Car Emergency Kit – NOT in the Trunk, Please.

Posted by on Nov 30, 2014 in Frugal For Everyone, Health and Safety | 39 comments

This is the third year that I’ve seen the same news report about being prepared for winter with a car emergency kit. During this report they go all out – thinking of every product you could possibly need during a car emergency situation. Wonderful, right? Then……they store it all in the trunk.

This drives me crazy. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you were trapped in your car with your emergency kit unreachable in your trunk? Or what if the trunk lid was damaged and jammed or frozen shut? Being prepared for the worst is what emergency management is all about.

Car Emergency Kits

Northern Roads Vehicle Survival Kit – 333302133 Available from Northern Roads via Amazon (I am not affiliated either with Northern Roads or Amazon – this was just a good example of what is available.)

When planning for emergencies, at home and in the car, you need to plan for the worst case scenario, as it applies to you. 

If you only travel on well-populated city roads, a first-aid kit and a cell phone may be all you need. However, if you often travel on isolated country roads or highways with houses few and far between, that’s different. You will need a well-equipped car emergency kit which must be inside the car and accessible at all times. If you’re driving by yourself, it’s a really good idea to treat your car emergency kit as a passenger and buckle it into the front passenger seat.

If you have backseat passengers, depending on the age, you could hang the bag from the back of the passenger front seat. Just make sure that it won’t come loose in an accident and fly around the vehicle which could seriously hurt someone. The important thing is to make sure that the emergency kit can be reached by someone when needed.

You don’t need to buy a kit – it’s easy enough to make your own and much less expensive.

The car emergency kit should include:

  • Road maps – to identify location when calling for help
  • Wind-up flashlight, battery powered radio, extra batteries
  • Extra clothing and shoes/boots – wet clothes can be deadly
  • Candle(s) in deep can and matches – tea lights work great. Large coffee can is ideal since it comes with lid. This also makes it great to store other stuff, like a seatbelt cutter (or see the neat tool below). Use the candle in the can to keep warm, don’t use the car heater to avoid possible carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Basic First-Aid Kit
  • Blanket or Sleeping bag
  • Water in plastic bottles strong enough not to break if the water freezes
  • Food that won’t spoil – energy bars, dried fruit, granola bars, peanut butter and crackers (replace every few months)
  • Snowscraper/brush to keep inside windows clear
  • Whistle and flares to attract attention – neon ‘call police’ sign to hang out of window
  • Paper Towel/ Wet Wipes/Kitchen Garbage Bags
  • Small Fire extinguisher
  • Flashlight that doubles as warning light or road flares.

Below is a nifty tool that I think would be great to include in the kit.

car emergency kit

Car Emergency Seat Belt Cutter Glass Break Hammer Orange w Beacon Flashlight by uxcell – available from Amazon

Not everyone will need all of the items listed. Each situation is different. Consider what you would need if you were trapped in your car for 24 hours. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Last year we had this situation occur a number of times in our area. Just recently we’ve seen what could happen in Buffalo, NY. I’m sure those people didn’t think it would happen to them.

Pack all the items in one or two large backpacks – ones without zippers. In an emergency your hands will shake making it near to impossible to open a zipper (that’s experience talking). If the bag has an outside pocket where you can place your cell phone, so much the better.

There are items that should be placed in the trunk and these include:

  • Large bags of non-clumping kitty litter
  • A shovel
  • Antifreeze
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Fire extinguisher and flashlight that doubles as warning light or road flares (know how to use all of these efficiently before the need arises).

Some other tips:

  • During the winter, dress warmly, wear a hat, scarf and warm boots. Always keep the gas tank topped up and cell phone charged. Tuck an extra pair or two of warm socks in the kit – cold feet magnify any problem.
  • Call 911 – provide location, problem, any injuries.  Follow their instructions. Do not hang up until you know what will be happening.
  • During a blizzard or heavy snowstorm, your car is the safest place to be. Snow is very disorienting and people readily get lost, even in areas they know well.
  • Make sure you keep at least one set of clothes dry or the consequences can be serious.
  • When it’s dark, turn on the dome light. Emergency crews can spot such a light from miles away.
  • If you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, don’t try to shovel your way out. Intense cold increases the strain on the body – that along with the shoveling can lead to a heart attack.
  • Every once in a while open the window on the sheltered side a wee bit to let fresh air in.
  • Unless you are sure your exhaust pipe isn’t plugged by snow, do not turn the car on for heat or light.
  • Set up flares if possible.

This may seem a bit extreme, but you know the saying “Better Safe Than Sorry”. Most times we get through winter without a problem, but an emergency can happen. If it does, you’ll be really thankful for that well-prepared – and accessible – car emergency kit.

Talk to you again next week,



  1. Lenie this is such a great list! I used to live in WI where the winters could be brutal and often my sales territory took me far off well traveled roads. My trunk used to be full of all kinds of stuff! I did keep some of it in the trunk, but moon boots, a blanket and water were always in the back seat and a flashlight and window breaker were in the front glove compartment. Let me tell you, I am happy to live in a climate where that kind of kit is no longer necessary:) But I still keep a flashlight and window breaker in the glove compartment!

    • You know Jacquie, I used to put 60,000km on my car every year and looking back now I can’t believe I did that in the pre-cell phone days. Now I only drive in really good weather and very local, but I still make sure I have my cell phone with me. It sounds like you prepared yourself for those lonely treks but then, you being you, I’m not surprised.

  2. Great post with great ideas. I can tell you live in Canada – our winters are lame in comparison. But New Jerseyans are hardly ever prepared. I have been known to try to teach former North Africans how to dress for winter, but no luck. My dear friend moved to a warmer climate instead.

    I’m glad my husband can stay home in bad weather and work, but it would probably be a good idea for him to have more of these items in his car.

    • Hi Leora, so much depends on where he drives – if it’s just in a local, well-populated area he won’t need a lot, if it’s out of town driving it might be a good time to review.

  3. Vital information at this time of the year but I have to admit my kit doesn’t have as much as it should!

    • Hi Noelle, this may be just a good time for you to look at what you need to add – I’ll bet it won’t be a lot and could make a big difference in an emergency situation.

  4. hi lenie; once again you have written a comprehensive informative post. it is so important to know how to use your emergency equipment and you have to be able to get to it. like the tip about no zippers. and i think it helps a lot if you make up your kit instead of buying it. If you choose the items and assemble yourself i feel like you are more likely to be more familiar with it when the time comes to use it. just like when i was in school. instead of telling our parents to buy us flash cards for the multiplication tables, they had us all make our own. i am really good at them and think it has to do with those cards we all made. thanks for showing us how to do this the right way, max

    • Hi Max – I like you pointing out that making your own kit will better ensure you know how to use all the items. Buying a kit you’re probably just going to put it in the car without much thought and too much depends on your knowledge of how to use these emergency items.

  5. Agree with you completely that the emergency kit has to be in the car. Up north in Sweden where there are huge sections without even a village you have to add thermal clothes and moon boots. If not you may not survive:-)

    • Hi Catarina – thanks for the tip about the thermal clothes and the moon boots. You’re right, they should be included. Also, I appreciate you pointing out these things are necessary to survive because that is what’s it’s all about.

  6. What an awesome post, Lenie! Coming from a fellow Canadian, where the temps are now unseasonably cold, I can really relate to your recommendations. I have a RAV4, so there is no trunk and I have my kit in the back interior rear of the vehicle. But I think I just may place it in the back seat, where I can reach it from the front seat, as one never knows what might happen. Thx again for getting us all thinking about this.

    • Hi Doreen – you Winnipeggers really need think about this. Whenever we think we have bad weather, the weather report always show that yours is worse. Just one thing – tie the kit down so it can’t fly around if you do happen to be in a collision, even one with a snowbank. Two reasons, one to stop it from possibly hitting you in the head and the second one to make sure it remains where you can get at it.

  7. hello Lenie

    This is very important post.
    You are right that we must keep kit with us in car and not in truck because of many mentioned reasons.
    It is better to collect your own emergency kit, we can have idea from internet and all products will be familiar and I feel that it can be easy for us to handle them.
    As we all know we can have some individual needs beside standard things.
    Very informative post indeed.

    • Hi Andleeb – where you live you have to deal with a whole different kind of driving emergencies. I don’t imagine that snow and ice is a big problem, but I may be wrong on that score. Anyway, the kit needs to be suited to you.

  8. Thanks for the advice Lenie. Quite honestly, I hadn’t given it that much thought. I have two cars. One has an emergency tool kit which I indeed keep in the trunk. The only things I ever use are the ice scraper and the jumper cables. You might add a phone charger.

    • Ken, what would you do if you were trapped in your car for 24 hours? It can and does happen, at least around here. The phone charger is a great idea because that could be your lifeline. Thanks for the suggestion.

  9. Another thing Lenie about a cell phone. It is good to keep it in a pocket whenever possible, and not just sitting on the seat beside you or the console while you are driving. This is applicable in any weather actually. Should you ever be in an accident while driving, the phone left loose in the car can become a projectile that can cause injury. And after it lands, how do you know where it is…and is it too damaged to work? It could be anywhere in the vehicle and so badly damaged you can’t use it to call anyone. If it is in a buttoned/zippered up pocket, it will probably stay there. This had actually happened to someone I know. The car rolled after sliding on ice and he was lucky that the phone didn’t hit him (he said it just missed his head!). When the car came to a stop, he was thankfully uninjured on the whole, but the phone was nowhere to be seen. It took him quite a while to find it, then when he did it was so smashed up it wasn’t working at all. When I heard about this, I started keeping my phone in a pocket or in a pouch I attach to my belt.

    • Nancy, that is excellent advice and I’m so glad you mentioned it. I like the pouch attached to the belt idea. I never liked it just laying loose – just like you mentioned so many things can go wrong with it. You, as an emergency professional would certainly know all about that. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Great post for holiday time and very good list of emergency items to carry. You are right also that the kit could be stuck somewhere and you cannot access it and that becomes a big problem. I may have missed it but a reflective jacket is always handy to be visible at night when trying to fix your car on the road side.

  11. I think the younger generation does not understand the importance of having many of these items in their cars. Once something happens they have no idea what to do. Roadside assistance might have a hard time getting to you so what will you do until then? I have many of these items in my car, preparation is the key.

  12. Such important and useful information Lenie! Thank you for providing practical tips like putting things in backpacks without zippers because my fingers are always cold. I just added updating and moving my emergency kit to my to do list!

  13. Such a simple and important distinction! I never thought about not being able to get into the trunk to get to all the stuff I keep back there. This emergency kit would make a great gift for someone you love.

  14. Wow – life is SO much more complicated when you live where it snows! The items needed in an emergency kit here are pretty minimal and to be honest we focus more on home emergency kits for tsunamis and extended power outages but of course breakdowns do occur here like anywhere. This post is a great resource and I’ve copied your list because I’m planning a lengthy mainland road trip next year so it will definitely come in handy!

  15. Great ideas. The one I have found to be important is the blanket. I have a lot of the other things in my car as my husband is a car nut. Having an SUV, I don’t have a trunk so everything is easy to get to. One other thing I would add is always keep a bottle of water in your car. Change out the water regularly.

  16. You know I’ve always wondered why the car manufacturer puts THEIR emergency kit in the trunk. At least that’s my experience. This post comes at a great time for me – getting ready to head on the road for a trip to Long Island NY. This time of year the weather is so unpredictable there!

    Thanks for that – bring extra socks tips. I love that Lenie.

    • Hello All, it sounds like you all got something from this post for which I’m grateful. I worked on so many injury prevention/safety awareness programs that I automatically think that way. I’m glad you like the sock tip Pat – I hate cold feet so having extra socks just seemed important.

  17. Such a useful post Lenie! I’m glad to learn about the candle in the can, something I never considered. In Ireland, our weather doesn’t usually get that extreme, but you’ve made me want to be prepared anyway.
    I can imagine if I did find myself in that situation I’d be crying, ‘Why didn’t I listen to Lenie – I want some peanut butter!’

  18. It seems about every other year our eight-hour drive to my parents’ home in north Idaho for Christmas turns out to be a twelve-hour drive because of snow. We probably should skip the trip at times, but it’s hard when you only get to see family twice a year. However, I’ve been saying for years and years that I need to put an emergency car kit together. This just might be the year I finally take action thanks to your post.

  19. This is good information. Often, those of us who live in cold climates can get complacent and forget how easy it is to be stranded.

  20. I need to invest in one of these.

    • Yes Jason, you really should. No matter where you live, you need an emergency kit accessible for the type of emergencies you could encounter.

  21. I am on the other side of the lake from you, so I know what it means to be stuck in the snow from a snow belt white out. This is very useful information, not just for us, but those who might be traveling in a northern climate for the first time. I know I have seen many license plates on stalled cars on the side of the road from down south; they need this information when they go north.

    • Hi William – I got such a kick out of picturing you on the other side of the lake, but you’re right – we are in snow belt country. The people traveling north from the south really may not have any idea what could be in store for them. Thanks for pointing that out.

  22. Thanks for the reminder, Lenie! It’s one thing to have an emergency kit and another to update it. The glass cutter is a great idea I wouldn’t have considered (until watching a submerged car scene in a movie).

    • Hi Deidre – I thought that was a real nifty idea. I hadn’t seen one before but when I was looking to see what was available I discovered that – wouldn’t that make a great Christmas gift?

  23. Lenie — I wish I’d had this list when my husband and I owned a log home in upstate New York, which was in a snow belt. We often drove in the snow but, not smart I see now, kept our emergency items in the trunk. You make a very valid point about keeping them inside the car. One other pointer: if you live in a cold climate, don’t go out with just a down vest on because you’re only driving a mile to the store. Many people do that. They figure they’ll put the heater on and only be gone a few minutes. But a lot could go wrong on the way and you’d be stuck without warm clothing.

    • Jeannette, I know exactly what you mean and I think probably we’ve all done it at one time or another. How foolish because that may very well be when something happens and a mile from home can seem a long way when you’re not dressed for it. We so often look back and think if only…………

  24. This is an excellent post Lenie. I grew up in the Interior of BC and we had a ranch miles from anyone else. Somehow we never had to do anything more than put on chains in the middle of the road.But if I do any winter travel in areas farther afield I will be using your advice. It truly could be a life saver.

  25. This is a great list Lenie. I can see I have a few items to add to mine. And that’s a really good point about keeping it in the trunk – or not as the case should be. Thanks for the advice and Happy Holidays!