Simplify Your Family's Emergency Preparedness

How to Make an Emergency Car Kit

black duffel bag full of emergency car kit essentials like work gloves handwarmers and duct tape.

**This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

An emergency car kit is not a one-size-fits-all item. Think about it; if you live in Phoenix, Arizona, a warm blanket might not be a high priority item to keep in your car. But if you live in upstate New York? Storing a fleece blanket in your trunk would be a lifesaver if you ended up stranded on the side of the road in the winter time.


While I do see some benefit to store-bought emergency car kits (I mean, something is better than nothing), this is one of those things that you’d be better off going the DIY route. 


Because of situations like the one mentioned above, there is not a master list of items that EVERY car SHOULD have. However, I am a very thorough girl, and I like to give you all the options. So below is my fairly comprehensive list of items you should CONSIDER keeping in your car. Keep reading to see what essential items you might be forgetting or have never considered (and which ones you may want to skip)!

Don't have time to read through the whole post right now? Click on the red button below to download the winter emergency car kit checklist.

Things to consider before making your emergency car kit

Before I start listing off items you should keep in your car, let’s go through some basics you should think about. These questions/prompts will help you know what not to bother with  and what should move up on your priority list.


  1. What phase of life are you in? If you’re still hauling babies and toddlers around, you’ll definitely want to make sure you have a stash of baby essentials. My assistant told me she used to keep a self contained training potty in her trunk and it came in handy all the time.
  2. Generally speaking, how extreme does the weather get where you live? If it’s warm/hot 10 months out of the year, hand warmers probably aren’t a necessity. 
  3. What are the most common natural disasters in your area?
  4. How much can you realistically make room for in your car? Yes, you might have a Ford Expedition XL, but if you have several kids, you’re probably using every inch of that SUV on a regular basis. It’s okay to pick and choose the essentials that work for your family.
  5. Can you keep these items IN your car (not in your garage right next to your car)? The whole point of an emergency car kit is to have it available when you need it!
jumper cables and car jack.

Essential Tools for your Car Emergency Car Kit

  • Jumper Cables – You don’t need anything fancy. This simple set will get the job done(affiliate link). One thing to consider is the length of the cables – the shorter they are, the closer the 2 batteries will need to be, to get a jump.
  • Flares – Again, simple does the trick. You just want something to draw attention to your vehicle/person. These flares are a pretty cool option. (affiliate link)
  • Tire Repair Kit – This kit (affiliate link) has over 6,000 reviews on Amazon. I don’t have this one, but they’re fairly easy to find.
  • Tow Rope or Chain – You can find these at Target, Walmart, AutoZone, Amazon, etc. Pick one up the next time you’re out running errands.
  • Shovel – This is a really good, heavy duty option that we got for our car (affiliate link).  My only complaint is that the handle is short.
  • Work Gloves – Useful for so many reasons – changing a tire, checking fluid levels, pouring fresh fluid, etc.
  • Tarp – One great use for this would be when you’re changing a tire, saving you from the dirt/mud/gravel that you’re parked on. I have this one in my trunk – it’s not the best quality, but it’s decent and a great price!
  • Duct Tape – You just never know.
  • Stormproof/Waterproof Matches
  • Compass
  • Extra Quart of Oil

Safety Items You Should Keep In Your Car

The following items are things that could be not only life-saving, but can also be a game-changer in an accident situation, and also invaluable if your find yourself at a park with your kids!

  • Fire Extinguisher – We’ve all seen the movies where smoke starts pouring out of a car on a roadtrip. Can you imagine?! For anyone who has had that experience, I’m so sorry!  This is such an important one!  I got my fire extinguishers at Costco and Sam’s Club. They’re almost always cheaper if you purchase them in person. They are also available at home improvement stores.
  • Glass Break/Seatbelt Cutter/Flashlight/Batteries – Having a seatbelt cutter and a glass break tool within reach of the driver is an essential safety precaution. There are separate tools for this, but there are also flashlights that include both of these functions as well.  And an extra light source is always a good safety precaution. From having to change a tire in the dark to needing to look under the hood, you’ll make things much easier on yourself if you have a light OTHER than your phone light. For batteries: proceed with caution. If you’re not dealing with extreme heat or cold, batteries should be fine. Just be sure to store them properly and not just throw them in a bag together. If you’d prefer to not deal with batteries, you can always go the solar route. Just make sure the solar panels are always facing out and in a place in your car where they will get sufficient sunlight to be regularly charging (inside a glovebox is not a good place for a solar flashlight). I like these solar flashlights (affiliate link); they make great stocking stuffers or Easter basket fillers.
  • First Aid Kit – This is one item that you might just want the convenience of a pre-done kit. Most of them have the essentials like band-aids, gauze and neosporin. I really like this one (affiliate link), if you’re wanting to order one online.
  • Radio – I know this seems old school, but being in an emergency situation without knowledge of impending extreme weather would not be cool. We have this one (affiliate link). A few reasons I love this one:
      • 3 ways to charge: rechargeable battery, hand crank, solar
      • All 7 NOAA Weather Band Frequencies
      • Weather Alerts
      • AM/FM Radio
      • Long-Lasting LED Flashlight, Red LED Flashing Beacon, Glow in the Dark Locator
      • USB Smartphone Charger
      • Alarm Clock Function
      • Headphone Jack & Auxiliary Input
  • Maps – I know, I know…we’re all using our car’s navigation system or our cell phone GPS to guide us. But, what if cell service drops? Or what if your battery dies? Paper maps will help you find where you’re headed, with or without cell service. This is a really great road atlas! (affiliate link)
  • Pocket knife – So many uses for this in an emergency situation!
  • N95 Mask – These should be in all of your emergency kits at this point.
  • Pepper Spray (affiliate link)
  • Emergency contact list – Keep a written list in your glove compartment in case your phone dies. I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t have phone numbers memorized anymore.
homemade emergency car kit items like a towel handwarmers poncho.

Comfort Items You Might Want in your Emergency Car Kit

This is where you really need to think about your personal needs and your own family. Some of these things might be essential for you and some might just be for comfort. I just know there have been situations (not emergencies) where more than a couple of these items were really nice to have in the moment.


  • Cash – Small bills and coins are the way to go here. From toll roads to parking to power outages that take out credit card machines, cash is a necessity.
  • Disposable Washcloths 
  • Feminine Hygiene Products – Any female who has been stuck without one, knows how awful it is. Not cool at all.
  • Toilet Paper – Roadside bathroom breaks happen. This can also double as a napkin or a tissue.
  • Kleenex – Allergy season, cold & flu season, really any season at all.
  • Clothes (at the very least, sweatshirts) – If you have kids, you know this. I’ve been sitting at many  baseball games where the temperature dropped quickly and I was really glad I had our emergency stash of  sweatshirts in the trunk! (For this stash, I just stole the one sweatshirt from everyone’s closet that they never wore. You know the one…everyone’s got one!) If you can spare the space and the clothes, it would be nice to have a full outfit for every family member.
  • Small Backpack/Cinch Bag – This is a great way to store clothes for each family member and they squish pretty easily.
  • Toys – A bored little kid is not what you want in an emergency situation or if you get stuck in traffic on a roadtrip. If your child doesn’t know it’s there, that makes it even better because, well – new toy!
  • Blanket – Always. So many uses for this, but especially if you are somewhere cold. They’re also great for sticking under you if you find yourself at a football game with stone cold bleachers.
  • Towel – Because wet and messy happen. Can also function as a blanket in a pinch, or a slide-dryer at the neighborhood park.
  • Rain Poncho – Grab some from the Dollar Store and toss them in your trunk. Cheap is fine here – just something to do the job.
  • Umbrella – Necessary? No. But, will you be glad you have it in a downpour? Yes.
  • Large Plastic Bags/Garbage Bags – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been glad I’ve had some garbage bags in my trunk.
  • Ziplock Bags – If you’ve ever dealt with a carsick toddler on a roadtrip, you get it. One suggestion is to store some of your smaller personal items (like chapstick and nail clippers) in a ziplock bag. Then if you find yourself with a vomiting child while driving through the mountains, you can empty out the ziplock and stash all the stinky stuff in it until you can get it out of the car.
  • Chapstick – This one seems fairly every day, normal. 
  • Hand Sanitizer – This one is especially good if you’re dealing with cuts and other first aid situations.
  • Baby Wipes – Even without a baby, you’ll find a use for these.
  • Nail Clippers – Not necessarily an emergency, but hangnails and broken nails are annoying. Having these in your car will be like the “current you” did your “future you” a favor. These ones are more expensive, but they catch the nails so they don’t go flying all over your car (affiliate link).  #worthit
kleenex box pack of wipes hand sanitizer and pantyliners.

Food and Water for Your Emergency Car Kit


This one can get tricky because you do need to pay attention to expiration dates, temperature, etc. Go with things that have a long shelf life like protein bars.  Here are a few to consider:

I haven’t tried any of these. Just be sure to find something that is rated for extreme temperatures.


Space will definitely be an issue with this. Again, choose something that is rated for extreme temperatures. Be aware that water will freeze.

I have been told however, that if you keep it in an insulated cooler, that will help prevent freezing. Here are a few options to choose from:

  • Water Pouches (affiliate link) – These are nice for your emergency car kit because of how compact they are. You can slip these in and around the other stuff.
  • Blue Can (affiliate link) – If you want bang for your buck, and have the space, these have a 50 year shelf life!
  • LifeStraw (affiliate link) these are good if you have a water source.

Essential Items for a Winter Car Kit

collage of winter car kit essentials like hand warmers, snow boots, bag of sand.

Many of the car emergency kit items should be kept in your car year-round, but there are a few things that you’ll definitely want to make sure you have come winter. Here is what I recommend:

  • Antifreeze
  • Hand/Foot Warmers – Have you ever had frostbite? Yeah, it doesn’t sound pleasant. This is not just for outdoors. What if the heater goes out in your car and it’s -25 degrees outside?
  • Gloves/Extra Socks/Warm Jacket – I know I mentioned clothes above, but make sure you have some cold weather specific items.
  • Ice/Snow Scraper
  • Tire Chains – These will be especially important if you live somewhere you get a significant amount of snow each year.
  • Bag of Sand/Non-Clumping Kitty Litter – Truck owners know this trick, but it’s helpful to add some weight in the trunk for SUVS or sedans too.
  • Winter Boots – Do you have teenagers? If you do, then you know they pretend it’s summer year-round and definitely do not dress for the weather (especially when it comes to footwear – they want easy on/easy off, which does not include winter boots).
  • Salt – Help melt that ice! Just don’t put it on your car – this is strictly for the pavement. 
  • Bright-Colored Bandana – This comes in handy if you need to flag down help.
  • Emergency Sleeping Bag – This is a great, inexpensive, compact option.

Remember to regularly check and replenish your car kit to ensure that all items are in good condition and within their expiration dates. This is especially important to do when it comes time to exchange your winter items for your summer car kit items. You can check out this post for the list of summer car kit essentials.

Routine maintenance and things to check for winter car safety

Make sure your car is in tip top shape before venturing out in the frigid temps and snow! Here are some things you should consider doing:

72-hour kit for a dog, collapsible food & water bowls, pet first aid kit, leash, etc.

Don't Forget Your Pets When You're Packing Your Emergency Car Kit

If you travel with your pet(s), it’s a good idea to keep some pet food, water, and some other basic essentials for your pet(s) in your car also.

For a list of items to consider for your pets, see this post (and yes, this adorable dog kit is linked there).



Suggestions for how to store all of these items

Now that you’ve seen the list, are you a little overwhelmed at the thought of where to put all of it?  I know.  It’s a lot.  Just remember what I said in the introduction – not every item applies to every person/family. That’s the beauty of DIY when it comes to emergency preparedness – you can make it work for YOU.

**NOTE: Everything on this list will not fit in a normal trunk. You will have to make cuts. You can't take it all.**

Some of these items will be things you want to/should keep in your car all year long, while others can be switched out according to the season. 


A good idea for the winterspecific items would be a smaller duffel bag that is easy to transfer when it’s time to switch out for summer items. That way it all stays in one place and you won’t be hunting down items the next winter.


Another thought is to keep some of these items stashed in other parts of your car. This is actually recommended for some items (like the seatbelt cutter/glass break/flashlight that should be within reach of the driver at all times).


Some ideas for organizing the trunk items:


One final thought: As you are deciding what is worthy to take up trunk space, be sure to not cut out things that could potentially save your life.

If I had to choose, I’d choose safety over convenience every time!

Related Posts:

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Three full pages of printables (to be cut in half for 6 half-sheets of paper)

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hands holding a sign.

5 simple things you can do to get your family prepared if you don't have thousands of dollars or hundreds of hours


hands holding a sign.

Essential items for a summer car kit

summer car kit items spread out on a beach towel.

There will be a lot of crossover with your winter car kit. Some things are just essential year-round. You’ll find those in the post I mentioned above. Here I want to highlight the must-have items for your summer car kit:


  • Engine Coolant – Summer temperatures mean there’s a higher likelihood of your engine overheating. 
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat – Maybe not the most stylish option, but a wide-brimmed hat could come in real handy if you find yourself unexpectedly in the blazing sun for hours.
  • Insect Repellent – One word…Ticks. Okay, and mosquitoes. You really don’t want to deal with bites from either.
  • Baby powder – Works great for removing sand from little feet/hands.
  • Allergy medications/ointments/Epi-pen – Outdoor allergens are just more prevalent in summer, so make sure you’ve considered your own family’s needs here.
  • Tennis shoes – So you can swap flip flops if you need to leave on foot randomly.
  • Battery powered fanI LOVE this one (affiliate link). Use it for sitting at a baseball game, the waterpark, or at an outdoor reception.
  • Windshield Washer Fluid
  • Swimsuits/water shoes – Have you ever taken your kid to a park and find out once you’re there that it has a splash pad? Yeah, me too.
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunshade – There are a couple directions you can take this – the traditional windshield shade or this really cool umbrella type (affiliate link). The latter would be great shade if you need to change a flat tire.
  • Aloe – Don’t wait until you get home to start easing the sunburn or bug bite.
  • Plastic grocery bags  – For storing wet clothing, dirty toys, dirt clumped shoes, etc.
  • Hair bag – Hair ties, detangler spray, comb/brush – just stash them all in a gallon-size Ziploc bag.
  • Beach towels – Summer just lends itself to unexpected adventures, many of them involve water, sand or dirt.

Remember to regularly check and replenish your car kit to ensure that all items are in good condition and within their expiration dates. This is especially important to do when you make the swap from Winter to Summer. A well-maintained car kit will provide you with peace of mind all summer long.

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