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.
One could argue that you are 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 aren’t prepared for a roadside breakdown.
Making an excellent 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.
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.
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 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. What does this mean for your roadside emergency kit?
First, you can’t just fill your vehicle up with anything and everything. Be very selective with how much you put in your kit. Second, 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 flat tires, dead batteries, and blown fuses. This group also includes safety gear like flares, reflectors, and flashlights, along with other helpful items like rope, bungee cords, and duct tape.
I suggest at least 20-foot jumper cables, so you have the most flexibility in positioning the cars
- Gas Can
- Gas Siphon
- Zip Ties
- Bungee Cords
- Tow Strap
- Parachute Cord
- Duct Tape
- Paper Tape
- Electrical Tape
- Pens & Pencils
- Help Sign
- Extra Batteries
- $100 in Small Bills
My Favorite Emergency Devices
- 2000-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter is rated for gasoline engines up to 8-liters and diesel engines up to 6-liters
- Up to 40 jump starts on a single charge
- Multi-function car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power
- The 400-amp peak 12-volt portable vehicle battery HD smart jumper cable can jump start up to an 8-cylinder, 5.0L engine (or a 2.0L diesel)
- Includes a 4-mode 330-lumen LED flashlight as well as a powerful 37000 mWh power bank with a 2.4-amp charging port
- Jumper cables have ten built-in safety features with audible alarms and visual safety indicator lights to warn of any improper connections
- Durable CNC machined aluminum extruded housing with a knurled casing is scratch and stain resistant
- Powerful air compressor generates 38 l/min air-flow
- A digital pressure gauge 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
- 300-lumen light with four light mode options
- Impact-resistant and weatherproof aircraft-grade aluminum with an integrated tactical edge
- Includes a powerful magnet in the base
- 5000 mAh battery can completely recharge most phones
- 10-cm by 3-cm ultra-compact tubular design
- PowerIQ technology provides the fastest charge
I recommend keeping a knife with a serrated edge (or seatbelt cutter) and window breaker within arm’s reach
My Favorite Tools
- Features a 3.75-in clip point AUS-8 stainless steel blade
- Triple point serrations cut fibrous materials with ease
- Includes an integrated seat belt cutter and glass breaker
- Powerhouse multi-tool features 21-tools, including regular & needlenose pliers, premium wire cutters, straight & serrated knives, scissors, a saw, and a bit driver
- The one-handed opening provides quick access to the tools you use most
- Made in the USA with a 25-year warranty
- Compact, lightweight, and durable multi-tool opens with the flick of the wrist
- Features 15-tools including regular & needle nose pliers, wire cutters & crimper, fine & serrated edge knife blades, cross point screwdriver, can & bottle openers, and small, medium, & large flat blade screwdrivers
- Overall length measures 6.3-in. when open and 4.9-in. when closed
- Four-sided rotating heads designed to work on a wide variety of fasteners
- Includes 12 commonly used 1/4-in drive bits in a plastic holder
- Includes LED flashlight that slips into the largest socket
You have three primary goals with the medical supplies in your vehicle emergency kit. The first is treating injuries from accidents–especially trauma injuries. You should be able to stop or slow bleeding, splint a broken limb, and treat minor burns.
The second goal is preparing for a health emergency based on any existing family medical conditions. You 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. You’ll want 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
- Stop bleeding quickly using the trauma pad
- Provide relief from allergies, pain, fevers, and upset stomachs with a variety of medications
- Includes QuikClot gauze, trauma pad, triangular bandage, and other vital supplies for your trauma kit
- QuickClot gauze is a nonallergenic first aid gauze that accelerates natural blood clotting and stops bleeding within minutes
- Used by hospitals, first responders, military, law enforcement, & outdoorsman
- Designed to stop bleeding by adding pressure to the wound
- Sterilized & manufactured in a medical facility
- Large 6-in non-adherent pad
- Official tourniquet of the U.S. Army & U.S. Marines
- Proven to be effective in occluding blood flow in upper & lower extremities
- Can be used to splint every bone in the human body
- Soft enough to cut with ordinary scissors
- Extremely moldable
- 7.5-in long fluoride-coated 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, focus on four primary survival needs–water, food, shelter, and hygiene.
- Emergency Tent
- Emergency Blanket
- Toiletry Kit
- Microfiber Towel
- Anti-Bacterial Cleaning Wipes
- Portable Unisex Urinal
- Toilet Bags
- Wet Wipes
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-year shelf life
- The microfiltration membrane removes 99.9999% of bacteria (including E. coli and Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), and the smallest microplastics down to 1-micron
- The microbiological filter will provide 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of clean and safe drinking water with proper use and maintenance
- All claims are verified with laboratories using standard testing protocols set by the US EPA, NSF, and ASTM for water purifiers
- Each pack includes 18 survival bars of 200-calories each for 3600-calories total 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-in
- 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 excellent roadside emergency kit! Now it’s time for you to customize it.
You can start by considering 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 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.
- Hand Crank or Battery-Operated AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio
- Folding Shovel
- Ice Brush & Scraper
- Tire Chains
- Cat Litter (for additional traction)
- Rain Gear
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
- Foldable shovel with a wood saw edge and a rotating spade shovel blade
- Weighs only 24-oz
- High-carbon steel construction and carry case
- High-strength ABS shaft, PC bristles, and EVA cotton handle engineered to withstand heavy snowstorms and temperatures as low as -40° F
- Quickly separate the brush and scraper for easier handling
- Crushable hat with a classic 3-in brim
- 100% cotton and SPF 50+
If anyone in your family has health issues, then it is vital to be prepared. Here are some examples to help guide you.
- Glasses Cleaning Wipes
- Glasses Repair Kit
- Extra Prescription Medication
- Rescue Inhaler
- Spare Batteries for Medical Devices
- Blood Pressure Monitor
- Low Dose Aspirin
- Extra Medical Testing Supplies
- Save-A-Tooth Preserving System
- Denture Adhesive
- Extra Mobility Devices
Every family is different. Depending on yours, you might want to have some of these items on hand.
- Travel Potty
- Infant Formula
- Children’s Chewable Ibuprofen Tablets
- Children’s Chewable Acetaminophen Tablets
- Children’s Chewable Benadryl Tablets
- Extra Kid’s Toys
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
- It 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
- 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. 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 choose, make sure you read the fine print. You need to understand exactly how your plan works and any limitations.
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.
With 24-hour roadside assistance, discounts, travel planning, and so much more, a AAA membership never stops working for you.
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 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.
I like this method because I get the most flexibility. No bag is too heavy for me to carry, and I can easily rearrange the bags around my trunk.
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
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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 used stuff on the bottom of your backpack
- Add more essential things next, such as jumper cables or an air compressor
- The most critical items like a fire extinguisher and trauma supplies should go on top.
- Use external pockets to have easy access to smaller gear like a multi-tool and flashlight.
- For your safety, secure your containers or bags inside the car with good-quality tie-down straps.
- Keep a knife with a serrated edge (or seatbelt cutter) and window breaker within arm’s 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, 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 critical 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 an expiration date and replace them before they expire
- Recharge any emergency gear with a battery
Keeping an inventory is helpful because it’s easier to check a spreadsheet or list than unpacking your entire kit. If you include expiration dates, then it’s effortless to see what you need to replace. You can even make it automatic with a calendar reminder every six months.
AutoZone is a leading retailer of automotive replacement parts and accessories. The company is committed to providing the best parts, prices, and customer service in the automotive aftermarket industry.
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.