Stuck on the side of the road? You’ll be ready for most anything, if you’ve got a duffel bag-full of these must-haves from automotive experts.
1. Heavy-duty jumper cables
Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the former hosts of NPR’s top-rated show, Car Talk, put high-quality jumper cables at the top of their list. “In our humble opinion, most jumper cables stink,” they say. “They’re either too short, too thin, or won’t stay flexible in the cold — which is when you really need them.”Experts recommend choosing cables that are at 10 to 20 feet long, 4- to 10-gauge, and made of copper.
Buy it: Capri Tools Heavy-Duty Auto Jumper Cables, $44.97
2. Fluids (for your car)
The Department of Motor Vehicles recommends storing common car fluids in your emergency kit, including:
- 2 quarts of motor oil
- brake fluid
- power-steering fluid (if applicable)
- automatic transmission fluid (if applicable)
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 gallon of antifreeze
Do yourself a favor and throw in a funnel as well. It can be hard to have a steady hand in an emergency.
3. Flashlights and extra batteries
Never underestimate the value of a good flashlight. Every car expert under the sun (err, moon?) recommends packing a reliable flashlight in your emergency kit, in case of a breakdown at night. Plus, it can be hard to see what’s going on under a car hood, even in the daytime, without flashlight assistance.
Tip: Always store flashlights and new batteries separately — when pre-loaded in a device, batteries can corrode and will definitely loose their juice over time. Put a couple packs of the right-size batteries next to the flashlight in your kit.
Buy it: Mag-lite, $24.98
4. Fix-a-Flat tire sealant
If you notice a minor puncture in your tire, lots of experts recommend temporarily sealing the hole with Fix-a-Flat, and driving to a tire repair center where they can either repair your tire or give you a new one. Intended for single use on one tire, this product contains liquid rubber and air, and is designed to seal small holes and inflate your tire enough to get the rim off the ground.
Buy it: Fix-a-Flat, $23.49
5. Fluids (for you)
In winter or summer, it’s a good idea to stock the car with a few bottles of water in case of a breakdown. There’s nothing like no access to water to work up a desperate thirst! You’ll probably also be thankful for a few granola bars or maybe a jar of peanuts, if help is a long time coming.
6. Duct tape
Is there anything duct tape can’t do? Google “duct tape car repair” and you’ll soon find out the answer to that question: not much! Reach for a roll of duct tape to secure a hanging bumper, reattach a broken side-view mirror, or tape plastic over a broken window.
Buy it: Duct tape (pack of three), $14.89
7. First-aid kit
There’s no shortage of things that could cut, burn, pinch or scrape your hands when you’re fiddling around under the hood or dealing with a broken car part, making a good first-aid kit essential in an emergency. Prepackaged kits are available, but if you want to create your own, Edmunds suggests including bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic cream, instant ice and heat compresses, scissors, and aspirin.
Buy it: First Aid Kit, $24.88
8. Triangular folding reflector or flares
The shoulder of any road — highway or otherwise — is a dangerous place to be. Once you’re safely pulled over as far to the right as possible, make sure you and your car are visible to approaching traffic by setting up a sand-weighted reflector triangle or roadside flare. Turning on your hazard lights is another easy precaution recommended by AAA.
Buy it: Foldable Warning Triangle $18.99
9. Wool or mylar blanket
Having a spare wool blanket in the car will go along way to keeping you and your grandkids warm if you break down in the dead of winter. The American Red Cross suggests stocking your emergency kit with a mylar, or space, blanket, which is designed to reflect 80% of your body heat back to you.
Buy it: Space All-Weather Blanket $19.97
10. Oil rags and hand cleaner
If we may state the obvious: Cars are dirty. And in inclement weather like rain or snow, they’re even dirtier. In the case of a tire change or even more minor problems, save your clothes—and the inside of your car — by packing four or five rags and some hand cleaner in your emergency car kit.