Stranded! 18 Essential Items For Your Car Emergency Kit

Ah, the great open road! Blue skies, wind in your hair, classic tunes on the radio—what could be better the simple pleasure of a perfect afternoon drive? Of course, there’s always the chance that certain detours and roadblocks can pop up along the way…

You know, the usual… traffic jams, inclement weather, a minefield of potholes, wildlife that comes out of nowhere, terrible drivers that come out of nowhere… flat tires, a bingle, overheated radiators, dead batteries, being stranded in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest gas station or eatery, freezing cold, pouring rain, in the middle of the night! What’s a motorist to do?!

Fortunately, you’re a responsible motorist—one who’s prepared for any wild card the open road is ready to deal out. So if you’re getting ready for a long road trip, beefing up your DIY car repair kit, or just taking extra precautions— survey the contents of your vehicle against our of 18 essential items to have in your car in case of a roadside emergency.

  1. Flashlight. Statistics prove that 90% of the rest of this emergency kit list is completely pointless if you can’t actually see what you’re doing. A sturdy, dependable flashlight with a strong beam will be your best friend if you stuck on the side of the road after dark– whether you’re using it to examine a flat tire, study a roadmap, or cast shadow puppets on the dashboard while you wait for a tow truck. Of course – flashlights are completely useless without batteries, so be sure to back an extra set in your emergency kit.
  2. Lighter or Matches. Because we don’t all have the amazing ability to start a fire with twigs and leaves, it’s a wise idea to keep a simple butane lighter or pack of matches in your emergency kit as well. You never know when you’ll find yourself out among the elements, in need of a safe, controlled campfire to stay warm or heat food or water.
  3. Road Maps. These babies might seem outdated, but they can be a lifesaver should you wander outside the range of your GPS signal. Tuck an up-to-date roadmap or atlas of wherever you happen to be driving, whether it’s a couple hundred kilometers out of town or on the other side of the country.
  4. Roadside Flares or Reflective Triangle. Say you’ve temporarily pulled over to check directions, or perhaps you’re the recent victim of a tire blowout—if it’s dark outside or visibility is otherwise low, you can’t expect other cars to know you’re just off to the side on the highway shoulder. Let passing motorists or approaching emergency vehicles know where you are by setting up reflective triangles or lighting roadside flares around the perimeter of your car.
  5. Jumper Cables. In the event of a sudden and tragic death of your car battery, jumper cables are the perfect solution. While they won’t magically make your battery good as new (you should take your car to get checked out ASAP, it might need to be replaced completely) getting a jump from another car can bring your battery back to life at least long enough for you to get back to civilization. (Hint: This is one scenario where road flares can come in handy: They may well attract a helpful fellow motorist!) On the flip-side, packing a set of jumper cables can make you the knight in shining armor, should you happen upon a stranded someone in need of assistance. If you want to travel the road in as self-sufficient a manner as possible, consider investing in a portable jump-starter. They can be a bit pricey, but you won’t need to flag down a passing car to get up and running.
  6. Spare Car-Friendly Mobile Phone Charger. The prevalence of mobile phones have no doubt cut down on the number of drivers stranded (for long, anyway) on the side of the road. But just as flashlights are useless without batteries, so too are mobile phones. Stow a spare car-charger for your mobile device so you can juice up when your battery life is low.
  7. Tow Rope. So… you drove into a ditch. It happens! Or you tried off-roading and got the underside of your car lodged on a boulder. Keep a tow rope in your emergency kit and, as with a dead battery, hope a helpful driver with a capable vehicle is nearby.
  8. Spare Tire. The dreaded flat tire… it’s right up there along with a battery that kicked the bucket. Do yourself a favor and pack a spare tire in your trunk or on your hatchback. Oh yeah, and be sure you know how to change one
  9. Portable Air Compressor. If you don’t have a spare, don’t know how to change one, or were lucky enough to not suffer a complete blowout, it’s a good idea to keep a portable air compressor in your car to inflate a slightly tire or slow leak. Some portable air compressors are battery-operated, while others need a source of power from your car. An affordable tool, and a wise addition to your emergency kit.
  10. Duct tape. …Because duct tape can fix almost anything…
  11. Basic Tools. Tire iron, lug wrench, box cutter, screwdriver(s), hammer… these are basic tools you want on your side should something go haywire under the hood or under the body, among other places.
  12. Towels or Rags. Cars = oil, grease, gasoline, etc. Better keep a couple old rags or towels on hand to clean yourself up. Lest we forget… there’s usually fellow passengers (or in the very least, drivers, i.e.: you!) in the event of a roadside emergency. The rest of the essential items on our emergency kit focus on the people inside the car.
  13. First Aid Kit. This should be a no-brainer. A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have for any car. Adhesive bandages, gauze, iodine, aspirin, medical tape, large non-adhesive bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, and latex gloves are cornerstones of any first aid kit.
  14. Pen and Paper. Just plain smart. A pad of paper and dependable writing utensils come in handy should you need to exchange insurance information with another driver or pass the time with a couple games of Tic Tac Toe.
  15. Blankets. No one wants to huddle around a butane lighter to stay warm when the car’s stalled. Pack some extra warm blankets in the trunk to cozy up with when the temperatures drop down.
  16. Extra Clothing. Like blankets, extra clothes are good to have should you need to layer up, change out of a greasy shirt, or suit up against the elements (poncho, rain slicker, etc.).
  17. Food. It’s a good idea to keep a supply of snacks even if you’re not in an emergency (who doesn’t get the road-trip munchies?). Avoid items that require refrigeration or bulk items that might go stale (like a big sack of chips), and stick instead with small bags of nuts, muesli bars, dried fruits, or individually wrapped energy bars. Your stomach will thank you.
  18. Bottled Water. An unassuming no-brainer! Water is a source of life, so always bring along some extra bottles. Use your supply to self-hydrate, refill a radiator, wash your hands, clean a cut, or dump on your irritating passenger’s head.

There you have it! Of course, there are countless other items you might want to include in your car’s emergency kit, depending on who you are, where you drive, and where you’re driving to. Happy motoring!

Sources:
Knoll, Elizabeth. “How to Use a Portable Air Compressor | EHow.com”
Consumer Reports, “Portable Jump-starters, Jumper Cables.”
Creative Commons License photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nlscotland/3011974213/