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Essentials to Keep in Your Car

In case of an emergency — whether your car is submerged in floodwater or coffee — it’s essential to have certain items in your car.

We’ll recommend various products and provide pricing for situations in different environments. Other suggestions could depend on your travel and where you’re headed.

Emergency essentials to keep in your car

Commute essentials to keep in your car

Travel essentials to keep in your car

Winter essentials to keep in your car

Essentials to not keep in your car

The bottom line on essentials to keep in your car

Emergency essentials to keep in your car

For serious emergencies, here are six things that could help you.

Window breaker and seat belt cutter: Starting at $5

After a car accident, it may be hard to unclick a seat belt or open a door. Depending on the situation, you may want to exit quickly or help someone do the same. This tool is designed to cut the seat belt and break the window.

First-aid kit: Starting at $4

It’s never a bad idea to have a first-aid kit in your car. There are a wide range of options, from travel kits to ones in aluminum cases. You could even make your own first-aid kit by using components recommended by American Red Cross.

Emergency roadside toolkit: Starting at $20

An emergency roadside toolkit should have jumper cables, a flashlight and some basic tools, such as a wrench and pliers. Some may also have electrical tape, gloves, a poncho, a first-aid kit and more. Besides that, your car should have come with a way to replace or temporarily repair a flat tire. To replace a tire, you should have a car jack, a spare tire and a tire iron. To temporarily repair a tire, you should have a way to seal and inflate the tire, which may be as simple as a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Water and food: Starting at $5

You don’t need to keep a buffet in your car, but some water or Gatorade and some protein bars may be a good idea. Besides providing a good snack if you get “hangry” (hungry and angry) while driving in heavy traffic, having clean water could be lifesaving in an emergency. You could also consider small travel water filters (starting at $15), which could make water you find safe to drink.

Phone charger: Starting at $5

Phones can be extremely useful in an emergency situation. Keeping your phone charged is easier than ever as new cars have built-in USB charging ports. However, you need to keep a charging cord in your car. If your car doesn’t have a built-in port, a $5 adapter could turn a cigarette lighter into a USB charger.

However, note that your car may need to be on for your phone to charge. If your car is not on, the phone could drain your car’s battery and make your situation worse. A way to get around this could be to have a solar phone charger, which starts around $10.

Mylar blanket: Starting at 79 cents

Rainproof, windproof, cheap and extremely lightweight, Mylar blankets are based on NASA technology. They’re also called space blankets or emergency blankets.

Altogether, it could cost about $40 to equip your car with these emergency essentials.

Commute essentials to keep in your car

For nonvital emergencies, the following things may come in handy. If you’re in the market for a new car and commuting is part of your life, check out seven of the best commuter cars.

Owner’s manual: Free

Yes, an owner’s manual may sound boring. But when you need it, it may become the most interesting and useful book you’ve read.

Cleaning supplies: Starting at no cost

Storing free napkins from a fast-food restaurant in the car’s console can be a huge help if someone spills something or you need to blow your nose. Baby wipes can be great for cleaning babies, yourself and the car — they can even be safe for leather. And a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer can be a fast way to wash your hands before digging into french fries.

Small change: Starting at 25 cents

You never know when you might need a quarter — not all street parking meters have phone apps. And if you ever forget your wallet, $5 for gas might help you get where you’re going.

Umbrella, raincoat or poncho: Starting at 59 cents

The weather can be a surprise if you didn’t check the forecast before leaving the house. You could get wet walking to the office — unless you store something in your car to fend off the rain, that is.

Duct tape: Starting at $3

People have used duct tape in ingenious ways, including to hold car bumpers up, hold car hoods closed or make car windows watertight due to a surprise malfunction or an accident. Duct tape is so useful that when debris hit the International Space Station in 2018, astronauts fixed the air leak with duct tape and epoxy.

When buying these commuter essentials, you can get started at less than $4.

Travel essentials to keep in your car

Traveling is exciting, but it may mean you could get lost or stuck. If you’re getting ready for a trip, below are some travel essentials to keep in your car. If you’re curious, here are the best road trip cars.

Paper map: Starting at no cost

Yes, paper maps still exist. When you’re traveling, it’s entirely possible to lose your GPS or phone signal. A stranger you meet may not be willing or capable to give directions. Statewide paper maps are often free at public rest areas. Others may be free to download to your phone as a reference or to print out.

Tire traction mat: Starting at $6

Even if you don’t plan to go off-road, you might get in a slippery situation. There are many tricks to help a vehicle get traction in the snow, mud and sand, but tire traction mats do as the name suggests. They help spread the vehicle’s weight so you can get back on the road easier.

Hygiene kit: Starting at $7

If you unexpectedly get stuck overnight, having a hygiene kit could help you feel more human. The kit could have dental care products, a comb, a razor, baby wipes, feminine products and deodorant. If you wear contacts, extra contacts, contact solution or backup glasses are important so you know you’ll be able to see well enough when driving the next day.

Change of clothes and shoes: Shop your closet

If you get dirty, wet, sweaty or cold, a change of clothes could be a huge relief.  This is especially true if you tend to wear shoes, such as wingtips or heels. A change of comfortable shoes could help keep your feet out of pain and your shoes in good condition.

Plastic bags: Starting at no cost

Free plastic bags that you get from a grocery store can serve as mini trash bags for the car. They could also be useful to help carry miscellaneous things or serve as a quick way to make your shoes waterproof.

Child essentials: Bring from home

If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you have extras of everything, including baby formula, warm clothes, diapers and bottled water. This will help if you get stranded or anything happens — even if your travel plans are just a day trip.

If you’re already prepared with a map, plastic bags and extra items for your child, you could spend as little as $13 for these travel essentials.

Winter essentials to keep in your car

If you live or plan to travel to a place where winter packs a punch, check out these essentials to keep in your car. And if you’re looking for a new car to handle a wintry environment, you could read about the best cars and SUVs for snow.

Snow brush/ice scraper: Starting at $2

If you live where it snows, odds are you already have a few of these in your car, which goes to show their essential nature. They give you a way to clear off ice and snow from your car.

A way to keep warm: Bring from home

If you are stranded in your car in the winter, the Mylar blanket we previously mentioned could do the trick and keep you warm. However, an extra winter coat, a warm blanket or a sleeping bag could provide more comfort.

Car snow shovel: Starting at $11

Digging yourself and your car out of a tricky situation may be easier with the right tools. There are shovels with collapsible and telescoping handles so they don’t take up room in your vehicle.

Matches and candle: Starting at $2

Just having matches might not help if you don’t have anything to light. Matches or a lighter and a set of tea candles could provide some light and not waste batteries. You could also use the tea candle’s small, constant flame to start a campfire if you know how to do so safely.

Tow strap or chain: Starting at $8

If you break down in a snowy ditch, a tow strap, tow chain or traction rope may come in handy. A good Samaritan or a family member may be able to pull your car out with theirs if you can connect the cars safely.

It could cost you $23 — or more — to get all these winter essentials.

Essentials to not keep in your car

While you may want to keep these things with you when you drive or go on a longer trip, it’s best not to keep them in the car regularly.

Registration and insurance cards

Keep registration and insurance cards with your driver’s license in your wallet. You may have to present your vehicle registration and insurance information — along with your driver’s license — if you are pulled over by a police officer. But these items contain a lot of personal information. The traditional glove-box method isn’t the safest if a thief steals your car, a passenger gets nosy or your kid gets curious.

Car purchase information

Perhaps the only papers with more personal information than a registration or insurance card is your car purchase or lease contract. It may be best to keep this information with other important papers, such as tax forms, securely at home.

Prescription medicine

Vehicles can be exposed to extreme heat and cold, which could make the medicine less effective more quickly. Prescription pill bottles also include a lot of personal information. If you need to take prescriptions, keep them close to you.

The bottom line on essentials to keep in your car

It’s hard to be troubled by having things such as bottled water and a first-aid kit in your car. And these things could help in an emergency, get you out of a situation by yourself or make you and your passengers more comfortable as you wait for roadside assistance.


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