What to Put in an Emergency Car Kit (Plus Printable Checklist)

Today, I would like to take some time to encourage all of you to put together your own emergency car kit if you haven’t done so already.

Why? Because things happen.

car supplies in plastic boxes and pouches

(You can get the FREE Printable Emergency Car Kit Checklist here.)

Dangerous storms, natural disasters, winter weather, and national emergencies sometimes come out of nowhere at inconvenient times. Usually you have to deal with an emergency wherever you are. And for many people that might be while you are on the road, and away from home.

Even something as simple as a blown tire on the side of the highway is enough to put you into emergency mode when you’ve got children in tow!

Sure, help may only be a phone call away, but sitting on the side of a busy interstate in the blazing sun or in freezing winter weather for an hour or more with a couple of uncomfortable and starving children has the potential to be an incredibly stressful situation.

Wouldn’t it be such a comfort to just have everything you would need to get by until the worst part was over? Parents, wouldn’t you like be able to keep your children happy and comfortable until help arrived?

Having an emergency car kit is a good idea for everybody everywhere. At the very least it could take a load of stress out of a very stressful situation, and at the most it could potentially save your life, and the lives of your loved ones.

If you haven’t already assembled an emergency car kit, today is the day you start getting one prepared! And I’ve made it easy, I’ve done all the hard work and created a printable Emergency Car Kit Checklist for you to go by. I dare say, it is probably the most thorough list on the web!

I’ve been working hard on this checklist for the past few days because I’m actually right there with you if you aren’t completely prepared with a car kit yet.

At one point, I had my kits somewhat put together and in place in the family vehicle. But over the past year, I’ve picked at it a little here and a little there, using up things as I needed them.

And it never was really complete to begin with. So, it’s time for me to update my supplies and add the final touches.

Plus, I’ve learned that some of the things I did were a big “no-no” and will need to be corrected (boy am I glad I didn’t find this out before I really needed my kit!).

So, check out the spreadsheet I’ve created. If you think of anything that should be added, please feel free to make suggestions.

You’ll notice I’ve included comments to many of the items listed. These are valuable tips to consider when packing your kit, so take time to read them.

Emergency Car Kit List

What you choose to include in your emergency car kit is ultimately up to you, but I have a few suggestions you should consider as the absolute essentials.

At the end of the day, though, what you include will be based primarily on the age of the travelers and the distance you intend to travel.

You should also keep in mind your driving patterns, the weather, and the condition and age of your vehicle.

Your Normal Travel Items

Even if you don’t have an emergency car kit, there are a few items you’ll want to keep in your car no matter where or when you travel.

Don’t leave home without bringing your keys and keyrings (which admittedly would be quite difficult to do!) your wallet or purse, a cell phone and charger, an ID, and your insurance cards (both for your vehicle and your health insurance).

Car Care Supplies

You never know when your car will break down in the middle of the night and you could have the ability to fix it easily – if only you had the supplies in your car.

You’ll want to include jumper cables. You can use the standard, run-of-the-mill variety jumper cables or you can invest ins mall lithium0ion batteries with jumper cables. They often can recharge other devices, like cell phones, too.

jumper cables and snow shovel in car trunk

You should also bring at least a quart of motor oil and a gallon of coolant. You will need a basic tool kit with screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, pliers, and a pocket knife.

You might also want to consider a spare tire, a can of tire inflator, and sealant like Fix-a-Flat. Another good idea is a tire pressure gauge and an ice scraper. You should also have a jack in case you need to fix the flat yourself.

A gas can is helpful to have, too. Ideally, you shouldn’t be letting your car get below a quarter of a tank.

But we all know how easy it is for you to go many miles without a gas station in sight, so make sure you have a gas can in case you accidentally run out.

And if you have this kind of gear, make sure you have a reflective vest for yourself, too. This will be important if you need to walk for help in the dark.
Some other car care items you might want to include are:

  • Road flares
  • Spare bulbs for turn signals, brake lights, fuses, etc
  • Electrical tape
  • Engine coolant
  • Snow chains for your tires (if you live in an area that experiences heavy snowfall)
  • Channel locks
  • Vise grips
  • Ratchet straps
  • Brake adjustment tools
  • WD-40 lubricants
  • Come along/toe straps
  • Fire extinguisher

Food and Water

Bring along plenty of food and water – at least enough for a few days. Good options include bottled water along with granola bars and energy bars. If you have young children or babies, remember to bring food for them, too.

stashing cans of food inside car trunk

While we’re on the subject of baby items, don’t forget you’ll need other baby items, too, like formula, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and bottles, too. If you have pets, don’t forget about food and water for them, too.

Miscellaneous Gear

Don’t forget about all of the little things, either, like a flashlight along with plenty of extra batteries. Having a blanket or space blanket handy is never a bad idea, nor is a roll of paper towels and a first aid kit.

You should also consider bringing along road flares and triangle reflectors, which can mark your spot and help prevent a collision when you are pulled over.

small flashlight and knife inside zipper bag stashed inside car
Small items such as flashlights and knives can be stashed in various places inside the car, particularly in the trunk. Putting them in zipper bags first is a smart idea to protect them from humidity – particularly if you want to move them to your survival backpack at some point.

You might also want to carry a miniature multi tool or a pocket knife. This is especially essential if you don’t carry a full-blown toolkit in your car. You never know when you might need a small folding knife or a screwdriver.

Some paracord is another good idea, as are a couple of disposable lighters.

Some people carry small, collapsible shovels in their emergency car kits. This is a good idea if you live in an area that experiences heavy snowfall.

It can help you dig out in case you end up getting buried when you go off the road.

You might also want to carry a car escape tool. This can come in many forms. Popular options include window breakers and seat-belt cutters. These will help you get out of the car in case you become trapped in your seat.

glass breaker seatbelt cutter

Other helpful gear includes rolls of duct tape, umbrellas and rain gear, and extra clothing. The clothing is especially important if you live in a colder climate.

You’ll want at least one change for every traveler, including a cap, wool socks, gloves, and boots. You may even want to throw a sleeping bag or two into the car in case you find yourself stranded overnight.

Navigation Materials

If you happen to find yourself lost on the side of the road, with no cell phone reception, there’s no better tool you can have than a road map.

Make sure you have some maps handy, along with (ideally) a compass, a handheld GPS unit, and plenty of batteries.

Comfort Items

Comfort items are essential to preserving your sanity in a survival situation – especially if you are traveling with young children.

Make sure you have things like gum and candy, some books or games, napkins, Chapstick, car sickness bags, and of course, plenty of extra blankets.

Extra Survival Items

I wouldn’t necessarily put these items at the top of your must-have list, but some other materials you might want to have with you are two-way radios, fishing poles and tackle, and some fire-starting equipment (like a magnesium fire-starting kit).

These can really help out if you end up being stranded for several days.

Here’s Why You Need a Fully-Stocked Vehicle

Think it won’t happen to you? I’m sure these families didn’t either:

The Tragic Story of the Kim Family, who got off on the wrong road, then stranded in snowy weather. Found nine days later, here’s how some survived, and sadly, one did not. (You can also watch the firsthand account interview here.)

A 9 year old girl survives a car accident that left her trapped in an upside down car for two days.

Family trapped in snowbound car for days. Fortunately, they were somewhat prepared!

Man survives being trapped in car for 6 1/2 days by melting snow, and eating peanut butter and packets of taco sauce.

Tips to Remember

1. Don’t ever leave your car, unless it is no longer safe to stay there, or help is within sight.

2. Pack some food and water within reach of each family member in case an accident traps you in your seat. A whistle and blanket within reach would also be a good idea, if possible.

3. If you get stuck in the snow, get out of your car and make sure the tailpipe isn’t blocked off. If it isn’t clear, carbon monoxide can fill the vehicle and is undetectable and deadly.

Crack your car window slightly every now and then just in case poisonous gases are building up, and to get fresh air circulating.

4. Run the heat no more than 15 min. every hour to conserve fuel.

5. Familiarize yourself with all of the items in your car. Take some serious time out of your day to do this. There’s no point having a tire pressure gauge in your emergency car kit if you have no idea how to use it.

Make sure you know what everything is, how to use it, and that it’s in good working order when you stash it in your car.

6. Learn how to change a tire and check your oil. Enough said.

Frequently Asked Questions

But where am I supposed to store all of this stuff?

I know some of you are looking at this and thinking, “I don’t have room for all that stuff!” Even if you have a small car, there are places you can stuff supplies throughout the interior.

In the glove box, underneath seats, in the trunk… it doesn’t all have to be in one place. Get creative. Plus, you don’t have to have everything on my list. Pack the most basic of basics if your space is severely limited.

But building a car kit is expensive!

It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Start by going through the checklist and filling a tub with things you already have laying around your home. Put these things in your car, and slowly build your stash from there.

Buy an extra food item once a week, or once a month, to put into your kit. Something is better than nothing, so do whatever you can as you are able.

Please consider the importance of having a well stocked vehicle. Especially if you have children depending on you for survival.

Start Prepping Today!

I hope I never have to use my car kit for a major emergency. At the very least, if we’re away from home longer than expected I’ll have basic supplies to keep my family content.

It’s so much better to have the stuff and need it, than need it and not have it.

Do you have a car kit packed? If not, make it a goal to get it assembled in the next week.

car kit pinterest

22 thoughts on “What to Put in an Emergency Car Kit (Plus Printable Checklist)”

  1. One item I rarely see posted in any of the emergency car kit posts are Hot Hands. These little packets that get warm when exposed to air can help keep you warm and prevent frostbite. My mother always said warm hands and feet make for a warm heart. You can stay much more comfortable if your feet and hands are not cold. I buy them in bulk and toss them in the trunk each winter, just in case. They also are handy in a first aid kit for sprains where you need to alternate heat and cold. Great post!

  2. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts.
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  3. A roadside emergency is something everyone hopes won’t happen to them, but accidents happen every day. It’s best to be prepared. My husband’s sister lost control of her truck on the freeway, and luckily nobody was hurt. She was able to drift off the road and bring her car to a stop. I know I’ll be making a kit like this, and sharing this article with her. Thanks!

  4. What kind of bags are those in the photo? They look like they have a ton of pockets, which would be really helpful for stuff like this.

    • Steph,

      I LOVE these backpacks. They do have a bunch of different pockets, which makes organizing really nice. You can find them at Shelf Reliance. They’re very inexpensive, too 🙂 Regular price is $9.99, but they are often on sale for a little less than that. I thought they’d be a bit smaller than a standard backpack, but they are a standard size- nice and big! Hope that helps!

    • Lauren-Mae,

      You definitely need to take liquids into consideration when you live in areas that are prone to freezing winters. That’s one reason I like the water in boxes. When they freeze, they expand and don’t burst like full water bottles do. If you must use plastic water bottles, make sure they are emptied out a little to accommodate for the expansion of frozen water. Besides water, the only thing that might possibly freeze could be some medicines. In that case, keep them in a purse or diaper bag that you would bring with you to the car anyway.

  5. Just wanted to say, that lifehammer should be kept within reach of the driver, not inside a kit that is probably in the trunk or something.

    • Joe,

      YES! You are absolutely right. And not in the glovebox, either. If your seatbelt locks, you may not be able to reach it from the driver’s seat. I’m mounting mine on my seat. I’ve seen some that hang on your keychain, too, though I think that’s a bit cumbersome.

  6. Here are directions I found once online for a free DIY female urination device from a plastic coffee can type lid after having a discussion with some young ladies on a road trip.

    .Coffee Can Lid/Flexible Plastic Disc
    This is a rather simple device that can be easily made at home. Take the flexible plastic lid from a can of coffee grinds, or from a similar package (like a cottage cheese container or large yogurt tub), and cut away the lip so it is flat. The lid needs to be flexible enough to roll into a funnel shape or a U-shape for use. Hold the funnel end/U-end far enough back so that you position it behind your urethral opening. Aim the pointed end down toward the toilet bowl, and pee. You will have to practice to get the hang of it. You can also experiment with trimming and rolling the device in a manner that works best for you. These devices are easy to carry and conceal in your back pocket, or even in a small pocket in your underwear. Very fine grit sandpaper can be used to smooth out any rough edges.

  7. Thanks for posting this excellent list. Living far out of town, I often wonder what we’d do if we broke down (cell reception is spotty in our area). Will be talking with the husband this weekend about setting up kits for our cars. Blessings, ~Lisa

  8. Yup, but need to get them switched over from regular to winter car kits. I got some great foldable coolers from Costco a while back that fit a ton of stuff and are easy to carry/smush into the trunks of the cars. 🙂 Since I use most of the spaces in my minivan I’ve also rigged up a giant/flat Ziploc bag underneath the bench seat with things we’d only need if stuck in the middle of nowhere or a true emergency (extra blankets, water, diapers, gloves, snacks, deck of cards, etc.). Only take that out to vacuum crumbs out of the poor van.

  9. Awesome post! We have 3 cars and I have been planning this out for a while because we do drive all of them. With my luck we would have the issue and the needed items would be in another vehicle. 😉


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