The Ultimate Guide To The Best Car Emergency Kit
Can a car emergency kit make you a hero?
Possibly! But it might not always be the way you’d expect.
I once saved a child’s birthday party when the parents realized they forgot to bring any matches to light the cake’s candles. So, I got them a lighter from my emergency car kit! Was I a hero? Not really. I was just prepared. But they were sure happy I was there.
Emergency preparedness isn’t just for your home! You never know how or when a roadside emergency kit might save the day. In fact, one could argue that you are actually more likely to use your auto emergency kit than the one you keep at home. Yet, a recent AAA survey found that 40% of drivers are not prepared for a roadside breakdown.
Making a great emergency car kit isn’t that hard. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve never made one or if you’ve already got one that you’d like to improve. Either way, this ultimate guide will give you some simple steps to follow to build the best car emergency kit. Let’s explore them together!
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Why Do I Need A Roadside Emergency Kit?
If you have a vehicle, then at some point, it will have trouble. Cars break down, and accidents happen. A car emergency kit gives you the tools to handle repairs, breakdowns, and accidents and helps you get back on the road as quickly and safely as possible.
However, being prepared “on the road” isn’t just about fixing your car. An auto emergency kit is also your emergency kit away from home. This is why the best emergency car kits should have these three goals in mind:
- Handle automobile issues like repairs, breakdowns, and accidents
- Treat medical emergencies, especially trauma
- Be prepared for emergency and survival situations away from home
Every vehicle should always have a safety kit stocked for automobile, medical, and survival situations.
Why Should I Build My Own Car Emergency Kit?
It’s very tempting to buy a pre-built roadside emergency kit at the store to cross it off your to-do list. Unfortunately, I’ve found that pre-built kits are seldom a good solution. Sure, it’s better than having nothing. But eventually, you will feel as though you didn’t get much value for your money.
This is because the pre-built kit items are rarely as good quality as what you can buy separately. Additionally, most pre-built kits do not adequately address the three goals of preparing for automobile, medical, and survival situations. But the biggest issue is that pre-built kits never take into consideration unique needs like:
- Local weather and road conditions
- The make, model, age, and condition of your vehicle
- Your travel destinations and habits
- Your family’s size, age, health, and special needs
As with home emergency kits, the only way to have a car emergency kit that is complete, customized, and high quality is to assemble it yourself. I even found that I enjoy the process and get satisfaction from designing my own kits.
What Should Be In An Auto Emergency Kit?
Now comes the fun part! Before we get to my recommendations, I want to highlight a few things to keep in mind.
I’ve already mentioned the importance of having good quality products, customizing them to your needs, and being capable of dealing with many different types of emergencies. However, one more critical consideration is that cars and trucks have limited storage space.
So, what does this mean for your roadside emergency kit? First, you can’t just fill your vehicle up with anything and everything. It would be best if you were very selective with how much you put in your kit. Second, you should try to be efficient with your space by choosing lightweight, compact, and versatile gear.
Therefore, the key to building the best emergency car kit is to make sure your supplies are:
- Good quality
- Useful for automotive, medical, and survival situations
- Customized to your vehicle, location, and family needs
- Space efficient
If you keep these goals in mind while creating your auto emergency kit, I think you will be pleased with the result.
Emergency Devices & Tools
Emergency tools and devices are the heart of a good roadside emergency kit. This category is all about preparing for car repairs, breakdowns, and accidents. These items will help you deal with issues like a flat tire, dead battery, or blown fuse. This group also includes safety gear like flares, reflectors, and flashlights, along with other useful items like rope, bungee cords, and duct tape.
I suggest at least 20-foot jumper cables, so you have more flexibility on how close the cars need to be positioned
My Favorite Emergency Devices
- Jump start anything from a small motorcycle all the way up to a diesel truck motor
- 650 cranking amps - 18,000 mAh
- Holds a charge for up to a year
- Charge & power additional devices via USB
- Powerful air compressor generates 38 l/min air-flow
- Digital pressure gauge with large LCD display stops the pump at your desired pressure
- Super bright 100 lumens LED light
- Compact design and storage case
- Effective on oil, grease, gasoline and electrical fires
- Durable metal head with corrosion resistant metal gauge
- Secure extinguisher mount, bracket and strap included
- Includes 5 year limited warranty.
- 300 lumen light with four light mode options
- Integrated tactical edge
- Includes a powerful magnet in the base
- Impact resistant and weather proof aircraft-grade aluminum
- 5000 mAh battery can completely recharge most phones
- 10-cm by 3-cm ultra-compact tubular design
- PowerIQ technology provides the fastest charge
My Favorite Tools
- Features a 3.75 in. clip point AUS-8 stainless steel blade
- Triple point serrations cut fibrous materials with ease
- Integrated seat belt cutter and glass breaker
- Limited lifetime warranty
- 14 tools for a variety of tasks
- One-hand opening design is simple to use.
- Includes ballistic nylon sheath
- Solid stainless steel construction made in USA
- Four-sided rotating heads designed to work on a wide variety of fasteners
- Includes 12 commonly used 1/4" drive bits in plastic holder
- Includes LED flashlight that slips into largest socket
You have three primary goals with the medical supplies in your vehicle emergency kit. The first is to treat injuries from accidents–especially trauma injuries. This includes stopping or slowing bleeding, splinting a broken limb, or treating minor burns. The second goal is to prepare for a health emergency based on any existing family medical conditions. This might include items like a rescue inhaler, epi-pen, or other medications. Lastly, your medical supplies are also your first-aid kit away from home. This means having items like bandages, pain relief medication, and ice packs available whenever you need them.
Start with an off-the-shelf first-aid kit to get these basic medical supplies, and then add additional items as needed.
- Assorted Bandages
- Antihistamine Diphenhydramine
- Diotame Bismuth Subsalicylate
- Antacid Tablets
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Burn Cream with Lidocaine
- Povidone Iodine PVP Wipes
- Benzalkonium Chloride Wipes
- Isopropyl Alcohol Prep Pads
- Nitrile Gloves
My Favorite Medical Supplies
- Organizes contents into clearly-labeled pockets by injury
- Administer CPR safely with the face shield
- Stop bleeding quickly using the trauma pad
- Provide relief from allergies, pain, fevers, and upset stomachs with a variety of medications
- QuickClot gauze is a nonallergenic first aid gauze that accelerates natural blood clotting and stops bleeding within minutes
- Contains 2 pieces of 3 in. x 24 in. gauze
- Official tourniquet of the U.S. Army & U.S. Marines
- Proven to be effective in occluding blood flow in upper & lower extremities
- 7.5 inch long stainless steel scissors with high-impact handles
- Professionally designed for doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMT and EMS
- Designed to cut through the toughest material without injuring the patient
The supplies in your car survival kit should not try to replicate your home emergency kit. With limited space in a vehicle, this isn’t realistic. Instead, this group should be focused on four main survival needs–water, food, shelter, and hygiene.
My Favorite Survival Gear
- Emergency purified water in compact 125 ml sachets
- USCG, Canadian Coast Guard, EC and NZ approval (NSN 8960 0112 4454 3)
- 5 years shelf life
- Filters up to 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of contaminated water without iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals
- Removes minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, and filters to 0.2 microns; surpasses EPA filter standards
- Each pack is broken into 18 survival bars of 200 calories
- Total of 3600 calories per pack
- Coconut flavor made from natural ingredients, no preservatives, and non-thirst provoking
- USCG approved with a 5 year shelf life
- Waterproof and windproof full size umbrella automatically opens/closes and folds down into a compact 11 inches
- Extremely durable and well constructed with metal ribs, fiberglass tips, and quick-drying polyester with mildew-resistant protection
There are several helpful documents that you should always keep in your vehicle.
- Vehicle Registration
- Proof of Insurance
- Warranty Information
How Do I Customize My Car Emergency Kit?
At this point, we’ve covered all the standard gear and created a pretty great roadside emergency kit! Now it’s time for you to customize it. You can start by thinking about the weather and road conditions where you live and travel, any special needs or medical conditions, and your family’s size and ages. Then, you should add items that you think you will need based on your situation. Try to be thorough while still being selective with your space. To help you get started, I’ve included some common options to consider below.
Here are some extra items you might include based on your vehicle’s make, model, age, and condition.
- Extra Quarts of Oil
- Extra Washer Fluid
- Spare Windshield Wipers
- Spare Headlight & Tail Light Bulbs
Weather & Road Conditions
Consider adding these supplies to your kit depending on the weather and road conditions in the area you live and travel.
My Favorite Recommendations
- Receives NOAA and AM/FM stations
- Can be powered by batteries, crank lever, or solar panel
- Built-in LED reading light and flashlight
- Incorporates a 2000mAh power bank
- Includes a limited lifetime warranty
- High-strength ABS shaft, PC bristles, and EVA cotton handle have been engineered to withstand heavy snowstorms and temperatures as low as -40°F
- Quickly separate the brush and scraper for easier handling
If anyone in your family has health issues, then it is important to be prepared. Here are some examples to help guide you.
Every family is different. Depending on what yours looks like, you might want to have some of these items on hand.
My Favorite Recommendations
- Inflatable car booster seat for children aged 4–11 years and weighing 40–100 pounds
- Meets FMVSS213 federal regulation and EU safety regulations
- Can be folded down to fit easily in a purse, backpack, or bag
- IIHS award-winning innovation
- Portable toilet suitable for both boys and girls to use on the go
- Easy to empty and clean
- Large comfy seat, non-slip feet, and extra-tall splashguard
- Gold winner of the Mother & Baby Awards in 2018 & 2020
While it’s not technically part of your car safety kit, roadside assistance can be a valuable service. If you are a capable mechanic, then you might not feel it’s worth the money. However, for anyone who isn’t as handy, roadside assistance can save the day.
AAA is probably the most well-known service. However, you can also find plans from car manufactures, insurance companies, and even credit cards. Whatever option you chose, make sure you read the fine print. It is important to understand exactly how your plan works and any limitations.
Personally, I have been a member of AAA since the day I got my license. And since then, my family and I have used them many times to tow, replace dead batteries, and fix flat tires. I have always been thrilled with their service and highly recommend them.
How Do I Pack My Roadside Emergency Kit?
Now that you’ve got all the gear, it’s time to pack your kit. There are a lot of different options for how to organize your supplies. And over the years, I’ve tried many of them. The good part is that I feel like I’ve learned some really great tips.
What Kind Of Container Should I Use?
My favorite way to store my emergency car kit is to break it down by category into three backpacks. I use one for tools and emergency devices, one for medical supplies, and one for survival gear. The reason I like this method is that I feel like I get the most flexibility. No bag gets too heavy for me to carry. I can easily rearrange them around my trunk when necessary. And, if I ever need extra space, I can temporarily remove a bag without having to remove everything.
My Favorite Recommendations
- 28L molle tactical backpack with two large compartments, two front pockets, and inner pockets
- 600D oxford fabric with 420D nylon inner layer is wear-resistant & water-repellant
- MOLLE system features multiple mount points for attaching accessories
- Overall dimensions are 10 5/8 in. x 8 5/8 in. x 17 3/4 in.
How Should I Pack My Gear?
As you pack your supplies, here are a few best practices to keep in mind.
- Group similar items together in plastic storage bags before they go into your backpack
- Pack the least important items on the bottom of your backpack
- Add the most used items next.
- For example: jumper cables or an air pump.
- The most important items should go on top.
- For example: a fire extinguisher or trauma supplies like a tourniquet
- Use external pockets for smaller items where you’d like easy access.
- For example: a multi-tool or flashlight
- For your own safety, secure your containers or bags inside the car with good quality tie-down straps.
- For example: I use these ratcheting tie-down straps
- Keep a knife with a serrated edge or seatbelt cutter and window breaker within arms reach to escape from your vehicle in an emergency
- While packing your supplies, create an inventory and make sure to take note of anything with an expiration date.
What If I Have More Than One Vehicle?
If you have more than one car, then you’ll need an auto emergency kit for each one. It is helpful to create matching kits packed the same way. That way, if you ever do have an emergency, you will always know exactly where to find what you need.
How Do I Keep My Emergency Car Kit Updated?
Now you have an awesome car emergency kit! But there is still one more important task left to complete. To stay prepared, you’ll need a plan to keep your kit updated. The goal is threefold:
- Periodically review and make adjustments to your supplies as your situation changes
- Track items with expiration dates and replace them before they expire
- Recharge any emergency gear that has to be charged
- For example: your cell phone power bank or car jump starter
This is one reason why I think an inventory is so helpful. It’s a lot easier to check a spreadsheet or written list than to unpack your entire kit. If you include expiration dates when making your inventory, it’s effortless to see what needs to be replaced. You can even make it automatic with a calendar reminder to check your inventories every six months.
Ready To Hit The Road!
And that’s it! If you’ve followed these steps, then you should feel pretty confident in your “on the road” preparedness. For more information on any of the items listed in this article, you can visit my Emergency Supplies For Cars recommendation page.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to post any thoughts or suggestions in the comments. For more helpful tips, check out some of my other articles in the links below.