Man in gray suit looking inside car emergency kit in truck

Car emergency kit for your trunk

By Wayne Scraba,

Whatever the time of year, it’s a good time to think about a road trip tool kit for the trunk of your car. Murphy’s law tends to strike when or where you least expect it. The truth is: It’s better to be prepared than to be sorry.

So what do you really need to carry in the trunk of your car? There are certain items considered universal and can easily fit into a toolbox in the trunk. Check them out, and put your own kit together for safety’s sake.

Quality aluminum flashlight

There are all sorts of flashlights available in today’s marketplace, but it’s tough to beat some of the machined aluminum jobs out there. Most common brand names offer conventional “D” cell flashlights with standard bulbs, or LED models that incorporate more lithium batteries for longer life. In either case, always be certain the batteries are fresh. Keep a spare bulb in your toolbox – you never know when a bulb will expire.

Emergency tool kits

You can buy prepackaged emergency tool kits or you can make your own. The latter gives you the option of selecting the tools you think you might need. It also allows you to select quality tools you can rely upon if necessary. So what should be included in the mix? Essentially, you don’t need to pack tools to overhaul the car on the side of the road. Instead, think about items such as the following:

  • Pair of pliers
  • Flat-blade screwdrivers in two different sizes
  • Phillips-blade screwdriver
  • Good quality adjustable wrench
  • Pair of vise-grips
  • Set of wire cutters (preferably with a wire stripping option)
  • Pocketknife
  • Small ball-peen hammer

If you add a roll of mechanic’s wire, a small roll of electrical wire, several spare fuses and a roll of electrical tape, you can fix a number of roadside maladies. Wrap everything in a small sports bag and you’re done (and likely at a cost that’s less than half of a commercial kit).

First aid kit

A small first aid kit can patch a cut digit, as well as help save a life. A small first aid kit can cost less than $20 and will include the majority of what you’ll need in an accident or in a medical emergency. In your search for a good first aid kit, check out local sporting goods stores, particularly the ones that offer hiking and camping gear. They offer a wider range of neatly packed kits, many of which are perfect for the trunk of your car.

Jumper cables

You can buy a fancy jump starter assembly or you can carry an old-fashioned set of booster cables. A quality auto parts store can help you out with the parts necessary to make up your own jumper cables.

Tire pressure gauge and tire inflator

You don’t need a fancy digital tire pressure gauge to check the tire pressure. What you need is a reasonably accurate gauge that provides consistent readings. Tire inflators that also have sealing qualities are a good idea too. The top brands work on the same principle:

  • Remove the valve cap on the flat tire
  • Insert the hose on the inflator
  • Press down on the button

The tire is inflated, and the puncture is temporarily sealed.

Tow strap

Tow straps are more effective than towropes and tow chains. When rolled up, tow straps take up far less space. Today’s tow straps are like giant seat belts. When you hook up to a stuck car (or truck), the strap actually stretches a bit. The stretching helps to physically dislodge an immobilized vehicle. It’s that simple.

Flares or safety triangles

You can package the old style of burning flares in the trunk of your car, but ask old-timers and they’ll tell you that lighting flares is usually troublesome. (In some cases, the sparks will quickly burn little holes in your clothing as the flare lights.) A far better solution is a set of safety triangles. While they might not be quite as visible as burning safety flares, they’re infinitely reusable and present no hazard to you or the surroundings. Equally important, the safety triangles take up little or no space in the trunk of your car.

Fire extinguisher

Forget those little three-quarter-pound fire extinguishers you see advertised for automotive use. They will not put out a fire that is supported by even a small amount of gasoline. Get a good 2.5-pound fire extinguisher. While you’re at it, get a high-quality quick-release mount for the extinguisher. The last thing you need is a loose 2.5-pound extinguisher bottle rattling around in the trunk of your car.