emergency car kit

Assemble an Emergency Car Kit Quickly and Easily

In 2006, the Kim family, James, Kati, 4-year-old Penelope, and 7-month-old Sabine, were heading home to San Francisco when their car broke down. It was a remote area and the family ended up trying to stay alive for 9 days before rescue. Unfortunately, James headed out to find help and did not survive.

How did Kati and her two young daughters make it through? They kept the car heater on until they ran out of gas and then used the tires as fuel to stay warm. The family had some snacks and water in the car and survived on this for the first few days. After that, Kati breastfed both the girls and due to this, they were in pretty good shape when found.

This story is just one of many where people have unexpectedly ended up stranded in their car. Some made it and some didn’t. Often, the difference was how prepared they were. While we can hope that this will never happen to us, it’s best to be prepared and have an emergency car kit ready to go. The kit doesn’t have to be very big and complicated, but you should certainly have some basics in the car.

What’s in an Emergency Car Kit?

There are a number of things you can put into your emergency car kit, but consider where you live and will be driving, and what types of situations you might end up in. For example, you’ll want to have food and water and if you live in an area with cold winters, you’ll want a way to stay warm in the winter, too. Likewise, staying cool in the summer is a good idea.

So, what should be in your emergency kit? Let’s take a look.

Car Basics

First, you’ll want to be sure you have everything to keep your car running or get it up and running if something goes wrong. This means you need to have the following on hand:

These items will allow you to manage your vehicle’s minor issues and can help prevent total breakdowns.


Before anything else, you should stock up on some water. This doesn’t just mean to load your vehicle up with gallons of water, since that’s impractical, but also give yourself the means to collect and clean water. You should have at least two gallons of fresh water in the car.

However, you should also have an open container, preferably metal, which you can use to collect rainwater, stream water, and cook with, etc. This will allow you to collect more water once the initial storage is gone. It’s very possible that this water will not be safe to drink, so having a method of purification is essential.

Consider getting a small water filter, like the Lifestraw, to keep on hand. This lets you drink just about any water without getting sick. If you have multiple people you travel with frequently, you may need something a bit bigger, like this gravity fed filter.

Weather Protection

Extreme weather is more likely to cause you issues than just about anything else. If you’re trapped in a snowbank, you’ll need to stay warm. If you’re stuck in the desert, you have to stay cool.  Either way, there are a few things you should keep in your emergency car kit.

Matches and tinder: A simple firestarter kit will let you stay warm and cook food if need be. Just don’t start a fire in the car.

Emergency blanket: You should always have these simple mylar blankets with you. They can be used for heat, to catch water, and to reflect sunlight to attract attention.

Cooling towel: These do require water, but they are amazing for reducing body temperature and can be used for hot places, to bring down fevers, etc.

Hat: A hat like a beanie can help keep you warm in cold weather and a sun hat can protect you outdoors in the summer. Choose according to your current weather.



You can live for 3 weeks without food, though you won’t be terribly energetic, so this is lower on the list. That being said, every parent knows just how important it is to have a snack on hand when your toddler gets hangry. So I highly recommend keeping some goodies on hand for that.

In a survival situation, where you are potentially trapped, you’ll need food that will give you energy and that is light enough to carry, if you have to leave the vehicle and hike out. Things that will last a while include:

  • Granola bars
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Honey
  • Protein bars
  • Cookies
  • Peanut butter
  • Hard candy

Just be sure to store these things under the seats or in the coolest part of the vehicle, since heat will cause any food to deteriorate fast. You will usually want to have enough to tide you over for three days, just in case.

Misc. Items to Have

You never know when you might need something like a folding shovel to dig yourself out of a snowbank or mud! It can also be handy to have a small hatchet or saw on hand for getting rid of trees that have fallen. Some people like to keep a bag of kitty litter in their vehicle when it’s icy out, in case the tires spin out. A little of the litter sprinkled on snow or ice can give more traction.

While you should always have a flashlight in your vehicle, it may be a good idea to keep some glow sticks, as well. They will last for hours without needing a battery and can be used one at a time to keep some light in your car.

Sometimes, in a difficult situation, a new toy can help kids feel more comfortable and secure. A small dollar store item is often just fine. You may opt to have a few puzzles or games along, too. These help you keep kids busy while waiting for a tow truck or help.

You may need to leave a note if you have to leave the vehicle, so something to write on is helpful. Just a pen and a small notepad are ideal for this sort of thing.

Of course, we always hope that there’s no good reason to use an emergency car kit, but if you need it, you certainly want to have one in the car. Make sure you keep at least a few basic items, just in case.


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