Americans commute an average of 200 hours every year. When you add in trips to the store, shuttling kids to and from extracurricular activities, and other travel we do on a daily basis in our cars, that adds up to a huge percentage of our time spent behind the wheel. Yet, many of us aren’t prepared for emergencies that might happen when we’re behind the wheel. Perhaps we’re all eternal optimists?
Luckily, it only takes a bit of preparation, and a well-stocked car emergency kit, to make sure that you’re ready in case trouble arises. Following is a car emergency kit list that will help ensure that you have the essentials you’ll need in case of roadside breakdowns, flat tires, or a whole host of other little problems that can arise when you’re on the road.
What to Have in Case of a Flat Tire
Since they can happen at any time, often without warning and at the worst possible times, it’s imperative that any well-appointed car emergency kit have the right supplies in case of a flat tire.
The easiest way to deal with a flat tire is to replace it as quickly as possible with a spare so that you can worry about patching the flat when you’re somewhere safer than the side of the road. Make sure you routinely check your spare tire, and keep it inflated to the correct air pressure, so it’s ready to go in a pinch.
Tire Jack and Lug Wrench
You might be surprised to find out even cars that come with a spare tire don’t always come with the tools needed to change one. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to check that yours does and, if not, a jack and a lug wrench are essential elements of any roadside emergency kit.
Tire Patch Kit
If you find yourself with a tire that has a puncture or slow leak, rather than a complete blowout, having a tire patch kit stowed in your emergency car kit can help you get it fixed fast and back on your way.
Tire Pressure Gauge
Not just useful when you already have a flat, keeping a tire pressure gauge stocked in your roadside emergency kit will help make certain your tires stay inflated at the correct level and could ultimately prevent a flat tire from happening in the first place.
Since emergencies never seem to happen when it’s convenient, you’ll probably find yourself having to fix a flat in the dark at least once or twice in your lifetime. A head lamp will help you keep your hands free to do the tire changing while helping you see what you’re doing, even on the darkest roads.
In Case of a Breakdown
While a breakdown in a parking lot or driveway can be inconvenient, a breakdown on a highway or a backcountry road can be even more of an ordeal. To ensure that you’re ready in any situation, we recommend including the following items in your car emergency kit:
Whether you inadvertently left an overhead light on or you have a battery that’s on the fritz, stashing a set of jumper cables is a good idea to make sure you can get your car recharged and restarted as soon as possible.
Reflective Hazard Sign/Flares
If you’re broken down on the road, you want to make certain that other cars are aware that you’re there and steer clear. Keeping reflective signage and road flares in your roadside emergency kit can help keep you visible to oncoming traffic and prevent further problems.
USB Charging Stick
If your car suddenly breaks down, you’ll want to be able to call for help ASAP, but if your phone’s dead, you could be out of luck. Including an USB charging stick in your car emergency kit, and making certain you keep it charged, can help you keep your phone alive while you wait for aid.
Though it’s rare to be stuck for more than a few hours if your vehicle breaks down, if you’re unlucky enough to be off the beaten path, you might be waiting for even longer. Having a few gallons of clean drinking water stashed in your roadside emergency kit can mean you’re ready for the worst.
Especially in wintertime, having a spare blanket in your car can help keep you warm while you wait for help.
Though there aren’t a lot of situations where you’ll be stuck long enough to require food, it’s not a bad idea to throw a few energy bars or other nonperishables into your emergency car kit just to be safe.
If you’re stuck stranded in a rainstorm for any length of time, a dry change of clothing, especially socks, can be a big help.
Though we don’t often think about the fuses that keep our vehicles’ electrical systems functioning, when one goes out it can impact everything from your windshield wipers to your dashboard lights. Be sure to stock some extras tucked away in case of an emergency.
Whether you need to check your fluid levels on the roadside or just clean up a mess in your car, a roll of utility towels or a few spare rags will undoubtably come in handy at some point.
Tool Kit/Multipurpose Tool
To be prepared for anything, stock your roadside emergency kit with any of the essential tools you might need in a pinch like a screwdriver, pliers, socket wrench, pen knife, and key wrenches.
In Case of an Accident
Accidents happen and they’re often out of our control, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. Keep the following items stowed in your emergency car kit to make sure you’re prepared for an accident.
Though vehicle fires are much rarer than Hollywood films would have you believe, keeping a fire extinguisher packed in your car kit will help keep you ready for an emergency.
First Aid Kit
You can buy one premade or DIY your own, but any well-appointed car emergency kit should include at the very least: bandages, burn cream, analgesic, splint, gauze, antiseptic wipes/cream, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, and antihistamines for allergies.
Make certain you have an extra copy of your medical insurance tucked away in your vehicle. Also, if you or anyone who regularly drives or rides along in your vehicle has any allergies or medical conditions that medics would need to know about, be sure to have the proper paperwork somewhere in your vehicle where emergency responders will easily find it.
To be definite that your emergency car kit is as well-stocked as possible, the following car emergency kit list items are meant to keep you ready for any predicament.
For people living in colder climates, having a window scraper and brush in their emergency car kit is essential. But even if you live in the warmer Southern regions, you’re not always safe from a sudden cold snap that can frost up your vehicle’s windows or leave them covered in snow.
In addition to keeping water stocked up in your emergency car kit, you’ll want to have a few bottles of the liquids that are essential to keeping your vehicle running smoothly. Stock up on oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, washer fluid, and antifreeze.
We’re all so reliant on our smart phone cameras these days, that this suggestion might strike you as archaic. But remember, phones can fail you at the worst times. If you’re in a fender bender, your insurance company will likely require some photographic evidence as proof. Having a disposable camera stocked in your car emergency kit can mean you’re prepared when you need to be.
Whether a snow storm hits suddenly or you find yourself sliding into a snowy ditch, having a collapsible shovel stowed in your vehicle can make the difference between staying stuck or being quickly on your way.
Keeping a pad of paper and a pen or pencil isn’t just handy for jotting down a note to yourself, it’ll come in handy if you need to leave on a note on your vehicle in case it breaks down and you need to leave it somewhere.
You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where having some cash on hand will help get you out of a jam. Tuck a few twenties in your driver’s manual or tape a few bills under the ashtray to make sure you’re ready for anything.
If you live in or around the mountains or have reason to pass through them in the winter, a sturdy set of snow chains may be required on many mountain roads and passes for passage.
We hope this roadside emergency kit list helps get you on your way to being prepared. For further information on the kinds of things you might need to know about your vehicle and driving safety, check out our collection of Driver’s Ed posts.