Top tips for building the quintessential car kit

Wherever your auto travels take you, keep the car packed with plenty of items for random happenings.

From morning and evening commutes to the chauffeuring tasks associated with family life, many of us spend a healthy portion of our day-to-day dealings behind the wheel. Most of what transpires in and outside our car confines aren't out of the norm, but, at any given moment, something can happen that demands our undivided attention – especially when these events threaten the safety and well-being of ourselves and passengers.

But as the old saying goes, there's no need to fear the unknown when you're properly prepared. The following are a few recommendations that can help you build an emergency kit for the car when you need it most, be the circumstances ordinary or extraordinary.

1. Staples

Cars are a lot more reliable these days, getting us from point A to point B without a problem most of the time. But breakdowns still happen now and again, making the following items worthy of "never leave home without them" status.

  • Jumper cables.
  • Flares or reflective triangles.
  • Spare tire and jack. Fewer cars come with spare tires these days, so you may have to purchase one separately. 
  • Flashlight.
  • Ice scraper and/or snow sweeper.
  • Auto insurance. You should always keep your car insurance policy in the glove compartment so you can consult it after an accident. It will also help you exchange information with the other motorist involved. 

2. Survival

Thanks to roadside assistance and smartphones, help is never more than a phone call or text away. However, given the unpredictability of life, it's always a good idea to keep emergency resources in the vehicle in case no one can be reached and you have nowhere to go.

  • 72-hour supply of water (ideally stored in gallon jugs or two-liter bottles).
  • Emergency escape tool. These unusually shaped implements, available at some hardware stores but primarily online, make escaping from a car easier. Just press the tool hard against the bottom of a rolled-up window.
  • Water-resistant blankets.
  • Rain gear (jacket, umbrella, galoshes).
  • Dual-purpose utility knife.
  • Duct tape. Perhaps the most multifunctional adhesive ever invented.
  • Zip ties.
  • First-aid kit. At a minimum, include adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, scissors, over-the-counter medicine, and ointment. The Red Cross has some other suggestions.

3. Food

Whether it's a specific craving or to appease a mid-day snack attack, keeping food in the car is always a smart move. But some forms of sustenance are better than others when it comes to shelf life. Here are a few highly car-kit-friendly food options:

  • Trail mix.
  • Dried or dehydrated fruit.
  • Almonds or other nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Packaged goods (pretzels, crackers, meal replacement bars, etc.).
  • Beef jerky.
  • Juice boxes or sports beverages.

4. Cold

Harsh winter weather can cut like a knife, especially if you break down on the side of the road and the engine isn't working. You'll need plenty of layers to stay warm and dry. Consider packing:

  • Gloves or mittens.
  • Wool sweater.
  • Jacket with lining.
  • Hand warmers.
  • Stocking hat.
  • Boots or sneakers.

5. Security

Your car can provide shelter from the storm – in whatever form it presents itself – but you should also have resources in your car kit that can keep you protected from physical harm or assault. To stay safe, pack:

  • Pepper spray or mace.
  • Whistle.
  • Card containing emergency phone numbers, including local police and fire as well as personal contacts.
  • Disposable or prepaid cell phone.
  • Fire extinguisher.

6. Odds and ends

If you haven't already, you're bound to have an "If only" experience while driving – something simple that, if only you had it, would make the current predicament easier to cope with. Here are a few miscellaneous items that may come in handy when you're in such a dilemma:

  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Lip balm.
  • Magazine or coffee table book. Reading material can help pass the time if you're waiting for a ride or someone to get back to you. 
  • Ear plugs.
  • Pen or pencil.
  • Pad of paper or notebook.
  • Aspirin or some other headache medicine.
  • Spare batteries of various sizes.

Aside from the home, the car is your own personal sanctuary. Make sure it stays that way by always being prepared for the twists and turns on the road of life, wherever it takes you.