17 Essentials for Your Roadside Emergency Kit

Drivers taking to the road this season will likely have had their oil changed, tires rotated, and their engine checked before heading out on a long trip. Yet, breakdowns can happen and without a roadside emergency kit on hand, you may find yourself stranded. Already assembled kits are available from auto parts stores, but you can put together your own and include several essentials not found in most kits.

Chrysler 300

1. Booster Cables

A dead battery is one of the chief reasons that a car will break down. And batteries will often fail without warning. Having your battery tested before you take a long trip is a good idea. Do this with a testing device that can be plugged into your 12-volt outlet. When a breakdown does happen, having a set of cables that are at least 10 feet long and wrapped in 8-gauge rubber can get you going again with a boost from a passing motorist.

2. Air Compressor

Always check your spare tire before leaving on a trip, ensuring that it is adequately inflated and in good enough condition to get you back on the road. A portable air compressor is invaluable, enabling you to quickly refill a tire. Canned tire sealant is the choice for some motorists, but be mindful that you may invalidate the tire’s warranty. Also, sealant does not work with high-performance tires.

3. Cell Phone Charger

Your only way to call for help may be on your cell phone. Bring along a cell phone charger to ensure that you always have enough power available to call for help. Consider investing in a hand-cranked charger as a backup should your car’s battery die.

4. Flashlight and Spare Batteries

Inspect the flashlight in your glove box before leaving on a trip, replacing older batteries and by bringing with you an extra set. Consider investing in a new flashlight with LED lighting and a strobe light to attract attention. Look for a light with a magnet for affixing same to the roof of your car or under the hood.

Porsche Flashlight

5. Shop Cloth

Several rags or shop cloth can come in handy when working on your car.

6. Work Gloves

A pair of mechanic’s gloves can protect your hands when working on your car. Some people prefer cotton gloves, so find the pair that you like best and try these on before placing them in your roadside emergency kit.


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7. Flathead and Phillips Screwdrivers

A flathead screwdriver can be useful for prying and a Phillips screwdriver for tightening connections such as loose hose clamps. Carry both because you may need each one to handle different repairs.

8. Pliers, Grips and a Wrench

2014 BMW 535dWhen your car breaks down, you may wait for your roadside assistance to show up to handle repairs or to tow your car to a garage. Or, you can choose to tackle those repairs with a set of pliers, a grip and a wrench.

9. Duct Tape

Nearly anything can be fixed with duct tape. Or at least it may seem that way. What cannot be permanently fixed when on the road may be enough to patch a cracked hose, for connecting a cracked bumper or to hold that dangling side mirror in place that got sideswiped when you stopped for lunch.

10. Pocketknife

Unless you can rip the duct tape by hand, you’ll need something to cut it with. A pocketknife can come in handy and is useful for cutting a hose, fashioning a splint, preparing food and for providing self-defense in a crisis.

11. Automotive Fluids

Your roadside emergency kit can include a few of the fluids your car needs including a can of motor oil, a bottle of radiator coolant and washer fluid.

12. Bungee Cords

While duct tape can hold many things together, a bungee cord may do the trick elsewhere. With a bungee cord, you may be able to temporarily hold a car battery in place, secure a trunk lid shut, or keep a separated bumper from crashing to the ground.

13. Special Clothing

You may have plenty of clothes with you as you leave for your vacation. No roadside emergency kit is complete without a hooded poncho, especially useful when working underneath the hood in inclement weather.

14. Blankets

If your trip takes you through the mountains, star-lit nights can get chilly. A blanket can keep you warm while you are waiting for help to arrive. Include a thermal blanket that radiates body heat.

emergency water

15. Water

Quench your thirst by bringing enough water with you on your trip. You won’t have to worry about finding suitable drinking water if you are stranded miles from help.

16. Food

Nonperishable foods such as dried fruit and energy bars can tide you over until help arrives.

17. First Aid

If your breakdown involves an accident with injuries, you may need to intervene before the first responders arrive. Every roadside assistance kit should include a first aid kit stocked with gauze pads, bandages, a wound cleaning agent, adhesive tape, instant cold compress, aspirin, a splint and latex gloves.

Get Emergency Prepared

Lastly, consider joining a roadside assistance club as they’re invaluable if you have a breakdown and need to be towed to safety or have some other emergency. If you are a new car owner, roadside assistance may be packaged with your warranty. In any case, place the contact information on your cell phone and keep your membership card handy.


Photo Credits

“mPower Porsche Design Flashlight” by Nan Palmero is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Emergency Preparedness Kit” by City of Seattle is licensed under CC BY 2.0


See AlsoVehicle Breakdown Tips and Tricks

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.