Whether it’s commuting to and from work, hauling the family around to events or sports, or road trips, Americans spend a lot of time in their vehicles.
With this in mind, here is a non-exhaustive list of things you should have or consider having in your vehicle(s):
- Registration and Proof of Insurance
- Vehicle Owner’s Manual – Explains what those dash lights mean and how to operate your vehicle’s features.
- Copy of your AAA or other roadside assistance info – Dead battery? Flat tire? Roadside assistance memberships can be lifesavers!
- Printed Copy Of Emergency Contact Information – Family members, insurance agent, etc. What if your cell phone dies? Who remembers phone numbers anymore?
- Working Spare, Tire Jack, Lug Wrench – Know how to use them before you need them. Also make sure to have a lug nut key if you have locking lug nuts.
- Jumper Cables – Dead batteries are no good, and do you want to rely on someone else having jumper cables? Make sure you know the proper order of connecting the POS / NEG terminals.
- Tire Pressure Gauge – Is my tire low? Does that look low to you? Having a pressure gauge can answer that much more easily. Checking your air regularly also can tip you off to a slow leak
- Tire Puncture Sealant – Not the most ideal thing, but it can fix and inflate a punctured tire and get you to a repair shop, especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Note, if you have tire pressure sensors, these sealant kits may damage them
- Tools – Wrenches for your battery cables, multi-tool, hammer, knife, screwdrivers, etc. let you tighten a loose connection or screw like a boss.
- Duct Tape and Zip Ties – great for temporary hose leaks or loose items.
- 1-2 Quarts Oil / Water Or Coolant – Oil in case you need a top-off, and water or coolant in case your vehicle overheats.
- Tire Inflator – If you discover a low or flat tire from a slow leak, an electric inflator can help you get to a shop to repair or replace it.
- Shop Towels / Oil Rag – Where else did you plan to wipe your hands?
- Gloves – Leather or mechanic’s gloves can protect your hands from hot items, scrapes and cuts, and also help keep them clean.
- First Aid Kit – If you carry a full-size first aid kit, make sure you’re trained. Also make sure it contains a boo-boo kit of small bandaids, gauze, moleskin, etc.
- Reflective Triangle / Road Flares – Alert oncoming drivers to your disabled vehicle or an accident. Note: flares can cause fires, so make sure you use them safely.
- Escape tool / Safety Hammer – to cut seat belts and break glass. Just make sure they’re mounted in an easily accessible place, not floating around where they could fly into another part of the car.
- Fire extinguisher – Make sure it’s rated for vehicle-based hazards.
- Headlamp – Useful for hands-free lighting for tire changing, under the hood, in the car.
- Flashlight + Extra Batteries – More powerful than a headlamp and useful for distance lighting or signaling. High intensity AA-based flashlights are inexpensive and readily available, and AA batteries can be bought almost anywhere.
- Waterproof Tarp – for sitting or lying on the ground to install chains or inspect under your vehicle, or use as a shelter from weather if you’re broken down or stranded somewhere.
- Cleaning Supplies – Items such as Windex, paper towels, tissues, water, ziploc bags, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer can just make life a little more pleasant on the road.
- Sunglasses – Obvious reasons.
- Compact Umbrella – They stow small but can provide nice shelter from either the rain or the sun.
- Pen & Paper – For random note taking, like directions or instructions where you’ve gone if you have to abandon your vehicle.
- Map(s) – No GPS or satellite signal? In a spot without cell service? Local/state/regional maps can be very useful for navigating. Some of the auto service organizations like AAA have maps available to members, and some even mail hard copies directly to members’ homes (Bonus points to anyone who remembers Thomas Guide maps).
- Snacks/Energy Bars – Just make sure they won’t melt. Rotate your stock so you don’t find yourself trying to snack on an energy bar from 5 years ago.
- Water – A no-brainer if you live in the desert, but something everyone should carry for drinking, washing hands, cleaning a window, or for an overheated engine.
- Money – $10-$20 and some spare change for those emergency gas purchases, or change for a toll booth, or for a selfie should you find an actual, working payphone
- Bug Spray – put in with your medical kit.
- Cell Phone Charger Or Power Bank – Don’t let an emergency compound itself because you’ve got a dead cell phone.
- Spare Key – In the event you lock your keys in your vehicle. The biggest danger here is that thieves look for these, too, so plan your hiding spot accordingly,
- “Sensible” Shoes + Socks – What if you had to walk to get gas or help and you normally wear flip-flops or sandals, dress shoes, or heels?
Driving in winter
- Tire chains (if you aren’t using winter tires)
- Windshield wiper fluid
- Ice scraper/snow brush
- Clothing layers in case you get stuck. A nice warm coat, gloves, and hat could literally save your life.
Driving in warm weather
- Tarp + paracord or twine to tie the tarp into a sunshade
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Leather gloves
There will obviously be regional differences for some items. For example, someone in San Diego will probably not need a windshield ice scraper or warm layers more appropriate to the upper Midwest in winter. With a little planning and judicious packing, you’ll be prepared for the most common situations you might encounter on the road.