Why you need a car emergency kit (and what to pack)

In the event of an emergency, you may not have time to grab necessities as you run to your car


A 2016 AAA Foundation survey found that Americans spend an average of 293 hours driving in their cars each year, which means that, at some point, many will find themselves in an emergency situation while driving their vehicle. When that happens, it’s important that residents have a stocked car emergency kit.

While it should be customized to each individual family’s needs, every car emergency kit should include certain staples, such as:

  • First-aid kit
  • Road flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Car charger
  • Rags
  • Duct tape
  • Baby wipes
  • Tarp
  • Drinking water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Emergency escape tool with seat belt cutter and window breaker

The amount of supplies needed depends on two different scenarios: experiencing an unplanned emergency while driving, such as a flat tire or stuck due to ice or snow that requires residents to stay in their vehicles, or fleeing a disaster that requires people to pack their cars in preparation for safe destinations. By sharing these car emergency kit resources, local governments can help residents stay safe in roadside emergencies or when emergency evacuation puts them on the road.

#1 A Car Emergency Kit is Essential When Stuck on the Side of the Road

It doesn’t occur to many people that their car may turn into a sanctuary during an unexpected event on the road. Particularly in areas with low population, a flat tire, a blown engine or getting stuck in a snowbank could leave you waiting for hours for emergency services. In this instance, a car emergency kit can save your life.

During the winter months, while many experts agree that sheltering in place is the safest way to weather a winter a storm, just in case, Ready.gov recommends each car emergency kit should be rounded out with:

  • Blankets
  • Ice scraper
  • Cat litter
  • Warm clothing
  • Hand warmers
A robust car emergency kit is a necessity for all drivers.

Image: FEMA

These items will be invaluable in the event your car gets stuck due to ice or snow, and you are required to wait for emergency services to help.

In addition, consider adding some kind of entertainment to your car emergency kit, in the event you need to save your cell phone’s battery, such as a book to read or a deck of cards.

No two kits will ever be the same, but a few additional items you should consider adding:

  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Trash bags
  • Bar of soap
  • Zipper storage bags

All of these items could come in handy if you find yourself stuck on the road for an extended period of time.

#2 Evacuating to Someplace Safer, Like a Shelter

During an evacuation, in addition to your car emergency kit, you should also have a go-bag ready in your home for each family member to bring along.

Go bags, or bug out bags, should be filled out with important items you will need during an emergency situation. This type of preparation is essential in the event of a disaster, such as a flood or wildfire. Being prepared takes some of the chaos out of the situation.

A basic go-bag will include:

  • Change of clothes for every family member
  • Important documents, such as insurance papers
  • Required medication
  • Food and water for every family member
  • Pet food
  • Battery operated radio
  • Toiletries
  • Extra chargers and batteries for electronic devices

During an evacuation situation, most shelters will only provide a facility and no other amenities. Bringing a fully stocked go bag will make the best of a difficult situation.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.