Automotive Emergency Kit: 10 items every car should have

Are you prepared for an emergency while you drive? Automotive emergencies can take many forms—from accidents to breakdowns, and sometimes the situation you are in can go from a minor annoyance to an urgent problem in a short period of time. Traveling with a fully equipped automotive emergency kit can help you deal with life’s little—and big—disasters.

As winter weather approaches, it is more important than ever to be prepared for an auto emergency. A simple breakdown in any other season is an inconvenience. Breaking down in the winter can be life threatening for several reasons:

  • Snow and sleet can cause reduced visibility for other drivers, and they could hit your disabled vehicle, endangering all occupants.
  • Reduced visibility and cold weather can make it more difficult to travel for help by foot
  • Extreme temperatures can cause the interior of your car to become very cold, and lead to hypothermia or frostbite.
  • If shelter is not available, you may be forced to wait in the car until help arrives. In a severe storm, this could take hours, or even days.

Protect yourself and the ones you love from automotive emergencies by stocking your car with an emergency kit containing the following items:

Flares: Flares are a critical part of any emergency kit. You should have at least six flares, so drivers will be able to spot your vehicle if it becomes stranded.  Flares are particularly helpful in winter weather and at night. Be sure to include several books of matches or a couple of lighters, so you will be able to light the flares if necessary.

Flags: Emergency flags or signs are another good addition to your car’s emergency kit. Orange flags or signs will increase your car’s visibility, and help prevent collisions. Some signs come equipped with pop-out stands, while others can be attached to your vehicle with suction cups.

Basic first aid kit: Your emergency kit should include first aid supplies, in case you or a passenger becomes injured. Antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, pain relievers, and hot or cold compresses should all be placed in your emergency kit. If anyone in your family suffers from allergies, keep a spare Epi-pen in your kit as well.

Blankets: It is a good idea to pack several blankets in your vehicle in case of an emergency. If your car’s heater fails, you will have these blankets to retain body heat. Blankets can also be used to cover broken windows, keeping cold winter air out of your car. The blankets you use don’t have to be pretty—you can repurpose older pieces from the beds at home. You can also pick up an emergency thermal blanket. These specialty blankets come in compact packets, so they will fit into your kit, and are designed to retain body heat in extreme conditions.

Flashlights: Always include at least two flashlights in your car emergency kit, in case you become stranded at night. Flashlights are invaluable for making car repairs easier, and for navigating dark roads in search of help. If possible, pack spare batteries for your flashlights – if you are stranded for several hours, your flashlights’ batteries may not last. Non-toxic light sticks are also good sources of emergency light.

Tool kit: A basic tool kit is also essential for car emergencies. If possible, include a portable tool kit that includes socket wrenches, screwdrivers, and a sturdy hammer. Also, a collapsible shovel can help you dig snow from under your car. You may also want to include a multi-purpose knife, which provides you with several essential tools you might need to deal with a roadside emergency. Don’t assume your car is equipped with a jack and spare tire, make sure you check for them as part of your emergency planning. 

Spare cell phone charger: Keep an extra charger for your phone in the car, just in case. The ability to summon help will keep you from having to set out on foot at night or in bad weather.

Spare medication: If there is a medication you must take each day, keep a small amount on hand in the car, if it is feasible to do so. (Some medications may be affected by heat). If you are stuck, knowing that you have the medicine you need for a chronic condition can help you stay calm, and make you comfortable while you wait for help to arrive.

Water: You will need plenty of water for your car emergency kit. While humans can survive for days without food, serious organ damage or even death can result if you are without water for more than 12 hours. Water can also be used to clean wounds, and to fill your radiator if your car overheats. You can store a case of bottled water in the trunk, and it will be useful in both cold and overly hot weather.

Food:  Keep food in your car for emergency situations as well. This can be a challenge, since your car may be exposed to both hot and cold temperatures. Packages nuts and seeds are good choices, as are protein bars – these items can withstand temperature changes without becoming spoiled. Packaged dried fruits or dehydrated foods designed for camping also work well for car emergency kits. They can provide fats, protein, and essential nutrients your body needs to help you get through a roadside emergency.

Once you have assembled your car emergency kit, check it at least once a season to make sure none of the items you have chosen have broken or expired. Check the dates on food, water, batteries, medicines, and other items to be sure your kit is in usable condition if you need it.

Being prepared will not help you prevent a breakdown or other emergency, but it will equip you to deal with whatever situation you are faced with.