15 Essential Items to Keep in Your Car

Mia Bevacqua
October 17, 2018

Most of us have items in our cars that we probably don’t need. Empty water bottles, grocery store receipts and the kids’ broken crayons won’t really help in an emergency. 

But keeping a collection of more essential things in your vehicle can help you deal with the unforeseen.

The items on this list won’t prepare you for Armageddon. But they are useful during an accident, breakdown, foul weather — maybe even a natural disaster. Many can also help during daily driving. Keep them in your car at all times. 

1. A flashlight

Even if you don’t drive at night, a flashlight can help you see inside dark pockets and nooks, as well as under the hood. Whether you’re fixing a flat, or just looking for your phone under the seat, illumination helps a lot.

2. Spare tire and jack

flat tire

Flat tire / Image source

All new vehicles (except those with run-flat tires) come with a spare tire and jack. Unfortunately, over time, these essentials get lost and end up missing. So, take a look to make sure your vehicle’s spare tire equipment is still present. You never know when you’ll need it.

3. Lug wrench or torque multiplier

Speaking of changing a tire: Lug nuts are often torqued down tight. Having a torque multiplier or breaker bar gives you the leverage needed to break these fasteners free. In addition, if your vehicle has a wheel lock key, make sure to keep that handy.

Keep it from becoming an emergency

4. Registration and insurance information

If you get stopped by the police, you’re going to want to have your registration and insurance handy. A digital copy of your insurance card will do, but it helps to have a hard copy in case you get pulled over in a dead zone.

5. Hazard flares or triangles

reflective triangle

A breakdown is bad; having one happen at night is even worse. If your battery dies on a dark road, it’ll be hard for other drivers to see you, so invest in some road flares or reflective warning triangles to help alert them of the trouble ahead. It’ll keep everyone safer.

6. Cell phone charger

No, you shouldn’t use your phone while driving. But you still may need it to call the cops in an emergency, or to pull up GPS when you’re lost. A charger will keep your phone ready in case you need it.

7. Water and snacks

A person can go for three weeks without food but only days without water. So if you need to choose between packing snacks or bottled water, opt for the latter. But if you’ve got the room for food, pack it as well. Instead of packing low-nutrition items, such as chips and candy, go for high-protein energy bars. 

8. Fire extinguisher

car fire extinguisher

Car fire extinguisher / Image source

It’s obviously bad news if your engine or wiring catches on fire. But having an extinguisher in the back or the trunk can keep it from spreading. Make sure the extinguisher is rated for Class B and C fires and is strapped down when not in use. And if the fire gets too big, just get away — don’t put your life in danger.

9. Emergency escape tool

Odds are you’ll never need to break out a window or cut through your seat belt to escape your car. But these multipurpose tools, typically available for less than $10, are good, inexpensive insurance in case you get caught in a flood or bad accident. Keep it in your center console or glove box for easy access. 

10. First-aid kit

first aid kit

First-aid kits are helpful for everything from minor scrapes to a headache. Most come with band-aids and essential over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen. Some even come with an emergency vehicle escape hammer, which saves you from having to buy one separately.

11. Owner’s manual

Do you need to replace a fuse in your car? Or maybe you got a flat tire and need to know where the jack is? This information, and much more, is in the owner’s manual. Some manuals are now available online, but a hard copy ensures you can learn more about your car anytime. 

12. Blankets

If you break down in the winter or on a chilly night, having something to warm up in can be a lifesaver. Plus, a blanket can serve double duty — during the summer, it can be used for impromptu picnics.

13. Jumper cables or jumper box

Batteries die — and you don’t always see it coming. Fortunately, in most cases, having a set of jumper cables can get you back on the road. 

A portable jumper box is an even better idea, as it doesn’t require assistance from another car. Nowadays, ultra-thin, lithium-ion versions are available that allow for easy storage.

14. A small amount of money

Leaving a large amount of money in the car is a very bad idea. But having $5 or $10 for tolls, and maybe a few bucks in change for meters, can be helpful. 

15. Multitool or tool kit

Some of the multitools on the market now are pretty incredible. They have an array of hand tools, scissors and one or more knives. They might not be sufficient during a breakdown, though, so consider throwing in a small roadside tool kit, as well.

Bonus: Winter car essentials

Carrying around unnecessary things will weigh your vehicle down, burn extra gas, and take up valuable space, so it’s a good idea to have a separate winter car kit in addition to your regular car emergency kit. The items in it can be stored elsewhere during the warmer months, then checked and tossed back in the vehicle when it gets cooler outside. For ease of use, put the following things together in a separate sealable bin:

  • Snow socks
  • Gloves
  • Hand warmers
  • Snow scraper
  • Shovel
  • Cat litter (can help you gain traction if stuck in ice, snow, or mud)
Mia Bevacqua

About the Author

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with ASE Master, L1, L2 and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification. With 13-plus years of experience in the field, she applies her skills toward writing, consulting and automotive software engineering.

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