Whether you are a new car owner or have owned a car for many years, there will come a day when you get into an emergency situation. To get yourself out of that situation you need to have the right tools and supplies. A car emergency kit or car survival kit is what everyone should have and is something that is easy to put together for yourself or for a loved one. In this post, see what we have in our vehicle survival kit and get some tips along the way so that you can build a kit for you and your family too. If you already have a kit consider adding any items that you don’t have and stick around till the end as we also have a winter add-ons section.
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Our guide will break the vehicle survival kit items into 3 sections. First, for the items that will go into your glove box for easier access as they are small and can be used not just for emergencies. The second area is for bigger items that will go into your trunk or boot of the vehicle. The third is for the add-on winter items for those that live in the winter zones.
Note that I’ve included the full list at the end of this post for those that need a consolidated list.
Here we go…
Glove box items
Pen/Pencil and paper
Great for taking notes if an accident happens or leaving notes for any reason like if you accidentally hit someone’s car in a parking lot. If you do get into an accident always take pictures and videos with your phone too.
Car USB charger/Wall USB charger with cables
Smartphones are so important nowadays as they are a lifeline that gives you access to phone calls, instant messaging, emails and more. So, having them charged up is important. If your vehicle doesn’t already have one, getting a 12V USB charger will be important.
Also, have a wall charger too so that if you have to go into a restaurant or building in an emergency, you are still able to charge from an outlet. Make sure to include charging cables compatible with your phones too. You can also get adapters that convert to different types of connectors too.
Whistle, Compass, Paracord
A whistle is great for getting attention in an emergency. A compass can help you navigate. Smartphones have apps for this too so you can get these but, in an emergency, you might want to conserve the phone battery as much as possible. I also add the paracord here as it can be useful in an emergency for tying things up.
USB power bank
Great for portability where access to a wall outlet is not possible or the in the case where the car battery is dead. A 2-in-1 electric hand warmer power bank is a good combo to have for winter or have both individually.
Being able to see in the dark is important and these can even be used in non-emergency situations. Make sure to have one that uses AA batteries or higher as one that uses smaller batteries or watch batteries will not last long. I also choose flashlights that use batteries that are easily available at convenience stores so that if you need to buy any replacements, you can go to almost any store.
I don’t go with a rechargeable flashlight because once the batteries are depleted, it takes a long time to recharge. Being able to switch out batteries quickly can be important in emergency situations.
Always have spare batteries for your LED flashlight as you never know how long you will need the flashlight.
A multi-tool with pliers, knife and other tools will be good to have around for quick access in the cabin. One like this is high quality and small enough to put in your pocket to carry around if needed.
These glove box items are all small so they fit nicely into a soft pencil case like this for easy and fast storage and access.
Trunk / Boot items
Next on the list are items that will reside in the Trunk of the vehicle. Store these in a large plastic container or box with lid. For items I show in this post or similar, find links to them further below.
Safety first! Work gloves protect your hands and the reflective safety vest will make sure you are visible to oncoming traffic. The safety glasses are just as important and will protect your eyes.
Basic tool kit
In the basic tool kit make sure to include pliers, a spanner and screwdriver set. These will help you make minor repairs to your vehicle or someone else’s when needed. You also want to include duct tape as duct tape fixes anything, right? You can also include electrical tape, and other tapes like these (self-fusing silicone tape, etc…) that can be used to fix wiring or leaking hoses or pipes.
Fire starting and Heat source
A lighter is important to be able to start a fire or light a candle. Note that in the winter when it is cold, lighters may have problems lighting so some waterproof or windproof matches are a good backup to have.
A candle can be used as a small heat and light source. You will just need to be careful as it can also create CO (Carbon Monoxide) which is a deadly gas. Have a metal canister to put the candle in to prevent it from easily knocking over and starting a fire.
Battery powered warning lights or regular flares are good to have for warning oncoming traffic. There are many types available from square shaped ignitable ones to typical cylindrical type flares.
Tire repair kit
Whether you get a flat, have underinflated tires or have someone maliciously deflate your tires, a portable tire pump or tire inflator is always good to have. Add a tire pressure gauge if your air inflator doesn’t have a built-in gauge.
To round things off, include a tire plug kit. These allow you to repair small holes in the tread of the tire. They will all allow you to repair a flat in case the tow truck might take a while or are busy and not able to get to you in a reasonable time. Include the instructions too if you haven’t plugged tires before.
For cold winter days or when your battery dies, jumper cables are a must. Note that there are different types available so pick one that is suitable for you. If you need more cranking power, make sure to get a lower gauge number so that the wires are thicker allowing for more current to flow.
Note that short jumper cables mean that you will need to have both cars facing each other in order to be able to connect. Longer cables allow for cars to be side by side or even from behind. You will need to balance how much space you want the cables to take up when stored in the trunk though. I find a 12’ cable a good balance.
First Aid Kit
Get a decent sized kit with items from bandages to gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, wraps and more. A larger kit tends to have more variety of items needed in an emergency situation.
Add nitrile gloves and scissors to your kit too if not included.
Great for sanitizing your hands before and after treating someone with the emergency kit plus they can be used to start fires when necessary (if they contain alcohol).
At least have a few body-sized, air activated heat packs and a few hand-sized ones too. These heat pads are great for emergency use and don’t need a lighter or electricity to work. Just add Air!
These are great to have as they are easy to store so you can have a few packs in your kit. Some first aid kits also include one. Check the size so that you don’t get ones that are too small. I also have one that can be used to make a tent. This can double as a large blanket too.
You might also want to have a cloth blanket or sleeping bag as well during winter season. They are more comfortable than emergency blankets and can let you layer up with emergency blankets for more warmth, if you get stranded in the cold.
Glowsticks and Larger LED flashlight
A glowstick or lightstick can be a backup to the flashlights if the batteries freeze up in the winter or if you run out of battery power.
A larger LED Flashlight is optional too and provides additional lighting. Make sure it uses larger batteries though. These use D type batteries.
Include dry snacks, granola bars, energy bars, nuts and seeds. They are packed with energy and won’t spoil fast. But make sure to change them out and use them up every 6 months or before best before dates.
Though you can survive many days without food, you can only survive a few without water. So, having water with you is important. Have bottled water or a hydration pack like this. I like the hydration pack because it is portable and can be packed in a backpack easily, is easy to clean and fill, drink out of and is safe for storing water (BPA free, Phthalate free, PVC free)!
Note that if these are used in the winter the water will freeze in the bottle or hydration pack when left in the vehicle. Since water expands about 10% in volume when it freezes, I like to have the container not more than 75% full to allow room for expansion. For the hydration pack make sure to remove excess air before sealing and storing then only pump air in when you are ready to drink from it.
I also suggest to bring a double wall insulated bottle or thermos, with hot or cold water with you anytime you head out in your vehicle. Warm or hot water will be great in the winter and if you are travelling long distances or out of cities. In the winter the water in your emergency kit will be frozen when left in the vehicle and unfreezing it can take a long time so a warm or hot water filled insulated bottle can provide water in emergencies.
In the summer or hot climates, fill with cold water and ice instead. These insulated bottles are great for keeping water hot or cold for many hours.
And BTW, in the winter never use your own body heat to melt the ice. I heard this advice on a YouTube video and it’s just not a good idea in an emergency. When it’s cold out you need to conserve heat.
Toiler paper and plastic container
If you have to go to the toilet for number 1 or number 2 but can’t get to a washroom, a large plastic container like this with a lid and toilet paper can be a life saver. As you can see, we just reuse an old coffee container for this.
In rainy conditions, having a rain poncho can keep you dry and cleaner if you have to be outside of the vehicle to fix it or to get under it.
Shop towels are great for cleanup in general.
Windshield washer fluid
In rainy, muddy or slushy winter, freezing rain conditions you may find yourself using your windshield washer much more and may run out while on the road. Having a spare bottle is a good idea so you can refill when needed.
Note that you should have winter washer fluid for winter. If you live in winter climate zones, just keep winter washer fluid and don’t worry about switching it out with summer washer fluid.
Pack extra set of clothes and shoes. You can use a large Ziploc bag and vacuum seal it to save space. All these can be stored in an extra backpack you have around for easy transportation and for emergency use. In the winter, have extra gloves, thicker socks, toques and boots.
And… Don’t forget clothes for the kids, if any.
In case of a fire, a fire extinguisher can help for small fires. A 2 to 5 lbs. one that is ABC rated will suffice.
Tow rope and rope
In case you get stuck and need to be pulled out or want to help pull someone that’s stuck out, tow ropes or tow straps are handy. Make sure you know the limits of the rope, though. Watch our video to see what a tow hook looks like and where it is stored in our car.
I also added a smaller rope for use in tying things up in general.
Items to check
While you’re creating your car emergency kit… The next list of items are ones that even though may come with your vehicle, you want to make sure it is actually there as they are usually stored out of site. Sometimes people find out at the worst time that these items are missing when they need them most.
Make sure if your vehicle comes with one, that it is actually there with all the parts, including the handle that let’s you use it.
Tire iron/Lug wrench
Most car jacks come with a tire iron or lug wrench but I prefer to have these portable 4-way cross lug wrenches as they make removing and tightening a lug nut or bolt fast and easy. Plus, with 4 different sized sockets, it can be used to help others with different sized lugs when needed.
Note that some vehicles with Run flat tires don’t come with a jack or lug wrench, like some Mercedes-Benz vehicles. In these cases, they may come with a tire puncture kit. My car didn’t come with either so I purchased this scissor jack and lug wrench myself to add to my kit, since I don’t currently use run flats.
Add portable wheel chocks like these for additional safety, when you need to jack-up your vehicle.
Next are Winter add-ons! For those that live in winter zones, add these to your kit too.
A snow brush and scraper is an essential tool that’s not specifically for emergencies but you should have one anyway. Make sure you know how to use it too. BTW, it’s not like this from inside the car! If your windows are frosted in the inside, use your vehicle’s defrost function with AC turned on instead.
You might also want to get a snow brush that has softer, finer bristles to reduce the scratching of the paint on your vehicle. Using the snow brush on the panels of your vehicle are another way to introduce scratches to the paint.
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Traction aid/Traction pad
I’ve been stuck in deep snow before and these have saved me more than enough to be worth the money I spent. Sometimes when you get stuck in snow or ice, no one is around to help push you out. Having these allows you to get yourself out with ease. I haven’t seen these particular ones available online before but there are many different types available from plastic to rubber ones that roll up. I’ll link to some in our video description below for anyone that’s interested. I prefer traction mats, pads or plates over kitty litter or sand because they work better when you are stuck on icy roads or deep snow.
These pair well with the traction mats mentioned before. When stuck in deep snow, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to dig the snow out from under the vehicle. If you drive into deep snow that hasn’t been cleared from the road, the snow can wedge the vehicle in such a way that the tires don’t have much grip on the ground. In such cases digging the snow out from underneath the vehicle is one of the best ways to get unstuck. This is especially true if you don’t have anyone else around to help push you out. If that’s not enough then employ the traction mat after digging the snow out from underneath the vehicle.
Get one that is portable, foldable or extendable and has a large enough blade that makes it easier to dig snow out. It should be sized so that it can fit and not take up too much space in the trunk of the vehicle.
Block heater extension cord + tester
Block heaters are important for winter, especially where it gets below -10 degrees Celsius. Having a cord that can reach a wall plug that is a few feet away to plug in your block heater, can be a life saver when you are away from home.
A block heater tester will pair well with this to ensure the block heater is working and that the wall outlet has power. For example, some apartment outlets are on a timer, so are not always energized.
Winter ice cleats
If you need to be out of the vehicle in slippery, icy conditions, a pair of these will give you the grip you need to stay safe and on your feet.
That’s all the items in our vehicle emergency kit. It’s up to you to decide what you want to include in yours. I hope I have given you enough info on why these items can be important in emergency situations. I’ve included the full list at the end of this post for those that need it.
Let us know in the YouTube video comments if we missed anything and please share our video with anyone else you think it will help. Thanks for reading to the end and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great content to come!
Buy emergency kit items here
List of all items in our list
Glove box items:
- Pen/Pencil and paper
- Car USB charger/Wall USB charger with cables
- Whistle, Compass, Paracord
- USB Power bank / Electric hand warmer with power bank
- LED flashlight (AA batteries and up)
- Spare batteries for flashlight
Trunk / Boot items:
- Safety gear (Reflective safety vest, Safety glasses, Work gloves)
- Basic tool kit (Pliers, Spanner and Screwdriver set)
- Fire starting and Heat source (Lighter, Wind-proof matches, Candles, Flares)
- Tire repair kit and Tire inflator
- Jumper cables
- First aid kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Heat packs
- Emergency blanket
- Glowsticks and Larger LED flashlight
- Non-perishable food
- Water (Hydration pack and/or double-walled insulated bottle)
- Rain poncho
- Shop towels
- Windshield washer fluid
- Extra clothes
- Fire extinguisher
- Tow rope
Items to check (while making your kit):
- Scissor jack
- Tire iron / Lug wrench
- Portable wheel chocks
- Snow brush / Scraper (with fine bristles)
- Traction mat / Traction pad
- Portable shovel
- Block heater extension cord / Block heater tester
- Winter ice cleats