When I was growing up, I noticed that my father kept his car well-stocked with supplies. A lot of the equipment was for his job busting poachers as a game warden, but most of the things were for emergency situations that could happen to anyone. And there were plenty of times when my dad was able to put those supplies to work.
Be it a maintenance issue or a snowstorm, keeping the following items in your vehicle can save you time and discomfort, and perhaps even your very life, should an emergency arise. Obviously, the necessity of some items depends on the environment in which you live/are driving through (you don’t need an ice scraper in Tampa) and the season (though it’s best just to stock this stuff and keep it stocked, rather than removing/adding things as the seasons change).
1. Paper maps. Sometimes — okay, plenty of times — Google Maps or Waze doesn’t want to cooperate. And if you don’t have service, their reliability is of no import anyway. It’s always a good idea to keep paper maps handy of the areas you’ll be driving through.
2. Snacks/MREs. You never know when you’ll be stranded for long periods of times in your car. And depending on where you are, you could be dozens of miles from the closest source of help. Keep some MREs or granola/power bars in the back of your car to munch on while you wait for a tow truck to come, or to sustain you for a long walk to a gas station to call for help.
3. Cell phone charger/extra battery. Cell phones, and their batteries, are notoriously unreliable and quick-draining in emergency scenarios. It’s like they know when you need them most. Build some redundancy into your car’s emergency kit by keeping both a charger, and an extra battery. No excuses; they’re cheap these days.
4. LifeHammer. Should an accident trap you in your car, this rescue tool could save your life in a couple ways. It has a seat belt cutter, a steel hammer head that easily breaks side windows, and a glow-in-the-dark pin for easy retrieval in the dark. Every car should have one easily accessible!
5. 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 who rear-ended you at a stop light. Get a Maglite and you can also thump would-be carjackers in the head with it.
6. Portable air compressor. 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.
7. Windshield wiper fluid. Few things are as indispensable as wiper fluid. Dirty windshield, no fluid, and wet, dirty roads? Get used to stopping every 10 minutes to clean the windshield. Always have some in the car for when you inevitably run out and need it most.
8. Roadside flares. When pulled over on the side of the road, you’re basically a sitting duck, hoping that other drivers don’t clip you. It’s especially dangerous at night. Ensure that you and those around you are visible when you pull over 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 the LED variety.
9. 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, click. Crap! 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.
10. Tow strap. Get your car unstuck from anything with a tow strap. Attach one end of the 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 gets freed. Easy as that!
11. Water. 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. Also for when you’ve been on the trail and are parched because you didn’t pack enough in your hiking pack. Always keep a few bottles handy in the trunk.
12. 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.
13. Blankets. 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. Get the space-saving (but not very romantic) emergency Mylar variety, or something a little classier like the Paria from Rumpl.
14. Fire extinguisher. Car fires can be especially dangerous because of the flammable liquids coursing through their systems. Keep an extinguisher in the car that can be used not only for your own emergencies, but for others who might be in danger as well. An auto extinguisher is useful, as it will be rated for putting out car-specific fires that are fueled by gasoline and oil.
15. 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.
16. Kitty litter. Kitty litter? For traveling with your cats and they need a potty break? Hardly. Kitty litter is extremely useful as a traction device when you’re stuck in the snow or ice after a skid gone wrong. It’s not usually that you’re buried in snow that keeps your car from moving, but the slickness of the surface you’re trying to move on. Throw a handful of kitty litter in front of the tires, and they’ll have some traction to help get you on the road again.
17. Multi-wick candles. If you’re stranded in a broken-down car in the winter, you might need more than just a blanket. An actual heat source will come in mighty handy. Have a multi-wick candle (the single wick kind don’t provide adequate warmth) on hand (and matches!); it can keep your car warm for quite awhile. Candles are expensive, so make your own on the cheap (and you save even more money going scentless).
18. Ice scraper. Don’t be the chump who’s out there scraping their windshield with a credit card at 5AM in the morning. A good ice scraper will set you back just a few bucks from most any convenience store, and it will make clearing your windshield much easier and much faster.
19. Hat and gloves. Along with a blanket, make sure your head and hands stay toasty warm too. The thicker the better here; you aren’t going for fashion, but survival.
20. Tire chains. Not only are tire chains handy in wintery mountain passes, they’re actually required in some states. Don’t get stuck in the mountains; don’t get a ticket for not having chains.
Last updated: December 1, 2017