Curious about what kind of items you should keep in your car? Here’s a list that covers a lot of ground!
If you commute, you likely spend a significant portion of your life in your car. Are you prepared if something goes wrong?
“What items do you keep in your car?” Take a second and think about it.
Just a fist full of napkins and a spare tire?!
That isn’t going to cut it in an emergency! In fact, it’s probably not going to be very helpful for tackling everyday challenges or even minor inconveniences.
Consider transforming your car into a veritable toolbox that you can reach into to help solve your day-to-day difficulties. Not only that, but a well-stocked vehicle can quite literally be the difference between life and death when misfortune strikes.
Let’s explore how you can best make use of extra space in your vehicle in order to be ready for almost anything.
These are the important day-to-day items that I think everyone should keep in their car regardless of your job, where you live, and what your climate is like.
If there’s one item on the list that you probably already have in your car it’s this one.
A phone charger is especially critical if you use your phone as a GPS frequently.
Tide Stain Stick
It’s easy to spill on yourself when you’re eating in your car.
Who knows? A Tide stain stick may just save your favorite shirt from falling casualty to that greasy, drippy burger you’ll have for lunch next week.
What a difference! I don’t know how I made it on sunny days without wearing sunglasses.
It’s good to always stay hydrated. I like to keep a case of plastic water bottles in my trunk. While this isn’t the most environmentally-friendly choice, I like to know I have water if I get stuck somewhere.
Also, water bottles are good to give to people begging. While you may have qualms about giving money to panhandlers, giving a bottle of water and a smile to a person who has been standing for hours on end out in the hot sun is a simple way to brighten their day.
A handful of napkins can be a lifesaver when dealing with spills.
You may also want to consider keeping a package of sanitary wipes in your glovebox as well.
Gas station pumps, door handles, and shopping carts are disgusting.
Keep some hand sanitizer in the car to get the “ick” off your hands.
License and Registration
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
When the cop asks for it, you better have it.
A flashlight is a good thing to have as part of your everyday carry, but it is also great to keep in your car because you never know when you might need to see what you’re doing in the dark. Bonus points if you have a headlamp — it makes changing a tire in the dark so much easier.
Sure, you could use your phone but a “real” flashlight is often brighter and easier to hold. Also, you don’t want to run out of charge on your phone.
Even if you have AAA, you never quite know when you might end up out of range of cell service. It’s critical you have a few car maintenance items in your trunk.
Spare Tire / Tire Irons / Jack
It almost goes without saying that you should have these items on hand and you should know how to use them.
An extra quart or two of oil doesn’t take up much space in your truck but can save you a lot of time on a road trip.
Make checking your oil regularly a habit.
Windshield Wiper Fluid
It’s dangerous to drive without windshield wiper fluid — if something blocks your view you can get into an accident.
Where else are you going to wipe off your dipstick? Having a rag makes checking your oil easier. Not only that, it comes in handy in so many other situations.
Items Specific to Your Work
Most people still commute at least a few days a week. Keeping a few items in your car that you think might be helpful for your work is a good idea.
Extra Work Clothes
Whether it’s a hard hat and tool belt, or an extra necktie, some clothing items might be best kept in your car for convenience, or as a backup in case you forget some day when you’re running late.
Tools of Your Trade
Depending on your job, you might want to have extra charging cables or C-clamps stored in your vehicle.
Storing supplies in your trunk that you find yourself needing on regular basis in your line of work can potentially save you time.
While you might not want to carry business cards around in your pocket every day, throw a few in your glove compartment — you never know when you’ll meet someone new.
You might rationalize, “I don’t need these things because I only drive in the city. I could just make a phone call if I need anything.” First, I doubt that. Everyone I know drives through rural areas from time to time. Second, even in the city, you can face an emergency or get stranded.
Don’t think it can’t happen to you.
In January 2022, thousands of motorists were trapped for up to 27 hours on I-95 outside of Washington, D.C. Due to accidents, there were 40 miles of traffic in severe winter weather. Many people found themselves without food, water, or warm clothes.
While it’s likely that no amount of preparation could have prevented most from getting caught up in the jam, had they stored just a few items in their trunk, they could’ve been more comfortable throughout that frigid night and have been able to better help others.
Guys, it’s not like they were out in the boonies; they were just miles from the capital of the United States. An emergency situation really can happen anywhere at any time.
You should be prepared for the worst. That said, you don’t have to go to insane, “the end is nigh,” doomsday prepper extremes here — you can just leave a plastic tub with some gear in your trunk and forget about it (for the most part).
First Aid Kit
I highly recommend that you never buy a pre-made first aid kit. Buy each component of the kit separately. Not only will you likely buy higher-quality gear, but you’ll know what you have.
I won’t get into the specifics of what you need in a car first aid kit, as there are already many good guides out there. I will say that it’s important that you know how to use each item in a kit. A tool isn’t very helpful if you don’t know how to use it.
When shopping for first aid gear buy quality, your life may depend on it.
Seatbelt Cutter / Window Smasher
These 2 in 1 tools are great to keep in your glove box or car door. They allow you to be able to cut your seatbelt and smash windows to be able to escape being trapped in your car.
One more thing about vehicles in emergency situations — your life is more important than your car.
It may seem obvious to smash the window if your car’s sinking, but it might not be quite as easy a decision to damage your car when the adrenaline stops pumping and you find yourself stranded. For example, people have saved their feet from frostbite by making snowshoes out of their car upholstery.
At Least a Half-Full Tank of Gas
Jason Hanson, a former CIA agent, wrote that you should always try and keep your gas tank at least half full. That’s because you want to have enough gas to travel on short notice (for example, if there’s an emergency in the middle of the night and you have to drive to the hospital).
Also, having fuel helps keep you warm (or cool) if you get stuck somewhere. Many people in the I-95 jam reported that they didn’t have enough gas to keep the heat on in their cars throughout the night.
With at least a half tank of gas, they would have had a better chance of staying warm and being able to drive out of there once the road cleared.
Shoes You Can Walk In
If you do get stuck somewhere, you might need to walk several miles to get gas or contact someone. That might be hard to do if you’re wearing the wrong shoes. Walking on the side of a rain-slicked highway in leather-soled oxfords isn’t ideal.
Having an old pair of
Change of Clothes
The same thing applies to clothes as to shoes. Your made-to-measure suit might look good in the boardroom, but it’s not the best thing to wear to change a tire.
Throw some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty in the trunk, just in case.
I imagine that some of those people who were stranded on I-95 overnight didn’t have the medicine they needed, making an already dangerous situation much worse.
If you need medicine to function regularly, try to keep some extra pills in your trunk just in case.
Check with your doctor if you’re worried about them being stored at potentially extreme temperatures.
They’re very useful as they usually have screwdrivers, pliers, a knife, and other small tools you may need at your fingertips.
Reflective Vest, Triangles, Flares, And / Or Magnetic Flashing Lights
Years ago, a close family friend was being a good samaritan by helping a car crash victim on the side of the road when she was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.
In most places in the US, it is very dangerous to be in or near a stopped car on the shoulder of a busy highway for any reason. This is especially true at night and in bad weather.
Unfortunately, car problems, an unexpected illness, or other emergencies can necessitate that you pull over in an unsafe area.
A reflective vest only costs a few dollars, but it can save your life.
Likewise, reflective triangles, flares, and flashing lights that can attach to your car magnetically are inexpensive but are absolutely vital. You should keep one or more of these items in your car to use in case of an emergency.
No, no, not for smoking. (“You quit, remember!?”).
A lighter is good to have on hand to make fires in case you have to spend the night out in the cold.
Snacks are great to eat in the car anyway but consider keeping some high-Calorie non-perishable food you like in your trunk.
This is especially important if you’re diabetic, aren’t used to fasting, or even just if you tend to get hangry.
Cash ($200 At Least)
In emergency situations, cash is still king.
$200 is enough to buy food, fill your tank,
bribe a border guard, or get a taxi if needed.
Paper List of Emergency Contacts (Phone Numbers and Addresses)
Write out the names of family members and friends that you could contact in case you need help and don’t have a working phone.
It’s always good to have a list of emergency contacts. It can’t hurt to have a list, and it doesn’t take up much space.
“Paper maps? Really?!” Yes, I actually keep paper maps in my car.
Like most people these days, I normally use GPS. However, I’ve actually needed my paper maps a few times — when my phone didn’t have service and when my phone has run out of charge, and I didn’t have a charger in the car (rookie mistake).
Paper maps are a good backup to have, especially if you like traveling to out-of-the-way places.
Cold Weather Gear
A warm coat, winter boots, gloves, a warm hat, or a thick blanket all can be the difference between life and death if you get stuck out in the cold.
You may want to consider keeping some warm gear in your trunk year-round. Even in the summer, you can get hypothermia in many places in the world. It doesn’t have to be below freezing outside for your core temperature to drop dangerously low.
Fun Things to Keep in Your Car
Not everything has to be doom and gloom — nothing says you can’t be prepared to have fun!
I know a couple who for years kept a kite in the trunk of his car. If they found themselves with extra time on a windy day they’d pull out their kite and send it up for a few minutes.
A soccer ball, frisbee, basketball, or even lacrosse stick can fit easily in your trunk.
Be ready for impromptu meet-ups with friends in the park by keeping some basic sports equipment in your car!
If sports aren’t your thing, throw a pack of playing cards, a chess set, Monopoly, or whatever other game wets your whistle into your car.
If you have kids, be sure to have some games the little tikes will enjoy too.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to common questions about stocking your car:
What Should I Keep In My Car?
You should keep everyday essentials (things you use every day), car maintenance tools, items specific to your work, some emergency preparedness gear, and a few fun things in your car.
Can I Store a Gas Can Inside My Car?
No, transporting gas inside your car is dangerous, even when it’s in authorized gas cans.
What Snacks Should I Keep In My Car?
Whatever non-perishable food that you like! Personally, I find that Cliff bars and tins of nuts store well in my car.
What Tools Should I Keep In My Car?
A tire iron, jack, jack stands, extra oil, a rag, a reflective vest, and a multitool are good to keep in your car.
Don’t try to get everything on the list all at once. Instead, build up your stockpile slowly over time. I for one don’t have all of these items in my car (yet!).
Remember, this list is meant to provide suggestions. While I truly believe that some things are truly essential for everyone to keep in their vehicle, other items aren’t as necessary.
Your car is a tool, and it can better serve you if it is resource-rich with the things you need to be as productive, safe, and healthy as possible even in the worst situations.
What did I miss? Let me know in the comment section below!