51 Essential Items to Keep in Your Car Emergency Kit


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car emergency kit infographicIf you’re a prepper, you probably have all kinds of things stored in your home for emergencies. You may even have numerous survival items stored at an alternative bug out location. If you’re a very diligent prepper, you likely have several survival caches hidden strategically that you can access if you ever need to resupply during an emergency.

These are all very good things and they are all necessary if you want to prepare for emergency situations that you might be faced with in the future. Regardless of how diligent you try to be, there will always be something that you didn’t think of. It’s impossible to predict the future and it’s also impossible to anticipate every single item that you’ll need if you ever have to survive a major crisis for a prolonged period of time.

Today I hope to help some of you by listing 51 items that you should have in your car survival kit which should be kept in your vehicle at all times. Having these items with you while you’re traveling could prove to be very beneficial if you were to ever break down or if a natural disaster were to occur while you are driving.

Without Further Ado, Let Me Present My Car Emergency Kit List

I should point out that these items are not listed in any particular order of importance. They are just the types of items that I keep in my car safety kit and I think you should consider doing the same. Keep in mind that some of these items are seasonal in nature. For example, you probably won’t need to keep a warm winter hat with you when it’s 107° during the middle of July.

  1. Drop Cloth: You never know when you’re going to need to pull off to the side of the road and work on something under your vehicle. If you’re on your way to work, you don’t want to get your work clothes all dirty so having a drop cloth that you can lay on the ground to prevent you from getting your clothing all dirty can be very useful.
  2. Jack: One might think that this should go without saying but I can’t tell you how many times we have stopped along the side of the road to help somebody who had a flat tire only to discover that they didn’t have a jack in their car. Make sure that your jack is in your vehicle at all times and that you actually know where it is so that you don’t have to spend 30 minutes searching for it in the dark when you get a flat tire. Also make sure that you have the crank that goes with the jack so that you can actually jack your car up to change a tire.
  3. Heavy Duty Lug Wrench: Most cars these days come with a little tiny lug wrench that’s about 6 inches long. If you’ve ever tried to loosen lug nuts with one of these puny things, you know how difficult it can be. I much prefer the cross shaped lug wrenches that you can buy at most automotive stores. Each end fits a different size of lug nut and you can get much more leverage with them because of the way they are made.
  4. Hand Cranked Flashlight: Many people keep battery powered flashlights in their vehicles but they often forget to check whether or not the batteries in them are still good. Having a flashlight that you can crank a handle on to charge it up means that you’ll have light as long as you need it. This will be especially handy if you have to work on your vehicle for a long time along side of the road at night.
  5. Headlamp with Spare Batteries: When you break down in the dark, you’re usually going to need both hands to be free, especially if you’re by yourself and you don’t have someone to hold the flashlight for you while you work. This is where having a headlamp can be extremely handy. Anyplace you look, you’ll automatically have light and you’ll be much more likely to be able to take care of whatever roadside repair is needed.
  6. Automatic Jump Starter: I really like the automatic jump starters that you can purchase these days. If you ever have a dead battery, you don’t have to wait for someone who is willing to give you a jump start. These automatic jump starters have a battery that’s built into them and they’re specifically designed to be able to use when you need to jump start your vehicle.
  7. Jumper Cables: As an added precaution, I recommend keeping a good set of heavy duty jumper cables with you. If you didn’t already know, there is a big difference in how well a good quality set of jumper cables will work in comparison to a poor quality set. The reason for this is that the higher quality jumper cables will usually have a heavier gauge of wire which will allow more current to pass through them. I’ve had several experiences where we weren’t able to jump start a battery using the cheap type with the thin, flimsy wires but we were able to jump start it with cables that were much thicker. When it comes to buying jumper cables, spend a little bit of extra money and get the heavy duty cables.
  8. Gloves: A couple of reasons that I like keeping a pair of gloves in my glove box are to keep my hands clean if I happen to need to check my oil or change a tire while I’m on my way to work. Another reason that they’re handy is if I have to do something under the engine while it’s hot. Having a pair of gloves can save a lot of time when you don’t have to wait until your engine is completely cool just to check your oil.
  9. Flares: I like to keep flares in my mobile emergency kit for two reasons. The first is that if we have to pull off the side of the road in a dark stretch of the highway, flares can be lit and strategically placed to alert oncoming vehicles that we’re broke down. This will lower the chances of them accidentally crashing into us as a drive by. The other reason I like them is that if we break down during the middle of the winter, and we’re stranded for a while, a flare can make an amazing fire starting tool.
  10. Warm Blankets: If you ever run out of gas or break down during cold weather conditions, having enough warm blankets can mean the difference between life or death. I can’t state this enough! Make sure that you pack plenty of warm blankets in your vehicle.
  11. Hand Warmers: I’m talking about the little prepackaged hand warmers that are automatically activated as soon as you open their plastic packaging. You can stick these in your gloves or in the toes of your shoes or boots and they will do an amazing job of helping you to stay warm.
  12. Warm Waterproof Hat: While most survival experts would recommend staying with your vehicle if you break down, you may find yourself having to get off the edge of the road for safety sake. This is especially true if the roads are icy and the likelihood of another vehicle sliding off the road and crashing into yours is high. A tremendous amount of your body heat escapes through your head so having a warm waterproof hat can go a long way towards keeping your core body temperature stable and consequently helping to prevent the onset of hypothermia.
  13. Rain Gear: If you break down during a rain storm, having a rain poncho will mean the difference between you getting an extra shower that day and staying dry.
  14. Fire Starting Tools: These can be lifesavers if you end up stranded on the side of the road in cold weather conditions. If at all possible, you should stay in your vehicle and use the heater to keep warm. Understanding that this is generally the recommended advice, you may have to make the personal decision to leave your vehicle for one reason or another. If you do, having the ability to start a fire to stay warm or signal for help could save your life.
  15. Sunscreen: Again, let me point out that most survival experts would advise you to stay with your vehicle when you break down. Now, having said that, only you can decide what needs to be done if you end up in a survival situation. If you choose to leave your vehicle and walk, hoping to find help during the blazing heat of the summer, sunblock can help prevent severe sunburns.
  16. Lip Moisturizer: Whether it’s winter or summer, having lip balm with you can prevent your lips from drying out and cracking which could be quite painful depending upon how severe the cracking becomes.
  17. Nonperishable Food: When you’re traveling down a long desolate road and you break down, you’ll never know how long it might be until help arrives. Having a supply of food that will not spoil is another item that can save your life.
  18. Clean Water: We all have heard that the human body can only live for about three days without water. Depending upon the specific conditions, if you don’t have clean drinking water, you may not be able to even live that long. With this in mind, I always suggest that people travel with a good supply of clean drinking water. One thing that’s worth pointing out is that if you leave the water in your vehicle during the winter, you might find that all you have are several bottles of ice. If you plan on taking a trip during the winter, you might want to consider stocking your vehicle with fresh water that isn’t frozen before you head out.
  19. Duct Tape: There are so many uses for duct tape that I won’t even begin to try to mention them here. Heck, in a pinch, you may even find yourself using this item to fix a broken duck (cheesy grin).
  20. Seat Belt Cutting Tool: If you ever get into an accident, you may need to cut the seat belt off of someone so that you can get them out of the vehicle such as in situations when it’s on fire. While a pocket knife will work for this, there are specially designed seat belt cutting tools that you can purchase that are designed to minimize the chances of you actually cutting the person that you’re trying to free from the seat belt in the first place.
  21. Window Breaking Tool: There may be occasions when you’ll need to break a window to free yourself from your vehicle. A couple of examples might be if you crash into a body of water or your vehicle gets pinned between two trees in an accident. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to break a window if your vehicle is underwater. Having this tool in your glove box may save your life someday.
  22. Car First Aid Kit: This should be a no-brainer. Whether you get into an accident and need to administer first aid to yourself or someone else in your vehicle or you happen upon an accident and need to administer first aid to a victim of that accident, having a well-stocked first aid kit can be invaluable.
  23. Medications: The importance of keeping medications in your kit will vary depending upon the individual health conditions of the people you are traveling with. That being said, you may want to keep some basic medications on hand regardless of their specific health conditions. Some that might be useful are aspirin, ibuprofen, and anti-diarrhea medicine. Regardless of what you decide to put in your kit, make sure that you store it in the appropriate manner. For example, some medications such as certain forms of insulin need to be refrigerated.
  24. Tire Chains: When traveling during winter weather conditions, you may need to stop and chain up if the conditions become severe enough. In some areas of the United States, you are actually required to carry tire chains in your vehicle if you plan on driving over certain mountain passes during the winter.
  25. Foldable Shovel: You might be wondering why I would suggest that you carry a shovel in your vehicle so allow me to explain. If for some reason, something happens that causes you to drive off the edge of the road and you get stuck, having a shovel that you can use to dig yourself out with could mean the difference between a really bad day and a minor inconvenience.
  26. Kitty Litter: For those of us who live in areas that get snow, we know what a lifesaver a bag of kitty litter can be. If you happen to get stuck, pouring a little kitty litter in front of or behind your drive wheels may allow you to gain enough traction to get your vehicle moving again.
  27. Fully Charged Cell Phone: This is another item that most people would consider to be a no-brainer but a lot of people actually forget to charge their cell phones before they head out and if they don’t have a car charger with them, they’ll be out of luck if they need to call for help.
  28. Car Cell Phone Charger: For the same reason mentioned above, you should always carry a cell phone charger in car emergency kits. I’m talking about the kind that will plug into the 12 volt outlet in your vehicle. Also, make sure that it’s a charger that actually fits your particular phone.
  29. Portable CB Radio: If you’re traveling in an area that doesn’t have cell phone service, you might be able to call for help if you have a good old-fashioned CB radio. While cell phones have replaced the CB for the most part, over-the-road truckers still rely upon them heavily. In an emergency situation, you can often get help from a trucker if you have a CB in your car. It’s probably also a good idea to have an external antenna that you can mount to the top of your vehicle to extend the range of the CB. You don’t have to keep it mounted to your vehicle at all times. You could just keep it in your trunk and pull it out in the event that you have an emergency that calls for the use of it.
  30. Pepper Spray: We live in a crazy world and not everybody who stops to help you when you’re broken down has good intentions. Keeping pepper spray in your vehicle is a way of protecting you and your family should someone stop to “help you” but actually intend to cause you harm.

    I would like to point out that one of my readers informed me, by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article, that you run the risk of a can of pepper spray exploding if you leave it in a hot car. He said that his container warned against storing it at temperatures at or above 110 degrees. Be sure to read the warning on your container to learn how it can be stored as an added precaution. This brings up another good point. It won’t do you any good if you have it packed at the bottom of your kit. A better option might be to keep it in your purse or glove box and NOT leave it in a hot car.

  31. Fix-a-Flat: This is a handy product to keep in your vehicle in the event that you ever have a flat tire. If the leak isn’t too bad, you can often attach the hose on the can to the valve stem on your tire and inflate it enough to get you to an area where you can have it properly repaired.
  32. Tire Pressure Gauge: If you have a low tire and you have to stop at a gas station to fill it up, you’ll want to have a way to make sure you inflate it to the proper PSI.
  33. Oil: It’s always a good idea to keep a couple quarts of oil with you. You never know when your low oil light might come on and having the right oil with you could mean the difference between waiting for hours and hours for help and spending five minutes topping off your engine.
  34. Rags or Paper Towels: If you have to check your oil or do any other roadside repairs, you’ll want to have some disposable rags or paper towels handy.
  35. Anti-Freeze: If your engine ever overheats, it may be because your coolant level is low. I recommend keeping at least 2 gallons on hand. The reason I recommend 2 gallons instead of one is because if you have a small leak, having the extra gallon could mean that you could make it to the next town by occasionally stopping to add more coolant as it leaks out.
  36. Power Steering Fluid: There was a day when no one had even heard of power steering but in this day and age, practically every vehicle has power steering. If you’ve ever tried to steer a vehicle that was low on power steering fluid, you know how difficult, if not impossible it can be. Keep at least one bottle of power steering fluid in your mobile vehicle emergency kit.
  37. Automatic Transmission Fluid: These days, more and more vehicles are equipped with automatic transmissions. While it’s not common for the fluid level to get low in these types of transmissions, it’s not impossible. If you’re traveling and your transmission starts to slip, the first thing you might try is checking the level of the automatic transmission fluid. If it’s low, adding enough to bring it up to the recommended level may help you get to a town where a qualified mechanic can check things out for you.
  38. Brake Fluid: The only thing that’s worse than not being able to go anywhere in your car is not being able to stop when you need to. If your brakes start to feel strange, the only thing that you might be able to do while you’re on the road is check the brake fluid level. If it’s low, adding some fluid to it might restore the functionality of your brakes.

    I should point out that you should be extremely cautious if this happens to you. If adding brake fluid doesn’t improve the poor braking performance immediately, call a tow truck and have your vehicle towed to a service station. You should never drive with breaks that aren’t functioning properly!

  39. Gas Can: I’m sure none of you have ever run out of gas before but I certainly have. If you keep a new gas can in your trunk, you just might find a good Samaritan who will be willing to drive you to the nearest gas station. Even if you have to walk to the gas station, without a gas can, actually making it to a gas station won’t do you any good. The reason I recommend only packing a new gas can is that no one wants to be traveling with the smell of gas permeating from a can that already had gas in it before.

    3-31-15 Update: Michael B. was nice enough to leave a comment at the bottom of this article where he suggested keeping a rolled up $5 or $10 bill inside the unused gas can so you’ll be sure to always have money with you if you ever do have to fill it with gas. Great tip. Thanks Michael!

  40. Tow Strap: Even if you don’t own a truck that’s capable of towing anything, having a heavy duty tow strap with you could be very helpful. For example, if something causes you to have to swerve off the side of the road and you get stuck, someone who happens to be passing by who actually does have a truck may be able to pull you out if you have a tow strap with you. If they don’t have a tow strap and you don’t have one, you’re going to be waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck to arrive.
  41. Multi-Tool: In most cases it’s not practical to carry an entire tool set with you while you’re traveling. That being said, I can personally attest that having a high-quality multi-tool with you can get you out of a bind in many situations.
  42. Toilet Paper: We’ve all had experiences when we were traveling along a desolate remote road and someone suddenly had a bathroom emergency. Having a roll of toilet paper could mean the difference between wiping your bum with a prickly pear cactus and triple-ply ultra-soft TP.
  43. Hand Sanitizer – This item complements the item above quite nicely for obvious reasons.
  44. Reading Materials: If you ever find yourself stranded on the side of the road, you’ll probably get help sooner than later but it’s entirely possible that you could be stranded for quite some time. Keep a good book that you haven’t read stashed back to kill the time while you’re waiting for help to arrive. If you’re traveling with children, something that’s a bit more interactive might be more appropriate such as coloring books and crayons.
  45. Small Plastic Garbage Bags: Ever traveled with a sick child? If you have, you already know that having them vomit in a plastic garbage bag is a much better alternative to having them get it all over your upholstery.
  46. Feminine Hygiene Products: As all of you women who are reading this already know, you can never be 100% sure when ol’ Uncle “TOM” might pay you a visit. The reason for keeping these types of items in your vehicle shouldn’t need an explanation.
  47. Emergency Radio: I suggest keeping a backup radio in emergency kits for cars that has the option to crank on a handle to charge it up. If you’re stranded for a long period of time, you may not be able to rely on your vehicle’s radio when the battery goes dead.
  48. Paracord: You never know when you’ll need some cordage during a survival situation. You won’t be able to tow a vehicle with paracord but it does have an extremely strong strength-to-weight ratio so I recommend it for many survival purposes.
  49. Portable GPS or Paper Map: If you are lost while traveling, having a handheld GPS unit, or at the very least, an updated map could help you get back on track so that you can arrive at your intended destination safely.
  50. Cash: In a perfect world, we would all be able to count on good Samaritans to help us out but as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world. Keeping some cash on you in small denominations may be enough to “convince” someone into becoming a good Samaritan and helping with what you might be in need of.
  51. Pen and Paper: If you find yourself in a survival situation and you end up making the decision to leave your vehicle, it would be a good idea if you could leave a note on your vehicle telling rescue personnel the direction of travel that you headed in. You could also tell them things such as how many people are in your group, whether anyone is injured or sick, and the approximate time that you started walking.

Make Sure You Read the Comments at the Bottom of This Article

This article is only a day old and already people have left some great comments that contain other items that you might want to consider adding to your kit. Make sure that you scroll down and take the time to read them!

Did I Miss Anything?

I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible while writing this article but it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed something that you might consider to be an important item to keep in your vehicle for survival purposes. If I did, please take a minute to leave a comment in the box below and share your thoughts. If you come up with a good idea, I’ll be happy to add it to this article. If I do end up adding any items to this list, I’ll update the title of the article at that time to reflect the actual number.

11 Responses to “51 Essential Items to Keep in Your Car Emergency Kit”

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  1. Papa J says:

    Good list. I can’t believe I don’t have a drop cloth. I always figured I would use my large plastic bags, but a larger drop would be good. The only thing; I would caution people on is keeping pepper spray in your car during the summer months. I think it states about 110 degrees and the container may explode. Not good. However my wife does have hers and I often take it with at times

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Thanks, I didn’t realize the risk of a container of pepper spray exploding in a hot car. I’ll update the article to include that warning.

  2. Michael B says:

    Also, with a new gas can, keep a rolled up 5 or 10 dollar bill inside so you can pay for the gas, or a tip for the kind soul who picked you up.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Great idea Michael! I advised keeping cash in your kit but I hadn’t thought about actually putting it inside the gas can. I guess the important thing would to make sure everyone who drives the car knows that the money is in there ahead of time.

      Thanks for your tip!

  3. Sideliner 1950 says:

    Very good list with good elaboration on each item. Thanks.

    In addition, please consider the following items:

    1. Reflective Vests (minimum of 2 or more. 1 per occupant)
    2. Backpack or Daypack
    3. Coghlin 4 Function Combination: Whistle, Compass, Magnifying Glass, and Thermometer
    4. “Space” or “Grabber” All Weather Reflective Blankets (minimum of 2)
    5. Hiking Shoes or Boots (in case of vehicle breakdown)
    6. N95 Dust Masks (1 per occupant)
    7. Dust Goggles (minimum of 2 pair; e.g., unused but still serviceable ski goggles with clear lenses)
    8. Ear Plugs (1 pair per occupant)
    9. Sleep Masks (1 per occupant)
    10. Nitrile Gloves (in addition to mechanic’s gloves — 12 minimum)
    11. Spare Tire (inspect periodically to confirm serviceability; replace if necessary)
    12. 12 Volt DC Automotive Air Compressor – Tire Inflator
    13. MPOWERD Luci Inflatable Solar Chargeable Lantern
    14. Fire Extinguisher (automotive type)
    15. Basic Mechanic’s Tool Kit (appropriate to vehicle — consider “metric vs. SAE”)
    16. Hose Clamps (small selection appropriate to vehicle)
    17. Spare Fuses (appropriate to vehicle)
    18. Spare Headlights or Bulbs (appropriate to vehicle)
    19. Zip Ties (assorted)
    20. Bolt Cutters
    21. Spare Windshield Wiper Blade(s)
    22. Windshield Washer Fluid or Concentrate (appropriate to season)
    23. Umbrella(s) (protection from both rain and sun)
    24. Pet Food and/or Treats
    25. Pet Waste Bags
    26. Black Contractors’ Clean Up Bags (heavy duty; minimum of 2)
    • Patty Hahne says:

      Wow Sideliner 1950! Thanks for your comment and great additions to this list! I really appreciate it!

  4. Audrey says:

    Patty … very thorough list; many items I don’t yet have. I didn’t notice having an extra set of clothes (in case you get wet, exposed etc.). I travel a lot for work so I also carry (in addition to the hiking shoes) in winter an extra warm coat or jacket; extra warm gloves and socks (cotton liner w. wool-blend good socks). In summer I have my running shoes with me (heels won’t cut it) with appropriate socks. I wonder if having some type cooking device (jetboil canister) might not be a good item to carry … especially if you get stranded in a place with no one else around (used outside car of course); one can boil water for coffee, hot chocolate and soup (in your food bag).
    What about a tent or tarp for emergency camping? The drop cloth (if heavy duty), a tarp, or even mylar (esp. heavy duty) blankets (you mentioned this) can also serve as shelter using the paracord you listed to hang. Thanks again to you and your other commenters.

  5. Dave says:

    I have almost every item you noted. Refreshing to hear others thoughts on this. I also keep an emergency candle in the glove compartment and trunk. Cheap Christmas candles that were destined for the garbage. They give off great heat.

    The tow rope was what hit me. This would save so many people. Just a wee tug and people could be on their way, instead of a survival issue.

  6. NativeAtlantaGirl says:

    For ladies, recommend pair of pants, socks, athletic shoes, practical top and a few grocery bags.

    A friend was stranded in a snow storm on way home from work. She was in a tight skirt & heels – 6 miles from home. She called me asking what she should do- she didn’t have another pr of shoes but she put on the grocery bags on her feet and socks over them to hike home.

    Now, she always has a change of clothes in the car. Also a poncho can be a help for changing clothes, having a little bit of “privacy” when needing to use the loo (stranded for hours on the Interstate – nowhere to “go”)

  7. Sarah says:

    Any thoughts on what to do with all this stuff in your car if you regularly park it in an area where break-ins occur frequently? I’ve often lived in cities/neighborhoods where the common tip is to not leave anything visible in your car, ever, lest you tempt a break-in. Especially items like backpacks, or tools. My car has some hidden cubby holes, but nothing big enough that would allow for a proper winter survival kit.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I guess it really depends on the type of vehicle you drive. If your spare tire is in your trunk, you might consider taking it out and then hiding your supplies where the spare goes. Then just place the spare in your trunk in plain sight. In my opinion, people would be much less interested in stealing a tire than survival gear.

      If you can’t do that, you may want to consider doing things like disguising your survival gear. Instead of just putting a backpack in your car, you could conceal your backpack in something like a laundry bag. People might not be too keen on digging through what could be stinky laundry.

      Sometimes valuable survival items can be hidden in plain sight if you do a little work to make them look like something else.

      Hope this helps!

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