Most drivers know that certain items such as proof of insurance and the car owner’s manual should be kept safely in the glovebox. However, what else should one keep in one’s car to be prepared for an emergency?
If one fact about driving a car is true, it is that a vehicle does not perform perfectly 100% of the time. Although one might wish for a worry-free car and a perfect driving record, reality proves otherwise, through an accident, a car malfunction or even a driver error.
One way to combat the unpredictability of driving is to always have some essential and highly recommended items in the car at all times. One hopes to not need them, but as the old saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
1. Spare Tire
Statistics show that (excepting mechanical failure) 27% of roadside emergencies are tire related. Added to that, most regular drivers experience a flat tire every five years. Having an adequately inflated spare tire safely stowed in the vehicle will help solve such an emergency.
2. Basic Tools
To adequately change a tire, one needs a working jack in order to elevate the vehicle. With the relatively high probability of having to change a tire at some point, it makes sense to keep a jack, lug wrench, screwdrivers, and pliers in the vehicle. It doesn’t hurt to also keep a utility tool such as a Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape, a universal fix-it solution, in the tool kit as well.
3. Tire Gauge
Checking tires for leaking air or when refilling a tire is essential to maintaining adequate tire pressure. Overinflation can result in several negative effects such as loss of traction, harsher ride and 50% reduction in the life of the tire. Underinflation can increase risk of tire blowouts, premature wear, and tread separation. A tire gauge is a simple way to keep track of the pressure on all four tires as well as monitor inflation in case of a flat tire.
4. Digital Tire Inflator
A good digital tire inflator is a tool that can greatly assist in the case of a flat tire. If the tire is still serviceable (no gashes, rips, tears, etc.) sometimes adding a little more air is preferable to changing out the tire.
5. Rain Poncho/Blanket
So many times, a flat tire or dead battery happens when the weather is inclement. Having a rain poncho to protect from the elements as well as a blanket (for placing on the ground, drying off or warming up) are ways to be smart and proactive during a possibly tense and dangerous scenario.
Especially at night, a flashlight can be an incredible asset when stranded on the side of road. Many people depend on their cellphone flashlights, but for optimal performance in an emergency, the best flashlight should be waterproof, bright, magnetic and have a flexible mounting system. At the very least, it should stand up so that the user can have free hands to trouble-shoot the problem.
7. Jumper Cables
A dead battery is no fun, but if one has a set of jumper cables on hand, one only needs a second car to get the first car started. A car’s user manual or jumper cable manual typically gives instructions on how to do this properly.
8. First Aid Kit
Whether for a driver, passenger or someone else, a first aid kit is always a good idea. Just having gloves to put on while assisting an injured person or while investigating what might be going on under the hood protects the hands in an emergency situation.
9. Emergency Hammer
If someone becomes trapped in the car, especially if there is water involved, an emergency exit hammer can save a life. Even better, some hammers are two in one tools which also serve as seat belt cutters. Both help passengers to be able to exit the vehicle quickly and safely.
10. Cold, Hard Cash
Having some small bills and loose change ($20 is a reasonable amount) at the ready is ideal in an emergency situation. The money may come in handy for putting air in tires (these machines typically take quarters), paying for a parking meter or giving to a good samaritan who stops to assist when one has inadvertently run out of gas.
11. Paper Towels/Wet Wipes
Even for non-emergency situations like spilled coffee, soda or milkshakes, paper towels and wet wipes are helpful. Having them on hand when someone gets sick in the car or when one has gotten hands greasy while changing a tire or looking under the hood makes these items invaluable for cleaning up. Wet wipes can easily clean a sticky spot or subsitute for a tissue if needed.
12. Emergency Rations
Bottled water and some nonperishable snacks keep everyone in the vehicle a little happier during an emergency situation. Dried fruit, beef or turkey jerky, nuts, seeds, protein bars and granola bars hold up well for some time in the glove compartment. The temptation may be to dip into the rations for everyday use, but one should restock as soon as possible.
13. Heavy Duty Rope
A rope that can tow up to 6,000 pounds is adequate for towing a vehicle in an emergency. Other handy uses are for tying a hood or trunk down that has become damaged or tying things onto the roof of the vehicle.
14. Emergency Communication Items
Of course, a charged cellphone is the best item to have on hand to communicate to emergency personnel, family and friends and a towing service. Other practical emergency communication items can be anything from solar flares (for use in rural situations or around corners of busy interchanges) to three reflective warning triangles (placed 50 feet apart) to signage in the window.
15. Pen and Paper
How many times has a motorist not had pen and paper to take down a person’s name, number and insurance company at the scene of the accident? Another thing to consider is leaving a note on another vehicle after a minor parking lot accident. It is a courtesy to do so, so having something to write with and on can allow one to conveniently do the right thing in such a predicament.
Having all, some or most of these essentials on hand in a “car emergency kit,” enables one to be prepared for most vehicle complications. While one may choose to add some items for long-distance travel or winter travel (ice scraper, tire chains, shovel, chemical hand warmer, salt and sand for extra traction), this list of basic emergency supplies should be thorough enough to prepare driver, car and passengers for nearly any emergency situation.