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7 Things You Need in Your Car

They’re not just for convenience. They’re essential. These seven items are car necessities that can make a difficult situation a little easier.

Looking under the hood of a vehicle
Looking under the hood of a vehicle

It always happens at the worst possible time. Your vehicle breaks down at night. Or on a country road, miles from population. Maybe in the cold. The situation could be all of the above! My Buick Regal once broke down on the side of the interstate on Thanksgiving Day while traveling to Grandma’s house. Thankfully, it was the middle of the day, but it was a while before the tow truck got out to me. Like I said, it always seems to be the worst possible time.

Whatever the circumstances are, there’s no reason you can’t be well-prepared for your vehicle breaking down in some way. There are things that every person can benefit from having in his or her vehicle

I’m not talking about the conveniences, like a pack of gum or a tissue, here. Those may also be nice to have, but the things I’m talking about are essentials. They’re the most needed, most used items in a you’re-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road kind of situation. Also, the owner’s manual, car registration, and car insurance information are not on this list. That’s because they are hopefully already in your vehicle.

7. Walking shoes / Boots

Getting out of a car in snow boots
Getting out of a car in snow boots

This may not be an obvious item to keep in a vehicle, but anyone who has had to wear dress shoes (or high heels for the ladies out there) knows they aren’t comfortable to walk a long way in. Certainly, you don’t want to tromp through the snow in your suede sneakers or leather dress shoes.

Whether you’re walking through a soggy drainage ditch in South Carolina or through a thick snowbank of South Dakota, ruining your shoes, getting your feet wet, and getting blisters are added headaches you don’t want to worry about when you’re dealing with a vehicle issue. Plus, if they’re in the back of that Toyota Tacoma, they’ll already be there for impromptu hiking trips, too.

If you live in the city, chances are you won’t have to walk too far before finding someplace with a usable phone. It still doesn’t hurt, especially if you commute in the early morning or late evening, when more businesses are closed and there are fewer good Samaritans around.

6. Reflective gear

Person wearing reflective gear
Person wearing reflective gear

Getting out of a vehicle on the side of a busy road can be especially dangerous in the dark. Having reflective gear ready for a situation like that can prevent a potentially serious car versus pedestrian accident for any driver or passenger.

Not only does a reflective vest help avoid unnecessary accidents, but it helps give a tow truck driver something to spot. It could even lead to a good Samaritan pulling over to offer assistance. A safety vest isn’t the only thing that can be used in this instance.

Reflective warning triangles that can be set up around a stalled vehicle are available for as low as $30 on Amazon. There may not always be room to use these, but if there is, why not? Trying to attract attention and prevent further accidents is the key here, so the more reflective equipment, the better.

5. A Flashlight

Using a flashlight to inspect a vehciel
Using a flashlight to inspect a vehciel

Whether it’s in the daylight or the dead of night, a flashlight is useful for trying to inspect any mechanicals under the hood of that Chevrolet Cavalier. Trying to search for latches in the vehicle, tools underneath a seat, or a particular valve under the hood usually involves contorting your body. It doesn’t need to involve straining to see. That’s where a flashlight comes in.

With better technology than ever before, there are several kinds of flashlights available now. Many flashlights come with different operating modes, like intermittent strobe flashing or SOS signaling. They come in high, medium, or low light levels, too. Some have different color shades, like red, blue, or green.

The thing to remember when you have a flashlight in your car is to check the batteries regularly. A good way to remember that task is to do it when checking smoke detectors or changing clocks when daylight saving time begins or ends. Also, lower temperatures can drain batteries quicker than usual, so they may not have much life left to them after winter is over.

4. A Towel or Blankets

Rolled up blankets
Rolled up blankets

These aren’t as necessary in the summer or in warmer climates, but anyone who’s been out in a colder environment knows that it can get cold really quick when a vehicle isn’t working and the heater isn’t keeping the car warm! A blanket thrown in the back seat or a trunk can be a literal life saver in those situations. Special thermal blankets can be found on Amazon for under $15. Take a look at our winter preparedness post for a list of other items to keep in your car once winter hits.

A towel, or blanket, doesn’t need to be used to stay warm, though. It can also keep you cool. In the heat of the summer, putting a towel up in the window can block the sunlight from shining in. Or it can be used in a variety of ways during a medical emergency. If gasoline, oil, or some other lubricant ends up on you or in your eyes, a towel is the first thing you’ll reach for. There are, of course, a variety of uses for a blanket in non-emergency situations, too, but that’s just a bonus. For the variety of uses alone, some kind of large cloth has to be part of this list.

3. First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit

Hopefully it’s just a car that needs caring for and not an actual person. In the spirit of preparation, however, a First Aid Kit is essential. Most kits include gauze pads, adhesive bandages, scissors, latex gloves, and eyewash. It can also include: adhesive tape, an elastic bandage, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, cold packs, and a splint.

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Those supplies can’t replace hospital care, but they’ll work in a pinch and can minimize further damage to injuries. Big or small, as elaborate as you want it to be, you won’t regret having a first aid kit in your vehicle when you need one. The First Aid Kid also made our list of must-have overlanding gear.

2. Jumper cables

Jumper cables on a battery
Jumper cables on a battery

There could be any number of reasons for a vehicle breaking down. Whether it’s a simple fix or a more costly repair, the side of the road isn’t where an in-depth assessment should be done. Out of the elements and off the roadway is always a better spot to do that kind of thing. If there’s another car nearby, having jumper cables at least allows for the possibility of not being stranded in an unfortunate location.

Even if you don’t know how to jump start your vehicles’ engine yourself, someone else may be able to. Whether it’s a friend, family member, neighbor, or stranger who stops to help, having the tools to do the job is half the battle. Keeping a set of jumper cables handy can put you ahead of an issue and it’s an easy step to cross off the list.

Don’t let not knowing how to use jumper cables be intimidating. Take a look at our article on how to jump a car for a full explanation.

1. Phone charger

Charging a phone
Charging a phone

In modern times, there aren’t many things more important in an emergency situation than a working cell phone. Ideally, you don’t even need to leave your car if you have a working cell phone. Pull over in a spot out of traffic, call for assistance, and hang tight. Not having a working cell phone is an entirely different situation. Then, you need to fix your car yourself, flag someone down, or walk somewhere for help.

Most phone batteries these days hold a charge for a while, so chances are the car phone charger won’t get much use. This is all about preparing for the worst, though, so the tools you need are there when you need them. I’m pretty good about charging my phone each night, but I’ve fallen asleep on the couch and woke up to a phone with 17% power more than once. That’s why I also have a charger in my car. Murphy’s Law dictates that the one day of the year that you need your cell phone fully charged, you’ll have forgotten to plug it in the night before.

A lot of newer cars may have wireless charging, but for those who have slightly older vehicles, like a 2014 Kia Soul, a charger cord is needed.

While we’re talking about phones. I’ll add this: make sure to have your important phone numbers handy! It’s easy to rely on internet service when using a cell phone these days, but internet service can lag or just not work. Having a list of numbers written down, pen and paper style, eliminates that issue. Parents, friends, siblings, tow services, and the 1-800 number to dial up the insurance company can all be on that list of numbers. I took the step to do that the other day because you just never know when that kind of list could be needed.

But Wait, There’s More …

Snow shovel leaning on a car
Snow shovel leaning on a car

That’s the end of this list, but that doesn’t need to be it. I’ve got a basket that sits in my backseat with all kinds of tools, essential and otherwise. Besides the items above, sitting in that basket in my car is: a tire pressure gauge, a wheel lock key, a couple of packs of peanuts, gum, Chapstick, hand warmers, Duct tape, disposable mini toothbrushes, floss, an umbrella, an ice scraper, a multi-tool, Febreze fabric spray, and even a word jumble for the times I’m waiting for someone or something, That’s just in the basket. In the far back you’ll find a snow brush and snow shovel. If there’s space, then why not be as ready as possible for any situation, right?

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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