Emergency Essentials: Do You Have These 21 Things in Your Car?

Emergency-car-stuff.jpg illustration by Paul Dolan

I had my car for only a couple of weeks when my sister and I went on our first family grocery run. When we popped the trunk to load up our Volkswagen Passat with our haul, it was nice and empty – a little too empty. I realized that we had zero supplies if an emergency were to strike on the road. In 2017, 67 percent of the calls AAA received for roadside assistance were for cars 10 years or older — and our car is 15 years old.

Related: Your Old Ass Car Is Way More Likely to Break Down on You

But, as someone who has never owned a car before, I had no idea what I should have on hand in case of catastrophe. Do you know what you should have in your car? And better yet: Do you actually have it? What with us being right in the heart of summer road trip season, now is precisely the time to be asking yourself these questions.

Whether you’re a first-time car owner or just never got around to making yourself an emergency kit for your vehicle, here are the things you should always have in your car to be prepared for whatever the roads throw your way:

  • A can of Fix-a-Flat (to fix a flat tire … obvs)
  • A wheel wrench and car jack (to change the tire, if your car came with a spare)
  • Jumper cables (in case of a dead battery)
  • A flashlight and backup batteries (so you can see what you’re doing in the dark)
  • Reflective triangles (so oncoming vehicles can see you)
  • A compass (if you have an awful sense of direction like I do)
  • An extra container of coolant (in case your radiator overheats)
  • Roadside flares (to keep traffic away but also to let roadside assistance know where you are)
  • A couple of containers of oil (in case you run low)
  • An extra bottle of windshield washer fluid (if you’ve had too many bugs on the windshield)
  • Snacks and water (to keep you fed and hydrated in case of a breakdown that leaves you stranded for a while)
  • Car charger for your phone (so you can always call for help)
  • Fire extinguisher (in case things get a little heated)
  • A rain poncho (because being wet will only make being stranded even worse)
  • A first-aid kit (in case someone gets hurt)
  • Duct tape (because it can fix more things than I can list)
  • List of emergency phone numbers (because none of us remembers phone numbers anymore and if something happened to your contacts, you’d be done for)

Something important to remember is that you should tailor your emergency kit to you, your car and the place you live. If you are like me and live in a part of the country that deals with ice and snow for half of the year — or if you plan on driving to or through these places — you should be prepared with a few extra items if you break down in cold temperatures:

  • Snow brush and ice scraper (to clear your windshield)
  • Shovel (to dig out of snow if you’re stuck)
  • Warm clothing and blankets (to keep you safe if you’re stuck without heat)
  • Cat litter (to help gain traction in slippery situations)

If you have kids or pets, you might want to consider some extra additions to your kit. A water bowl or some treats could be useful for Fido if you’re stranded, while spare diapers for baby or a card game to entertain the kids could save you a headache as you wait for roadside assistance.

Regardless of how much you decide to include in your emergency kit, make sure that you have enough to avoid trouble, to come to your own rescue or even to make a big safety difference in a serious situation.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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