Changing a flat tire

7 Things You Need in Your Car Emergency Kit

When you set off on a road trip, you anticipate arriving safely.  But what if there is an unexpected situation along the way?  Are you prepared for the unexpected in your car? Do you have a well-stocked emergency car kit?

This post will help you put together an emergency kit for your car so that you are prepared on your next road trip, whether you’re going to Grandma’s house for the holidays, heading out on vacation, or just driving across the country.

We lived in the mid-west for 9 years while our family lived on the West Coast.  Every year we made the 27-hour drive to see our family at least twice a year.

Usually, the drive was simply long, but uneventful.  But there were occasions when we had to break into our emergency kit and we were ever so grateful that we had it ready!

changing car tire with header on the picture

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Creating a Car Emergency Kit

Creating a car emergency kit doesn’t need to be difficult, but it is very important. Knowing what you might need in case of an emergency and having it readily available in your vehicle will reduce the stress if you do end up in an emergency situation with your family.

What Should You Put in Your Emergency Kit?

There are a number of things that are really important to have in your car every time you travel. Accumulating these things and keeping them in a duffel bag, plastic crate or box in the back of your car at all times means you will be prepared in case of emergency.

Here are some care emergency kit items to get you started. Depending on your family’s needs, you may want to add a few extra things so that it will be useful for your situation.  

  • 1 ~ Water & Food

If you end up getting stranded along the side of the road because of car trouble or a flat tire, you will need to have water.  In the summertime, car trouble or even delays due to road construction or detours can last longer than you anticipated.

You will need to have enough water in your car for each person for several hours.  Fill up your water bottles each time you stop so you will always have a fresh supply.

Keep an extra gallon of water in the back of your car for emergencies.

Keeping an extra supply of water in the car in the winter can be tricky as water freezes.  So if you are traveling for several days, be sure to take your extra water supply into the hotel at night so that it doesn’t freeze and create a mess in your car.

Planning for some emergency food is easy when you consider items that are high energy such as nuts, dried fruit, and hard candy.


If you add to your stash each time you go on a trip, you can add things like granola bars, apples and oranges, cheese and crackers, and baby carrots.

  • 2 ~ A First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first-aid kit is very valuable to have in your car emergency kit.  Even if you don’t have car trouble or any issues on the road, you will likely be stopping at rest areas, gas stations, and other points of interest along the way.

Your first aid kit should include medication such as Advil, Tylenol, Neosporin, Benadryl, as well as a variety of sizes of bandages, gauze, ace bandages/wraps, and some tampons or pads (both work very well for stopping blood flow from a wound or a nose bleed.)

Keep your first aid kit up to date.  Make sure your medication is current, the bandages are still sticky, etc.  Leaving these items in the car for a long time during extreme heat or cold can reduce their usefulness if they are no longer any good.

  • 3 ~ Emergency Lighting and Reflection

Because you are planning for a potential emergency situation, you are not able to predict that an emergency will happen during the daylight hours.  So, you need to plan for some lighting.

Flares are a great addition to your emergency kit.  You can keep a few in your car along with a lighter to use in case of an accident in a blind spot in the road, or on a dark, low-visibility night.

If you are in an accident, you definitely want to do all you can to prevent another accident from happening while you are waiting for the police or a tow truck.

You also need to have a strong flashlight with extra batteries.  You may need this if you have to walk along the road in the dark to get help, to alert other travelers that you are there, or to help others see where you are.


If your battery dies in your car, your headlights will no longer work, so you may need an extra backup for light.

A hand-crank flashlight may also be helpful for finding things inside the car or for changing a tire in the dark.


These flashlights aren’t typically as bright as some of the battery-powered flashlights, but if your batteries have worn out, this type of flashlight can be very useful.

Car trouble doesn’t usually happen when you are under a streetlight with a wide shoulder to pull off on.  So you also want to have some reflecting options such as bright-colored fabric to attach to your car and reflective triangles.


The last thing you want is to be invisible and be in a car accident while you are trying to change a tire.

Changing a flat tire
  • 4 ~ Tools

A simple set of tools or a multi-tool is a valuable addition to your emergency car kit.  You should include screwdrivers, a wrench, lug nut remover, a car jack, and jumper cables.

Zip ties and duct tape are also a great addition to your toolset.  Include your phone charger cables and a portable battery that is charged.

Before you leave on your next trip, you also want to check on your spare tire to make sure it is inflated properly.

  • 5 ~ Tarp and Poncho

If you end up with car trouble or a flat tire, you will want to be able to work on the car or change the tire without laying in the dirt, mud or snow.


A tarp can be used for shelter, for protecting you from the elements on the ground, or protecting your things if you have to unload the trunk to get to your spare tire.


If you’re changing a tire in the rain, you will also appreciate a reflective poncho to keep you dry and visible.

  • 6 ~ Cold Weather Items

If you are traveling during the cold weather, you will want to pack winter boots and warm clothes including coats for everyone in the family.

Sleeping bags or blankets are also helpful if you end up stranded and not able to have your heat running in the car.  If you are traveling with a young child, you will also want to include extra diapers and wipes.

You should also include an ice scraper, window washer fluid for cold weather, shovel, kitty litter for traction in the snow/ice and gloves.

  • 7 ~ Entertainment & Navigation

Sitting by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck can be very taxing for a family.  Packing a few card games or storybooks can come in really handy to help pass the time.

You should never begin a trip without a map in the car.  Your phone may have a GPS and you know the way to Grandma’s house, but what if your phone goes dead?

What if there is a detour or some emergency that you need to take a different route and your phone coverage isn’t working?  You want to be prepared.

You can usually pick up free state maps at the first rest area when you enter a state.  You can also pick up maps at the local Chamber of Commerce or visitor center.

Preparing Your Emergency Car Kit.

You never want to plan for an emergency, but you want to be prepared in case of an emergency.  If you are traveling for the holidays, on a summer road trip, or just heading out for the weekend, you want to be as prepared as possible to make the trip the best it can be.

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77 thoughts on “7 Things You Need in Your Car Emergency Kit”

  1. Excellent post! When we lived in the northern part of Canada we realized pretty quickly how vital it was to have an emergency car kit. Now it’s a habit we’ve developed 🙂

  2. It is very important to have an emergency kit in your car, for when things happen. I learned this the hard way when my car broke down in the middle of nowhere in Spain, and except for the kit the law requires, I didn’t have much else in my emergency kit.

  3. This is perfect! It’ been a few years since I have updated my car emergency kit and I know that I am in need of a few things. I never forget to throw in an extra pair of boots and gloves. You should always be prepared to go into a snowy bank in the midwest.

  4. Thank you so much for the reminder. We just got back from Minneapolis after trying my daughter to the airport yesterday. The roads were something else, and we could have easily needed emergency supplies. I can’t believe you made the 27-hour trip twice a year. That’s a lot of driving!

  5. I hate how much of my trunk is always taken up with our car emergency kit. But I refuse to take it out because you know that the one time I do will be the one time I really needed it. haha

  6. great piece having just done a major road trip this past year in a new vehicle I can definitely attest to the need for putting together an emergency kit and a lot of these things would be required. I got lucky and didn’t need one but will not hit the road again without putting one together. Thanks for being the impetus to do so !

  7. These are must haves for in your car no matter what or where you live. I tell my daughters all the time to have stuff like this in their cars they look at me like I am crazy.

  8. Catherine Santiago Jose

    These are great tips and all of them are so important, better to be prepared for everything. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is so important! I just started storing these things in my car recently and I feel like I could write this post when you have kids! There is so much you need to keep in your car all of the time!

  10. These are great ideas! My grandpa was from Iowa where it snows a lot in the Winter, and he always told us to keep a metal coffee can, a short candle and matches in the car to keep us warm if we ever got stuck in the car in a snow storm. He also kept some peanuts in the car at all times. A flashlight or flare is probably much safer than a candle, but I love the idea of always being prepared.

    1. A candle is a great idea if you have to start a fire at some time too. The problem we found with a candle in the car in Iowa was that in the summer time it always melted! 🙂

  11. Very good list. When I was in college I had an emergency and first aid kit. I have gotten away from this recently and think I am going to purchase a new emergency kit now. I keep blankets all the time. Living in NY has taught me that keeping a blanket is a good idea.

  12. Great list! I have one item to add, if you are in a northern climate, a small container of kitty litter or pebbles can be really helpful if you are trying to get out of a ditch or off an icy hill. It can be used to provide traction for your tires.

  13. These are all fantastic suggestions! I grew up in Wyoming. As I got older and was given more freedom with driving, my mom always insisted that I had blankets, water, food, etc. in my car in case we ever got stuck on the side of the road in a storm. I have most of the things on your list in my car now, but thanks for the reminder – I need to add a couple items! I also have a small foldable potty seat that has bags attached. Great if you have a little one!

  14. Yes! It’s so important to be prepared, no matter what season of the year you are traveling in. Very practical items that can really make a difference if the unexpected happens.

  15. You spoke to all my needs. Some of these I never thought about because we don’t travel that far but we for travel alot in the spring for athletic events! I will surely make sure we are all prepared.

  16. This is a great list, but not just for road trips in my house. Most mom’s carry a purse, I use a hiking pack that is worn daily by me. It includes everything, from playing cards to my planner to a first aid kit to gloves, flashlight, tarp, emergency blankets, a rechargeable battery bank for my phone too. Basically anything you might need if you were to become stranded and unable to go where you need to go. This is a great reminder to always be prepared for anything!

  17. Such a great post – especially for those in the just-starting-to-drive age group!! Of course, never hurts to get a refresh for those of us who are veteran drivers.

  18. Very helpful info! Living in Montana, where they don’t salt the roads we have a lot of accidents this time of year. I am sure there are a lot of people who have been stranded for hours waiting for help!

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