We hate to break it to you, but your car needs an emergency kit at all times of the year. The good news is that after building your kit, it's easy to make some simple swaps for summer and winter and to regularly replace items that have expiration dates. So what do you absolutely need in your kit? There are quite a few things.
What's an emergency kit for anyways?
The purpose of an emergency kit is to ensure you can survive and contact others if your vehicle breaks down somewhere remote. Even if you have cellular service and can call for help, it may be some time before help arrives. A well-stocked emergency kit will ensure you're safe and (relatively) content while you wait.
Why would I need one?
No one thinks they'll be stranded on the road, but disasters can strike anywhere. A blizzard may make it impossible for you to continue driving. You may get a flat tire while on the backroads in the mountains, with no cell phone service. For summer 2019, AAA expects to rescue almost 8 million people. An emergency kit can save your life or make your wait a lot less stressful.
What should be in an emergency kit?
You'll want to have multiple items that will let people know you need help. A brightly covered flag or bandana can be waved in the day time, but you'll also want something that can be seen at night, so consider having a flashlight or flares. If you're stuck changing a tire by the road at night, flares can double as a safety alert item to passing vehicles. If you need to leave your car, you'll want to have a pen and a paper so you can let people know where you have gone. On the note, mention your intended location, the time you left, and how many people are with you. A reflective vest is also a good idea to increase your visibility on the road.
You'll also want to have some of the more standard items, such as jumper cables, a fire extinguisher, a multipurpose tool, and so forth. Make sure you know how to change a tire! A first-aid kit, medications, and plenty of hand sanitizer are also must have items.
Pack enough water for three days but ideally not in plastic! Plastic wears down and leaches BPA and other dangerous chemicals into the water. Don't poison yourself with your emergency water. Store water in the trunk and in glass or aluminum if possible. You should have enough food and water for three days. Each person consumes one gallon of water per day. Having water purification tablets isn't a bad idea, but remember that you may not have a chance to use them. If you're not near a water source and it doesn't rain while you're stranded, you won't have any water to purify. In terms of food, store high-protein snacks that will keep you feeling full longer. Avoid food high in sodium. Again, you want enough for three days.
If you have kids, make sure you bring some snacks that are kid-friendly but still high in protein. You'll also want to have some games for them or a deck of cards in case you're stuck by the road for a while. Even if they typically have iPads or cell phones with them, don't count on the batteries working for long or being in an area with service. A pen and paper can double as a way to let people know if you have left your car and can be used to entertain the kids: hangman, word searches, drawing, and other pen and paper games can all help pass the time.
If you have pets or frequently travel with animals in your car, it's a good idea to bring food for them as well as a bowl for them to drink out of. Save room by purchasing a collapsable bowl that you can use for food and water.
Items that expire:
Items within your first aid kit (it's always a good idea to check this every season, replenish what has been used, and make sure everything is up to date.)
Items that you should regularly check to see if they're still working:
Cell phone charger
Summer specific items:
Sunscreen (check expiration)
Bug spray (check expiration)
Blanket for cold nights
Comfortable, closed-toe shoes
Winter specific items:
Sand for traction
Warm clothes and blankets
What can I do to prevent an emergency in the first place?
Accidents happen and they can happen to anyone, but there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of needing help.
Having your car regularly serviced and maintained is one of the best things you can do to avoid ever needing that emergency kit. It's especially wise to have a check-up before road trips, before busy travel holidays, and when you know you're going to be traveling through remote areas.
Don't get locked out of your car. Make sure you take your keys with you or, better yet, make a habit of always locking your car using the key. This will prevent you from pressing the lock button, securing all of your doors, and then looking in horror to find your keys inside. If you have a key fob, make sure to replace the battery when recommended by the manufacturer.
Keep an eye on your fuel. Avoid running out of gas by always making sure you know how much you have left. If you're planning a long trip, check out the route ahead of time. If you are going through any areas where finding gas may be a problem, make sure your tank is full beforehand.
It may sound like common sense, but don't drive during bad weather unless absolutely necessary. If there are storm advisories in effect, stay off of the road. Regularly watch the weather so you can plan your drives on the good days and be prepared to stay in and relax when the weather is predicted to be problematic.
Drive smart. Don't drive under the influence and don't drive when you're tired. In winter, give yourself plenty of time to arrive safely and leave lots of space between you and other vehicles. Rushing to arrive at your destination on icy roads or driving while you're exhausted are both recipes for driving off the road or making other dangerous mistakes.