Vehicle Emergency Kits

Picture this: it’s the holiday season. You’re headed to the big family gathering in the middle of a winter storm. Rounding a corner on a remote back road, you find a patch of black ice and skid off the road into deep snow. No one’s hurt, but a quick look tells you your vehicle isn’t going anywhere until a tow truck extricates it. A call to the local 9-1-1 center reveals that road conditions are like this across the region and no one will be able to get to you until morning. Fortunately, you’re prepared for this. Extracting your emergency kit from your trunk, you settle in to stay warm and safe until help arrives.

A vehicle emergency kit serves several purposes: repair and recovery, signaling, and sheltering.

Repair and Recovery

Repair and recovery items can get you back on the road after a minor mechanical problem.

  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries – because breakdowns don’t always happen in the daytime.
  • Work gloves – save your knuckles while changing a tire or working under the hood.
  • Safety glasses – protection from those unexpected splashes of automotive fluids.
  • Jumper cables – just be sure you know the right order in which to connect them. Alternatively, consider a jump-start power pack which can also serve as an emergency charger for personal electronics.
  • Jack, jack handle, lug wrench, and spare tire – every car should have these, but when was the last time you made sure they were still in there?
  • Air compressor – good for airing up that spare tire you haven’t checked in a few years.
  • Recovery strap – in some cases, another vehicle can get you unstuck without a call for a tow truck. A strap is better than a chain because it will absorb some of the shock of a pull and it’s less dangerous if it breaks under load.


While a cell phone is often the best way to call for help or get information, a dead battery or a cellular service interruption can render it useless. Having a few backup methods of signaling never hurts.

  • Cell phone charger – an adapter that plugs into your car’s accessory outlet or cigarette lighter can keep your phone going indefinitely.
  • Road flares – for warning oncoming drivers of hazards. Please don’t use around flammable hazards…
  • Chemical light sticks – a healthy glow for signaling or working.
  • Emergency reflectors or LED beacons – a non-combustible alternative to flares.
  • Fluorescent flag – when tied to your radio antenna or a branch, can mark your vehicle’s location even in deep snow.
  • Whistle – if you’re reported lost, searchers will come for you. A whistle carries much farther than your voice.

Safety and Sheltering

winter_car_kitIf you’re stranded, your vehicle is often your best available shelter. Having a few key items on board can make a big difference in comfort and safety.

  • First aid kit – along with the skills to use it.
  • Bottled water – one gallon per person, if you have the storage space.
  • Non-perishable food – snacks for a road trip, or dinner if you’re stuck between interstate exits.
  • Spare socks and underwear – because the power of staying warm, dry, and clean can’t be overstated.
  • Blanket, sleeping bag, or survival blanket – extra insulation for that very long night.
  • Paper towels, toilet paper, and personal hygiene supplies – to make that unexpected overnight a little more comfortable.

Winter Additions

The items listed above should be in your kit year-round. In addition, you should add the following supplies for cold-weather travel.

  • Windshield scraper – more an everyday necessity if you park outdoors in the winter, but no one ever enjoys scraping ice off windows with a credit card.
  • Collapsible snow shovel – for digging out of a snowbank.
  • Base layer clothing – thermal underwear for sheltering overnight.
  • Cat litter – traction on snow and ice. Alternatives include sand and road salt.

Tips and Tricks


  • The best emergency kit is the one you never have to use. Travel safely and keep up with your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.
  • A flashlight in your car may not see frequent use. Store it with the batteries reversed or removed so they won’t corrode.
  • If your trunk is jammed or frozen shut, its contents may be inaccessible. Consider keeping your kit in the passenger compartment while you’re driving.
  • Check your kit regularly – perhaps in the spring and fall when you reset your clocks and change your smoke detector batteries.
  • Drive off the top half of your tank to ensure you always have reserve fuel on board.
  • In cold weather, consider removing temperature-sensitive items when you park overnight.

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