13 Things a Man Should Keep in His Car

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 17, 2009 · 239 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

Broken down car

When I was growing up, I noticed that my dad kept the trunk of his car well-stocked with supplies. A lot of the equipment in his car was for his job busting poachers as a game warden, but most of the things he packed in his trunk were for emergency situations.

And there were plenty of times when my dad was able to put his trunk equipment to work.

For example,  about 20 years ago my dad was driving home to Oklahoma from New Mexico in his old burgundy Caprice.  Just outside of Groom, TX,  near the famous leaning water tower along I-40, a hellacious snow storm hit. It was a complete white out, so my dad had to pull over until things settled down.

But things didn’t settle down until a day later.

My dad had to spend the night in his car in the middle of nowhere while a blizzard roared outside. But because he had the forethought to prepare for situations like this, he was able to keep warm with some blankets and avoid ravaging hunger with some MREs

Many of you will be hitting the road this holiday season to visit family, so I consulted my dad, Tom McKay, and asked him what supplies he thinks every man should keep in his car. Here’s his suggested list.

1. Fully charged cell phone. Cell phones have significantly cut down on your chances of being stranded on the side of the road, but don’t count on it as your only line of defense. I’ve been in plenty of rural areas where my cell phone was only worthwhile for playing pong. In addition to you main phone, have a backup one that you can use to call 911. Any old cell phone will do, even if it’s not activated. Cellular carriers are required by law to complete 911 calls from any cell phone. Just throw that old Nokia cell phone from 1999 into your glove compartment and keep it there.

2. Jumper cables. You walk out to your car after a long day of work, stick the key into the ignition, give it a turn, and…. click, click. Crap! You’re going to be late to your kid’s football game! You then look up and notice you left the dome light on all day. It happens to the best of us. Car batteries die, so be ready with a set of jumper cables. And even if you never suffer a dead battery, it’s always good to have a set of jumper cables so you can help a damsel (or dude) in distress who needs their car jumped.

3. Flashlight. Good for providing light at nighttime when 1) putting on a spare tire, 2) jump starting another car, or 3) exchanging insurance information with the clueless driver that rear ended you at a stop light. Get a Maglite and you can also thump would-be car jackers in the head with it.

4. Roadside flares/reflective triangle. When pulled over on the side of the road, you’re basically a sitting duck, hoping that other drivers don’t turn the situation into a clip for one of those extreme video shows. It’s especially dangerous to be hanging out on the side of the road at night. Ensure that you and those around you are visible when you pull over to the side of the road by using road flares or at least a reflective triangle. The old school flaming flares seem to be harder to find these days as people switch to LED “flares.”

5. MREs. You never know when you’ll be stranded for long periods of times in your car. If you’ve ever driven out West, you’ll know that it can be hundreds of miles until the closest source of help. Unless you’ve built up a tolerance for extended periods of fasting, keep some MREs or granola/power bars in the back of your car to munch on while you wait for the tow truck to come.

6. Warm blankets. Tom can tell you firsthand why warm blankets are a must. It got pretty dang cold in his Caprice that night. But blankets have uses that go beyond emergency situations. It’s always good to have a blanket in the car for snuggling with your gal while you cheer for your team on a cold fall night or for laying it on the ground for a picnic.

7. Ice scraper. Don’t be the chump that’s out there scrapping their windshield with a credit card at 5AM in the morning. A good ice scraper will set you back just a few bucks, and it will make clearing your windshield much easier and much faster.

8. First aid kit. Whether you’re cleaning up a head wound filled with glass shards or fixing a boo boo on your two year old, it’s good to have a first aid kit. You can always buy one, but putting together your own in an Altoids tin is more fun.

9. Water bottles. For when you’re stranded in Death Valley in the middle of the hottest heat wave on record… or for any other time your car decides to break down on you. Or, for after you’ve left a concert and you’re so dang parched!

10. Tow strap. I don’t know how many times my dad saved my butt with this thing back in high school. Towards the end of my blue ’92 Chevy Cavalier’s (aka, “The Smurf”) life, it would just stop running and no amount of cable jumping would help get it started. For moments like these, my dad busted out the tow strap. You just attach one end of the tow strap to the front of the car that you want to pull  and the other to the hitch on the back of your car. The stranded driver stays in the dead car, puts it in neutral, and steers and brakes while it gets towed to its destination.

11. Folding shovel. There are a couple of instances where a folding shovel might come in handy. The first is when you get stuck in the snow or ice. You can use the shovel to dig some snow out and place some dirt under the tire to get more traction. The second situation is when a car tire gets stuck in a hole or something. You can use the shovel to dig about and create some ramps to help get your car unstuck. Also, it can be used as an improvised weapon, Green Beret-style.

12. LifeHammer. When you’re trying to escape from a sinking car, this little piece of plastic and metal can be the difference between life and death. Use it to break your window, cut your seatbelt and make your escape.

13. Portable air compressor. My dad feels like this was the best purchase he made for the car. When your tire is leaking but hasn’t totally blown out, instead of putting on a spare, you can use a portable air compressor to get back on the road. The compressor fills your tire up enough to allow you to drive to a repair shop to get it fixed. It plugs right into your cigarette lighter. Bonus use: no more paying 75 cents to fill up your tires at stingy gas stations.

There are kits you can buy that have a lot of this stuff in them, but I personally think it’s satisfying to assemble your own cache of supplies. And you can put together a better choice of things.

What do you think a man should carry in his car? Give us your tips in the comments!

{ 237 comments… read them below or add one }

201 Jesse Taylor November 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm

the guy with the katana, What the hell?

I would recommend a Ka-bar Becker knife, those things are thick and sturdy and are great for anything, from prying to chopping wood. Also a great self defense tool if you encounter a little road rage

202 Michael November 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm

an extra belt, at least the one(s) that run your alternator and water pump.

203 JC November 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I keep a Smith and Wesson First responder knife on me at all times but it may be a good thing to stuff in the glove compartment or other area of the car. Comes with a glass breaker and seat-beat cutter. I know S&W isn’t anyone’s first thought for knives but it is solid quality and for $20, it’s really not much of an investment given the utility.

204 Johnny November 27, 2012 at 10:11 pm

First of all, great article.

A couple of things I would have added to the list:

1. Hydraulic bottle jack – usually inexpensive, sturdier and easier to use than the crappy jack that came in your car.

2. 4-way tire iron – if you don’t need it, odds are pretty good you can use it to help someone else

3. Stan’s tire sealant – they will curse you at the tire shop, but it may mean the difference in getting down the road and sitting there with a flat.

Also, it never hurts to have a good basic set of hand tools and an extra change of clothes….

205 Chuck November 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm

If driving far across desolate wilderness areas I would have an AR7 or the new Ruger take down 10-22 with a brick of .22 LR CCI ammo behind the seat or under it. Very handy for obtaining food or even for self defense. I would also keep a warm covering for the entire head, a knife and a sharpening stone and a comfortable pair of boots you can change into along with some leather gloves.

206 michael December 1, 2012 at 5:15 am

A thief was able to get enter my vehicle and take the $3 in change from the tray while leaving behind the $30 multi-tool laying on top of it

207 Dave December 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Condoms, Accidents happen all the time.
In the back seat.

208 Palifox December 3, 2012 at 6:09 am

Have the radiator hoses and fan belts replaced when still in good condition and keep the old ones in the spare wheel well.

2 or 4 litres water (4 pints or a gallon)

I once got caught with a nearly dry sump when the engine oil mysteriously vanished. At least 2 litres (4 pints) of engine oil.

Instead of the MRE, cans of fruit salad. The sugar is energy and the syrup is also a drink.

Hat. Almost any kind is better than none. Gloves, cheap fleecy jacket with hood, umbrella, a few dollars in change well out of sight. $100 in notes under a rear seat cushion or floor carpet.

Assorted tools, fuses, spare light bulbs.

Piece of strong board about 300 square cm (40 sq inch) to put under a jack on soft ground.

On road trips, vacuum flask of hot water, instant coffee, sugar, cup, spoon, pack of biscuits (cookies).

Paper maps.

209 Valerie December 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

Great article! My son has his license now and I want to put an emergency kit together for him. Thanks for the tips!

210 Brad Robb December 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm

i thik the list should include a seatbelt cutter, and some sort of tool kit…..i keep a toolbox mounted to my pick up with all sorts of things in it,but i also keep a small toolbox in my wifes car, i stock them both with cheap tools so that loosing them on the side of the road is no big deal, ive even given them away to stranded moterists, or left them with friends who needed them, i have alot of friends that dont own the simplist tools…….what ever happened to the manly art of making ones ownn automotive and home repairs…..maybe that should be ur next article

211 Kamron January 9, 2013 at 8:43 am

How about WD 40 and Duct Tape, a tool kit, with wrenches, pliers screwdrivers etc. an extra complete set of bulbs and 4 sets of all the fuses your car uses. That’s what I would also have in my car. And always, always have a notepad and a working pencil/pen you my never know when you need to make little jottings or notes.

212 Jay V January 26, 2013 at 8:06 am

I would add:
1. Fire extinguisher (for a car near you just involved in accident and gone on fire and occupants can’t get out – this has been reported). I keep mine inside car. N.B. Get it serviced regularly.
2. Foot-operated tyre pump (although tiresome to use – I’m aware of the pun) for when you are far from home and the 50pence air hose for tyres at yet another petrol station (UK) is busy – again – and its been far too long since you checked the tyres – again.
3. Set of waterproof clothes and thick gloves – for when you become stuck in middle of nowhere and it’s chucking it.

213 gaffer February 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm

A general ‘bail out’ bag/survival kit which will vary depending on your locality. Basically you want something that in the even of a major natural disaster (zombie apocalypse as some like to refer to it) you will have enough gear to get back to a safe location and survive out in the woods for a few days if need be.

214 Chris Roach March 6, 2013 at 8:47 am

Here in Florida most of the natives have never seen an ice scraper. A coworker of mine went to Alaska for business and ruined a credit card scraping ice. He had never even seen snow before! He had seen the ice scraper in the car but had no idea what it was for.

215 jerry March 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

A trained mind re: daily life and the emergencies that can arise.

216 Dylan Palme April 21, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I’m sure it’s been mentioned, but a toolbox is something I keep in the back. You never know when you’re going to have to put on your handy man hat.

As the great man said, “If they don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

217 Jason T May 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I still refer to this article as I build my car kit. My suggestion: a fleece jacket especially for those random cold days during the spring and fall.

218 Nancy May 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Except for the personal locator and taser gun I keep these items in the truck bed at all times; some I carry with me at all times
personal locator
warm blankets
an old warm jacket
reflective blankets
Water 3 gallons – leave in truck bed
seatbelt cutter with widow hammer
warm socks
panty hose
Mushers for dog’s paws
wind up radio/flashlight

219 Iatros August 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Zip Ties…

Great practical uses when your car breaks down…

Great practical uses when you break down ;)

220 Ted August 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm

You lost me at item #1. How can you possibly expect your 1999 cell phone — which will typically have a battery that is barely able to charge to working potential for any length of time — to be “fully charged” if all you’ve done is throw it in your glove box weeks or possibly months ago? Often a phone with a battery that old won’t be usable after a day or two off of the charger, even turned off. When turned on, even fully charged, you may not be able to talk on it for more than a couple of minutes before it dies. And you can’t (AFAIK) test its usable talk time without putting it back on a plan or making an unnecessary 911 call. You should also carry some way to provide charge to it, preferably one that doesn’t rely on the car’s electrical system.

221 Conor October 24, 2013 at 11:40 am


222 woMan October 27, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I’ve spent 2 months backpacking in the wilderness in Montana and learned that the first rule of survival in cold-weather climates is to never lose your gloves. The second your dexterity is gone, you lose all survival skills– you can’t unwrap your granola bar, and forget about putting on a spare tire..

223 Jubes November 5, 2013 at 6:41 am

A heavy knife, with saw back, literally hundreds of uses/saves, check applicable laws!
Spare air fuel and or oil filter (depending on car/bike) also a few belts could save you.
Some hose rope and duct tape can be great eg rope or tape can be a temporary fix for a busted hose in a pinch… also glue.
A waterproof sheet/tarp.
Jerry can for walking from/to service station.
Spare socks
If offroading, then the list grows but most important if in remote territory would be an epirb (emergency personal international rescue beacon) which will give a gps alert to all local rescue authorities, one will work globally on land or sea

224 Kim November 10, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I have a winter emergency back pack I keep loaded with cold weather items. When fall arrives, I just toss it in the back of the car with the other emergency stuff. It has warm gloves, work gloves and hand warmers; foil blanket and a wool blanket; long sleeve thermal shirt, a pair of sweat pants, dry socks; disposable overalls and a tarp; flashlight and glow sticks. I always have a spare jacket/hoodie over the car seat if needed. If I need to leave, just wear the pack–easier than carrying a box of stuff. Can’t remember what else, but its a start.

225 Jon November 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm

As a man, all I carry is a knife and my Beard. It’s all I’ve ever needed.

226 B Fox November 22, 2013 at 5:17 am

A bag of clay cat litter helps if you’re stuck in mud or snow. Also, toilet paper & plastic bags, just in case you’re there a LONG time!

227 nikki November 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Feminine napkins. Just in case, but actually, I’m a nurse and have used them in my emergency kit for years, great as a cover to a wound, burn, etc..

228 Andros December 6, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Bottle of bourbon,couple of cigars,lighter,pack o’ beef jerky,latest issue of Playboy…that’s ’bout it

229 Lillian December 7, 2013 at 12:36 am

No one has mentioned.. you should keep candles in your car for a source of heat in the cold weather.

230 Angela December 29, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I like to camp in summer and fall so I just keep my gear in the trunk all year round (warm clothes, rain gear, boots, stove, fuel, flashlight, knife, trail food, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, etc) along with my jump kit, air compressor, snow shovel and salt. I’m planning to add a seat belt cutter/window breaker tool to the front seat. I need to learn how to tow cars and use reflective gear.

231 Heather January 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Lifehammer is so important. Three girls in my town drowned after driving into a severly flooded field and being unable to open the doors. Being able to break a window would have saved them.

Never rely on a battery! Crank flashlight, crank radio, cans of air (fix-a-flat) and a paper map of where you are travelling.

Use a strip of carpet as a trunk liner. This can be pulled out and used for traction when stuck, and it takes up less room than kitty litter/salt. (Though I still recommend salt).

Paper towels or a towel because things will likely get messy.

Metallic space blankets fit in the glove compartment and reflect body heat back to you.

And a whistle.

232 Larry January 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm

A roll of silicone Rescue Tape to patch holes in hoses or hold things together. I carry a hydraulic floor jack, rather than the previously mentioned bottle jack. Takes up a little more room, but it’s easier to use. Depending on where you’re driving, a Hi-Lift or “sheepherder’s” jack can be a lifesaver.

233 redrider1441 January 31, 2014 at 8:45 am

Have read most all the responses and it appears most emergency items have been listed. As a professional stranded motorist through most of my early years , here is my take. I tend to focus more on the mechanical breakdown solutions than being stuck for more than a couple hours. I never drive anywhere without my mechanic’s toolbox. And not just a toolbox filled with every tool known to mankind; you need to research the vehicle you are using and match /carry only the tools that are essential to make roadside repairs. Many of the newer models use torx (star) type fasteners or hex ( allan wrench type). They come in handy pocket-size sets that fold out and take little room in a toolbox. If possible, pack tools that have multiple uses such as pair of vice grips, ( locking pliers), and channel-lock pliers that can grip multiple size nuts or bolts. Adjustable (Crescent) wrench, combination screwdriver set that hold multiple tips.
The main thing is to take time to look under hood and see what minimum tools you would need to perform an emergency fix if stranded roadside. Even if you are not a DIY mechanic, if you at least have the tools available you might get lucky to have someone who can do the repair ” I could help you but my tools are back at the shop”. I cannot tell you how many times I have come across drivers who not only have no jumper cables, they have no clue what to do with them. In that case , an emergency kit or toolbox is just a paperweight !

234 tegmapat February 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I keep a special “hose” tape in my car in case of a leaky hose…. also water & anti-freeze, in addition to many of the other things mentioned. And all this info should be for women as well as men, probably even more so.

235 Derrick Lehman February 8, 2014 at 1:02 am

I keep a few of these items in my truck, but the most valuable was my first aid kit. Between semesters I was ice fishing with my roommate in western Wisconsin. We had just changed the blades on the auger and I was not aware of just how sharp brand new blades really are. I managed to cut my hand just below the thumb, almost to the bone. My first aid kit kept the bleeding under control until I managed to drive to the hospital (my roommate wanted to keep fishing, little bastard).

236 George Foreman March 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm

If you can find room in your car, one of the most important things you can have is a fire extinguisher. Even if it isn’t your car on fire, it can still spell the difference between life and death.
Instead of a life hammer, I recommend the Buck Redpoint Rescue knife. It is lightweight, durable, and its functions include a seatbelt cutter, a glass breaker, a serrated knife blade (many uses), plus its handle is weatherproof. It only costs $30.

237 sparky March 18, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Tarp to lay on if you have to look under the car. Rain gear. Waterless hand cleaner.

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