Car emergency kit and first aid kit neatly organized in a car trunk

How to Create a Car Emergency Kit

During winter and early spring, it’s important to have the right items on hand in your car emergency kit. You can pick up a basic roadside emergency kit and first aid kit on Amazon or at your favorite local retailer to help you save a little money. But those items may not contain everything you need for the emergencies that could crop up on your local roads. Are you ready to make sure you have the right emergency supplies on hand in your car? From flat tires to dead batteries, make sure you’re prepared for every emergency situation with this clear guide to packing together a car emergency kit.

Step One: Evaluate Your Local Climate

As you’re preparing your car survival kit, consider your local climate. Suppose you live in an area that sees heavy snow, ice, and temperatures below freezing throughout the winter months. In that case, your auto emergency kit may need to contain more items to get you through an emergency situation than if you live in a temperate climate. Likewise, if you live in an area where weather emergencies, including hurricanes, are common, you may want to make sure that you have a bug-out bag as part of your car emergency kit. Even if you store your car, keeping a kit of basic emergency items ready will help once you’re ready to drive it again.

Step Two: Choose a Container for Your Car Emergency Kit (or Kits)

To create the ultimate survival kit for your car, you need the perfect container (or containers). You don’t want your emergency kit items rolling around in the car or getting lost under the seat when you need them most. A small first aid kit can tuck under the front seat of your vehicle, while a larger emergency kit can be left in the trunk for easy access. You want a container that:

  • Fits well in your vehicle. Consider where you want to store your car emergency kit and select a container that fits in that location.
  • Holds the supplies you will need. Keep in mind that not all of your emergency supplies will go in your kit, but most of them will.
  • Is brightly colored so that you can find it easily.
  • Has compartments or dividers to make it easier to sort out the items you will need.

You may want a box for a first aid kit, your general emergency supplies kit, and a specific kit for winter driving emergencies. Even the biggest minimalist will find immense benefits to ensuring that these supplies are on hand. Also, keeping them neatly stored can help improve your car’s overall organization.

Step Three: Start Collecting Supplies for Your Car Emergency Kit

Car owner checking the air pressure in their tire while holding a flashlight

Carefully consider the supplies you need for your vehicle. Some things, every vehicle will need all year long; others, you may want to consider adding when the weather is cold. If you’re planning a big trip, make sure your emergency kit is fully stocked before you hit the road.

Emergency Supplies for Every Vehicle

Whether you’re packing a first roadside emergency kit for a teen who has recently gotten his license or you’re planning for emergency supplies for a road trip, every vehicle should have these items:

Jumper Cables

A dead battery should not leave you stranded with no hope of help. Make sure you have your own jumper cables (and that you know how to use them). If you have an older vehicle or know that you have alternator problems, consider investing in a portable battery charger. You can keep it in your vehicle and use it to jump your vehicle anywhere. You don’t want to have to hope that someone with booster cables will take pity on you when you have a dead battery!

A Flashlight

An emergency in the dark can leave you unable to see what’s going on around you. An independent flashlight — that is, one not attached to your phone — can make it easier for you to see everything that’s going on around you. Choose a flashlight that has more than one brightness setting. You may also want to consider a light that has a flashing light option. This can help attract attention or serve to help blind and disorient an attacker in an emergency.

A Charger for Your Cell Phone

Your cell phone is one of the most valuable tools you can have on hand in the event of an emergency. From calling AAA to let you into a locked vehicle or handle a flat tire to calling 911 after a serious accident, your cell phone can help get you out of a lot of emergencies. But that’s not true if it’s dead. Make sure you have a charging cable and USB charger. You may also want to consider storing an emergency cell phone charger in your emergency kit.

Pro Tip for Creating a Car Emergency Kit

Portable battery chargers will lose their charge with time, especially in cold weather. Consider a solar-powered or crank emergency cell phone charger. It will allow you to charge up your cell phone battery in an emergency.

Duct Tape

Duct tape can solve a variety of problems, from acting as a tourniquet if you suffer a serious injury to allowing you to make emergency car repairs at the side of the road. Include duct tape as part of your emergency kit.

Pro Tip for Creating a Car Emergency Kit:

Check your duct tape at the end of the summer to make sure that it doesn’t need replacing. The adhesive can melt and become nearly unusable after the summer months.

A Car Fire Extinguisher

Even if you drive a newer vehicle, make sure you have a car fire extinguisher on hand. It won’t help you in the event of a major accident and a big fire. But it could prove invaluable if you suffer a small engine fire. Consider keeping your fire extinguisher under the driver’s seat or in a seat pocket to make it easily accessible in an emergency.

A Basic Toolkit

Make sure you have a basic toolkit in your vehicle that includes a screwdriver, basic automotive tools, a hammer, pliers, a socket set, a wrench, and heavy-duty gloves. While you might not have the skills needed to fix everything that can go wrong with your vehicle on the road, having basic tools on hand could save you a call to roadside assistance. A basic multi-tool can also prove useful.

Reflective Triangles

Reflective triangle in front of a parked car with an engine problem

If you have to pull off the road to fix a flat tire or wait for help to arrive, you should turn off your headlights and tail lights to avoid confusing other drivers on the road. You still, however, want your vehicle to be very noticeable. Reflective triangles can make it easier to catch other drivers’ attention and keep you safer. These warning triangles can also notify the police that there is someone at the scene of a vehicle.

A Seatbelt Cutter and Window Breaker

If you get stuck in your car after an accident, you want the means to get out — fast! A seatbelt cutter can cut your seatbelt directly, making it easier for you to escape from the vehicle in a fire or if your vehicle falls into the water. Keep a seatbelt cutter down in the driver’s side door of your vehicle, where you will be able to reach it easily in an emergency.

Likewise, a window breaker is one tool you hope that you never have to use but which you’ll be very glad you have on hand if an emergency occurs. Keep a window breaker close at hand in your vehicle. You may be able to find a multipurpose tool that will handle both seatbelt cutting and window breaking tasks in an emergency.

A Spare Tire

If you have a flat tire, you need a spare tire in your safety kit to allow you to safely repair your vehicle and get it out of the way. Make sure you check your spare tire just as regularly as you do the other tires on your car. Check its tire pressure every other time you rotate your tires and when the weather changes. While roadside assistance and AAA might have the means to re-inflate your tire if needed, they can’t magically repair a tire that is falling apart.

A Tire Pressure Gauge

You walked out to the car late at night, only to find that one wheel is sitting lower than you thought. You put the spare tire on after fixing a flat but discovered that it doesn’t look quite right. Keeping a tire pressure gauge in with your emergency tools can make it easier to check the tire’s pressure and determine whether it’s strong enough to handle the demands you need to make of it.

An Air Compressor

If you have room in your vehicle or know you’re driving around with a tire that could go flat at any moment, an air compressor can help you re-inflate your tires and get on your way.

A Tow Strap

If you get stuck, what comes next? A tow strap can help you attach your vehicle to a friend’s truck, which will allow you to tow your vehicle yourself, rather than waiting for roadside assistance to arrive. Make sure you choose a tow rope rated for your vehicle and that you know how to use effectively.

A Safety Vest

If you have to get out of your car to deal with an emergency, you want to make sure that you’re highly visible. Pedestrian safety often isn’t a top consideration on busy roadways. A reflective safety vest won’t offer protection from the other vehicles zooming by all around you. But it will make it easier for other drivers to see you and increase the odds that they’ll be able to avoid you.

A Rain Poncho

Make sure you have a rain poncho or raincoat in your vehicle. It does not necessarily have to go directly in your roadside emergency car kit. Still, you should make sure that you store it in an easily accessible location within your vehicle. A rain poncho can help keep the rain off in bad weather or act as a shield if you need to work on your vehicle despite the weather around you.

Spare Windshield Wipers

Keep an extra windshield wiper or two in your car emergency kit for bad weather. You never know when bad weather, leaves, or dirt will cause damage to your windshield wiper. If you’re out driving in the rain, you may discover that you can no longer see clearly enough to drive. A spare windshield wiper in your car emergency kit, on the other hand, can help you get back on the road again quickly.

Cat Litter

Not only can cat litter help provide much-needed traction on ice, but it also helps absorb oil from spills. If you have an older vehicle, in particular, you may want to tuck a small container of cat litter into your emergency kit.

Windshield Washer Fluid

Washer fluid helps clear away dirt and grit from your windshield. Without it, you cannot clean your windshield from inside the car, which can pose a serious problem — especially if you get stuck behind a vehicle that’s throwing mud or dirt your way. Keep washer fluid in your emergency kit, and make sure that you check your fluids with every oil change.

An Emergency Blanket

An emergency blanket isn’t just valuable in the cold winter months. A reflective emergency blanket can also serve a variety of other purposes in a roadside emergency. You can use it to signal for help, to warm a passenger in the vehicle, or to provide a layer of protection from the ground as you’re working. Keeping your clothing off the ground could prove particularly valuable if you suffer a roadside emergency when you’re on your way to an event, from work meetings to special dates.

Extra Batteries

Store a handful of extra batteries for your devices, including your flashlight, in your car emergency kit. Replace those batteries annually since they may not last as long in your vehicle as they would in the house.

Pro Tip for Creating a Car Emergency Kit

Make sure batteries are stored in their own container, away from any metal objects in your emergency kit!

A Fire Starter

A fire starter can help you set off flares or make it easier for you to start a fire if you end up stranded during the winter. Keep it in a waterproof pouch away from other items in your emergency kit.

Road Flares

Road flares light up the night, notify authorities about your accident or emergency, and help draw attention to the scene. Keep a kit specifically designed for roadside use in your car emergency kit.

Water

Keep a few spare water bottles tucked in the back of your vehicle in case of an emergency. Not only can it serve as an emergency coolant if you suffer a coolant leak (though you should refill your tank with antifreeze as soon as possible no matter the time of year), it can make it easier for you to wait for roadside assistance or emergency personnel to arrive.

Pro Tip for Creating a Car Emergency Kit

Never pour cold or air-temperature water into a hot vehicle. If you do need to add antifreeze or water, wait for the car to cool down first.

What to Keep in Your Auto First Aid Kit

A basic first aid kit is critical to any vehicle — especially if you have kids or engage in any type of athletic activity. Your first aid kit can be the ultimate step in emergency preparedness. Of course, any first aid kit contains the basics: band-aids, gauze, towelettes, gloves, and antiseptic. In your ultimate roadside emergency car kit, however, you may want to include a few other items.

Ace Bandages

You never know when you will need an Ace bandage, or elastic bandage. Whether you sprain an ankle while out hiking or need to create a compression bandage after an auto accident, an elastic bandage can serve your purpose.

Extra Medications

If you need to take medications (especially emergency medications) regularly, you may want to make sure that you have some in your auto emergency kit. You may also want to consider items like Benadryl or a spare epi-pen if you have allergies.

Saline

Saline can help irrigate a wound or refresh dry contacts. It’s an extremely valuable item to have on hand.

Petroleum Jelly

This versatile item can prove extremely valuable in a variety of situations, from preventing medical tape or gauze from sticking to a wound to soothing chapped lips in winter.

An Emergency Tourniquet

Having an emergency tourniquet on hand can help stop extreme bleeding. Make sure you’re proficient in its use and know when and how to employ a tourniquet.

A Spare Medical Mask

If you need to offer treatment to someone else, a medical mask can help prevent you from sharing germs with them. It’s not just a COVID-19 essential!

A CPR Mask

These masks can make it easier to administer CPR without sharing germs.

What to Add to Your Vehicle Emergency Kit in Winter

When winter arrives, check over the emergency supplies in your vehicle and make sure you have the right tools on hand for changing weather. Some drivers choose to keep winter emergency supplies in their cars all year long. Even if you feel that you’re always prepared, make sure you go over your supplies and check them before the first freeze arrives.

A Spare Coat

Sometimes, you may hop in your vehicle for what you assume will be a short trip without grabbing your coat. You may not even intend to go inside when you reach your destination: you might plan to go through a drive-through to pick up dinner, for example, or simply plan to drop the kids off at school before you head for home again. Unfortunately, emergencies rarely choose a convenient time to arrive. Keep a spare coat on hand so that you can stay warm while you deal with a problem with your vehicle, address an accident, or wait for help to arrive.

An Extra Warm Blanket

While an emergency blanket can help keep you warm by reflecting heat, it doesn’t feel particularly warm and cozy. Also, if you have only a single emergency blanket stored in your car, you and your passengers may have to huddle up close to get everyone underneath. Keeping an extra warm blanket in the trunk or tucked into your emergency kit can make it easier for everyone to stay warm.

An Ice Scraper

During winter, your windshield can ice over before you know it. You may know that you need an ice scraper or some type of spray available first thing in the morning before the sun has a chance to burn off the frost on your vehicle. But as winter arrives, you should also consider scraping ice off of your windshield if you leave work late or even spend more time than anticipated shopping after dark. Make sure there’s an ice scraper in your vehicle so that if you do end up with a frosty windshield, you can easily scrape it away.

Food

You don’t necessarily need enough food stored in your car to put together a gourmet meal. But you certainly want to make sure that you have enough food on hand to cover you for a few hours, especially if you end up stranded. Granola bars, crackers, protein bars, or trail mix are all great choices. If you’re planning to leave your emergency kit in the car year-round, you may want to make sure that your trail mix doesn’t have chocolate, as it can melt and turn everything in the bag to mush.

Pro Tip for Creating a Car Emergency Kit

Store food in a plastic container. This will help keep out bugs and pests, especially as the weather warms up again. It will also help prevent those pests from being attracted to the other items in your emergency kit.

Emergency preparedness is vital, especially out on the road. By taking the time to prepare your vehicle emergency kit ahead of time, you’ll find that you’re much better prepared for anything that might happen. From accidents to flat tires, make sure you’re fully prepared for whatever may come your way by packing your emergency kit with these key items.

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