How to prepare an emergency road trip kit for your car

On the Road 3 min read

Family road trips are one of the most fun things you can do as a family, but even the best trip can go south if your car breaks down while you’re on the road. If you ever break down in an unfamiliar city, you’ll be relieved to have an emergency car kit. Here are the things to put inside.

What to include in your road trip emergency kit

Battery jumper cables

Every roadside emergency car kit needs jumper cables. If your battery runs out of energy, you’re stuck. Finding someone to lend you cables can take a long time. If you bring your own, you’ll still need to find somebody to give you a jump start, but nearly anyone with a car will be able to help.

Even better, get a portable jump starter that doesn’t require help from another driver. Many of America’s most scenic drives are far from major cities. So, if you break down in the middle of the night or on a remote stretch of road, you’re less likely to be stranded.

Cell phone charger

Smartphones have so many tools that can be useful if you break down or suffer other mechanical problems. You can call for help, get directions, find a towing service, and check auto shop reviews as soon as you’re out of harm’s way — as long as your battery lasts.

Most modern cars have built-in USB chargers for phones, but those won’t help if your car’s battery is dead or you have other electrical problems. When you put together a DIY emergency car kit, include a portable power bank to ensure you can power your phone for as long as possible. Just make sure that charging your power bank is part of your road trip preparation checklist.

Flashlight and spare batteries

No road trip emergency kit is complete without a good flashlight. Your phone has a built-in flashlight, but you should save your phone’s power for emergency calls, directions, and the like. A phone can’t compete with a dedicated flashlight for brightness if you need to read a map or look at the engine at night. Consider an LED flashlight. They can get brighter with less energy, so your batteries will last longer. You can also get emergency flashlights that charge with a built-in crank, so you never have to worry about running out of power.

Gloves and spare clothes

A good pair of sturdy work gloves can protect your hands from cuts, dirt, and oil if you need to poke around under the hood.

Also, consider putting a change of clothes — including a warm jacket — in your road trip kit. If you’re on a long road trip, you may have a suitcase full of clothes, but what if you need your roadside emergency kit on a day trip with no luggage? Having a change of clothes can help you stay warm. You’ll have clean clothes to wear if you break down in chilly weather or unexpectedly need to stay overnight while your mechanic repairs your car.

If you have small children, consider what else they’ll need to stay warm, dry, and calm. Add diapers, comfort items, or small toys so everything is in one convenient place.

Basic tools and safety devices

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that every roadside emergency kit list contain:

  • First aid kit
  • Tools for changing a tire (jack, pressure gauge, basic tools)
  • Flares and a white flag (for visibility)
  • Spare food, water, and medicine

If you don’t like the idea of keeping old-school pyrotechnic flares in your car, you can get LED roadside flares that run on batteries.

Seasonal considerations

Road trips aren’t just for warm weather. If you’re going to a cold destination or road-tripping to see family for the holidays, consider adding weather-specific gear like hand warmers to your emergency road trip kit. Other items like sand or kitty litter can also help you get free if you get stuck in the snow. Learn more about how to get your car out of snow.

How to prepare and use your road trip emergency kit

Your roadside emergency kit is only helpful if you know how to use it. Before you set off, make sure you know how to use a car jack and any other tools you’ve included. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, consider printing directions to include in the kit so you know what to do, even if your phone is dead.

While an emergency car kit — DIY or store-bought — can be a huge help if you get in trouble on the road, it’s better not to need one at all. Prepare for road trip season by performing periodic maintenance checks and scheduling any necessary repairs before leaving. The best car for a road trip is one with a clean health bill. You’ll enjoy the journey more if you know your vehicle is in good shape.

An emergency roadside kit is an excellent way to stay prepared for unexpected problems on the road but remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself.

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