3. A Generic Car-Emergency Kit: Most of these car emergency kits come with a basic tool set (that usually borders on worthless), but most have jumper cables, reflective triangles, a good bag to use to carry your own custom kit, and a cigarette lighter powered tire pump (which can prove useful if you’re not going to spring for the Powerpack or a unit of similar capability.) I bought my car-emergency kit for the bag and then built my own kit into that bag. The useless tools from the original kit make great presents for your brother-in-law.
What To Put Into The Customized Car Emergency Bag:
- A Custom Tool Set: You need to replace the cheaply made “Made in China” tools with as reliable, last-a-lifetime tools as you can. Certainly inexpensive tools are better than none, but you have to understand that if you have to use tools to work on your car, it’ll probably be beside the road or in a dark parking lot. Oh, and it’ll be raining. Do you really want the added issue of pliers that are so cheap that they won’t grip properly or screwdrivers that snap under the torque of regular use? Buy Craftsman, DeWaltt, or some other respected name brand, and save yourself in the long run. Yard sales can be a great place to pick up name brand tools on the cheap.
- Duct Tape/Electrical Tape: Buy several rolls of both duct tape and electrical tape. This stuff can fix almost anything from temporarily sealing a leaking hose to securing a hood that won’t latch closed after an accident. I once actually secured a bumper to a car with duct tape after it had partially come off following an accident.
- Fix-A-Flat or Slime: Both Fix-a-flat and Slime come in aerosol cans and, in my opinion, is so great as to be defined as “necessary.” Slime is better in that flattened tires filled with it can be patched and reused whereas Fix-A-Flat can’t be cleaned out of tires and you’ll end up buying a completely new tire if you use it. If you have a flat in a bad area or just need to make it down the road to the service station, use either one. In TEOTWAWKI, Slime is the better option because the tire can be repaired. Keep at least two cans onboard, because if you have one flat, well, you get the idea. (Editor’s note: It is important to clean the gunk out of the tire as quickly as possible. Because most modern wheel assemblies are tubeless, the liquid can often encourage the corrosion and degradation of the wheel. If you use it in an emergency, get it cleaned out as soon as possible.)
- MagLite or Streamlight Flashlight (with appropriate battery size): There are lots of flashlights out there. Most of them are cheaper than either of these brands. Again, however, you have to think that if you ever need a good light, nothing else will do, and both Maglite and Streamlight are companies who have a proven track record for making a quality product that stands up to hard use. That’s why they put their name on their products, why people pay more for them, and why you can legitimately expect high quality from them. Paying less is fine, but if the cheaper gear doesn’t work when you need it, you might as well not have spent anything on it at all, right?
The big D-Cell MagLites can also be used as a very effective club when needed. This is a fact I can attest to from my days as a law-enforcement officer. These have an added benefit for those of you who live in “liberal” states that try to restrict your ability to defend yourself in that they may be carried in your vehicle and not perceived of as a “weapon” by the easily-panicked, limp-wristed liberals who are all around you.
- Knife/Multi-tool: Again, purchase quality. I carry a Leatherman multitool and a Kershaw, Boker, or SOG knife on my person, every single day.
There are lots of good, high quality knives out there. Just a pocketknife will do most of the time. Just make certain it is sharp and holds a good edge. If you live in a restrictive, liberal “nanny” state, only refer to your knife as a “safety device”. Calling it a “seatbelt cutter” seems to work well in everyday conversation, but poking a murderous assailant with a “safety device” or restraining their actions with the active use of a seatbelt cutter’s edge tends to be as effective in real life as if you had used, well, a knife.
- Kidde Fire Extinguisher (FX 511 or equivalent): If your car (or someone else’s) starts to belch smoke from under the hood, the flames aren’t far behind. Trust me on that one. Do not risk your life trying to be a firefighter, if you’re not one. Get everyone out of the car and far enough back to be safe from any possible explosion.
- Water (bottled): Buy the inexpensive stuff here. Dollar store bottled water works as well as any other kind. In fact, use an old sports bottle with tap water for your car water. If sealed, it remains potable for weeks. It can be used by you, your family, or someone you are helping. It can be drunk, be used to clean minor wounds, or serve as emergency engine coolant.
- Blankets (wool and emergency): A wool blanket is useful to use as padding, to cover an injured person (as a first step in treating shock), or even to drag injured people out of harm’s way in extreme emergencies. (Military surplus blankets are a great and inexpensive option.) Emergency blankets (usually made of some type of mylar) are small and compact, but are usually a “use once” option. Still, they are inexpensive.
- Laminated Emergency Contact/Personal Medication List: This is necessary because, in the event of an accident in which you are rendered unconscious or incapacitated, responding emergency service workers will be able to more quickly contact your family/friends regarding what has happened.
If you regularly take medications, you should list that on the card, so LEOs/EMTs have an idea about their treatment options for you. Likewise, any known intolerance for medications should be on the card. You should include any other medical information that might be pertinent to someone trying to treat an unconscious you with no idea of your personal medical history. Having this is the equivalent of the military method of having a strip of duck tape on your gear with your blood type sharpie-marked onto it so the medic/corpsman doesn’t have to waste precious time trying to find that information if you get hit and go down.
This list should be laminated so it doesn’t get smudged, marked with large red crosses or blue EMS crosses to get the visual attention of a first responder, and kept easily visible in your purse or wallet next to your license, or in the glove compartment or console. This is because, in the event of an accident in which you are rendered unconscious or otherwise incapacitated, responding LEOs (law enforcement officers) are very likely to look in those places for your license, your insurance, and your registration anyway.
It would ideally also include the telephone number and address for your mechanic and preferred wrecker service. That way the card does double duty for you and is useful whether you’re unconscious or not in the aftermath of the wreck. In most jurisdictions, if you do not specify a wrecking service in the event of an accident, the wrecker that shows up will be the next one on that jurisdiction’s rotation list. You’re usually better off taking an active role in such decisions if you have any information on which to base your choice.
- $100 in $20 Bills: This can also be hidden under the seat, kept in the console, et cetera. Just make sure it is out of sight, unless you want to return to your car with a window smashed out and your $100 gone. Why do you need this? There are two main reasons. Number one is that most wrecking services prefer cash if you have to get a tow. Number two is that, in the event of an electrical outage, stores and gas stations have no way to process your credit or debit cards. They may want to sell you what you want and need, but plastic won’t cut it when all the lights go out. If you can afford $200, make it $200.
- Wrecking tool/small crowbar (optional): This is optional, but such implements can be very useful. It’s the kind of thing that you would rarely need, but if you did almost nothing else will do. Think “low-tech Jaws of Life”. These devices also make effective weapons, again without the stigma of keeping weapons in your car.
- First Aid Kit: Unless you’re willing to spend several hundred dollars to get a good quality pre-assembled kit, you’re going to have to assemble your own. That’s actually better, because it allows you the opportunity to customize your kit to your needs and your skill/training level. You (and everyone over the age of seven) needs to have at least a basic and working knowledge of first aid. If you help someone in need of medical aid who is not immediate family or close friend, you should exercise all due care to avoid blood-borne pathogen contamination.
Lots of people don’t feel comfortable putting on nitrile gloves before treating bleeding victims. These days, assume anyone you treat that you don’t know intimately has some contractible disease, and take all necessary precautions. When training for treating an injured person, do what EMS professionals do. When I was an EMT, I began every approach in training with the statement “BSI (body substance isolation), scene safe.” That way when you do it for real, you will be thinking about putting your gloves on and the safety of a scene before rushing in to play hero and render aid.
I carry a pair of nitrile gloves in my wallet with me everywhere. Go with nitrile, as some people have a severe allergic reaction to latex. Also, if you treat someone who is not a close family member or friend, treat them as best you can using the “Check, Call, Care” matrix. Under “normal” conditions, once you’ve checked the scene and the victim and determined to render treatment, do it to the best level to which you’ve been trained after making sure the cavalry is on the way. Unless you’re an EMT or more in the medical field (and even if you are), you want the professionals with the equipment and the hospital nearby to get there and take over treatment. Don’t play doctor unless you are one. If you are one, you already know the victim (and you) are better off with that injured person in an ambulance and on the way to an equipped and staffed ER.
- Reflective Vest: You need one of these because changing tires/dealing with breakdowns are the sorts of events that tend to happen in the dark and under less than optimal visual conditions. We’ve all driven down the road in the dark and seen someone walking beside the road in dark clothing.
You, therefore, should understand how hard it can be for drivers to see people standing near a broken down car in the dark. Add to that the fact that cars tend to “drift” where their drivers are looking, which will be at your broken down car by the side of the road. You can see why a $3 reflective vest in your car emergency bag is a sound investment. Becoming a road ornament for that sedan that’s driving through an active accident scene at 50 MPH is only going to add to your list of problems.
- Automotive Oil (whatever weight your manual recommends): Two bottles should be sufficient. The reason for having two is that, regarding survival situations and the gear for dealing with them, “two are one and one is none.” People whose cars leak oil usually drive around with a whole case of oil in the trunk. People whose cars don’t regularly leak oil seem to assume that an oil leak will never happen to them and their car.
- Cigarette Outlet Car Cell Phone Charger: Make sure it fits your current cell phone. Enough said.
- Small Funnel: This is for oil, coolant, et cetera. That is, unless you like the smell of burning oil after it drips onto your hot engine block and the ensuing potential risk of fire.
- CB radio/emergency scanner: While optional items, these can be very useful. CB radios are fairly inexpensive; basic scanners are too. However, the ones you’ll need to pick up “trunked” frequencies that many agencies use are (naturally) more expensive. CBs offer you an alternate form of communication/information. Having options is always tactically sound. The more you have, the better off you are. Truckers often have a good idea about why you’re at a standstill on the freeway and what mile marker that accident is at. This is good to know, so you can make informed decisions about whether to seek an alternate route or just wait it out in the gridlock.
The same is true of scanners. They provide you with more information that can help steer you away from areas the looters are rampaging through or sections of streets in your city that are flooded et cetera. To effectively use your scanner, you’ll need to develop at least a basic working knowledge of “10 Codes” used by your local departments. For some reason, there is not a national standard for these codes, although they are often fairly similar from department to department and even region to region. Just listening to the chatter will help you pick up most of it, at least for most “normal” everyday situations.