What is in a car emergency kit depends on several factors including where you buy it, how expensive it is, and how big it is. Car emergency kits contain several specific tools to help keep you safe and get your car back on the road safely in the event of an emergency. Some items like tow straps, jumper cables, and cones are only used in car kits; meanwhile, other items may be more universal survival items like first aid kits, rain ponchos, and emergency blankets.
While these kits are a good start, you may be better off building your own kit from scratch since some items in a generic car survival kit may not be ideal for your vehicle. Like all survival kits, it is always a good idea to have high-quality supplies tailored to your own specific needs.
Most generic emergency car kits include:
- tow straps
- jumper cables
- cones and/or flares
- flat tire inflation canister
- first aid kit
- other survival items
As their name suggests, tow straps are used to attach two vehicles together so one vehicle can tow another. Most vehicles have loops directly attached to the car’s frame in front and back below the bumpers.
Simply attach the D-rings to these and slowly pull forward until the strap is tight. Then turn on your emergency flashers in both cars and take it slow to the nearest mechanic. There should be drivers in both cars that are actively controlling their vehicle. The person being towed should try to keep the tow strap taught at all times to prevent jerking and losing control.
Jumper cables are used to transfer power from one car’s working battery to another car’s low or dead battery. The red cables always go on the positive (+) end of each battery. The working car should also be running during charging or starting.
Jumper cables come in different gauges or thickness depending on the amount of power that needs to be transferred or drawn to start your car. Be sure to ask or look up which gauge to use for your vehicle. If in doubt, it is always a safe bet to get the thickest gauge.
Jumper cables should be at least 10 feet long so you can easily attach them to the batteries on each car. Be careful when attaching the last clamp because sparks fly when the circuit is completed. Only touch the alligator clips where the rubber or plastic is or you may shock yourself.
Cones and Flares
Cones and flares draw other drivers’ attention to your car on the side of the road to avoid making an already bad situation worse. Cones are to be used during the day, and flares should be used at night. Some cones have reflective tape and can be used at night, as well. Most car emergency kits only have one or the other.
Flares are harder to use than cones and require more skill and effort to light and place. Flares are also a potential fire hazard so be especially careful with them in you are in an area with dry grass or other potentially flammable substances.
I recommend having cones with reflective tape so you can easily attract drivers’ attention during the day and at night. You won’t need to constantly worry about replacing spent flares, as well. If you already have the cones, then you can save some money by buying and applying the reflective tape yourself.
Flat Tire Inflation Canister
A flat tire inflation canister can temporarily fix most flat tires until you can get to the nearest tire shop or mechanic. Drive directly there first, then you can complete your trip after your tire is repaired or replaced. A smaller “donut” tire or normal-sized spare tire is ideal, and you should buy one if you can.
Most “donut” tires have a speed limit that you must follow to avoid ruining it while driving. Be sure to read the label carefully before installation and use. If you don’t want to deal with that or simply want another tire, then you can buy another rim and tire of the same size of your other four.
Another thing to consider is if the tire has a large tear, crack in the sidewall, or blown out then a flat tire inflation canister simply won’t work. If you travel often and or far away then you might not even want to buy one. However, in most cases they are really helpful for their size, weight, and cost.
You may want to check to see if your car has its own scissor jack and lug wrench. If not, then I would highly recommend buying your own; otherwise, you will be unable to fix a severe flat tire even if you already have a spare.
Some people know firsthand the importance of a good flashlight while looking under the hood of a car. You may want to have a high powered flashlight in addition to the hand-crank or squeeze flashlight provided in a car survival kit.
Headlamps are especially useful since they free up your hands for when you need to make emergency repairs by yourself in the dark. Be sure to pack an extra set of batteries just in case you run out!
Flashlights can also be used for signaling devices in the dark; however, don’t shine bright flashlights into oncoming traffic or you may temporarily blind them. Sets of three flashes are the international signal for distress. You can make an S.O.S. signal in morse code by signalling three short bursts of light, three long bursts of light, followed by three short bursts of light again.
First Aid Kit
Most pre-made first aid kits are only able to treat minor injuries. If you have the money and the knowledge of how to use them, then you should include additional lifesaving equipment like triangular bandages, trauma packs, and pain killers. Customize your first aid kit according to your own specific needs (i.e. eyeglass repair kit, inhaler, Epi-Pen, etc.).
Some items such as hot or cold packs, a CPR mask, and plastic bags may be even more useful in a car emergency kit than in other survival kits. It is also a good idea to read and pack a first aid manual to walk you through how to treat rare and or unfamiliar wounds.
Blankets have so many uses in a car that I would suggest having several in every car. They can be used to lay on top of the road or the snow if you need to check underneath your car, help keep cold groceries cold, etc. Wool blankets can keep you warm even when wet and only take up a little space.
If you don’t want to buy new blankets, then you can always throw old and tattered blankets into the trunk of your car. These make good moving blankets for protecting furniture and other bulky items from hitting each other in transit.
Other Survival Items
Some deluxe car survival kits will have a rain poncho, an emergency blanket, and maybe even a hand warmer or two. These will come in handy if you have to leave your car behind and need something to help protect you from the elements until help arrives.
While these items are better than nothing, it would probably be a good idea to supplement your kit with hand warmers, old jackets and coats, and a good pair of boots.
Add Your Own Survival Items
You may want to buy a pre-made emergency kit or make your own to keep in your car. That way you will have even more useful survival items with you wherever you go that can help keep you safe, hydrated, and fed until help arrives. If you want more information about what is in a survival kit, then be sure to read my other article on what’s in a survival kit.
If you have to commute to work, then you might want to keep a Get Home Bag inside your car that you can also discretely take with you into your workplace. A Get Home Bag is different than a typical survival kit because it is designed to give you all the tools you need to survive away from home until you can make it back. I will write a new article soon on Get Home Bags.
What more would you add to your survival kit that isn’t specifically mentioned in this list? Please leave your answer in the comments below.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,
Founder of Survive and Thrive with Permaculture