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Why You Need a Roadside Emergency Kit

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Nobody plans to have car trouble. However, being prepared for the worst case scenario can be the difference between getting the help you need and being up the creek without a paddle. The key is having a roadside emergency kit – and knowing how to use it.

When you’re traveling – on a long road trip or even just around town – problems can happen around any turn. While most drivers anticipate the potential for flat tires, but that’s just one of the many problems you can encounter. Whether it’s a dead battery, running out of gas or even sliding off the road during a winter snowstorm, you never know when a problem can crop up. Trust us, we’ve been there: dead batteries, flat tires, alternator blowouts on the side of a major highway, thrown timing belts and other incidents we’d rather forget.

Using jumper cables to do an emergency start start of a car. They are an important item to have in your roadside emergency kit.

Emergency jump start (image from CC 2.0 by Zoovroo)

If misfortune should find you, the first step is having a roadside emergency kit – and know how to use every piece of equipment in it. There are a number of commercially available, ready-made kits from the Vehicle Emergency Survival Kit to the AAA Emergency Kit. However, it’s also possible to build your own kit simply and easily.

On the Internet, you’ll find long lists of things you need in your car emergency kit – from wrench sets to electrical fuses and even extra oil. Much of this advice is great, but extremely impractical. Sure, it’s great if you have a degree from a automotive technical school and want to change your brake fluid on the side of the road, but that’s not most people. So here is our go-to list of the items you really need in your emergency kit (and what you’ll find in our car).

You know know where car trouble will strike so you should always travel with an roadside emergency kit.

You never know when car trouble will strike

Your roadside emergency kit should include:

  • Roadside flares (at least two): LED flares last much longer than the old smokey flares, but still let you flag down help.
  • Triangle reflectors: These simple devices can help signal vehicles and are especially important if you are unable to pull your vehicle completely out of the lanes of traffic.
  • Reflective vest: While some will view this as a bit unnecessary, they are extremely cheap and will exponentially increase your visibility. Consider it mandatory equipment.
  • A first-aid kit: You never know when you will need it – for yourself or someone else.
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizer to clean up after repairs.
  • Jumper cables (minimum of 12-feet in length): Complex roadside repairs can be difficult, but jumping a dead battery is easy and everyone should be able to do it. Even if you don’t have a battery problem, you may need to help someone else.
  • A flat head screwdriver: You’re not going to do complex repairs, but a screwdriver can be a very useful tool.
  • A tire inflator (like the fix-a-flat brand): These inflators screw on to your tire and can fix a flat long enough to get you to a service station.
  • A tire pressure gauge: While most modern gas stations have gauges, these are very inexpensive devices and I find that I use them frequently.
  • A pocketknife: A great all around tool you might need.
  • A blanket: These are especially important in the winter if you slide off the road or get stranded in bad weather. Also, when I was a kid growing up in the mountains of Colorado, we actually traveled with sleeping bags in the car just in case we got stuck in a snowstorm.
  • A flashlight with fresh batteries.
  • A roll of paper towels.
  • A roll of toilet paper (remove the cardboard to save space). You’ll thank us later!
  • An ice scraper.
  • Folding shovel (especially during the winter time).
  • A couple of extra plastic trash bags (these always come in handy).
  • Nylon bag or plastic bin to carry it all.
  • And the single most useful item in our emergency kit: a corkscrew and bottle opener. We do not recommend drinking and driving, however, we’ve found ourselves on more than one picnic without the proper equipment.

Once your kit is assembled, make sure you know how to use every item!

The Roadside Emergency Kit in the trunk.

The emergency roadside kit in the trunk (image from CC 2.0 by State Farm)

What to do if you have road trouble

  • Pull your vehicle off the road as quickly and safely as possible
  • Put on your reflective vest, deploy your safety triangles and flares
  • If you have cell phone reception, reach out to AAA (if a member) or emergency services (if necessary)
  • Undertake vehicle repairs only if safe

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What do you think about Why You Need a Roadside Emergency Kit?

  1. Jenn November 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    It’s really smart to have an emergency kit in your car. Bare minimum, you should have blankets, jumper cables, bottled water, and some kind of snacks to sustain you if you get stranded. I keep an extra phone charger in there too, because the moments I need my phone the MOST, tend to be the moments where it’s dead, and I don’t have a charger.

  2. Rob Benton December 18, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I agree that a flashlight is crucial to have in your emergency kit. Most of the other equipment you could bring may prove to be inoperable without a flashlight. People often underestimate the need for a flash light but it is not uncommon for them to save a life.

  3. Adam Bockler January 6, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks for your list of what to include in your roadside emergency kit. You make a great point about including a blanket. I like how you even put sleeping bags in your car while traveling through Colorado in the winter. Being stuck in the cold can lead to some very dangerous conditions. It’s always a good idea to get your automobile looked at before going on a long road trip or before winter hits. There’s nothing worse that having your vehicle break down because there was an easy repair that was neglected.

  4. Tracy January 7, 2016 at 5:30 am #

    Hey there Lance, great list of Must haves there.
    I have most of these in my emergency kit, but I had to learn to acquire them the hard way after getting stuck by the roadside for several times. A folding shovel and a snow brush is something that I should be adding to my list right now.
    Thanks for sharing, and have a Happy New Year.

  5. Laurel Larsen February 4, 2016 at 9:46 am #

    I think it is great advice to keep an emergency kit in your car in case you run into an emergency and can’t get roadside assistance right away. One thing I always keep in my car regardless is a first-aid kit, because, like you say, you never know when you might be in need of it. But when you are in need of it, you definitely need it right away. Having a first-aid kit can help while you wait for an emergency tow truck to come help out in case things have gone wrong.

  6. Westly Smith February 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    It’s true that problems can happen anywhere and anytime. It’s so crucial that you have a roadside emergency kit. Just last week my battery died and I was so happy to have the cables to jump my car. I’ll be sure to incorporate the items you listed into my kit.

  7. Clinton Taylor March 25, 2016 at 11:51 pm #

    I remember having a discharged battery before, good thing this guy who helped me had a jumper cable with him in his car so that saved the day. Now I always have an emergency kit in my car just in case..

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