Last updated: August 2023

Essential Items for Car Emergency Kits

It’s smart to stash a few car essentials in your vehicle so you’re always prepared for both genuine emergencies and minor inconveniences. Aside from the obvious items, like jumper cables and a spare tire, what other practical things should you always carry in the car? Here’s a list of items to consider for your car emergency kit and some additional items to make travel more comfortable and enjoyable.

Things to Keep in Your Car Emergency Kit

When you get behind the wheel, you never know when you’ll end up broken down or stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. Mother Nature is also unpredictable, meaning it’s important to be prepared for rain, snow, or shine. So, when you leave your home (whether you’re driving across town or across the state), it’s a good idea to carry a fully stocked emergency kit. You can purchase one that is already assembled, or you can make a DIY car emergency kit. No matter which option you choose, here are the main emergency items to make sure are included, according to the National Safety Council.

  • Jumper cables
  • A tool set or multipurpose tools
  • Tire changing kit
  • A well-stocked first aid kit
  • Healthy nonperishable foods and water
  • Reflective triangles and a reflective vest
  • A phone charger
  • A flashlight with batteries
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Duct tape
  • A compass
  • Rain ponchos
  • Blankets and warm clothing
  • A snow brush, shovel, and cat litter (to help with traction) if you’re living and driving in an area with winter weather.

After you have your spare tire and emergency kit on board, it’s important to routinely check and replace items as needed. For example, you don’t want to be counting on a fire extinguisher that is well past its expiration date.

Other Car Essentials

Emergency preparedness is the number one priority, but don’t neglect the “nice-to-haves,” like the 12 items on the list below! Stash them out of sight in your car or make sure to have them in your purse or backpack when you get in your vehicle.

1. Antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer

When soap and water aren’t available, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to kill germs. Store this out of direct sunlight in your center console or glove compartment. You could also use disinfecting wipes, which are great for cleaning up messy surfaces.

2. Paper towels or napkins

Even if you’re careful, you never know when you (or a passenger) will make a mess. Having paper towels or napkins handy can be quite useful.

3. Tissues

Sneezes have a way of sneaking up on us. Stash a space-friendly pack of tissues in your glove compartment!

4. Sunglasses

It’s always helpful to have a spare pair of shades handy, but remember that heat can warp lenses and frames. So, keep a less expensive pair in your car and out of sight.

5. Your vehicle owner’s manual

This sometimes-forgotten book can tell you things like what a particular light on your dash means, what the ideal tire pressure is, and how to solve problems like a flat tire or dead car battery.

6. An umbrella

Keep a spare umbrella in the backseat of your car for the day an unexpected thunderstorm forms overhead.

7. A list of contacts

Phone die? Are you in a remote area without reception? A paper list of important contacts can help you phone for help or check in with someone as needed.

8. Tote bags and plastic bags

Carrying tote bags can help ensure you always have one when you go to the grocery story. By carrying plastic bags, you’ll always have a trash bag ready for the clutter that seems to accumulate in every vehicle.

9. Cash and loose change

Even as many places go cashless, it’s helpful to carry some tangible currency. This way you’ll be prepared if you end up at a cash only establishment or need to put coins in a parking meter.

10. Floss or toothpicks

It might not happen often, but it’s an unpleasant feeling to have something stuck in your teeth with no way to remove it. Stash some floss or toothpicks in your console or glove compartment.

11. A lint roller

Make sure you don’t have pet hair on your clothes before you walk into that big meeting. Stash a lint roller in your car just to be safe.

12. A stain remover pen

Don’t wait all day to treat the drip of coffee you got on your favorite shirt. Carry a stain remover pen for these clothing emergencies.

What Not to Keep in Your Car

The inside of a car isn’t always the friendliest environment. It doesn’t take long for a car to heat up. Therefore, things like makeup and medication that are perishable should be left out of your car.

A toasty interior temp can cause makeup to melt or explode, affect a product’s color or texture, and make active ingredients (like the zinc oxide in your SPF) ineffective. While it might not make your medication harmful to take, exposure to extreme temps could make your medication less effective. It’s best to keep these and other perishables out of your car.

It’s also a good idea to remove any excess weight you might be carrying. For example, heavy bags with sports equipment can hurt your gas mileage. By getting rid of items you’re not using during the drive or when you get to your destination, you can improve your fuel efficiency.

Consider carrying a roadside assistance plan!

Being prepared for emergencies is helpful, but did you know that adding a roadside assistance plan to your auto policy can help ensure you get expert help when you need it most? For example, roadside assistance can help you change a flat tire with your good spare, jump-start your car, offer certain mechanical first aid, and more. Call us at 1-877-GO-DIRECT or visit your nearest Direct Auto store to learn more!

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