You should always have certain items in the car, and no, we’re not talking about the piles of trash that are currently in the back seat. This list of car essentials will keep your car running and help you deal with unforeseen obstacles in the road.
You may even run into a “Good Samaritan” opportunity to help a stranded stranger in need. Who knows? You may just meet your future love this way. It’s a stretch, but that doesn’t make these items any less important!
While city drivers can do without some of these items since they are never too far from a mechanic, if you live in a rural area or are planning a long road trip, it’s always a good idea to double check some emergency essentials before heading out on the road.
So, use your instinct and view these items as strong suggestions rather than absolute requirements. Someone in Southern California may not need an extra parka, for example. But everyone needs their license, insurance, and registration.
We’ve divided these items into the essential categories: Documentation, Car Repairs & Maintenance, Safety, and Winter. Read on for the 17 things you should have in your car in 2017, and drive on to new adventures this winter and all year round!
1. Owner’s Manual
Double check your glove box or wherever you keep your owner’s manual to make sure that it is indeed there. Your owner’s manual will tell you important information, such as recommended fuel and PSI levels, in addition to other important information that will be unique to your vehicle. It comes with your car, so if you never take it out, you’ll never have to worry about its whereabouts.
2. Car Repair Information
We recommend keeping car repair information, as well as insurance claim forms and AAA information, all in the same location. Car repair records help you when you are selling or repairing your vehicle, provide important information about vehicle history, and can be deducted as a business expense.
3. License, Insurance, and Registration
It may seem obvious, but you should always have your license, registration, and insurance in the car whenever you are driving it. Especially when the new insurance card comes in the mail, remembering to actually stick it in the glove box could take months. And in the meantime, you’re driving around without the main documentation asked for by police officers and required by law.
Hopefully you won’t be pulled over, but it’s the law to have these documents whenever you are driving. Knowing you’re all set and up to date with your paperwork, makes every ride all the more smooth and secure.
Keep all of your important car documents in a file folder in the glovebox:
- Owner’s manual
- Car maintenance receipts
- Emergency contact information
Car Repairs and Maintenance
4. Tire Jack, Spare Tire, and Lug Wrench
We’ll count this as 3 things, although they must be grouped together. Nothing is quite so frustrating as finding out that your spare tire has a flat or you forgot your jack in the garage. So, make sure you have a jack, inflated spare tire, and lug wrench in the car. If you have two of these items and not the third, it’s all useless. These three things go together so make sure you have them all.
Some cars have special locking lug nuts, so make sure you have a lug nut key if that’s the case.
Learn how to change a flat tire here.
5. Jumper Cables
If your vehicle’s battery dies, it’s not always efficient or even likely that you can depend on a helpful passerby to supply you with a jumpstart. Jumper cables alone are not enough to get your engine revved up again. Because of this, you’ll also need an emergency battery booster. Sure, your insurance provider’s roadside assistance is always an option, but often the wait is longer than anticipated which can be a problem if you are late or in a dangerous situation.
Jumper cables are relatively inexpensive, costing below $20 at most retail stores or online. A dead battery tends to always be a surprise and super inconvenient. But if you’ve taken the time to purchase jumper cables and practice with jumpstarting a battery, your car, and most importantly your day, won’t be dead for long.
Most compact battery jump-starter kits now come with USB connections to keep all of your devices charged. Whether you need to jump start a vehicle or simply need to recharge your phone, a jump-starter kit is a great item to have in the car and a great gift.
Learn how to jumpstart a car here.
6. Tire Pressure Gauge
Boy does this little gadget come in handy! No one can just look at a tire and know exactly how much air has been lost and how much needs to be added. It’s easy to find out, however, with a tire pressure gauge.
Even if a specific tire doesn’t look especially low, routine checks of all four tires are always encouraged. Ensuring that your tire pressure is on point will improve handling, prolong the lifespan of your tires, and increase your vehicle’s fuel economy.
You can get your own standard gauge for under $5 on Amazon. It’s a super helpful, inexpensive safety tool that every car owner should stash in the glove box.
Click here for more information on how to take care of your tires.
How many times have you struggled to loosen a nut or bolt on your car? Whether you are switching your license plate out, loosening lug nuts, or silencing a creaky door, WD-40 is a great item to always have in the car.
8. Duct Tape
It’s durable duct tape to the rescue when it comes to many emergency fixes! Arguably the most magical and diverse object ever, car owners have found endless ways to use duct tape as a DIY tool for unexpected leaks, cracks, and breaks. For a laugh, but also some future inspiration, check out this compilation of Ten Heroic Duct Tape Car Repairs.
9. Cleaning Supplies
Having certain cleaning and hygiene items in the car won’t save your life, but it could save you a lot of frustration. Keep these items in your car for a cleaner and easier trip:
- zipper lock backs
- reusable shopping bags
- paper towels
- car trash can
- water bottles
- Mom’s Emergency Kit (from Angie at Echoes of Laughter)
10. First Aid Kit
You never know when you are going to need a First Aid Kit. Life has a way of springing unexpected scrapes on you, especially if you have children. You may need to clean up a cut or bandage a blister. If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, it’s much more convenient to have a small supply of medical essentials on hand.
Your kit should include items such as Band-Aids, ointment, gauze pads, scissors, and gloves. If you don’t want to think too hard about all the little odds and ends you may need, you can purchase pre-made kits online. The AAA 53 Piece Tune Up First Aid Kit is basic, but a bargain at $8.25 on Amazon, or opt for the more thorough AAA 85 Piece Commuter First Aid Kit for $14.55. Either way, you’re looking at a pretty complete kit for under $15. Why not make the purchase rather than risk the alternative?
11. Tactical Flashlight
Good luck trying to change a tire at night without one of these. Keep a strong tactical flashlight in your car for the darkest maintenance moments that hit even the best of us at some time or another. If your flashlight requires batteries, keep some extra of those in the glove box as well.
Tactical flashlights are used by the police and military, so in addition to emitting much more light, they can also be used as a personal self-defense tool.
We offer further information on durable tactical flashlight options and other car essentials on our blog.
12. Reflective Triangles and/or Flares
Alongside a tactical flashlight, reflective triangles and/or flares are your nighttime safeguards. If you’ve pulled off to the shoulder for any prolonged amount of time, put these safety essentials around your vehicle. They offer enhanced visibility for ongoing traffic, lowering the possibility of you being hit by unsuspecting drivers while you’re waiting for the help you need.
Just in case you need scissors, a screwdriver, or a sharp edge, a good multi-tool will give you peace of mind knowing you have all that and much more. Here are some multi-tool user favorites.
14. Car Hammer
This little tool can save your life! While you may be able to use your tactical flashlight to break a car window in the event of an emergency, many people complain about this feature not working.
It’s much easier to break a window and escape from your car with a car hammer or emergency escape tool. Most come with a seatbelt cutter too. All cars should have one mounted for easy access.
15. Windshield Wiper Fluid
Baby, it’s cold outside. And driving in any type of precipitation — rain, snow, ice — is no joke! To prevent the potential hazards caused by winter splash-back and combat the road sludge and slush attacking your window, you’re going to need a backup of wiper fluid.
Without visibility, get off the road! Windshield wiper fluid is your biggest support system when it comes to keeping the road visible and your path clear throughout these unpredictable weather months.
16. Ice-scraper or Snowbrush
Snowfall has greeted Chattanooga and parts of North Georgia with its icy glow. If you have snow on your windshield, you’re not going anywhere. An ice-scraper or a snowbrush are crucial for car owners in snow-covered areas.
Having one of these tools on hand will save time and help you to avoid scratches and awkward attempts at getting the snow off with whatever random items you have in your car. You also want to make sure you brush the snow off your roof, because it will either fly off the back and bother the car behind you, or it will simply loosen up enough to slide onto your windshield while you’re driving. Brush off, then drive on!
17. Warm Gear
Winter weather is unpredictable. You might leave the house with only a jacket, but find when you’re leaving work that you need gloves, a beanie, and a scarf in order to get home comfortably. Keep a reusable tote in the back of your car with these winter essentials. Leather driving gloves should be in there too. They’re both practical and stylish.
Don’t forget a blanket. In addition to keeping you warm, a blanket is perfect for picnics, preventing messes, and getting underneath your car.
Many car owners also recommend the following items:
- Kitty Litter and/or Traction Mat
- Pen and Paper
- Spare Change and Cash
- Extra Clothes
- Snacks and Energy Bars
- Toilet Paper
- Matches and Flares
- Portable Tire Inflator
- Foam Cooler
- Medication (only store as directed)