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Emergency Car Kit Essentials

What to Keep in Your Car in Case of an Emergency

by Courtney Caldwell

If you’ve never broken down in your car, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. But keep in mind luck has a tendency to run out, usually at the most inopportune times. Winter months and dark country roads seem to be when Lady Luck takes her vacation. Cold weather, road salt and mud, ice and slush can all cause a plethora of surprises, even if you take care of you car. Be prepared.

The first thing you need to understand and accept is that this can happen to you. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that false sense of security that it won’t because you take your car to the shop for all its maintenance check-ups right on schedule. That’s hogwash. Sure, as long as you keep the car on clean roads in mild weather you can be relatively confident you won’t get stuck. But that’s not reality for most Americans. We’re a nation of active people who go places and do things with our cars.

Before we get into the list of what to always keep in your trunk or back of your SUV, here are a few scenarios of what can go wrong that might cause you to get stuck and have to wait for help. First, there are the traditional challenges such as flat tires, engine overheating, running out of gas, or an electric failure. You may be able to fix or prevent some of these things yourself; others will require you to wait for help. All will have you stranded by the roadside for at least an hour.

Next are weather-related problems such as running off the road on slippery roads, an accident, windows too dirty to see through, mud sucked up into your engine, heavy rain, blizzard, tornado; weather that would force you off the road until it passes. Any one of these situations could detain you for hours.

Most of these things are preventable, however, impossible to predict. Think back into your own driving history or that of someone close to you. Has this happened to you or them?

It’s a terrible inconvenience for men, most of whom might flag someone down for a lift or help. For women, it can be terrifying and even life threatening. ABC News recently ran an undercover story to show women vs. men broken down by the side of the road. Both stood outside their cars with the hood up to indicate there was a problem. Men always stopped for women, men almost never stopped for other men. The problem for stranded women is you never know what kind of assistance a stranger has in mind.

If you’re well prepared with everything you need in your car, you shouldn’t have to accept any help from strangers or even leave the car. However, no matter who breaks down — men or women — they all need the same things in case of a roadside emergency.

You should always carry a working cell phone, even if you only use it for emergencies. A minimum monthly cell phone plan these days is as good as a life insurance policy. Keep this in your car where it’s easily accessible, and not in your trunk. Make sure your battery is charged before you leave home. If you have an adapter for the car, leave it in your glove compartment at all times.

Next, always have a gallon of bottled water in the car. Keep an extra bottle of windshield fluid in your car as well. You also want to have one or two warm blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, and duct tape. Don’t laugh, the many creative uses of duct tape boggles the mind, as it's handy for the strangest things.

Most of this stuff can be thrown is a duffle bag or even a box so it doesn’t roll around all over your car. Keep it all together, except for the cell phone, which you should keep with you.

And most importantly, know where you are. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it’s absolutely astonishing at how many people drive places without paying attention to street names, roadside signs or exit numbers. When you break down and then call for help, this will be the first question the police or roadside assistance dispatch will ask so they can get to you quickly to assist you. If you weren’t paying attention to your location, that means you’ll end up waiting much longer while they look for you.

The less time you spend alone in your car parked on the side of the road, the safer you’ll be. If a stranger does approach your car while waiting, keep the doors locked and don’t roll down the window. Hold up your cell phone and indicate help is on the way. This will help deter the bad guys from bad ideas.

No one wants to breakdown or wait on the roadside for help, but don’t think it couldn’t happen to you. So be aware and be prepared. You’ll be happy you are if that day comes.


Insurance Information Institute