in your car. The owner’s manual provides a ton of useful information that can get you back on the road, such as detailed images of how to change a tire and so forth.
Old cellular phone, powered off, with a fully charged battery An old cellular phone, even without subscription, can be powered on to call 911 or 999.
Blankets Even if the weather is nice, you could wind up having to spend several night-time hours in your car. A blanket makes it possible for you to curl up, keep warm, and sleep.
Battery-powered radio (and extra batteries) If weather conditions are atrocious, a battery-powered radio (or, even better, a crank-powered one) can provide you with basic information about what to do.
Bottled water This is necessary for sustenance if you get stuck somewhere and have to wait for a while.
High energy snacks and/or MREs Similar logic to the water; high-energy foods are essential. I usually keep some nuts and some jerky. I know of at least one person who would not go on any trip without a couple MRE (meals ready to eat) in the car – you just pour some water in the pouch and they self-warm and are ready to eat.
Maps Keep a detailed map of the state you’re in in your car at all times – or even a current atlas if you have room. Don’t completely rely on a GPS navigation system.
Booster (jumper) cables These can enable you to get your car started with a dead battery (if a good Samaritan comes along) and also enables you to help someone out in a fix.
First aid kit (and manual) This can be vital if you’re in an accident and someone has injuries. Slowing down bleeding quickly can mean the difference between walking something off and going into shock.
Fix-a-flat If your tire has a pretty rapid leak, Fix-a-flat can often provide just enough to get you to a repair station. I recommend at least two cans.
Tire repair kit If the tire has deflated rapidly, a tire repair kit makes it possible for you to patch up the tire well enough for a short period.
Tire air gauge This one isn’t so vital for emergencies, but is absolutely essential for preventive maintenance – keeping your tires fully inflated not only improves gas mileage, but reduces the risk of tire explosions.
Road flares These are invaluable at night so that others can see you if you need to change a tire or such things.
Flashlight (and extra batteries) Similarly, a flashlight is utterly essential at night if you need to change a tire.
WD-40 This can help loosen any bolts that won’t come loose. WD-40 has saved me in a pinch several times.
Fire extinguisher (5 lb.) If you’re in an accident (or even if you’re not) and there’s a small fire, a fire extinguisher can stop something that could turn into a true disaster.
Portable battery charger A few of the items on this list require batteries. A portable battery charger can plug into your car and charge up these batteries if they’re all DOA.
A change of clothes These are incredibly, incredibly valuable in one situation: changing a tire in the snow or in the rain. You’re going to get soaked either way and sitting there in wet clothes is not a good option.
Towels Towels have a lot of general usage: helping to keep warm in the night, drying off after getting drenched, and aiding in pulling out of mud, ice, or snow (put them under the tire for traction).
Duct tape I’ve reattached a muffler (temporarily) with duct tape before; since then, I keep a roll around to help keep me on the road.
A carpet remnant If you’ve ever been stuck in mud, snow, or ice, a carpet remnant is the best way to help get yourself out. Wedge it as best you can underneath one of the driving tires, then move in the direction of the carpet. It’s gotten me out of a few sticky wickets in the past. Even better – it can simultaneously serve as a trunk liner.
“Emergency money” A small amount of money in change and small bills can be invaluable for tipping tow truck people or all kinds of other situations that are easy to imagine.
Road salt (in winter) can rescue you if you’re stuck in ice. Dump a lot of it near the ice, get in the car under the blanket, and wait for an hour. Then put the carpet under the tire (as described above) and a lot of the time you’ll pull right out.
A shovel (in winter) is invaluable if you ever face a giant snowdrift. I’ve been saved by having a shovel in the back of my truck in the last month; I can’t even count the number of times it’s rescued me in the last year.
Hat, scarf, and gloves (in winter) can help keep you from being frostbitten if the weather is bitterly cold. Keep them in multiples if you have passengers.
If you have all of these items in your vehicle (and they don’t take up as much space as you might think), you’re well-prepared to manage many roadside situations. With just this little bit of fix-it-and-forget-it preparation, you can save yourself a huge amount of time, prevent yourself from freezing, and save a ton of money if an emergency befalls you. If you’re mechanically inclined, you might also want to include some more tools in the trunk, such as a socket set and wrenches, but if you have no idea what you would be doing with them, they’re not necessary.