Be Prepared for the Worst With a Car Emergency Kit

Winter-Drive-Tips_3.2.jpg illustration by Paul Dolan

CARS.COM — Whether it’s an overheating engine on a long trip or a blizzard unexpectedly burying you along a rural road, it doesn’t take much to remember that disaster can strike anywhere, anytime and often without warning. It’s crucial to keep that message fresh in your mind as winter approaches and you go about your daily activities at home, at work — and especially while driving in your car.

Related: Winter Is Coming; Is Your Car Ready?

But a disaster such as a blizzard, flash flood or fire need not occur in order for drivers’ preparedness to pay off. Personal-finance website says many people get lulled into a false sense of security by their roadside-assistance membership, and fail to consider that help won’t always be ready and waiting for their distress call.

“The ugly truth is that vehicle breakdowns do happen and they don’t always strike in a busy, well-lighted, cloudless, warm spot with flawless cellphone reception and a tow truck close at hand,” Bankrate stated, citing an AAA figure that 1 in 3 motorists each year face a breakdown or similar situation.

That’s where a roadside-emergency preparedness kit comes in handy. Motorists should keep a stash of commonly needed items in their car at all times. A preparedness kit can turn a potentially dangerous winter breakdown in a remote area into little more than a pain in the neck, providing for your vital needs and comfort while you wait for help to arrive.

The National Safety Council recommends stocking your car’s kit with the following items, which should be checked every six months so that expired items can be replaced:

  • Properly inflated spare tire (if your car comes with one), wheel wrench and jack
  • Jumper cables
  • Tool kit or multipurpose utility tool
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Reflective triangles to make your vehicle visible to oncoming traffic
  • Compass
  • First-aid kit containing gauze, tape, bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, a blanket, non-latex gloves, scissors, hydrocortisone, a thermometer, tweezers and an instant cold compress
  • Nonperishable, high-energy food such as unsalted nuts, dried fruits and hard candy
  • Drinking water
  • Reflective vest (in case you need to walk for help)
  • Car charger for your mobile phone
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Duct tape
  • Rain poncho
  • Cold-weather tools such as a snow brush, shovel, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, cat litter (for traction) and blankets — especially during cold-weather months
  • Family and emergency contact numbers such as your insurance and roadside-service providers

You can assemble your own supplies, or purchase a prefab roadside emergency kit and supplement it with additional items as needed.

The Department of Homeland Security further recommends the following tips for staying at the ready on the road when disaster strikes:

  • Keep your gas tank full in case of an evacuation.
  • Never drive through a flooded area and be aware of possibly damaged roads after waters have receded.
  • If a downed power line falls on your car, stay inside until a trained professional removes the threat.
  • Fill your car’s antifreeze to the proper level.
  • Routinely get your car battery tested.
  • Have a trusted mechanic check your brakes, exhaust system, fuel and air filters, heater and defroster, exterior lights, oil, thermostat, windshield wipers and tires.

“If there is an explosion or other factor that makes it difficult to control the vehicle, pull over, stop the car and set the parking brake,” DHS said in a statement. “If the emergency could impact the physical stability of the roadway, avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards.”

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