Cars can be fickle. You never know when you’re going to get stuck in a traffic jam, lost on a back road, or stranded because of a breakdown. In these situations, it pays to follow the Boy Scout motto and “be prepared.” So what exactly should you keep in your vehicle for emergency situations? Knowing what items to have on hand can be helpful in a jam. In an extreme situation, it could save your life or the lives of your family and friends. Here is a list of 12 items you should always have in your car.

12. A Spare Tire and Jack

While blowouts are less common today than ever before, and many tires are capable of running for up to 50 more miles when punctured, it’s still important to have a spare tire and jack. You never know when a flat tire will strike, preventing you from driving any further.

Most of us take for granted that there’s a spare tire kicking around our vehicle. But have you actually checked to confirm it’s there? You may want to — especially if you bought your car second-hand. Many motorists are surprised to learn that they do not actually have a spare tire. Sadly, they usually learn this at the worst possible time — when their car is stuck on the side of a road. Equally important is a trusty jack that you can use to raise the car and get the tire off. Of course, you should watch a YouTube video or two on how to properly change a car tire.

11. Water

Another important item to always have on hand in case you’re stranded is water — the one true necessity in life. Keeping bottled water in your car for an emergency just makes sense. Unlike other drinks, bottled water will never go bad or expire. You can put it in your car and forget about it until the day comes when you need it.

Water is also a very diverse product. It can be used for other things besides hydration. In a pinch, it can be used to fill up the radiator, cleaning a cut or wound in the event of an accident, or even cleaning a dirty windshield that is difficult to see out of. Really, water is an all-purpose product and one that can help sustain you until help arrives. We recommend keeping at least five liters of water in a car at all times.

10. Flashlight

What’s the only thing worse than being stranded by a broken down car during the day? Being stranded at night, of course. Trust us, there’s nothing worse than having to walk for miles in the dark when you don’t where you are and can’t see where you’re going. It can also be extremely difficult to change a tire or repair a vehicle in the dark of night.

A simple and compact flashlight can literally do wonders for stranded motorists. Flashlights are an inexpensive tool that can be found at the local dollar store for a buck or two. However, the light they provide can be integral in certain situations. Just be sure to keep fresh batteries in the flashlight. Reaching for a flashlight when you need it most and finding out the batteries are dead is a real kick in the gut.

9. A Spare Cell Phone

People are never out of reach with one another these days. Unless, of course, their cell phone dies. Murphy’s Law predicts that when you need your cell phone the most, it will be running low on battery or be otherwise unavailable.

When your car is in a ditch or broken down on the shoulder of a dirt road, your phone will pick that very moment to not work properly. For this reason, it is always good to have a spare cell phone in your car that you can use in an emergency. This doesn’t have to be a state-of-the-art iPhone. A prepaid basic phone will do. Even most old smartphones will make an emergency call if you keep an old SIM card in them. Just make sure that the battery is charged and that it’s capable of a basic 911 call.

8. Blankets

Summer nights can be cool. Winter nights can be deadly. Many unfortunate people have died on the side of the road during a frigid January night. So be smart and always carry some blankets in your car. These can literally be a lifesaver if you find yourself broken down in the middle of a blizzard.

Blankets can also help if you’ve been in an accident and you or someone else is in shock. They are also multipurpose, as they can be used as a rag if needed, or placed under tires for a bit of extra traction. If nothing else, blankets can be great for kids and passengers in your car to snuggle up with on long road trips. Any way you look at it, you can’t go wrong keeping some blankets in your car.

7. Pen and Paper

This might seem overly simple, but a pen and paper can be worth their weight in gold in certain situations. In an accident, for example, you’ll need to write down the name, contact information, and insurance company of the other party. You will also be required to share your own information. There could be other situations where you’ll want to jot down a license plate number and vehicle make and model.

In an extreme situation, you may need to slip an emergency responder a note telling them who you are and what happened to you and your vehicle. Having a paper and pen in your car is a no-brainer. It’s a simple thing that can pay huge dividends. Put it in your car and forget about it until you need it. When you do need it, you’ll be glad you have it within reach.

6. Granola Bars

Why granola bars? Because they’re light weight, pre-packaged, don’t readily expire, and taste delicious. When stranded and hungry, reaching for a granola bar can provide the energy and sustenance needed to keep you going. Plus, kids love them. They are better than overly sweet or salty snacks, while still being somewhat tasty.

Keeping granola bars in your car, along with the aforementioned water, could be all you need to keep going in an emergency situation until help arrives. Granola bars have an incredibly long shelf life, meaning you won’t have to replace them very often. They can withstand extreme heat and cold too. They’re the kind of food you want to have in a bomb shelter, so might as well stash some in your car too.

5. An Ice Scraper/Shovel

Winter is the time of year when most accidents occur. Roads get slippery, traction gets lower, and drivers get stuck easier. It doesn’t take long in heavy snow fall for a car on the side of a road to get generously coated in ice and snow. For these reasons, it is always advisable to have an ice scraper and/or brush on hand. You’ll need it to clear that snow and ice off your car.

Many ice scrapers today double as a two-in-one shovel too. They can be used to dig your car out of a snow bank. Or get through that annoying mountain the snowplow leaves at the end of your driveway. This kind of tool can be invaluable to motorists during the dark days of winter.

Even if there’s no emergency, it’s still helpful to have an ice scraper. You might need it when you leave your house in the morning, or leave work after a long shift. Being able to see clearly out of your car windshield in winter is critically important and can help prevent accidents.

4. Jumper Cables

One of the most common reasons for vehicle breakdowns (especially in winter) is a dead battery. Maybe you left the interior light on by accident, or something. Regardless, the best way to remedy this problem is with a reliable set of jumper cables. Simply boost the battery and bring it back to life. Jumper cables are therefore very important and should be in every vehicle at all times.

Of course, you’ll need another vehicle present that can give you a boost. However, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t first have cables within easy reach. If you want to spend a bit more money, you can now buy all-in-one battery packs that boost without the need of a second car. You have to remember to keep them regularly charged too, though. If you find that boosting the battery is not working, the cables connected to the battery terminals could be loose and in need of tightening. This can be accomplished quickly and easily with the next item on our list.

3. A Tool Set

We’re not talking about a massive collection of tools in a large red tool chest. You don’t need to have a power drill in your car (although you never know). However, it is worthwhile to keep a small tool set in the car. It should have the essential items such as conventional wrenches, socket set, screw drivers, a hammer, and some pliers. This can help with everything from changing a flat tire to securing battery cables, or fixing an exhaust pipe that has come loose and is dragging on the ground.

A small, reliable set of tools can work wonders in an emergency and get you out of a surprising number of bad situations. Just be sure to keep the tool inventory current and contained in a secure tool box. You don’t want to have loose wrenches and screw drivers under the seats in your car.

2. Gas Can

We’re not advocating keeping extra gas in your car. That is potentially dangerous in the event of a crash. However, it’s good advice to keep an empty gas floating around your trunk. No one plans to run out of gas, and yet it’s happened to almost everyone at least once. Believe it or not, running out of gas is one of the top reasons motorists get stranded on the side of the road.

Who among us hasn’t had to hike to a gas station and carry gas back to our car? It sure does help to have a gas can on hand for these situations. It doesn’t need to a huge one, either. A one-to-three gallon can will do the trick. Just be sure that it’s clean and doesn’t have any holes in it.

1. First Aid Kit

The most important item to keep in a car at all times is a First Aid Kit. To say it could be a lifesaver is a massive understatement. An accident can occur at any time. You may not be in a populated area or near a hospital when something unexpected strikes. This means that you could be required to administer First Aid on your own — either to yourself or others. Having a well-stocked First Aid Kit could mean the difference between life and death.

What should be in the kit? At a minimum, it should contain bandages, gauze, tensor bandage, Iodine, Aspirin or Tylenol, adhesive tape, instant ice packs, disposable non-latex gloves, antiseptic wipes or soap, a thermometer, and eye patches. Most of these items come standard in First Aid Kits, along with many other things. It’s also a good idea for a First Aid Kit to contain emergency contact numbers and a manual directing people on how to properly administer First Aid.


This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.