The Ultimate Car Emergency Kit

An emergency triangle next to a car tire.

No one sets out on their drive to work or quick trip to the grocery store thinking that they may be involved in an accident, have a mechanical breakdown, or suffer some medical calamity. However, the reality is that at least one of these incidents will happen to us at least once in our lifetime. That's why it's best to be prepared for when it does. While you cannot possibly prepare for every situation that may come up while you're in your vehicle, you can protect yourself and your loved ones better if you have an emergency car kit.

You can purchase one that's already put together or do it yourself. A DIY vehicle emergency kit is something that is in most cases best since you can control the contents better and it's usually more budget-friendly as well. As for what to add, below is a list that includes the basic supplies every kit should have and a few tips on how to personalize it according to your specific needs medically, regionally, and monetarily.

Time: 1 hour || Cost: $30 - $100

Emergency Kit Basics for Your Car

Jumper cables.

Jumper cables, jack and spare tire: These are the basics that most cars already have and for good reason. A car with a flat tire or dead battery are two of the most common calls for assistance that roadside assistance companies get. Make sure your car has these items and that the spare is inflated.

Roadside flares, reflective tape or triangles: In case of an accident or being stranded, you should have roadside flares, reflective tape, or triangles that you can use to alert people where your vehicle is on the road.

Multi-tool: A multi-tool is perfect for any emergency kit. It should have pliers, screwdriver heads, and a pocket knife. It can be used for fixing minor mechanical problems, for cutting a seat belt, or breaking a window.

Heavy-duty trash bags: Keep a few folded up in your kit so that they can be used as rain ponchos, to cover a broken window, or as an emergency cover for someone who is injured and needs to keep warm.

Water bottles.

Bottled water: Having a least one gallon of water is recommended. You can use the water for staying hydrated or for an overheating vehicle.

Medications and health care equipment: If you have a health condition that requires specific medications for treatment (that are not temperature-sensitive), ask your doctor for a small supply for your emergency kit. For conditions like asthma or diabetes, consider keeping a spare glucose meter and inhaler in your kit as well.

Disposable camera: A disposable camera will come in handy for documenting an accident if your phone is broken or not working.

Emergency numbers: Let's face it, when is the last time any of us dialed a number from memory? It's especially hard to recall if you're in a crisis situation, so to be safe keep a laminated list of people and their numbers that you would call in the event of an emergency.


Lighter or waterproof matches: Staying in your car is best, but there are times where you may have to leave the car and a fire will come in handy. You could also use a contained fire to catch your rescuers' attention.

Duct tape: Let your imagination fly when it comes to duct tape in a kit for the unexpected. In case it's not flying so well, though, here's some tips: Use it to seal in or out cold air, spell out an "SOS" signal on the side or top of your car, or for attaching a trash bag to cover a broken window.

Energy foods: Protein bars, a jar of peanut butter, or a bag of nuts are all food items that will not only keep well for long periods of time and in most kinds of climates, but will also supply you with the energy you'll need to wait out your rescue.

Old cell phone with or without service: A service plan is not required to make a 911 call from a cellphone and your location can often be triangulated through it, so an old cell phone with or without a plan can make the difference between life or death. Don't forget to set a reminder for yourself to charge it every few days.

A first aid kit.

First-aid kit: You can purchase a prepackaged first-aid kit or assemble your own. Either way, they should include disposable gloves, sterile bandages, medical adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, antihistamine for allergic reactions, instant cold compress, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, and burn gel.

Bag or box: Use an old backpack, large canvas bag, or cardboard box to keep all your supplies together in your vehicle. This will also keep things like your water bottles from rolling around and possibly puncturing and leaking.

Miscellaneous important items to include:

Flashlight, extra batteries, extra fuses, rags, maps, two quarts of oil, tire inflator, gloves, blanket, cord, toilet paper.

Other Things to Consider for Your Emergency Kit

A stack of blankets.

Climate Extras: The type of climate you live in will also dictate what you should have in your emergency kit for your car. For a colder climate, be sure to include several blankets—not just one—an ice scraper, and a collapsible shovel. For warmer climates,extra water may be needed for either drinking or pouring into your vehicle's radiator if it overheats.

Personalizing: Not all emergencies are the same, and neither are people in an emergency, which is why personalizing your kit to fit whatever type of emergency you may be more prone to is best. Consider what type of emergency situations may arise for you or your family, such as a specific medical situation, or one that may be worse because you live far away from others. Pack your kit accordingly.

Budget: A large budget isn't needed for putting together a kit that will get you through most emergency situations. In fact, you can find most of the items you'll need at dollar and discount stores or around your house.

Extras: If you have a little wiggle room in your budget and your trunk, consider getting a portable electric jump starter, a tire inflator, or an all-in-one unit that does both of those things and also charges your cell phone. An extra pair of shoes, solar battery charger, tow line or chain, and a fire extinguisher can also be very useful.

Once you have your kit put together for unexpected situations, go over each item with your family members so that everyone knows how to use each of them properly. This is also a good time to discuss what to do in a dangerous situation, such as a tire blowing or being involved in an accident, especially with new drivers.

Although planning ahead and organizing may not cover every roadside emergency, knowing what to do in most scenarios and having the tools to do it with may be just enough.