When I bought my first car many moons ago, a vintage 1991 Mercedes-Benz (on eBay!), one of the first things I noticed was the neat first aid kit that came with it. It was built into the back-seat’s center console, and at the time, I thought of it as merely a novelty, doubting whether I’d ever actually need it.
Fast-forward nine years, and there I was, about to give birth in the front seat of that very same car. We made it to the hospital, but I distinctly remember thinking about that first aid kit and being comforted by its presence. Here’s what was in it: bandages, adhesive pads, gauze, adhesive tape, butterfly closures, scissors, wet wipes, first aid cream, and an instruction booklet explaining how to administer first aid and CPR. After the baby came, the diaper bag became the main arsenal of preparedness — containing everything from diapers to wipes, a bulb syringe and even a thermometer.
As the years have passed and the kids have grown, I have since adopted a thru-hikers mentality to my cargo, parsing everything down to the bare essentials: phone, wallet, keys. Even my purse was carefully chosen based on the lightweight material and ease of access. I have enough to worry about hauling my kids, their friends, book bags, sports gear, art projects, coats, etc. that my own belongings take the back seat. Of course, today’s backseat is a Toyota minivan and I still miss the Benz.
So what are the essentials of vehicle safety and emergency kits? We asked the experts and here are the top 10 items no car should be without:

Jumper Cables: This may seem like a no-brainer, but many motorists are driving around right now sans jumper cables, hoping a good Samaritan will be there when they need it. Increase your chances of rescue by investing in a set for your vehicle. Walmart sells them for $7.

Car cell phone charger: These days, we live and breathe by our cell phones. According to Consumer Reports, any good emergency kit needs to contain a car charger, no excuses. A solar charger for backup isn’t a bad idea.

Map: If you’re in a dead zone or out of data, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned, paper map.
Flashlight (with extra batteries): Because being underneath a car in the dark isn’t an ideal scenario.
Food & Water: It never hurts to have extra water on hand, and MREs (meals ready to eat) and granola bars can buy you extra time if you’re stranded for a while.

Your car’s manual: Your car probably has a spare tire and jack, but it might be hard to find them without consulting your car’s manual. Pop open the glove compartment and make sure it’s there.

Gloves: Speaking of gloves, a pair of sterile gloves is good to have, in case you need to treat a wound ~ or deliver a baby!

Tool kit: Popular Mechanics
recommends the RoadTech kit from Aerostich. “It’s actually a tool kit for motorcycle trekking but has all the required bits: locking pliers, an adjustable wrench, a 6-in-1 screwdriver, pliers with a wire cutter, a ratchet and sockets, hex keys and more. And the parts roll up into one handy pouch.” (The Ultimate Survival Preparedness Kit for Your Car, Berg, 2012).

Emergency Flares: According to a recent article posted by mentalfloss.com: “A blind curve isn’t the ideal place for your car to stall, but such is life.” Even if you manage to pull (or push) your car to the side of the road, other drivers may not see you until the last second. Reflective flares can be placed around your car and before the curve to give other motorists plenty of warning.

Scanner: Often referred to as an OBD2 scanner, a car scanner allows you to diagnose and clear error codes. According to procarreviews.com, “OBD2 ports have been standardized in the majority of cars since 1998 and are usually located below the steering column.” The Autel Maxisys Pro MS908P has advanced diagnostics and ECU programming, but might be too expensive and complex for the average car owner. The Bluetooth BlueDriver OBD2 automotive diagnostic scanner is a better bargain and easier to use.

That completes the top priority items, but during winter, an ice scraper, warm blanket or space blanket and portable shovel are must-haves. A seatbelt-cutting tool and a window-busting tool are smart additions to your emergency kit, especially if you commute via bridge or tunnel.
And if you don’t drive a Mercedes-Benz, remember to buy a first-aid kit!

Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts

Emily K. Alberts is hoping the cookie crumbs and french fries on the floor of her minivan will sustain her in an emergency.