Emergency Car Kit Checklist: 27 Items You Need to Keep in Your Car

Did you know that 60% of people can’t change a flat tire? Sixty percent. Looking at you, fellow millennials. And if we can’t change tires, we’re probably not prepared for other car-related emergencies.

There are generally two types of car-related emergencies—mechanical/recovery and emergency/survival. We’ve compiled a checklist to help you put together an emergency car kit for just about any situation.

Keep reading to learn more. Also, click the button below to print out a checklist for your personal use.

Mechanical and recovery car kit items

Most car trouble falls under mechanical or accident-recovery problems. Many of these emergencies can be fixed or even avoided with proper preparation.

Preventive measures

Change your oil every 3,000–5,000 miles. While you’re at it, top off any fluids and change your air filter—and rotate your tires at least twice a year. These regular maintenance practices cut down the likelihood of a roadside emergency.

But emergencies happen, even when you’ve done your due diligence and maintained your car. A flat tire, a broken windshield, engine trouble, or running out of gas could all leave you stranded without warning.

With a little bit of know-how, you can fix most mechanical or recovery emergencies yourself—if you have the right tools—and get back on the road.

We’ve highlighted a few specific items with some tips on what to look for to tackle different mechanical or recovery roadside emergencies.

Car jack and spare tire

Our recommendation
Torin Big Red Steel Scissor Jack

    A flat tire is one of the most common roadside emergencies. To change your tire, you’ll need the right tools. Check your car and make sure you know how to access the spare tire and the jack—and that there is one. (Most spare tires and jacks can be found inside the trunk or underneath the rear of the car.)

    If you have a used car that’s missing the jack, or if you’ve misplaced it, buy a replacement jack that can support the weight of your vehicle. We like this Torin T10152 Big Red Steel Scissor Jack that can hold up to 1.5 tons.

    We also recommend having a tire inflator or air compressor and some tire sealant as an alternative way to fix a flat.

    Jumper cables

    Our recommendation
    EPAuto 4 Gauge x 20 Ft 500A Heavy Duty Booster Jumper Cables

      What if you leave your lights on in the parking lot and come out to find your car battery drained? Good news: if you have jumper cables (also known as booster cables) in your car, you can awkwardly ask a stranger to help you resurrect your dead battery.

      Your jumper cables should be long enough—at least 20 feet—to connect to any car, truck, or SUV. Also, double-check and make sure you have the right gauge of cable for your vehicle. If your car takes four-gauge cables, you can try the ones we recommend from EPAuto.

      Emergency car battery charger

      Our recommendation
      Clore Automotive Jump-N-Carry JNC300XL 900 Peak Amp Jump Starter

        You might find yourself stranded somewhere without a friendly stranger to help jump your car. But you can still get your battery going as long as you have an emergency charger.

        An emergency car battery charger costs more than most of our other recommendations, but it’s worth spending extra on. Let’s say you’re out camping or hiking miles away from help or cellular service, and you accidentally leave your dome light on. Something like the Jump-N-Carry jump starter could be the difference between getting back on the road or spending the night in your car.

        An emergency car battery charger is worth spending extra on.

        Replacement fuses

        Our recommendation
        MulWark 120pc Assorted Standard Auto Car Truck Blade Fuses Set

          Fuses are the culprit in many mysterious car problems. When you think you might’ve blown a fuse, it’s an easy DIY fix. Just prop open the hood and use a pair of pliers to remove and examine each engine fuse. If one of your fuses looks burned, you can easily replace it.

          We recommend keeping replacement fuses on hand. Just make sure the fuses you’re buying work with your engine.

          Other common mechanical car emergency kit items

          Some car emergency kit items are pretty self-explanatory. Here’s a list of tools that you should pack in your car at all times:

          For anything that might be vehicle-specific, like fuses, consult your owner’s manual or a trusted online forum to find what you need.

          Premade car kits

          Don’t want to assemble a collection of emergency tools? You can buy premade car kits on Amazon. Some will even come with both tools for your vehicle and first aid items like bandages and antiseptic. You’ll still have to buy some things separately, though. It’s rare to find a car kit that has everything we recommend.

          >>View on Amazon

          Emergency and survival car kit items

          Sometimes you try everything, but you just can’t get back on the road. In that case, you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of being stranded until help arrives.

          Be ready for anything from serious accident recovery to extreme weather by keeping these items in your car at all times.​

          Fire extinguisher

          Our recommendation
          First Alert Auto Fire Extinguisher

            In a car accident, a fire is a definite possibility. Vehicle fires generally fall into Class B (flammable liquids like gasoline or diesel fuel) or Class C (electrical) fires, so you’ll need a fire extinguisher that can handle both.

            See our list of best fire extinguishers for more information.

            Car escape tool or pocket knife

            Our recommendation
            IPOW Escape Tool

              Some safety features inside your vehicle, like seatbelts, airbags, and windshields, can be a hindrance after an accident. Many accidents make it so you can’t unbuckle your belt or open your door when you need to. And in extreme cases, you may need to get out very quickly.

              Keep a car escape tool or pocket knife in a place you can reach from the driver’s seat. That way, you can cut through your seatbelt or break a window if you need to get out. It might be a good idea to have an extra tool on the passenger side as well.

              Booster seats

              If you have a passenger in a car seat or booster seat, you may be able to use your escape tool to free them once you’ve disentangled yourself. If the passenger’s injured and/or the car’s still stable, you may want to wait for professional help. Use your best judgment.

              >>Learn More About Booster Seats

              Two-way radio

              Our recommendation
              Motorola T260TP Talkabout Radio (3 Pack)

                Keep a two-way radio in your car at all times. You may never have to use it in this age of cellphones. But in an emergency situation, if your cellphone dies, gets destroyed in an accident, or is simply out of range for cell service, you need a backup plan.

                Find a two-way radio with a range of over 20 miles and a long battery life (8–10 hrs.). Also, look for one that includes weather channels, so you can prepare for the weather while you wait for help. This Motorola 3-pack meets all of the requirements for less than $100.

                Cat litter

                Our recommendation
                Dr. Elsey's Premium Clumping Cat Litter

                  No, we’re not recommending kitty litter for cat bathroom purposes (although it’s handy for those too). If you drive into unexpected ice or snow, you can use the litter to sop up the moisture and get traction. Simple, yet effective.

                  Other common car emergency kit items for survival

                  In an auto emergency, you’re sometimes stuck waiting for help for a long time. Here are a few more things to pack in your car kit—just in case.

                  72-hour kit

                  A car is a useful place to stash your emergency 72-hour kit. If you're not home in the event of an emergency, your kit is already within reach. Plus, your 72-hour kit should already contain some of the emergency items you need, like water and a first aid kit.

                  >>Learn More

                  Less common car safety items

                  We have a few more car safety recommendations up our sleeve:

                  1. Medical alert systems. Medical alert systems are usually designed for home use, but medical needs don’t magically disappear just because you’re in a car. One of our top medical alert systems, Bay Alarm Medical, sells in-car medical alert buttons. You can get them alone or bundled with home systems. Check out our Bay Alarm Medical review for more information.
                  2. Weapon safety. If you carry a gun, look into gun safes for cars. A secure safe keeps your weapon from being stolen when you’re not using it and, in an extreme circumstance, prevents it from being used against you.
                  3. Car theft prevention devices. You may worry about someone stealing your vehicle, especially if you live in one of the cities where car theft is common. You can install a GPS tracker in your car so you can quickly find it if it’s stolen. Or, to prevent someone from driving off with your car at all, try Vivint Car Guard.

                  Full emergency car kit checklist

                  Emergency Car Kit Checklist

                  Time to prep and pack

                  With any luck, you won’t need to use any emergency items anytime soon. But you still need to have them in your car. An emergency car kit could save your life. So get on it, and learn how to change a tire while you’re at it.

                  Click the button below to print out a checklist for your personal use.

                  Contributing author: Kyle Lemmon