What would you do if you ran off the road into an icy pond? Into a stand of trees? Or what if your teenager gets a flat on a remote stretch of highway, or where cell service is spotty? You never know when disaster will strike—but you can be prepared. Pack these five tools into your car, and you’ll be ready for whatever comes.
Even a basic kit can go a long way toward keeping you and your loved ones alive and safe until medical attention can be arranged, but opt for the best one you can afford, with all of the equipment you have room for. While you’re at it, it can’t hurt to get some training on how to use the things in that first aid kit, so consider taking a course at a local hospital.
You can get by for many days, even weeks, without food in most situations—but you’ll need water much sooner. Whether it’s a big jug or a pack of bottles, try to keep at least a gallon of water in your car at all times—especially if you regularly travel to remote places, during severe weather, or if you’re planning a road trip. Water is good not only for drinking, but for cleaning wounds, maintaining sanitation, and can even serve to keep an overheating car running long enough to get to safety.
A dead battery can mean a dead car—but it doesn’t have to. If you keep jumper cables in your car, anyone with a working car can help get you going again. Don’t rely on the stranger to provide the cables for you—most of us have been asked at some point if we had jumper cables, usually only to shake our heads and offer a sad, “No.”
Another option is the jump pack. Ranging in size from that of a typical car battery all the way down to nearly pocketable, these packs use powerful batteries to provide emergency jump-starting power, with the cables built right in. Many of the newer models also provide USB or 12-volt power, allowing you to recharge your phone or run other devices—which can be lifesavers in their own right.
Standing beside a broken-down car at dusk, dawn, or night can be extremely dangerous. Even in plain sight, you may be near-invisible to motorists at speed. Getting hit by a car while trying to fix a simple flat turns a small inconvenience into a life-threatening situation. So make sure you’re visible before you begin work—set out a reflective road triangle, or preferably a series of them, starting about 100 yards back up the road from where your car is, or where you’ll be working. Putting the triangles out at a distance gives motorists plenty of time to slow down safely before passing.
For just a few dollars, this tool can provide invaluable help. If you and your car end up in a lake or a river—for whatever reason—you’ll only have a short time to escape. Once under water, it can become impossible to open the door due to the pressure of the water outside. Breaking out a window is your only escape—but modern automotive safety glass is surprisingly tough. You won’t be punching your way out. This tool makes it easy for anyone to break out to safety. As a bonus, it comes with a seat belt cutter integrated into the handle—offering up the ability to free you and your family from the car without risking more harm to the person being freed while trying to cut through a tough seat belt.
There are many other items it would be smart to have in your car—duct tape, emergency rations, a basic tool kit, a mylar “space” blanket, a flashlight with strobe effect—the list goes on. But with these five basic items in your car at all times, you’ll have at least the bare necessities should you find yourself stranded or in a deadly situation.
automotive freelance journalist