What to Include in Your Car Emergency Kit

car breakdown in the middle of nowhere
Breakdowns Don’t Always Occur in Convenient Places. https://www.gettyimages.com/license/200299970-001

These days, many drivers take off on road trips with a sense of security, sure that their cell phones, car warranties, low mileage vehicles, and auto club memberships can get them out of just about any situation. While that's true in many cases, true emergencies due to extreme weather situations, car accidents, or vehicle malfunction can arise unexpectedly and it's wise to be prepared.

The first, and most obvious thing to take care of is your car. This includes regular scheduled maintenance, checking your tires — don’t forget the spare — brakes, battery, and fluids at least once a month, and prompt repairs of any problems. If your vehicle is well-maintained, it’s less likely to break down expectedly. A first-aid kit and a portable cell phone charger are practical for any vehicle.

Most cars should have enough tools to change a flat tire, and might even include a first-aid kit, but these basics will only get you so far. Instead, look to build a car emergency kit that covers any situation you're likely to encounter. Here, we’ve broken it down into six categories.

Vehicle Safety and Preparation

warning triangle on breakdown lane
Warning Triangles Help Others See You. https://www.gettyimages.com/license/EA06074

The following list will keep you safe and prepare you for almost any emergency from fixing a flat to a fire.

  • Road Flares, warning triangles, or flashing beacons are essential or warning or alerting other drivers, especially if you've had to stop on the side of the road at night.
  • Jumper cables in case of dead battery
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tire Plug and – Could be a quick fix to get you moving again, at least to a tire repair shop.
  • A multitool or Swiss Army Knife are handy in many situations
  • Duct tape works on so many things, it could go in every part of this list.
  • Compact Shovel is especially good for snow removal.
  • Traction sand, salt, or kitty litter are great if you get stuck in a slippery or muddy spot.
  • Empty gas jug – Just a couple gallons might be enough to get you to a gas station.
  • Extra fluids – Especially washer fluid in Winter, as well as coolant and oil, in case you know you have leaks or you blow a radiator hose.
  • Work Gloves – To protect your hands.
  • Tow Rope – Maybe all you need to get going is a little tug.

Cleanliness for Longer Trips

travel toiletries and a small towel
Cleanliness is Not Impossible, but a Small Toiletries Kit Helps. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/wash-kit-including-towel-and-toothpaste-and-high-res-stock-photography/74423662

Not every emergency is a matter or life or death or even involves a car breakdown. Sometimes the bathroom has run out of toilet paper, or maybe those onions on your burger are repeating on you. For those instances you'll be so grateful you stocked your car up with:

  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste in travel sizes
  • Toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, pads and tampons
  • A folding shovel in case the only bathroom option is the woods.
  • Trash Bags and zipper bags for keeping things clean and dry and disposing of trash and waste.

Food and Drink

trail mix in a mason jar
Trail Mix and Other Snacks Keep Your Energy Up. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/trail-mix-royalty-free-image/637636584

​Being stranded is no fun, but being hungry and thirsty is even worse, especially if you are traveling with small children or hangry adults.

  • Energy Bars, Trail Mix, and other non-perishable snacks like pre-packed tuna salad, peanuts, almonds, hard candies, beef jerky. Dried fruits and crackers are also good energy sources.
  • Water or sports drinks

Survival, Warmth, and Comfort

survival kit
A Good Car Emergency Kit Could Save Your Life. https://www.gettyimages.com/license/688076639

​If you're off-roading or traveling in an isolated area, the following may come in handy.

  • First Aid Kit – For preventing infection or dressing wounds.
  • Space blanket to keep warm in Winter and a poncho to stay dry.
  • Extra batteries
  • Portable cellphone charger
  • An emergency radio helps you keep abreast of weather and other emergency developments, so you can plan.
  • Tarp and rope – For makeshift shelter against sun, rain, snow, or wind. Also works as an impromptu table or picnic cloth.
  • Dust Mask or handkerchief to help you avoid smoke and smog
  • Protect your skin from sun, wind, and bugs with sunblock, Lip Balm, and Bug Repellant
  • Walking shoes or hiking boots – You don’t want to walk for miles in flip-flops, sandals, or heels.
  • Printed road map in case your car battery or cell phone battery dies
  • Portable Water Filter in case you run out of bottled water.

Safety

using a headlamp to repair a car
A Headlamp Can Help If You Break Down at Night. https://www.gettyimages.com/license/175189047
  • Universal payment options like cash and quarters work better in blackouts than credit cards.
  • Battery backup to keep your phone charged.
  • LED Flashlights or headlamps – Bright and compact, for alerting others and night repairs.
  • Keep emergency phone numbers family, roadside assistance, and emergency services on a laminated card, don't trust them to your cell phone storage in case your phone dies.
  • Pepper spray to scare off thugs and bears.

Sanity and Entertainment

kids playing cards, parent reading a book
Keep Your Mind Busy While You Wait. https://www.gettyimages.com/license/85406669
  • Dice, cards, books, paper, pencils or pens and games – Even if you're not stranded, traveling can be dull for passengers. Make sure you have the resources to stay occupied for every occasion with games (magnetic ones are especially practical), books, and puzzles.

Special Considerations

man using inhaler
Extra Medications Go the Distance. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/young-man-using-an-asthma-inhaler-royalty-free-image/911811582
  • If you have chronic health issues, make sure to pack extra medications so you don’t run out.
  • Extreme heat or cold may require you to pack speciality clothing, blankets, or other items to keep cool, hydrated, warm, or dry.
  • Babies and toddlers have special needs, as do pets. Pack things like diapers, baby food, formula, pet food, and a water bowl.

Expecting the Unexpected

Most of this checklist only covers the basics; you should, of course, personalize your kit to fit your needs. For the cost of a little time to plan and a backpack or a plastic bin for storage, you can build a car emergency kit that will get you out of any tight spot.