Whether you’re a regular cross-town commuter or a wild wilderness adventurer, it only takes one bad roll of the cosmic dice to strand you and your car in a sudden emergency or accident. Weather extremes, car trouble, medical problems, road blockages or other unfortunate events can turn your car Zen into spontaneous chaos. It’s important to prepare by keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle, full of handy items you might need in a traveling emergency.
It’s hard to predict every one of the calamities that could befall you while driving, which is why self-driving car programmers are having such a tough time. But while you can’t foresee everything, you can give future you a leg up by building a kit stocked for some of the most common issues that come up during car travel.
One of the most important parts of preparedness is planning what you would do should things go wrong. In case your phone doesn’t work, but someone else’s does, you need a paper list with phone numbers of emergency services, family and friends you can call.
The weather conditions you’ll be driving through will affect what you put in your kit. The things you’ll need to keep you warm in winter are entirely different from the items you’ll need to ward off summer heat.
If you have kids, you’ll also want to keep a kid car kit with child-focused items like diapers and kids’ games that can save your mental health if not your life. If you embark on a long journey further away from civilization, you might want to pack your kit with a few wilderness survival items.
Try not to keep anything in your kit that could expire quickly. To be safe, check your kit every six months or so to make sure everything still looks ready.
Here are some of the most important basics to gather for your emergency car kit:
Having a few basic tools on hand can make all the difference between figuring out a quick fix to a small mechanical problem and having to wait hours for roadside assistance or a friendly stranger. Flat tires and dead batteries are two of the most common vehicle problems, so always keep a spare tire and jumper cables in your car.
If an emergency happens on the highway, you’ll be happy you have your reflective vest, road cones or flares and tow strap. Make sure you get a tow strap long and thick enough for your car.
If a problem comes up at night and you happen to have a low phone battery, a flashlight and batteries will be indispensable. In case something happens while it’s raining, a rain poncho can keep you dry. It can also double as a mechanic’s floor mat if you need to crawl underneath your car.
A dead phone battery can make a bad situation worse, so bring a car charger or plug adapter. Staying hydrated can help you think clearly in an emergency, so throw in a few bottles of drinking water.
If you have to drive through snow or mud, you might end up needing a shovel to free your tires. You can store a foldable model in your car kit.
A basic first-aid kit can help you treat a small scrape at the park or more serious injuries from a road accident. Try to include:
If you expect cold weather, add to your kit:
If you expect warm weather, add:
If you have kids, add:
If you’re hitting the open road and you plan to spend from a few hours to a few days in and around your car, you can add:
Make sure to pack shelf-stable food that will keep over the long term and doesn’t need refrigeration. Granola bars, nuts, crackers and dried or canned fruits and vegetables are a good start. Add a manual can opener for cans without pop tops.
Some simple games and activities can provide distractions and help relieve boredom in an emergency or a long wait when you want to conserve your phone. If you go far off the beaten path, a compass and road map can help you find your way, and a whistle can signal over long distances.
If you ever do have an emergency on the road, you can give future you a break by keeping your car clean now. When you run into car trouble, having to find a leak or fix a flat while surrounded by dirt and grime can feel like piling insult on top of injury.
Getting an express car wash on a regular schedule can also help you catch car problems before they fester. If you keep things clean under the hood, you’ll be better able to see any fraying cables or belts, leaking oil or coolant or other symptoms of future engine trouble. Even if you’ve built a complete vehicle emergency kit, the less you have to use it, the better. Before you head out on the road, find the nearest Quick Quack car washes to your planned route.