Essential Things You Should Keep in Your Car


A toy man changes a tire on a model car

Photo: Calvste (Shutterstock)

Some of us keep absolutely nothing in our cars’ trunks, while others have enough packed in there that they could live in their car for weeks. Somewhere in between is this list of 30 things we think every car owner should always have on hand.

You can buy packaged emergency safety kits—like this one from AAA, which includes a booster cable, flashlight, first aid kit, and many other items—but the DIY approach is more satisfying and cost-effective, as you probably already have many of these items lying around. It’s not just about emergencies or safety, either, so we’ve separated the checklists by category.

Car repair and maintenance

There’s nothing like blowing a tire and realizing while on the side of the road that the spare tire in your trunk is flat, too. (True story.) To keep you up and running, keep these in your trunk:

  • Spare tire (in good condition), along with a tire jack and tire iron, because without them, the spare tire is useless. (Here’s how to change a tire, in case you need a refresher.) Also, if your wheels require a special security key to remove, make sure that’s always in your car too.
  • Tire inflater and sealer, like the Fix-a-Flat, which can plug a minor leak (and help you avoid using the above tools) just long enough to get you to the auto shop.
  • Jumper cables, because dead batteries happen to the best of us. We’ve got a crash course on how to jump-start a car, but you should familiarize yourself with your own car’s engine just in case things are a little different. Alternatively, pack an emergency battery booster so you don’t have to rely on a Good Samaritan happening along.
  • Your car’s manual, which should be in the glove compartment already.
  • A tire pressure gauge. As our sister site Jalopnik points out: “checking tire pressure on a regular basis can improve handling, increase fuel economy, promote tire longevity, and even save lives.”
  • Duct tape and WD-40. Seriously, check out these 10 heroic duct tape car repairs.
  • Repair contact information. A business card for your auto repair shop, your AAA card (if you’re a member), and car insurance claim forms will also come in handy—you can find some of this stuff online, but you never know when you’ll be caught in an area with no cell coverage or facing an ill-times dead phone battery. Store them in your glove compartment.

Safety and survival

You might already have an emergency go bag for when disaster strikes. If you spend a lot of time in your car and it’s always nearby when you’re home, you could just keep said kit in your trunk—or create a second, perhaps lighter version to bring with you on the road.

In any case, your safety supplies should include:

A few car-specific items:

  • Seat belt cutter and window breaker. This one’s $6 on Amazon. Keep this in your glove compartment or door well and not in your trunk, obviously.
  • Flares or reflective triangles, so you don’t get hit while parked on the side of the road in the dark.
  • Maps. Yes, the paper kind. (Your phone’s GPS can and will go out at the worst moment.)

For winter/snow emergencies

  • Ice scraper
  • Mylar space blanket to keep you warm during a blizzard.
  • Cardboard or carpet remnant you can place under tires when you need to get some traction in the snow.

Convenience and comfort

In addition to the basics above, you might want to keep these things around also:

  • Paper towels or a hand towel
  • Tissues or a roll of toilet paper
  • Pencil and paper
  • Umbrella
  • Spare change/emergency cash
  • Reusable shopping bags for those impromptu shopping trips.
  • Blankets, which comes in handy not just for keeping warm in emergencies, but also for impromptu trips to the park.
  • Change of clothes: also an emergency item, because if you get drenched in rain or snow while changing a flat, you’ll want to get warm and dry ASAP.
  • Masks, just in case—you don’t want to be caught out and about without one.
  • A bottle of hand sanitizer. The pandemic ain’t over yet.
  • USB mobile device charger (if your car doesn’t have one built-in) and fully charged power bank. If your car’s battery dies, you’ll still need to charge your phone, so keep a topped-up power bank in your glove compartment and check it regularly to make sure it is retaining a charge.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and your individual needs may vary. While it might sound like a lot, all this stuff doesn’t take up too much space, and you’ll sure be glad it’s there if you should ever need it.

This post was originally published in September 2013 and updated on Dec. 9, 2020 to include updated links and recommendations and a new header image, and to align the content with current Lifehacker style.