How to equip your car so you’re prepared for breakdowns, flat tires and more

It doesn’t matter whether you’re embarking on a road trip or simply commuting in town. There’s never a good time for your car to break down. While keeping a fully charged cell phone handy can solve many problems, it’s important to be able to address car trouble yourself in case you don’t have cell coverage. Keep your trunk stocked with these items to ensure you can get through a roadside emergency in any conditions.

What to keep in your car for emergencies

Keep a plastic tote or sturdy duffel bag in your car with the usual emergency essentials. Make a checklist and ensure you have:

  • water bottles
  • an LED flashlight or headlamp and batteries, or a hand-crank flashlight
  • substantial emergency food
  • toilet paper
  • a poncho
  • a reflective emergency blanket
  • a basic first-aid kit, including hand sanitizer or wipes, pain relief medication, sting and burn relief, cold pack and bandages

Child care supplies, such as diapers, medications, favorite snacks and a fresh change of clothes are also useful in case the whole family encounters car trouble. Finally, keep bottles of your car’s engine oil and coolant on hand for top-offs.

If you’re going on a road trip, check your emergency supplies and refill or replace items as needed. Make sure you have extra food and water. It’s also a good idea to get paper maps from a tourist center or convenience store in case there’s no cell coverage along your route. Depending on when and where you’re traveling, you may also want to bring a tow strap, tire chains, a reflective safety vest and pen and paper in case you need to leave a note on your car.

Prepare for the weather

Your car’s emergency supplies should include special items to cope with your area’s weather. For example, if you regularly drive in icy winter conditions, traction plates or even cat litter can help you get traction in a slushy patch. Your emergency kit should also include a windshield scraper, extra food and water, fleece blankets, sturdy shoes and cold-weather gear, such as hats and gloves.

In hotter climates, you’ll want to carry extra water, bug spray and sunblock to stay safe and comfortable while you’re working on your car (or just waiting for help to arrive). A face mask can also make waiting in smoggy or smokey environments healthier and more comfortable.

Best emergency car kit products

Best DSV Standard Warning Triangles

DSV Standard Warning Triangles

The most important first step when you have car trouble is to make sure you and other drivers are safe. Using your flashers is one way to do this, but setting out reflective warning triangles such as these heavy-duty ones can help prevent an accident. They’re sold in a set of three. Sold by Amazon

Best Energizer Jumper Cables

Energizer Jumper Cables

These heavy-duty cables are 25 feet long, making them a reliable pick for almost any type of vehicle. The vinyl-coated clamps resist corrosion and are easy to grip. The cables come in a carrying case. Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Best NOCO Boost X GBX45 Jump Starter

NOCO Boost X GBX45 Jump Starter

You can’t always rely on being able to find another driver to help you jump-start a car. That’s where this product comes in. It can jump-start gas engines up to 6.5 liters and diesel engines up to 4 liters. It has an LED flashlight to signal for help and it can even charge your devices. Sold by Amazon

Best Husky Digital Tire Pressure Gauge

Husky Digital Tire Pressure Gauge

Stay ahead of potential blowouts by monitoring your tire pressure. This digital gauge has an easy-to-read display and a lighted nozzle to help you use it in the dark. It also comes with a lifetime warranty. Sold by Home Depot

Best Leatherman Wave

Leatherman Wave

This multi-tool may be too much for some users, but it contains all the essentials for someone comfortable with working on their car. It measures just 4 inches long and includes 18 tools, including two types of pliers, a lockable knife, wire cutters and flat-head and Phillips screwdriver heads. Sold by Amazon

Best Big Red 4-Ton Bottle Jack

Big Red 4-Ton Bottle Jack

This compact bottle jack will do a better job at lifting your car for a tire change than the one that came with your car. It’s easy to use and strong enough to lift a minivan or a heavy SUV. Check your car’s manual for the best locations to jack up the car. Sold by Home Depot and Amazon

Best Performance Tool W7 4-Way Folding Lug Wrench

Performance Tool W7 4-Way Folding Lug Wrench

Replace a flat tire with a lug wrench such as this one, which folds up for easier storage in your car. It’s made from heavy-duty, heat-treated steel with rust-resistant chrome plating. Its four sockets correspond to the four most common lug nut sizes. Sold by Amazon

Best Kidde 5-BC Automotive Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher

Kidde 5-B:C Automotive Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher

Keep a small fire extinguisher in your car in case you need to put out a car fire. This one is B and C rated, which means it’s capable of extinguishing both fires caused by flammable liquid and from electrical sources. It’s also less than 12 inches tall and weighs just 2 pounds, so it’s easy to store in your car. Sold by Home Depot

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