An emergency kit for your car is one of the most useful things you hope you will never need, but are glad you brought along when you do. These days you can buy pre-packaged kits from almost any big-box retailer, and while this may seem like the best way to go, the truth is that the contents of many of these kits are not well thought out, and the vast majority of them have poor quality items included with them. An emergency kit does not have to be huge or break the bank to be useful: some inexpensive items in that old backpack your son or daughter decided was not cool enough to be seen with this school year can really save your day out on the roads, especially if you are traveling out of town.
Things You Need:
- Charged Cell Phone—you will probably already have your cell phone with you when you are out on the road, but do you have a way to power it if the battery dies? Having an extra phone charger tucked away where there is not the temptation to borrow it for another car, or an auxiliary USB battery can be the difference between calling for a tow truck and sitting on the side of the road.
- Flashlight and Batteries—a high quality, waterproof flashlight (not one of the little ones sold at gas stations) and a set of batteries. Mag-Light’s three D-cell flashlights are a fantastic choice, ones that emergency services across the country have relied on for decades, and are readily available almost everywhere. Be sure to not put the batteries in the light until you need them however, as there is nothing more frustrating than to try to turn on your flashlight in an emergency only to find out the batteries have leaked.
- Chem-Lights—a few glow sticks can be really handy, not only to provide ambient light for changing a tire, but also as a safer alternative to road flares.
- Jumper Cables—it is best to get a set that are at least ten feet long and of a heavy gauge wire. If you are not familiar with how to jump-start a car, be sure to have someone teach you in the convenience of your own driveway.
- Multi-Tool—these can be very handy for many different tasks. Both Gerber and Leatherman make some fantastic ones.
- Gloves and Rags or Paper Towels—chances are if you need to do almost anything under the hood you are going to get dirty. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also a fantastic solvent if you need to clean up.
- Duct Tape—store it in a Ziploc bag so that if the adhesive melts in the heat inside your trunk it will not get everything else sticky.
- Garbage or Contractor Bags—these are some of the most versatile things you can keep in your trunk and can serve as everything from ground cloths and seat protectors to ponchos and dry storage bags.
- Windshield Ice Scraper—make sure it is a good quality, heavy duty one. You do not want it to break, or be so small that the job takes you twice as long as it could have.
- Bottled Water and Nonperishable Snacks—rotate them out every now and then if they get close to their ‘best by’ date.
- A Basic First Aid Kit—bandages, alcohol wipes, and similar supplies.
Things You Probably Do Not Need (But Your Mileage May Vary)
- Fire Extinguisher—car fires accelerate rapidly to the point where anything you will carry in your trunk may not do any good, and in the case of engine fires opening the hood to access the fire in order to put it out often introduces airflow to the fire and will cause it to flare up even more. If you are going to carry a fire extinguisher, get a Class B/Class C unit that is rated for flammable liquids and learn how to use it before you have to.
- Foam Tire Sealant—unless the tire sealant kit includes a way to inflate the tire again using these will not solve a problem, it will only keep it from getting worse. In addition, driving on a low pressure or flat tire has a very high likelihood of seriously damaging the wheel, which is costly to replace. Either change out a flat tire for the spare, or call for a service truck.
- Tow Straps—unless you have access to a vehicle capable of towing your car at the time you get stuck this is a useless thing to carry. In most situations it is better to wait for a tow truck than risk damaging your vehicle and possibly injuring yourself by using improper equipment.
- Sand or Cat Litter—these are great to have in your garage, but unless you know you are going into a situation where there will be ice and the added weight will be beneficial you can probably leave this at home. The amount of sand that you would need to carry to get a car unstuck in a real world situation will likely take up most of the room in your trunk while adversely affecting your gas mileage on a daily basis.
Focus on Safety
An emergency kit for your car does not have to be expensive or take up a lot of room, and the peace of mind that being prepared for an eventuality brings is worth the small amount of time it takes to put one together. At Colombo Law we hope that you will never have a serious accident on the road, but like your emergency kit, we will be there if you need us.