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  • How to Build an Emergency Kit for Your Car

    When we think of an emergency striking—a severe storm or earthquake, for example—we often imagine ourselves at home, where (hopefully) we have a disaster-preparedness kit on hand and a well-rehearsed disaster plan laid out.

    Yet many of us also spend an awful lot of time (maybe more than we’d like) in a car, and it can be all too easy to neglect preparing that vehicle for contingencies. Whether you’re commuting to work or venturing onto scenic backroads for adventuring purposes, you need to be just as prepared for disruptions and all-out crises on the road as you are back at the domicile.

    Sure, you might be stuck in your rig when a terrifying wildfire or sudden temblor commands the vicinity. But vehicular and recreational mishaps don’t have to be so dramatic and large-scale: All it takes is getting mired in the mud or snow, lost on a confusing maze of logging tracks, or simply waylaid by a flat tire, dead battery, oil leak, or malfunctioning electronics. Or maybe you’re just way later down from the summit or climbing pitch or sunset vantage than you expected, overtaken by an unseasonable snowstorm, or facing a washed-out or blowdown-blocked road on your drive out.

    Suffice it to say, you ought to be prepared to revive your wheels as best you can or weather a few days therein if need be. An emergency car kit is as critical as a home, workplace, or backpack one. Let’s dig into some of the basics of this on-the-go safety net!

    Essential Items for Every Car Emergency Kit

    What to put in a car emergency kit depends to some extent on where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what the season is. An everyday drive to work a few miles from home in the height of summer is a bit different than a winter expedition into snowbound backcountry—that’s stating the obvious. In other words, context matters.

    But the barebones basics of covering your bases in a vehicle are pretty universal:

    First Aid Supplies

    Emergency aid kit

    As in your hiking pack—not to mention your household bathrooms or closets—you ought to have a fully stocked first-aid kit in your car. We’re talking bandages, gauze, tape, non-latex gloves, tweezers, antiseptic ointments, a pair of scissors, a thermometer, painkillers, and other first-aid fundamentals.

    Car Maintenance & Repair

    Jeep tire getting changed

    Setting off without automotive essentials might set you back if we’re talking about the daily commute or grocery run; it could also land you in real hot water if you’re in a sparsely populated rural or backcountry setting. You don’t need to be an amateur mechanic to stock—and know how to use—fundamental tools and supplies for car maintenance.

    These would include:

    • Jumper cables and a jumpstarter battery, many of which include a tire inflator as well: Jumper cables don’t do you much good if you don’t have another charged vehicle on hand to help get you back on the road, so consider stocking each of your vehicles with a jump battery. Models with an inflator can give you a little extra breathing room if you've got multiple leaking tires or need to negotiate highly variable types of substrate.
    • Spare tire, jack, and lug wrench: Put it on your regular/periodic to-do list to check the air pressure in your spare tire. A piece of 4X4 wood is also handy to keep in your car to provide a base for the jack in case you’re changing a tire on a gravel, sandy, or muddy road.
    • Backup fluids & equipment: It’s always a good idea to have some motor oil, brake fluid, coolant, windshield-wiper fluid, and other fundamental automotive fluid on hand in case you find yourself running low in the middle of nowhere. If you do a lot of traveling in remote countries, you’d be wise to add backup belts, headlights, bolts, and various other spare parts to the list.
    • Miscellaneous tools & quick fixes: From screwdrivers, pliers, and (of course) a tire-pressure gauge to that tried-and-true, jury-rig-ready friend called duct tape, make sure you’re carrying a basic on-the-road toolkit. A seatbelt-cutter is also an inexpensive but potentially life-saving tool to stow in case you and your vehicle end up underwater.
    • Roadside safety: From reflective cones to flares, you want something on hand to clearly, and at any hour, mark off a broken-down/stuck vehicle. Also, pack a reflective vest if you need to walk along a dark roadway for help. You also should have a fire extinguisher for your vehicle: Car fires are no joke!
    • Communication & light: Always, always make sure you’ve got a flashlight or two, and ideally a headlamp, stashed in your vehicle in case you need to conduct after-hours inspections, repairs, or survival actions. Extra fresh batteries—and/or solar-powered or hand-crank lights—should be part of your car emergency kit as well. Most of us probably have a cell phone along with us these days, but make sure you’ve got a car charger and cords.
    • For the Winter Car: Travel in wintertime, at least in much of the country, demands specialized tools. A winter car emergency kit should incorporate things such as an ice scraper, emergency blankets, extra warm clothing, hand and feet warmers, a shovel, and kitty litter or sand for better traction.
    • Other Items: As with a home emergency kit, you should stock backup food and drinking water—ideally, at least three days’ worth—in your car. Grub-wise, non-perishable products are best: from granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, and energy bars to freeze-dried meals (such as we obviously specialize in here at Mountain House!).

    Additional Items for Outdoor Enthusiasts

    If you’re hardcore into the outdoors—and we know that describes a good portion of our Mountain House community—there are certainly other items you might want to include in your DIY car emergency kit.

    Those include everything from a winch and towrope to get unstuck (or get others unstuck)—which, truthfully, is a good idea for any driver to have at the ready—to specialized bike, ski, climbing, and backpacking repair kits.

    Who Needs a Car Emergency Kit?

    Men pushing broken down van

    Who needs an emergency car kit? Well, anybody who drives a car! And you should have such a kit assembled for each of your vehicles.

    Again, context matters: Somebody steering into truly back-of-beyond country is likely going to want what essentially amounts to a stripped-down mobile garage in their vehicle, while those doing most of their driving in a city or town may not need to be quite so self-reliant.

    But everyone should have basic survival gear and supplies at the ready in their ride. It can seem like overkill, but it’s better than finding yourself stranded by those unpredictable or underestimated hiccups (or full-on upheaval) of the everyday routine without the essentials to get through.

    Periodical Checks

    As with your at-home emergency kit, give your car disaster supplies a once-over on a regular basis: at least once every six months. Replace as necessary expired first-aid supplies, opened fluids, and other potentially perishable items.

    When it comes to food items, remember that Mountain House offers a signature 30-year taste guarantee!

    Be Prepared on the Road

    Stay safe on the road, from a garden-variety commute or a day trip to wilderness adventures, by adequately outfitting your vehicle with emergency essentials—including Mountain House meals! Explore our Just in Case…collection.

    And bone up on other basics of emergency preparedness in the archives of our Mountain House blog, which include such must-reads as:

    Inspired for an Adventure? Check out Beef Stroganoff - Pouch and Beef Stew - Pouch