What to Keep in Your Car in the Case of an Emergency

1. Documentation to keep in your car

Any car essentials list should start with documentation that is, in some cases, required by law. Although laws differ from state to state, for example, you are generally required to carry some sort of verification of your insurance policy with you when you’re driving.

Most documentation can be kept in your glove compartment. Consider investing in a small, sturdy binder or box that will keep all paperwork in one place and easily accessible. Check the binder annually to be sure you are up-to-date on all required documents. Here is what the binder should contain:

  • Insurance card
  • Vehicle registration
  • Driver’s license (may be better kept in your wallet so it’s available when you need ID)
  • Owner’s manual
  • Blank notebook and pen

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Category 2: Emergency and Safety Equipment

Here’s a quick reference list of the items you may need:

  • First aid kit.
  • Emergency escape tool.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Flashlight
  • Multi-function tool.
  • Matches or an alternative fire starter.
  • Energy bars.
  • Water bottles.
  • Maps.
  • Reflective triangle.
  • Gas can.
  • Tire traction mat.

You could check out our guide to the best car emergency kits for collections of all the items you may need in one handy kit, or you can choose to seek out the pieces individually.

Let’s look at each item in detail to see what they are used for and why you should have them in your car:

First Aid Kit

You can buy a pre-assembled first aid kit for your vehicle. This will include a wide array of items to cover many different emergency situations.

Be sure to store this in an easily accessible location within your car, just in case you need quick access to it.

Emergency Escape Tool

We don’t wish it on anyone, but in case of an accident, you don’t want to get trapped in your vehicle. You need to have a tool to cut your seatbelt and/or break a window to get out fast.

Make sure you keep it where you can reach it easily from the driver’s seat.

Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is a must-have item since vehicles can easily catch fire during an accident, or if leaks and components failures occur.

We would advise to source one of the best car fire extinguishers you can find, always keep it within reach. Make sure to prioritize your safety and that of passengers, before the car.

Car Flashlight

Most modern phones have a light, but it’s still a good idea to keep a flashlight handy in your vehicle to cover the times You may be stranded in a dark, isolated place with a dead mobile phone!

Make sure it’s always fully charged. Keep spare batteries too if the flashlight requires them.

Alternatively, a manually-charged flashlight can be a great solution. These require you to manually wind a handle in order to generate a charge for power.

Multi-Function Tool

These are improved versions of the classic Swiss army knife. Depending on the situation, you may need a variety of tools.

The good thing is that multi-function tools are compact in size, contain everything from screwdrivers, pliers and a knife, to scissors and even spanners and tweezers.

Matches or an Alternative Fire Starter

Matches, a lighter or an alternative fire starter can come in handy, and not only to light a cigarette. You may need to keep yourself warm or signal for help.

Energy Bars

Hopefully, no matter the emergency you won’t be stranded for long, but it’s always better to have some non-perishable food with you in case no help reaches you for many hours or even days.

Energy bars and other such items can keep for a long time and come in handy if you’re stranded far from civilization.

Water Bottles

Water is even more important than food if you are stranded.

Experts advise keeping at least a case of drinking water in your trunk. You’ll be glad you thought of this beforehand, especially if the weather is very hot.

Local Maps

Even if everyone uses their cell phones now, you may be stranded somewhere with no signal.

An old-fashioned map will never leave you high and dry. Make sure to take a map of the local area you’re visiting.

Reflective Triangle

This breakdown tool is for when your vehicle dies on the side of the road, to alert other road users of your situation.

If you cannot move your car to a safer spot, put the reflective triangle down as per the included instructions. It should be far enough behind your vehicle to alert other drivers and prevent them from hitting your car.

Some kits come with three reflective triangles. They’re to be placed at 10, 100 and 200 feet from the rear of your vehicle for extra safety.

Gas Can

Gasoline is highly flammable, and its fumes are toxic. But if you’re driving very long distances in places where service stations are rare, you may need extra gas.

Just make sure the can is perfectly closed and doesn’t leak. Also, never keep it inside your car, not even in the trunk. The safest place is on the car rack on the top of your vehicle. This way, you will not suffer any consequences from inhaling gasoline fumes.

For standard car users though, keeping an empty can in your trunk is a good idea so you can hitch a lift or walk to the nearest gas station to get gas if you do run out and your vehicle stops.

Tire Traction Mat

Use it if your vehicle is stuck in mud or snow and the traction from the tires is not sufficient to move.

Just place it in the path of your tires to free your car. Don’t accelerate too much, a little bit of gas will be enough to get unstuck.

It’s also helpful to know that you can replace this with cat litter, sand or cardboard if in a pinch.

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A basic toolkit may come in handy if you ever need to make some makeshift vehicle repairs

You never know what types of small, makeshift repairs you might need to make on the road, so Edmonds said AAA suggests stocking your car with a kit that includes an assortment of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, and pliers.

She said AAA also suggests you keep duct tape and plastic zip ties in your vehicle. Although they do not offer a permanent solution, plastic zip ties and duct tape can be used to make certain car repairs that may last until you’re able to bring your vehicle to a safe place where it can be properly fixed. 

Final Thoughts

We’ve seen that to be prepared for any situation when driving, there is a long list of things to keep in your car. You need to think ahead and pack them before they’re needed, so they can you help you in emergencies.

We’ve given you four main categories of items above, from vehicle repairs to safety and personal hygiene products.

We’ve also explained in detail when and how to use each item. We’ve got you covered in any driving related emergency, from basic first aid to extreme weather conditions.

Always better to be safe than sorry!

Some of you will likely have some more items in your car that you find indispensable. What do you always take with you that you cannot do without? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, feel free to ask us if you have any additional questions.

3. What to keep in case of a breakdown

There are few things more dispiriting than being broken down at the side of the road. Many insurers now offer roadside coverage so that you can call and get help for minor issues such as a flat tire or dead battery. Probably the most important of your car necessities is a charged cell phone, so that you can make that call.

If you don’t have roadside coverage, however, you may want to gather some items and keep them in a bucket or container in the back of your car, so that you can tackle any issue if you have a breakdown. Here are a few ideas of what to keep in the car:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flares and matches or a couple of reflective emergency triangles
  • Spare tire (consider replacing your donut tire with a full-sized spare)
  • Flashlight (check and replace the batteries regularly)
  • Tool kit (with a tire gauge, wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and a spare can of oil)
  • Waterproof tarp
  • Escape tool (one that will cut through seat belts and break windows)

15. A pair of pet hair-removing brushes that’ll leave you shocked by the amount of hair they pull from your seat or seat cover

Amazon Promising review: Really impressed with these! We have a dog that sheds like it’s his job and our car is always extremely difficult to vacuum. These really picked up the hair with minimal effort. I’ve also used on our home area rugs and got way better results than our Shark vacuum. Left the carpets feeling soft as well. I’d definitely recommend for any pet owner!”—jonathanc1222 Get a pack of two from Amazon for $24.

Things to Keep in Your Glove Compartment

We have to keep a surprisingly large amount of documentation inside our cars, and there are not a lot of suitable places for it. However, the glove compartment is often overlooked, even though it is a great place to store things you need to keep in your car at all times. These include:

  • Your car owner's manual
  • Copies of registration and car insurance in the event of an accident or if you get pulled over
  • Car repair contact information or AAA card, also in the event of an accident
  • Vehicle maintenance history so that whoever does repairs on your car knows its history
  • Pen/pencil and notepad to take down any important information, such as the insurance info for the guy who rear-ended you
  • A personal phone book in case your phone dies and you need to make a call from a payphone, because who actually remembers phone numbers anymore?
  • Printed road maps, because technology can sometimes fail you and a good old-fashioned paper map might just get your where you need to be.
  • Work gloves to keep warm or protect your hands when doing DIY maintenance
  • A flashlight and spare batteries will ensure that you always have enough light in the event of a disaster, be it mechanical or medical in nature.

7. A teeny-tiny trash can, because it’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. It can sit in your cupholder and hold all your little gum wrappers and empty ketchup packets

Amazon Promising review: “It’s ridiculous how much I love these! The push part is on a spring so it stays closed when you aren’t pushing it, and of course it perfectly fits in the cup holder of our vehicles. Pro tip: a quart-size Ziploc is the perfect size to add as a liner and fold over the top to keep the inside clean!” —Chaos Coordinator Get it from Amazon for $8.99+ (available in four colors).

Personal Things to Keep in Your Car

Your car is your safe haven when on the move, so it's no surprise that it ends up accumulating some personality along the way. Here are just a few personal things for your car that give it that lived-in feeling:

  • Face mask – with the current global health crisis, you should never go anywhere without it.
  • A bottle of water and some snacks – for those longer road trips or even when running errands around town.
  • Emergency makeup – if you're a woman or a teenage girl (or even a metrosexual man), it never hurts to have a little bit of touch-up makeup on hand
  • Brush – always useful if you need to freshen up before a meeting

First Aid Supplies

Life with kids is unpredictable. Scapes and falls happen frequently so be prepared. Essential to any car emergency kit, I keep my first aid kit under the driver’s seat.

  • Assorted bandages
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Anti-bacterial gel
  • Pain reliever, adults and kids
  • Allergy medication, like Benadryl
  • Antacids
  • Eye Wash
  • Lip balm
  • Extra required medication
  • Tweezers

First Aid Kit on Amazon $33

In an emergency, you may be glad to have a spare tire and jumper cables in your vehicle

Jumper cables can help start a car battery.

State Farm Calabasas insurance agent Mike Martinek told INSIDER that it is important to keep a spare tire and jumper cables in a vehicle, as both can offer makeshift solutions to common automobile issues. 

Jumper cables can be used to jump-start a car, which can temporarily a vehicle’s battery get a boost. Spare tires can come in handy if you need to replace a flat or blown-out tire for a short period of time. 

Babies and Toddlers 

When my kids were little, I used my SUV like a giant diaper bag. Keep these items stored where you change your baby in the car.

  • Baby food and/or formula
  • Baby wipes
  • Extra diapers
  • Changing Pad
  • Bleach wipes
  • Extra clothes including shoes and socks
  • Disposable grocery bags for the dirties
  • Extra soothing object, like a pacifier
  • Extra toys
When I wash my SUV of course I wear evening attire

When I wash my SUV of course I wear evening attire. Photo: Pixabay

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