Whether you’re doing your weekly outing to the grocery store, traveling to work, or having a long weekend trip, it always pays to stay prepared in case something goes wrong along the way. After all, your vehicle serves as your base camp when you’re out on the road. That’s why, like in your house, you must carry several things in your car that can be a huge help when the need arises. From emergency kits, repair tools, and personal care items to other necessary stuff, here are the must-haves to keep in your car at all times for a stress-free and memorable trip.
1. Essential Car Documents
Essential paperwork is one of the first things you should keep in your car. You may need them during an emergency, an accident, a breakdown, or an encounter with the police. Failing to produce them can get you in trouble or get you penalized in terms of fees, vehicle seizure, or worse, imprisonment.
You should always have your vehicle registration, proof of car insurance, driver’s license, emergency contact information, key phone numbers, and travel and medical insurance (if applicable). That covers not only legally required paperwork, but other documents that can be useful in case you lost your phone, need to contact your insurance provider, or get a recovery service.
2. Owner’s Manual
Chances are you’ve never looked at your car’s owner manual, but it’s useful to keep in your glove box. This book contains all the necessary information you need to know about your car whenever you need it, from achieving the ideal tire pressure, cleaning and protecting your car’s surface, checking your fluids, deciphering warning lights, to troubleshooting advice. Though you can always find the information online, your owner’s manual is your protection against poor signal on your smartphone or any confusion on the web.
3. Jumper Cables
A dead battery can surprise you anytime, so a set of jumper cables is always handy. Simply connect your jumper cables to both the positive and negative terminal of a good samaritan’s car, and you’ll be able to revive your battery and be back on the road in a breeze. You can also return the favor by assisting other motorists who might need help in safely returning power to their vehicle.
4. First-aid Kit
In times of emergencies, time is of paramount importance. Waiting for medical assistance may put the lives of anyone in peril, but you can help salvage the situation until they arrive. You can do so by having a first aid kit equipped with the essentials, such as bandages, medical tape, scissors, vinyl gloves, anti-bacterial spray, and antibiotic ointment.
You can purchase readily assembled car-friendly first-aid kits for your convenience. Keep it in your compartment or trunk for easy access should an emergency happen in or near your car.
5. Atlas or Printed Maps
Satellite navigation is dependable nowadays. Yet, no piece of technology is perfect. Tree foliage, high-rise buildings, tall mountains, and thick cloud cover can affect your signal. Not to mention that your battery also isn’t meant to last forever.
While they may be old-fashioned, a road atlas or a printed map can be your best ally should technology fail you. Throw one in your car to help you out in locations where satellites don’t go or when there aren’t any people around to ask. Plus, they can be a game or conversation starter for your passengers to kill boredom during extremely long road trips.
6. Spare Tire
A flat or punctured tire is a huge inconvenience, especially if you’re in a place that is miles away from the next service station or where there isn’t 24-hour towing available. Luckily, you won’t need to stay on the side of the road stranded for long.
Always carry a spare tire, so you can have a direct replacement, enabling you to get back on the road again until you locate a mechanic or tire repair service.
Contrary to what most people believe, new cars don’t come in a spare tire. Contact your car manufacturer or visit the nearest automotive service center to get the correct spare tire for your car.
You need a jack to lift your car when doing emergency repairs or changing wheels after getting a flat or punctured tire while on the road. Keep one in your trunk, but make sure to get one that matches your vehicle. Car jacks are rated to carry a certain weight range. For small cars, a two-ton jack will suffice for lifting a corner, while an SUV may require double that rating. Also, learn how to use a jack before you even set on the road. Practice using the jack and replacing your tire at home for your utmost safety.
8. A Basic Toolkit
Having a basic toolkit in your vehicle is also a must. It must contain anything meant to help you work on things that may come up while you’re away from your garage or home. Some of the essential tools you need include a screwdriver, hammer, lug wrench, a pair of work gloves, and pliers. You’ll find all these items helpful in a pinch.
If your car breaks down while traveling at night, you lose your keys under the seat, or you simply want to check other things around in the dark, a flashlight will save your day. Opt for a long-lasting, LED flashlight with great illumination. As batteries still lose their power over time, throwing in extra batteries is a wise idea as well. If it has a magnet or stand, it’s better as you simply place the light and work hands-free should you need to do so.
10. Reflective Emergency Triangles
During car trouble, you must do your best to stay as far off the road as possible while doing repairs or waiting for assistance. To ensure your safety, you must also ensure that your vehicle is clearly visible to other motorists to avoid making things worse with another mishap. Always carry reflective emergency triangles and place them at least 10 feet directly behind your car to warn of oncoming traffic of your stranded vehicle. Opening your hood and turning your flashers are also great to help in improving your visibility.
11. Fire Extinguisher
Hope that your car never ever catches fire, but in case that happens, having a fire extinguisher in your car can help you prevent extensive damage. Unlike water, fire extinguishers work on electrical fires and flammable fluids, such as oil and gasoline.
Don’t fret, as you don’t need to carry huge ones like you in schools or office stairwells. Smaller, portable fire extinguishers are available, which you can easily fit in your car. Some even look like a mere can of odor-disinfectant spray rather than a fire-stopping tool. You can velcro it inside the front door or the car’s console for quick accessibility.
12. Smartphone Charger
People today are dependent on smartphones, be it for shopping for clothes, communicating with friends, for entertainment, and of course, for getting directions and navigating to different destinations. If your smartphone, you lose perhaps one of the most valuable devices you have in life. So, never miss bringing a charger in your vehicle. Keep it plugged in as you drive, ensuring that it’s always fully charged even if you run GPS and Spotify the entire trip.
13. Multi-tool Device
Some repairs are so simple that you may not need to bring out your bulky basic toolkit from your trunk. Often, a multi-tool device will often suffice. Extremely versatile and multi-functional, it’s a tool for all trades that will help you tackle hundreds of tasks. What’s great is that it is compact and doesn’t take up much space, so there’s no reason why this essential purchase shouldn’t be tucked away inside your car somewhere.
14. Emergency Food
If there’s anything worse than waiting for assistance to arrive, it’s getting hungry. Keep non-perishable, calorie-dense snacks like energy bars, trail mix, meat jerky, or dried fruits in your car. In the unlikely event that you get lost in the wilderness and get stranded for a longer amount of time, these emergency food items can be your and your loved ones’ lifesaver.
15. Water Bottles
After bringing food, you need to carry water as well to avoid getting dehydrated should your car break down in a remote area. Be sure that the water bottles are sealed and sturdy enough to hold out against extreme heat and freezing conditions. You can even use it should you need to refill water in your vehicle’s radiator.
16. Escape Tool
Heaven forbid that you run off of the road and your car gets submerged in a body of water or see a child or pet locked inside a hot vehicle. Time is crucial in those moments, but it may take some time for emergency services to arrive. As such, you’d be thankful for having an escape tool with you during those situations. You can use it to cut the seat belt webbing and break the side window of the car. Have one in your center console, glove compartment, or your keychain. It’s a handy tool that could one day save your or another’s life.
17. Tire Pressure Gauge
Not all tires are the same. You must always check your car owner’s manual to determine the recommended inflation levels and keep it there. A tire pressure gauge will help you maintain proper tire pressure, which will not only keep you safe on your trip but will also maximize fuel economy. Properly inflated tires are also less prone to wear and tear and blowouts, allowing you to keep your tires longer. While there are air machine indicators at your local gas station, it’s always better to have a high-quality tire pressure gauge for better accuracy.
18. Weather Radio
Your smartphone’s signal is down and you hear nothing on the radio while driving in a remote location where high-tech items usually mean nothing. All you see are dark clouds devouring the horizon and approaching your way. Yikes.
As severe weather conditions are becoming more common today, having a weather radio is essential. It broadcasts weather alerts from the National Weather Service 24 hours a day, keeping you updated on any unexpected disaster scenario. These simple yet effective devices can also double up as a flashlight and backup batteries, making them extremely handy in dire situations.
19. Notebook and Pen
A notebook and pen are essential things that must be kept in a car owner’s glove box at all times, but most people usually don’t. These items are usually taken for granted, especially in today’s busy world. However, you’ll need them when you’re lost to write the directions given by the locals or the name of that Mexican restaurant you’ve found along the way.
They’re also handy when jotting down details of an accident you’ve got involved in or taking the license number of the driver who cut you off on the highway. Your wife or kids will also appreciate you having a notebook and pen should they wish to add more items to your shopping list while you’re on the way to the grocery store.
20. Reusable Grocery Bags
After going to the grocery, keep some of those reusable totes in your car. While they are incredibly useful in porting your grocery items, they have a lot of other uses. You can use them as an instant trash bag when cleaning out your vehicle on the go. They can also act as cover should it suddenly rain and you don’t want your muddy shoes messing up your freshly-installed car carpets. Plus, you always have a backup should you forget to bring one during impromptu shopping trips.
21. Quick Self-Care Items
There are instances when you’ve also left the house and are already driving to get to an important business meeting or a family occasion, but realize that you still need a few tweaks to make yourself as presentable as possible. With that, it’s a good idea to keep quick self-care items, including hand sanitizer, comb, breath mints, lip balm, nail trimmers, tweezers, oil blotting papers, and floss picks. Just park somewhere safe and you can fix yourself before seeing your colleagues or loved ones.
Sunglasses aren’t merely a fashion accessory to make you look cool behind the wheel. They’re also essential in protecting your eyes from the glare from the low-setting sun, reflections from the road, and other bright items that may affect your vision. Without the glare, eye strain is reduced, making driving more comfortable. Plus, having better visibility means less risk for freak accidents, keeping you and others safer on the road.
The weather has become more unpredictable than ever, making it smart to keep an umbrella. Even if you’re living or traveling in the desert, sudden unexpected rainstorms may catch you off guard. Apart from using it to keep you dry, an umbrella will also protect you from sunshine and light snow, so you will stay fresh from your car to your house or office door.
24. Paper Towels and Baby Wipes
Let’s accept it: kids are naturally messy. Bringing them on your road trips can be quite a disaster, given those spills and sticky hands all over your car. That’s why you need quick cleanup tools like paper towels and baby wipes to keep your car clean even with young kids. You can easily wipe any apple jelly off the car seats, clean their fingers, and collect any food debris on the floor. Plus, you can also use them to wipe off the dust building up on your dashboard or the bugs off your windshield.
You’ll be surprised how blankets can do a lot more than what they serve in your bedroom. You can use it to stay warm on colder nights or transform it into a sun shade when it’s hot outside. It’ll also be a great ground cover during a quick picnic, an outdoor event, or a stargazing party in the national park. Back inside, you can use it as a back seat cover to prevent your pets or kids’ muddy feet from soiling your seats. There’s no need to purchase a new one. Often, the one you’ve got buried for years in your closet is already enough.
26. Extra Set of Clothes
We’ve all messed up our outfits with spilled coffee or fallen food. You know how dirty clothes can easily take a toll on your confidence. To keep your head up for the day ahead, it’s valuable to have an extra set of clothes or two in your car. That way, you can easily change up without having to go back to your house and endure the long commute just to look fresh again.
27. Duct Tape and Plastic Ties
Duct tapes are perhaps among the best inventions ever made. They’re great for everything, from roadside first aid to temporary on-the-road repairs, such as patching up the exhaust, sealing a coolant leak, or keeping loose items together until you get them repaired. Add in a bag of plastic ties, another ingenious invention, and you’re ready to finish any minor DIY auto repairs and tasks in no time.
28. Windshield Wiper Fluid
Your car’s windshield is a receptacle of bird dropping, dead bugs, road grime, snow, and other dirt or debris that makes it less clear. While you may try to use water, nothing can beat the power of a windshield wiper fluid. It contains special ingredients specifically meant to tackle stubborn messes, as well as contain antifreeze components, to give you a streak-free windshield at all times. Apart from that, it also lubricates the mechanical device that allows the wipers to work and prevents it from rusting, leaking, and stopping from working altogether.
29. Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
If you’re a northerner or traveling in winter, you know how it can be hard to drive with your windows covered with snow. Besides being illegal, it’s highly dangerous, too. Driving with excess snow on your vehicle can affect your visibility, plus it can also blow off onto the windshield of the cars behind you. Thus, putting everyone in great peril.
Don’t wait for your heater to melt it. You can use an ice scraper and snow brush to quickly clear snow off right away. That way, you don’t look silly carrying a foot of snow on your car and putting a hazard to other road users.
30. Waterproof Matches
Should you get in a survival situation, being able to start a fire can sometimes spell the difference between life and death. Having fire means being able to cook food or boil water to make it safe to drink. It can also be a source of light or a source of warmth. Thus, providing many reasons why it is always essential to have waterproof matches handy. They are more reliable and safer to keep than a lighter. You can simply place one in a plastic bag and throw it in your glove box. Accidents are inevitable, while something more serious can always arise on your day hikes or camping trips.
31. Comfortable Walking Shoes
Always keep a pair of comfortable walking shoes in your trunk. If your car breaks down, it isn’t ideal to walk with leather shoes or stilettos on a hot, sunny day while trying to look for help.
Credit cards or online payment methods don’t work everywhere, usually in locations where you most need them. Throw in a few small bills, like two tens and some fives, plus a roll of quarters so you’ll always have a backup. It will save you should you lose your wallet or find out that you run out of cash.
That’s the rundown of the must-haves to keep in your car at all times. You won’t probably be needing to complete them, plus your vehicle won’t likely be able to store them all anyway. What you need to do is to assess your needs and lifestyle, revisit your car, and stock what you think is necessary for your trips. The point is getting all the essential items to get you prepared and safe for most potential situations during your travels. Happy commuting!