What to Pack in Your Car’s Emergency Kit

How to prep yourself for that worst-case scenario.

car emergency kit

Americans spend an average of 20 hours in their cars and drive more than 200 miles each week. That’s an awfully lot of time and distance on the road. Maybe you have AAA or a newer model; maybe you always service your car on time and don’t take a lot of risks while driving—all good things, but each year, there’s still a one in three chance you’ll have a breakdown or other car issue (flat tire, dead battery, etc.) that’ll hold you up.

There is a one in three chance you'll have a breakdown or other car issue each year.

You know you should have an emergency kit in your trunk, but if you’re anything like us, all you have is the spare and an old, leaking bottle of engine oil. But we can do better! Quoted compiled the must-haves and the it-would-be-nice-to-haves for your car’s emergency kit. We think spring is a good time to get your car in order, so break out the shopping list, clear a spot in your trunk, and take a page from the Boy Scouts.

The Essentials:

The average driver probably doesn’t need an expensive fifty-piece emergency kit like many on the market—and most don’t even include everything you’d want anyway—but there are a handful of items you’ll want to have no matter what kind of car you drive or where you live:

  • Jumper cables: go for thicker, which means a smaller gauge (8 is decent, 6 or 4 are even better, and skip 10 or higher all together) and longer (at least ten feet) for ease in case of an emergency
  • Spare tire: replace every ten years and check the tire pressure each season
  • Car Jack: your car should come with one, but double check to be sure
  • Flares or reflector triangles: in the event of a breakdown these could prevent a serious collision
  • Warm blanket: for cold-weather breakdowns, spare tire changing, and padding while looking under the car
  • A bag of sand, road salt, or even cat litter: for extra traction in case of a sudden icing (cat litter is the lightest and therefore often preferred)
  • A jug of clean drinking water: we recommend at least a few gallons, and since it’ll be sitting in your car, exposed to heat and cold, consider a glass jug and replace the water every few months
  • Flashlight with extra batteries (or crank-powered)
  • Cell phone charger with lighter adaptor
  • First aid kit: just a simple one with bandages, gauze, and rubbing alcohol will do
  • Foam tire sealant for minor damage
  • Swiss Army knife, or equivalent
If you have some extra space:
  • Small bottles of engine oil, washer fluid, and antifreeze to refill away from home
  • Change of clothes: think old jeans and a sweatshirt, not little black dress and ties
  • Battery powered radio (or a wind-up)
  • A rope or chain for towing
  • Non-perishable food: energy bars are a good choice

How to pack:

We think a (not too large) plastic storage bin works best to keep everything in tip-top shape (and mostly out of your way). You can wrap the glass jug of water with the blanket, keep all bottles upright instead of rolling around and leaking, and still have space in the rest of the trunk for your leisure activity accoutrements (you know, spray paint, LARP costumes, lupine seeds).

We hope you never need to use your emergency kit, but if you do, at least you’ll actually have what you need, rather than rummaging through old shoes and Salvation Army donation drop-offs you still need to make, hoping to magically come upon jumper cables or a flashlight.