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If you love a road trip- especially a cross-country one, where you may find yourself in remote areas for miles on end with no cell service and nothing but fields and cows in the distance, it is a good idea to be prepared.
I’ve driven thousands of miles around the country and have taken several long-distance road trips. Luckily, I have never needed to dive into my car emergency kit-which is a great thing!
There are some things you can do to stay safe on the road and avoid an emergency situation.
A reliable vehicle with a good track record is essential if you drive long distances. I’ve heard so many times that you should not drive long distances in cars with over 100,000 miles, which, in my opinion, is simply not true. My 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe has over 150,000 miles on it, and I took my first cross-country road trip when it had 96,000 miles. I’ve never had any issues while on a road trip but I am always up to date on my car’s service.
The number one thing I do to avoid any roadside emergencies is to perform regular maintenance checks on my vehicle. Things like checking your tire pressure, checking oil levels, and ensuring your engine filter is clear of debris is a great start. These are simple things you can do yourself.
Aside from the few car checks I do myself, I always take my car to a local auto shop to perform routine maintenance before any long road trip to help prevent an emergency down the road.
I almost always take the service recommendations and have had bills up to $1,900, but the repairs last. In the long run, I found servicing my car is less expensive than buying a new car. My car is 13 years old, and I’ve probably spent about $8,000 on car repairs and new tires since I first bought it. Consumer reports say most cars are expected to last up to 200,000 miles but can last longer if properly maintained.
Still, anything can happen, even with proper maintenance. So before you head out on your next road trip, make sure you have a working car emergency kit that you hopefully will never have to use!
Top Essential Items for Car Emergency Kits
The best car emergency kit depends on a few different factors. It is important to consider the distance of your journey, where you will be driving, and the weather when planning the items to include in your emergency kit.
Essential Items for a Basic Car Emergency Kit
For everyday driving around town, the essential tools that should be in your emergency car kit are:
- A first aid kit for minor injuries with adhesive bandages, latex gloves, gauze pads, and antiseptic wipes
- Flat Tire Repair kit or a tire changing kit including a spare tire, tire inflator (if needed), car jack, wheel wedges, and a torque wrench (tire iron) to change the damaged tire yourself.
- Jumper cables or a self-jump chargeable battery
- Flashlight or Headlamp
- Emergency water
- Non-perishable food such as granola bars, peanut bars, or energy bars.
A dead battery and a flat tire are the most common car emergency, so having a reliable pair of jumper cables and a flat tire kit are the most important for around-the-town drives.
In recent years, many car manufacturers are foregoing a spare tire and repair kit to lessen the weight of a vehicle and meet mileage standards. Check whether your car has a full-size spare, a smaller spare, (a donut), or a flat spare tire that requires an inflation tool, or if your vehicle lacks a spare and change kit altogether.
If your car does not come with a spare, include a can or two of fix-a-flat, a repair kit, and a tire inflation tool for temporary fixes until you can get to a service center where the punctured tire can be changed.
Essentials for a Winter Emergency Car Kit
When driving in extreme conditions, with the possibility of getting stranded for hours in freak inclement weather, always include a few extra cold weather items in your kit in case of an emergency.
- Warm Blankets or a cold-weather sleeping bag
- Mylar emergency blankets
- Hand warmers
- Foldable shovel
- Tire traction mat or tire grips
The Most Comprehensive Car Emergency Kit Should Include:
If you are driving for long distances in a remote area, having a more comprehensive emergency supply kit that includes first aid supplies, a tire repair kit, plenty of water, and nonperishable food, along with the items below, is best for disaster preparedness.
- A first aid kit with adhesive bandages, latex gloves, gauze pads, emergency scissors, antiseptic wipes
- Tire repair and tool kit for temporary fixes
- Flat tire change kit
- Spare Tire
- Tire Pressure Gauge
- Car jack
- Wheel wedges
- Torque wrench
- Portable Tire inflator
- Reflective triangles or road flares
- Jumper cables or a portable self-jump starter box
- Tow rope or tow strap
- Fire Extinguisher
- Roll of duck tape
- Flashlight or Headlamp with extra batteries
- Multi-Function Tool
- Heavy-Duty Gloves
- A variety of cable ties– helpful to bundle wires and cables
- Seat belt cutter-store it in the glove compartment or center console so you can easily reach it from the front seat.
- Emergency Survival Blanket (Mylar emergency blanket is a great choice)
- Non-perishable food, granola bars, or energy bars are good options.
- Bottled Water (make sure to replace every five years at least)
While AAA does not recommend storing gas permanently in a car, on long road trips in remote areas where gas stations are not plentiful, consider bringing extra gasoline. Make sure to store gas in an airtight-approved gasoline container to prevent combustion. Secure it in a good area so it does not slide or spill and only store the needed amount. Gas will go bad after 30 days.
Additional Safety Tips
Make sure to routinely test your emergency car kit to ensure all the elements are in good working condition and replace any old or damaged items. Some things like bandages, latex gloves, or antiseptic wipes may become dry, or brittle with age. Replace them as often as you need.
Drive on a full tank as much as you can. Besides it being a safety measure, having a full gas tank is a smart way to help your car last longer. A low-level fuel tank draws in air and debris to run your car, which can lead to clogged systems and dirty filters that can prevent your car from starting.
Aside from an emergency car kit, having a cell phone to call a roadside assistance service is a great idea. Membership to AAA is about $65 a year, which can help give you peace of mind. However, do not solely rely on AAA or another roadside assistance service as their service can sometimes lack in remote areas or during certain times of the day.
I had a flat tire after leaving a lounge at 2 am with a few friends. I called AAA more than six times before I finally connected to their after-hours line. While we waited for AAA to arrive, we called friends, and luckily someone had the proper tools we needed to change the tire. I was in a borrowed car and could not get the jack to work, and the spare was a flat that needed to be inflated, the car did not have an air pump. Thankfully our friends came through because AAA never showed up and never followed up.
The best roadside emergency kit depends entirely on your unique adventure and circumstance. Carrying the essential car safety tools is ideal for day-to-day travel, but you need to be more thorough if it’s a more extended road trip or one in cold weather. Making sure your car emergency kit is up to date with usable items is the best way to ensure your safety on your next long road trip.