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15 Essential Products Every Car Owner Needs To Have

Abbey Stone
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In 2015, AAA rescued 32 million stranded drivers—a record amount. The most common problems, AAA Northeast manager of media relations Robert Sinclair Jr. told Mental Floss in 2017, were flat tires, dead batteries, and people locking themselves out of their vehicles. In the event that you pop a tire or run out of gas, don’t be caught unprepared. Sinclair shared 15 items to keep in your car at all times in case of emergency.

1. A Smartphone Charger; $10

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“Believe it or not, I think a cell phone charger and cell phone are probably the most valuable devices,” Sinclair said. Most people have never had to change a tire and can’t tell an alternator from a carburetor. So having the ability to call for help should be a top priority.

Sinclair also recommends making someone at your destination aware of your planned route and estimated time of arrival before you hit the road on longer trips. “Some areas can be spotty” in terms of cell reception, Sinclair said. But if someone knows when to expect you, “when you don’t show up, they can send someone out to look for you.”

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2. A First Aid Kit; $24

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You should keep a first aid kit, complete with vinyl gloves, bandages, scissors, and antiseptic, in your glove compartment or trunk. AAA sells a car-friendly kit that also includes a whistle.

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3. Jumper Cables; $26

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Leave your headlights on while you were out to dinner and return to your car to find the battery dead? Sounds like you’ll need a jump, and for that, you need jumper cables. Follow your car manual’s instructions to safely return power to your vehicle.

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4. A Jack; $25

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Keep a car jack in the trunk in case of flats—and learn how to use it! Practice jacking up the vehicle and replacing the tire at home. Sinclair also recommended keeping a flat board (a sturdy piece of 3/4-inch-thick plywood) in the car to place under the jack. “Oftentimes, when you pull over to the side of the road, you’re on soft ground, and particularly if it has rained, the jack will just sink into the soft ground,” he said. “Additionally, if the jack isn’t secure, the vehicle can slip off the jack. About 70 people are killed every year when a vehicle falls off a jack.”

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5. A Lug Wrench; $14

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“A lug wrench is the wrench that you use to remove the lug nuts that hold the wheel on,” Sinclair said. “Generally, the one that [the dealer] provides with the vehicle is a little rinky-dink thing—it’s generally a tool that doesn’t give you sufficient leverage.” Sinclair recommends purchasing an X-shaped wrench, which will give you enough leverage to budge those stubborn, factory-installed lug nuts.

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6. Wheel Chocks; $19

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To help prevent your car from rolling off the jack, place chocks (those triangle-shaped stoppers) under the wheels. “Those are designed to keep the vehicle from moving,” Sinclair said.

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7. A Spare Tire

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Your new car must have a spare tire in the trunk or attached to the underside of the vehicle, right? Wrong. Sinclair explained that, because of ever-increasing mileage requirements, many dealers are nixing the spare. “One of the easiest ways to meet [the requirements] is to lessen the weight of the vehicle. The lighter it is, the better fuel economy it’s going to get. Spare tires, depending on the model of the vehicle, can weigh 40, 50, 60, 70 pounds, and so they’re leaving them out when you buy a new car.”

Find It: Check with your car manufacturer or local automotive service center to find the correct spare for your car.

8. A Tire Pressure Gauge; $12

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Check your tire pressure on a monthly basis, not only during an emergency. Properly maintained tires will not only keep you safe on the road, but will improve your gas mileage. Check your car’s owner manual to find the proper pressure for your vehicle.

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9. Non-Perishable Food; $39

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If there’s anything worse than waiting for a tow, it’s waiting while hungry, so keep snacks on hand. “Like energy bars, a bag of Craisins, that kind of thing,” Sinclair said. In the unlikely event that you are stranded for a significant amount of time, that trail mix could be a lifesaver.

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10. A Window Punch And Seatbelt Cutter; From $15

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In the event of water immersion, Sinclair says you need to have a window punch nearby. “If the vehicle goes underwater, generally, you have some time to get yourself together,” he said. “And what that window punch is, it’s a small handle, with a round metal piece that’s shaped in a point, and it concentrates the energy so you can try and break the window.” Sinclair cautioned, however, that side glass is incredibly strong and can be difficult to break—“so get the biggest, heaviest, most powerful one that you can.”

Most window punches come equipped with a seatbelt cutter as well. “Sometimes, going into the water as a result of a crash, the seatbelt mechanism might not release on its own, and you need to cut it,” Sinclair says.

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11. A Fire Extinguisher; $19

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Sinclair recommends purchasing a small fire extinguisher that will work on flammable fluids such as gasoline and oil as well as electrical fires. “Now the key is where that thing is going to be located, because people will keep it in the trunk, but they might not be able to get to the trunk,” Sinclair said. He recommends Velcroing the extinguisher to the car’s console or inside the front door for quick accessibility.

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12. Duct Tape; $12

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Many small on-the-road repairs can be taken care of on the spot if you have a little know-how and the right tools. “I remember, when I was in my youth, I had an old car, and saw steam coming from under the hood,” Sinclair said. He pulled over and saw that a hose was leaking. “So, I let the vehicle cool off, and when it did, I went and got my electrical tape and duct tape and wrapped the hole. I used my gallon of antifreeze that I carry and topped off the radiator and went on about my business. I got a new hose the next day. A quick, little, easy repair and I was back on the road in about a half hour.”

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13. A Gallon of Antifreeze; $19

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Antifreeze raises the boiling point of water in order to prevent your car’s cooling system from freezing and your engine from overheating. Just like Sinclair did with his quick repair, be sure to let your car fully cool before adding new antifreeze to the radiator. Check your car’s owner manual or speak to a mechanic to find the correct type of antifreeze for your vehicle.

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14. A Tool Kit; $15

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A basic tool kit containing a screwdriver, hammer, wrench, and pliers should do the trick in a pinch.

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15. A Winter Readiness Kit; $48

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Should you be stranded due to a blizzard or other inclement weather, you need to be prepared for the elements. Keep a small shovel, winter gloves, blanket, ice scraper, and abrasive material (such as sand or salt) in your trunk. You can often buy ready-made kits that contain these materials.

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This article originally ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.

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