Car Emergency Kit, by Z.M.

The holidays are just over, and that means that many of you probably spent at least a few hours out on the road. Going to visit family is always a blast, but the journey doesn’t always tend to be this way.

Life happens.

Cars break down, traffic jams block roads, and blizzards can leave you stranded. Are you prepared for a similar situation? Just being stuck by the roadside by yourself can be bad enough, but can you imagine going through this with your spouse and/or kids? If this situation happened, would you have prepared enough to make sure that your family is as comfortable and cared for as possible?

Yeah, I know that’s a whole lot of questions, but when it comes to long car rides, having some sort of “backup” gear is incredibly wise.

Here are a few things that I would highly recommend bringing with you on the next trip, tucked somewhere along with your luggage:

  1. Food – I bring food, because everybody seems to get along better when there’s plenty of it. Bad traffic and an empty stomach don’t seem to mix very well. Aside from this, let’s go back to our worst-case scenario. Imagine that you’re stuck by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in sub-freezing temperatures.

    A few granola bars and some apples can make for a much more reasonable night. Even if you’re not stuck there that long, what if you have to be towed? There’s a strong possibility that you and your family could end up waiting for the tow truck to come right around dinner time. Can you imagine four elementary school kids whining about how hungry they are for two hours?

    Bring some food.

  2. Bottled water – I carry this for pretty much the same reason as I pack food. I tend to pack dry, bland foods on my trips, mainly because they seem to do a better job of staying in somebody’s stomach while driving down a windy mountain road. The catch here is that these dry, bland foods tend to be pretty salty as well. I bring bottled water in order to not only be able to swallow the food but just in case as well.
  3. Blankets – If you’re going to be stuck in your car for any length of time without the heat running, it’s going to get very, very cold. Make sure you have plenty of
  4. Blankets for everybody, just in case you end up having to hunker down for a while.

    Even if that’s not the case, somebody in your family may enjoy driving with the AC on until they can see their breath (ahem, my wife).

  5. Winter clothes – You can’t change a flat tire very well in Minnesota wearing what you usually do in Tennessee. Make sure you at least have a heavy coat. Even if your car doesn’t break down or you don’t get a flat, car heaters have been known to go out at the worst possible time before, and there’s a good chance that they could go out on you too.
  6. 4-way tire iron – These things are lifesavers. The extra torque they provide make changing a tire infinitely easier than it is with the oversized allen wrench that came with your car. I haphazardly picked one of these things up about two years ago, and unfortunately, have already had to use it twice. Both times that I did though, it was just after getting my tires rotated. The guys in the shop have the automatic fastener that puts the nuts on incredibly tight. Had it not been for having a 4-way tire iron, I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to do the job without stripping the nuts.
  7. Charged phone and hone charger – Though they may be a curse while you’re away from work, out hiking the mountains, or on vacation, cell phones can be an amazing blessing. If you didn’t believe this, you wouldn’t have one!

    Think about it. If you’re the only one driving on that lonely road and your car does break down, how are you going to call for help?

    A charged cell phone could be the difference between a tow truck/police car showing up on the scene, or you being stuck until the next good Samaritan driver finds you and decides to stop.

  8. Flashlights with spare batteries – If you need to change a tire at night, you’ll appreciate a flashlight. Flashlights also make it easier to read a map in the dark, find the loose change deep within your purse or car console that you need for the toll bridge, and give your kids the ability to make shadow puppets on the backs of each others’ seats. Be sure you have some extra batteries, too.
  9. Jumper cables – This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Whether it’s you yourself that ends up actually needing these bad boys or you happen to stumble across some other poor soul that needs them, jumper cables can make a world of a difference between how well your trip goes.

    The sick joke with jumper cables is that every store out there has them now, but nobody around afor miles will carry them when you need them. Do yourself a favor and pick some of these up ahead of time. I like to think of it as an investment in the avoidance of a future headache.

  10. Duct tape – I once drove over an hour in the middle of a frozen winter with my driver’s side front window broken. The window somehow fell off whatever was holding it in place in the door and slid down into the door frame on my way there. I didn’t have a coat and was wearing a thin dress shirt on my way to court for a traffic ticket. By the time I got to the little town, my nose was Rudolph red, my hair was sticking straight up, and I was shivering incessantly. The first place I stopped when I got there was a hardware supply store to buy a roll of duct tape to strap the window in place. Had I put duct tape in the car before my trip, I would have arrived in much better condition.
  11. Snow shovel – If you have to dig yourself out, these will make your life much less stressful and may be the tool that keeps you from having to pay $100 and wait two hours for the tow truck to come. If you feel that a snow shovel takes up a little bit too much room than may be practical for you, then see if you can find a good entrenching tool at your local army surplus store. They tend to be pretty cheap, and they pack up small enough to wedge in between a crack in your luggage somewhere.
  12. Pillows – Personally, I’ve always found it extremely difficult to fall asleep while on the road. I consider myself pretty tall, and somehow my head always ends up at a weird angle with the window pane, leaving my neck aching after only a few minutes of attempting to sleep.

    So, the lesson I have learned is that sleeping in a car is hard enough as it is. Do yourself a favor and bring a pillow. It doesn’t even have to be one of the ones from your bed. You can easily find a small travel pillow for a few bucks at your local Walmart. I just bring my backpacking pillow. It’s small, comfy, and can easily be stowed away when not in use.

  13. Gloves – If you end up working on your car from outside, you need to maintain control of your fingers. Aside from helping to maintain finger dexterity while working outside, gloves will also help to keep your skin from freezing to any metal that you may be working on that’s outside your car.

    Even if this is not the case, what if your window breaks, like mine did? It wasn’t even an old car, and I take really good care of it! Stuff happens. Bring a pair of gloves.

  14. Hand warmers – Though not necessarily essential, if the heat goes out for some reason, people tend to be a lot happier when these are present. You can easily pick these up for just a few dollars at your local Walmart, and the heat lasts for a couple of hours. They’re extremely lightweight, don’t take up much room, and can help contribute to a broken down car full of happy campers. I highly recommend carrying hand warmers.

In Conclusion,

I’ve personally had car issues in the cold (and attempted to sleep out there) while out on my own two or three times. Though the first time was a doozy, I quickly learned what I needed to have with me to ensure that I didn’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again. This list was composed out of trial and error from my real life experiences.

The shame about being caught without these items too is that they can so easily be gathered ahead of time and will easily fit in your car or trunk with all of your luggage and family. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in the case of car troubles in the cold, that adage proves its worth.