When you’re out driving, there’s no telling when you might find yourself in an emergency situation. From mechanical problems to bad weather to a car accident, a number of unforeseen things could happen that would leave you in a tough spot. In such an occasion, your situation will only be worse if you are unprepared.
That’s why you should always keep supplies in your car in case the worst happens. We’ve gathered a list of 19 items you should have in your car at all times. Store them in your trunk, under your seats, or wherever they will be out of the way but easily accessible should you need them. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to use these items, but if you do, you’ll be grateful you stocked up.
1. Drinking Water
Water is essential if you become stranded for a long period of time, especially during warm weather. Keep at least one gallon. You should bring more if you are going on a long trip, and if other people are travelling with you, bring along enough water for everyone to have their own supply.
2. Nonperishable Food
Food is second only to water in importance. Keep packaged and canned goods that will last a long time and will not spoil. As with water, bring extra food if you are travelling, and have enough for each person who is travelling with you.
3. First Aid Kit
This is a necessity in case you should happen to have an accident on the road and you or another passenger is injured. A number of pre-assembled kits are available for purchase online; alternatively, you can put together your own kit following recommendations from the Red Cross. It’s a great idea to stock your kit with antibacterial wipes or liquid hand sanitizer, and don’t forget to include extra doses of any prescribed medications you take.
If you become stranded at night, you will be glad you brought a flashlight along. Handheld illumination is also a godsend if you have to perform any mechanical repairs. Some people may prefer a headlamp for its hands-free use; as long as you have one or the other, you should be set.
5. Blankets or Sleeping Bags
You need something to keep you warm in case you have to spend the night in your car, especially in colder climates or during winter. It is good practice to keep one blanket or sleeping bag for each seat in your car so that everyone will have their own, just in case you break down with company.
6. Rags, Paper Towels, Napkins and/or Toilet Paper
Old rags, paper towels or even fast food napkins are helpful to have if you end up getting your hands dirty changing a tire or working under the hood. They’re also great for cleaning up any other messes you may create. And you should definitely consider keeping a roll of toilet paper in your vehicle in case nature calls while you are waiting for help to arrive.
7. Cell Phone Charger
An operational cell phone is often your best means of getting help in an emergency. Keep a charging adapter in your car so your battery won’t run out when you need it most.
8. Compass and Maps
Don’t think these items are obsolete just because we now have GPS devices and smartphones. If your device runs out of battery or can’t find a satellite signal, then you will be out of luck if you become lost–unless you keep up-to-date road maps and a compass in your vehicle. Naturally, you should have some knowledge of how to use these items to navigate.
9. Rain Poncho
If you have a breakdown or accident and need to walk to get help, it’s nice to have a lightweight poncho on hand in case you get caught in a downpour. Buy one with a hood so you can keep your head dry.
10. Cash Money
If you become stranded and need to pay for a tow truck or buy gas from a country service station, you shouldn’t have to cross your fingers that the payee accepts credit cards. Paper money is versatile currency that you can be sure is valid everywhere and to everyone. Hide a few bills in your glove compartment for peace of mind.
11. Spare Tire, Jack and Lug WrenchThis one should be a no-brainer. Most cars used to come standard with a spare tire and the equipment needed to change it, but automobile manufacturers are beginning to opt-out of including them. You might also want to keep a tire inflator product like Fix-a-Flat, which will plug a hole and keep the tire inflated long enough for you to drive home or to a mechanic.
12. Jumper Cables
When your car battery dies because you accidentally left the headlights on, jumper cables can get you going again so long as there’s someone around to give you a jump. You should invest in a high-quality set because they typically have a heavier gauge of wire, which will allow more current to pass between the batteries. As an alternative to jumper cables, you could purchase an automatic jump starter, which will allow you to jump start your battery without using a second vehicle.
13. Tow Strap
If bad weather, a near-collision, or an animal causes you to swerve off the road and get stuck in a ditch, a tow strap will allow someone in another vehicle to pull you out. Be sure to get a heavy fabric strap with no metal parts, as a tow chain or a strap with metal hooks on the end could kill someone if it snapped under tension.
14. Basic Auto Tool Kit
There are few things more frustrating than not having the right tools to make an automotive repair, and when you are broken down on the road, the stakes are raised considerably. For this reason, you should keep a small tool kit tailored specifically to vehicle maintenance so you will at least have the most basic tools in case you need them. As an alternative to a tool set, a good multi-tool will do the job in a pinch.
15. Seat Belt Cutting Tool and Window Breaking ToolIn cases of a severe accident, it may be necessary for you and your passengers to exit the car in a hurry, or you may be put in a situation in which exiting the car has become difficult. There are special tools made for cutting seat belts and breaking vehicle windows that can save your life in a dire situation. You should keep these tools inside the passenger compartment of your car–not in the trunk–and close-at-hand.
16. Road Flares
Nighttime is an especially dangerous time to be broken down at the side of the road because visibility is reduced and incoming drivers may not see your car until it is too late. Two or three road flares placed at intervals in front of your vehicle can reduce the risk of collision and also signal others that you need help.
17. Warm Coats, Hats and Gloves
There are a few emergency items that are only necessary to have during the winter months. First among them are winter coats, hats and gloves to keep you warm in case you must wait for help to arrive or go out in search of help. Ideally, you should have winter gear for each seat in your car; if you can’t manage this, at least make sure everyone brings their own cold weather clothing if they are traveling with you.
18. Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
Winter spells daily windshield scraping for anyone who doesn’t park in a garage overnight. And if a snow storm rolls through while you are at work, you may find your car covered at the end of your shift. Always keep an ice scraper and a brush or broom in your car so you will have them when you are away from home. You may also like to use a de-icer spray, which is great for loosening very hard frost or thick ice.
19. Folding Shovel
Finally, a compact snow shovel is handy when heavy snow blocks in your car, or in case you swerve into a drift and have to dig yourself out. Get one that folds or telescopes so it doesn’t take up so much space.
This list is certainly not comprehensive, but these are the items we believe to be the most essential pieces of emergency equipment. Other similar lists can be found here and here.If we left out one of your favorite emergency items or one that you believe to be very important, let us know in the comments. And if you have ever been in an emergency and needed to use one or more of these items, please share your story with us!