Car Emergency Essentials Checklist

Be ready for anything from a flat to a fender-bender.

gas can
Photo: Getty Images

You may be a highly responsible car owner with an impeccable driving record. You change your oil regularly, check the air in the tires, and drive defensively, doing all you can to avoid accidents and make sure your car holds onto its resale value. You may have even figured out how to safely share the road with bad drivers.

And you can still find yourself on the side of the road, dealing with a car emergency. Sad to say, it happens to the best of us. Here's a list of essential emergency supplies that will come in handy if and when disaster strikes.

General Car Emergency Essentials

These are the items you ought to keep in your car no matter what season it is.

Aerosol Tire Inflator

Plug a small hole or a leak long enough to get to a garage. (Be sure the product doesn't contain flammable gases, such as butane, propane, and isobutene.)

Spare Tire

In case a tire is too busted to drive any further, a properly inflated spare can save the day. Make sure to also store a wheel wrench and tripod jack in order to change the tire.

Car Battery Charger

Forget the hassle of jumper cables. Get a jump-start with a compact charger that renews your battery via the car's cigarette lighter.

Duct Tape

After an accident, use the reinforced tape to patch things together temporarily.

Empty Gas Can

A one-gallon jug will hold enough to get you to a service station without being burdensome to lug back to your car.

Fire Extinguisher

You know how scary car fires can be if you've ever seen flames shooting from under your hood. Enough said.

First-Aid Kit

Stow a kit in an easily accessible space to treat cuts, burns, and traffic headaches.

Flashlight

This is crucial for after-dark roadside repairs, emergency signaling, and, of course, old-school map reading. Make sure to include extra batteries if storing a battery-operated flashlight.

Reflecting Triangles

When your car breaks down, or you pull over for a repair, make yourself visible—and warn off other drivers—with emergency reflective triangles.

Tow Rope

In case you need a hitch—or want to give one.

Tool Kit

Include screwdrivers, pliers, a tire gauge, wire cutters, and a socket set for repairs.

Traction Pads

Lay these lightweight metal panels under your drive wheels when you're stuck in slush, ice, or sand.

Water

Avoid dehydration by storing water bottles or jugs in an insulated cooler in the trunk.

Snacks

Non-perishable, high-energy foods like dried fruits, nuts, and protein bars can last for months and give you a boost when needed.

Winter-Specific Essentials

These are the items you'll be glad you stowed away when that wintry mix of sleet, snow, and ice seems to appear out of nowhere.

Scraper and Snow Brush

If you live in an area where cold weather brings ice and snow, choose a scraper that can tackle both.

Shovel

A small shovel can make a big difference if your car gets stuck in the snow and needs a clear path to drive out.

Bags of Sand or Kitty Litter

Storing a couple of heavy bags in your trunk can help weigh down rear-wheel vehicles, providing more traction on slippery roads. Plus, the contents can be poured around your tires to create more traction on the road and help get your vehicle out of snow or ice.

Gloves and Winter Clothing

If you're spending a lot of time scraping your car or shoveling the snow, you'll need to stay bundled up to stay warm and prevent frostbite.

Blankets

If your car breaks down and you can't rely on its heater, you'll need extra layers to keep you warm.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses aren't typically considered a winter accessory, but the sun's reflection off the snow can be just as bright as the summer sun. Wearing sunglasses while driving in the snow can make it easier to see and drive more safely.

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