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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Building a Vehicle Emergency Kit

fa121807e 300x200 Building a Vehicle Emergency KitYour Car Emergency Kit should be designed to accommodate a wide variety of potential Emergency Situations that may occur while you are in or near your vehicle. There are several categories that you should carefully consider when you are assembling your kit. The most important thing to remember is to not forget about it – an Emergency Kit is never something you just throw in the back and never think about again. You’ll want to maintain it and adapt it regularly for the season.

The best frame of mind to try to put yourself in while planning your kit is to imagine yourself stuck in your car for a 24 – 48 hour period. What would you need, both for survival and for comfort? You should also consider scenarios that would potentially put you in this situation. What type of events could occur that would result in you being stuck in your car for an extended period?

Basic Car Emergency

Basic Car Emergencies include your battery dying, getting stuck in a ditch, running out of gas, simple breakdowns, etc. These are things that we are easily at risk for every time we drive our vehicles. As such, they are the most common things we’ll need our Emergency Kit for. This list includes several things that can be useful in a Basic Emergency.

  • Battery Jumper Cables - if your battery dies for some reason, you’ll have a much better chance of getting help quickly if you are able to actually supply the jumper cables for would be helpers. These can be purchased at any Automotive store and most Hardware stores or even Wal-Mart for about $35.00 - $50.00. You should make sure you know how to use them too - and anyone else who will be regularly driving your vehicle.
  • Tow Strap - If for some reason you end up in a ditch, your car dies and you need to get it to town or whatever else may happen that you need someone to pull your car a tow strap is a requirement. Just like with Towing Cables, if you are able to supply the Tow Strap, you’ll be able to get help much quicker.
  • Tool Set - you don’t need to bring a whole mechanic set with you but many repairs can be rigged together if you have a small assortment of tools, such as:
    • Sturdy Lock Blade Knife
    • Phillips and Flathead screwdrivers
    • Wire Cutters
    • Small electrical service kit (with strippers/crimpers and several different types of connectors, electrical tape and some spare wire)
    • Duct Tape
    • Slip Joint Pliers
    • Hammer (this might not be particularly useful other than that in an emergency situation sometimes it is helpful to beat the living tar out of something :) )
    • Hose repair kit - you can buy one of these at any Automotive Store
    • Spare fuses - you can buy a kit at your automotive store, if the wrong fuse blows it can incapacitate your vehicle. Being able to quickly switch it out can keep you from an extended emergency. Know where your fuse box is, how to tell if they’re blown and how to replace them.
    • Spare light bulbs - for your headlights especially but taillights as well.
    • Small Shovel - a folding camp shovel will do fine for this. You may need to dig your car out of dirt or snow. It can also be used to make a temporary latrine if your situation warrants.
  • Flat Tire Repair Kit - There are two sides to this, a repairable flat and an unrepairable one
    • Repairable Flat - A repairable flat is one that you can take care of on the side of the road and drive away from, without changing your tire. There is one thing you need for this - at least one can of Fix-A-Flat (I keep 2 in each car). These are simple to use and will often let you get into town to get your tire fixed
    • Unrepairable Flat - this is a flat tire that requires you to remove the tire and put on a different one. There are several things you need to make sure you have in your vehicle for this - and that you are familiar with how to use them:
      • Spare Tire (know where it is and how to get it out, this can actually be pretty tricky) Check it at least once a year to make sure it is still functional.
      • Jack (again, know where it is and how to get it out and use it)
      • Lug Wrench (this is often a part of your jack system, know where it is and how to use it)
  • Flashlight - Always keep at least one in your car, fixing any of the above issues will be much harder if you can’t see what you’re doing. Consider keeping a hand crank flashlight as a backup as well.
  • Road Flares or Reflector Triangle - If you’re broke down putting one of these out serves two purposes, it warns oncoming vehicles to avoid your stalled vehicle and it also lets people know that help may be needed.
  • Money - if you need a tow truck or to purchase emergency repair services you do not want to be caught without money to pay for it. A fairly safe, reliable and easy way to prepare for this is to purchase something like a Visa Gift Card with $100.00 - $300.00 (depending on what is realistic for you) on it and carefully stashing it in your car. Not in your glove box, but more like in the trunk, under the spare tire in a non-descript envelope or something. It doesn’t need to be easily accessible and you don’t want to risk having it stolen. If you don’t have your wallet or credit cards with you for some reason this may become a life-saver. Also keep a couple dollars in quarters in case you have to use a pay phone (remember those things?)
  • Umbrella - Useful for everyday use as well, anytime it’s raining and you want to stay dry. If you have a car emergency in a rain storm you’ll be miserable if you get out, get soaked and then have to sit in the car for several hours.
  • Wet Wipes - if you have to get out and do some dirty work on your car these will let you clean up a bit. Very useful for everyday use and extended emergencies as well, especially with kids
  • Diapers - if you have little ones that may be in the car with you, always keep several spare diapers in your car. Your basic emergency may be a sick kid that has a blow out - and a spare diaper may be the solution!
  • Toilet Paper - If you have kids, your basic emergency may be a kid that has to use the bathroom NOW and toilet paper may be a necessity on the roadside in the middle of nowhere. If you have an extended emergency or survival situation it will be even more important to have.
  • Fire Extinguisher - there are several potential situations where you would need a fire extinguisher, whether it’s your own car or the one in front of you - and none of those situations include giving you time to dig around in your trunk for an extinguisher - figure out a way to keep it within grabbing reach.
  • Gloves - keep a pair of work gloves for working on cold metal in the winter, ultra-greasy situations or anything else where you need to protect your hands
  • Tarp - a good 6×8 canvas tarp is a multi-use tool. In a basic emergency it can provide you with a clean, dry work space if you have to kneel, sit or lay on the ground to work on your car. In a survival situation, it can be used as an emergency shelter or a blanket.

Extended Emergency

Scenarios beyond the above Basic Emergencies require some different preparations. If you are stuck in your vehicle for more than a couple hours there are several things you may potentially need to have with you.

  • Water - especially in the summer, you can quickly become overheated and dehydrated if you are in a dead vehicle for several hours. To be prepared for a 48 hour emergency you should have at least 1 gallon of water for each passenger you have in the vehicle
  • Food - General nutrition shouldn’t be an issue here, but hunger might. You should have several granola bars and other types of easily edible foods stored in your emergency kit. You might also consider keeping a few canned meals and a can opener or MREs in your trunk.
  • Spare and Rechargeable Batteries - especially for your flashlights. Instead of relying on disposable batteries, invest in good rechargeables and keep a recharger in your car.
  • Tekkeon 3450 Universal Battery Pack - This battery pack can be used to power most personal electronic devices including laptop, camera, cell phone, video player, etc. It is very useful for everyday use and during an emergency can be used to extend battery life or to power multiple devices to help keep kids distracted during an emergency. The Tekkeon can be charged by the Sunlinq (below) or by plugging it into a regular outet (with the 12 volt power strip (below) you can use your car battery to charge it as well).
  • Cell Phone charger - in an extended emergency it is very likely that your cell phone battery will die. While a cell phone isn’t essential to survival, it certainly will help expedite your rescue (assuming you have phone service). Make sure you have the right Tekkeon Battery Pack (above) adaptors for you phone as well.
  • 12 Volt Power Strip - For extended emergencies and even everday use, I strongly recommend you invest in a good power outlet strip that plugs into your cigarette lighter. In my opinion a 4 outlet power strip is an essential in every car, with it you can charge and use pretty much any device - regardless of emergencies.
  • Blankets - If you end up having to spend the night in your car then most likely your car isn’t running. In this case, you won’t have any way to heat your vehicle and you and the kids could end up getting very cold.
  • Sunlinq 12 Watt Folding Solar Panel - we’ve discussed the benefits of being able to charge you phone and other batteries but there are some potentially critical issues with being able to do that. If you can’t start your car you won’t be able to use the car battery for very long before it dies. With the Sunlinq you can charge pretty much any rechargeable device as long as the sun is out. It is very compact and can be rolled tightly to fit into a backpack or corner of your trunk. (I STRONGLY recommend you have one of these in your regular BOBs as well).
  • Chemical Handwarmers - these are activated by air and are available at Wal-Mart and many other stores. If your car isn’t working you won’t have any heat generation, placing a handwarmer on your cold parts can make a situation much more tolerable. These usually last for more than 8 hours but keep more than you think you’ll need - they’re cheap and it’s likely you’ll want to put one in each shoe and hold one in each hand.
  • Heat in a Can - look for our article about this. These homemade toilet paper/alcohol stoves generate heat for warming up the car or for cooking on.
  • Hand Crank Radio - if your car battery dies or you go into a survival situation, having one of these will let you catch news and weather updates
  • FRS Radio -if you have a HAM license, keep a HAM radio as well. Having either or both of these radios will provide you with other options for calling for help in addition to your cell phone (if you have no cell service, these radios will be your ONLY means of communicating)
  • Scriptures - having your scriptures with you can provide comfort in a frightening situation and can help pass the time by getting in some good reading.
  • Emergency Phone Numbers - Most of us have these programmed in our cell phones or can call 411 or call a friend to look a number up. A lot of phones can also use the internet to look numbers up. But, it can be useful to have a hand written list stored in your car in case you have forgotten your phone or it isn’t working and you are borrowing someone elses phone or using a pay phone.


In a scenario where you have to bug out from your vehicle and hoof it to town you will need a basic survival kit (an example of this is if you are in the boonies and your car breaks down or you wreck/get stuck and nobody is around). Some of your survival kit could even be useful even if you just need to set up a camp where you broke down. Here are some things to include (this could easily become a very extensive kit)

  • Hiking/Walking shoes
  • 2 pairs of socks/person
  • Fire Starters (both something to light a fire with and something to get it going, such as a flint/steel set and cotton balls soaked in vaseline)
  • Water Filter - if you’re hoofing it, who knows what kind of water you’ll find. Make sure you have a good water filter with you.
  • Whistle - this will help you get the attention of potential rescuers
  • Map and Compass and/or GPS - not only will you need it to not get lost, you may also need it to find your way back to your car! Mark a waypoint for where your car is before you head out.
  • First Aid Kit - check out our post on first aid kits for some ideas on this

Those are the bare necessities for a car survival kit. As I said before, this can (and has in my case) become a full blown survival kit.

For Vehicle Emergency Preparedness in winter, check out some of our previous posts:

You might also check out some of our other posts on Bug Out Bags for other ideas on what to include in your Survival Kit:


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