25 Things You Should Always Have In Your Car

flat tire in rainHaving 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.

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  1. Stephen says:

    Here is what I actually bought over the Holidays for my wife’s car and one for my car. Covers the flashlight and radio parts of this list and does not need batteries.

    Since the winters can get pretty cold up here, having to always check a flashlight in the car to make sure the batteries are still good is just a pain in the butt.

    http://www.amazon.com/Durapro-MegaBRITE-emergency-self-flashlight/dp/B000GJ5G7C?tag=onejourney-20

  2. Nishant says:

    Wow, sounds like you thought of everything. Reminds me of the tragedy with James Kim. Another nice post.

  3. 3bean says:

    I keep a couple of cans of wet cat food with a pop off lid. This is something I know we’ll never eat unless it’s a dire emergency. All other food we’ve ever tried keeping in the car alwways ends up getting comsumed in a non-emergency hunger attack!

  4. George says:

    Instead of road flares, I suggest having a few collapsible reflective triangles. You can get some that mount on a window, and others that are meant to be free-standing. When collapsed they don’t take up much space.

    Flares only last (at most) 30 minutes. A triangle stays visible indefinitely. If you’re stuck on the side of the highway for a while, putting reflective triangles behind you make you MUCH more visible, reducing the possibility of somebody hitting you if they aren’t paying attention.

  5. Great advice! Not living in a rural area, I would have never thought of some of those items and quite honestly, I don’t have any of those items in the car except the jack that comes with the car. Of course I also carry my cell phone with me at all times.

  6. Grant Boston says:

    Instead of flares get a couple of the flashing LED lights that cyclists use – they are very bright and batteries last forever. I would also carry a towing strap, you can use it not only for towing but to secure a load or hold the trunk closed if you are carrying too much stuff

  7. Hunchy says:

    The list is a bit different here in Australia. Instead of road salt, shovel and hat/ glove/ scarf, I would substitute sunscreen, beer and boardshorts :-)

    Seriously… the only thing I would add is one of those plastic ponchos that fold up into just about nothing. Invaluable if it’s raining and something goes wrong.

  8. durin says:

    one thing that just occurred to me is incorporating a home emergency kit into the car. Odds seem good that whether an emergency occurs at home or on the road, the car will be close enough to access.

  9. Shadox says:

    Excellent article. Here are my comments:

    1. A cell phone battery will leak its energy and discharge over time if it is not recharged. So, if you put your old cell phone in the glove compartment and forget about it, it will most likely be dead if you try to use it several months later.

    2. Towels are also useful if you are trying to hitch a ride on a passing spaceship. Come on! You gotta know that reference!

    3. Move to Califorina, where road salt is strictly unnecessary, unless you happen to be driving up to Tahoe for a ski weekend… :-)

  10. VG says:

    What about a camera? at least a disposable camera to take some pictures of the emergency. of course this helps with accidents too. i recently was hit in a walmart parking lot and police refused to write a police report and i ended up having to get walmart security camera (which are full digital feeds) to prove my case.

  11. Rob Landers says:

    You forgot the 26th thing to carry in your car at all times. It is the extra cash to purchase the extra fuel to carry this estimated 180 lbs of extra weight — and the repair and maintenance cost to compensate for shortened tire, brake, engine, transmission, and running gear life, due to the extra weight. RL

  12. Sachi says:

    The one thing I don’t see here is a candle. One of those thick based slow burning candles is what you need to bring the inside of the car from 36 degrees to 50 degrees, when you’re stuck in the snow.

    Thanks for the list!

  13. Rick M says:

    I agree with Rob Landers. My goal has always been to get as much stuff out of my car as possible, to cut down on wait and improve gas mileage. I figure that as long as I carry a cell phone, I can get someone to bring whatever else I need in an emergency.

  14. Bill says:

    Not much extra weight there – all that stuff fits nicely in a small Rubbermaid tub.

    Include a 12V car adapter (off ebay) for the cellphone and you’re set.

    You could also buy a prepaid card from America’s Roaming Network (they’re the default provider you get if your cellphone is no longer registered with another carrier)

    Their prepaid cards are good for 2 years from the date you buy them – outgoing calls only, since once your cellphone becomes unregistered it can’t receive incoming calls:

    http://americanroaming.com/buyprepaid.php

    Spending $20 every couple of years to be able to use that cellphone for calls other than 911 is cheap peace of mind.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Hello, this post is great i made a translation in french of it. I hope it’s not a problem.

    Have a nice day.

  16. Dan says:

    George,
    One thing that flares have going for them is that they’re probably the best fire starter you can keep in your car. Most people don’t know how to build a sustainable fire from scratch and if I need an immediate heat source I know that I’m using one of my flares (not inside the car unless its that dire).

    Also a knife for cutting seatbelts if necessary. A multitool would cover other bases as well (pliers, etc)

  17. Kitty litter can also substitute for carpet liner.. you just pour it at the back tire and all around it, on the ice, and it serves as a ‘grip’ for your tires.

  18. Kayla says:

    Hey,

    Why doesn’t anyone EVER think of toilet paper?

  19. drleonesse says:

    I agree with Sashi about the candle. When I lived in ‘cold country’, I always had a tall, fat candle and matches in a 3-lb coffee can (with lid). I was told that the heat from the candle was enough to keep the car occupants alive if stuck in the snow for an extended time. The can makes it much safer and more stable.

    When I lived in the desert where wind/sandstorms were frequent, sandbags in the truck of a small car would help deter ‘lane shift’ due to high winds on the highway.

  20. The most important things everyone should always carry is copy of your identity as in an ID card or may be in when in a car a License :) its very important!

  21. Norah says:

    Dear Trent, and other users
    Thank you very much for these tips. 2 days ago I’ve got my own car and I had no idea about what should I keep in my trunk in case of emergence.That was the reason why I just google it! Your comments are indeed very helpful!

  22. Al says:

    What about a tool kit? You can pick up a small one from Walmart for $20. It has saved my butt a couple of times already. Why call someone and wait around for hours, when you can fix it yourself in minutes. And even if you are not Mr. Fix-it, maybe a good samaritan passing can help you if they have the tools that is.

  23. Kristi says:

    Thank you so much for the advice! I just got my first car and am looking for things to put in the “emergency kit” this seems VERY inclusive! :)

  24. Kortni says:

    1. Ping Balls
    2. Insect Repellent
    3. Lighter or box of matches
    4. Soup that has a pop top
    5. Baby Wipes
    6. TOILET PAPER

  25. Kortni says:

    7. Canned soup with pop off lids.

  26. Don says:

    Some of this sounds like overkill. I think it all depends on what kind of area you live in, so we probably need several different lists, each tailored for the conditions. This list sounds like it’s for someone living in a rural part of the Midwest. Here in the suburbs of Boston, it’s pretty thickly settled, so help is never all that far away. BTW, get roadside assistance service, preferably from your auto insurer, which is much cheaper than AAA.

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