A car emergency kit should be like your american express card, "Never leave home without it." In my humble opinion there's a pretty stark contrast between a car emergency kit as compared to a Get home bag or a Disaster pack. Principally, a car emergency kit should contain items to repair said car or signal for help if you cannot effect self rescue.
This kit is not designed to get you home or maintain you indefinitely in the wilds of the Yucatan. It's simply designed to keep you safe and sane while traveling by car. The items contained therein are commonly and readily available. Nothing in this kit requires any secret knowledge or decades of practice to use, nor should it. Everyone should have the basic framework for this kit already. If you don't, you shouldn't be driving! Please, as with all my ibles take what you want and ditch the rest.
Authors note: I apologize in advance for the number and quality of the photos. I live in a apartment complex and didn't much feel like being " that guy."
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Step 1: K-I-S-S > Keep It Simple Stupid
While there is Murphy's law, there's also only so much that can go wrong while out on the open road barring; accidents, road rage and meteors of course. You can't control the actions of others (rule of the universe) so concentrate on controlling your controllables. This kit revolves around the following;
Running out of gas
Minor cuts and scrapes
"We should have taken the last left"
"Daddy, I've got to use the bathroom real bad"
Step 2: "Keep It Together Man!"
When it comes to assembling you car kit, it really doesn't matter what container you choose to use so long as it allows you access to what you need, when you need it. I used a bag because that's what I had. Personally I'd rater use a milk crate. But buying one seems counter intuitive given you can often find them laying about. Guess I'll have to keep looking.
Anyway, whatever you should choose, a container is as absolute necessity. The last thing you want is to be rummaging around in your trunk for that flashlight you're sure you had in there a week ago, come to find has rolled frustratingly far under you seats.
A container will keep everything together nice, neat and organized to ensure it's there when you need it. It also helps if you need to transfer your kit from one car to another as your situation and circumstances permit.
Keeping things modular is also a good idea. I keep my tools with the spare so I know where they are should I need them. Everything else I've neatly tucked away in a shoulder bag so I can get my hands on it in a pinch, but it's still easy to move, remove and replace when I need to load up the car for a road trip or a *craft fair!
*Shameless plug: My wife makes jewelry Originalbeading on Etsy, check her out!
Step 3: We Have the Technology....
If you're anything like me and most Americans I'd recon, your mechanical skills leave something to be desired. You know, like having them...
That being said, there are a few tools you should always have on hand and though you should also have the skills with which to wield them, simply having them can, at times be a God send if you run across a proper good samaritan.
Jumper cables: If your batteries dead you'll need these and a friend to help you keep on keeping on.
*Tip: Check the length before you buy. Longer cables are easier to work with IMHO
Jack: Unless you're superman you'll probably need a little mechanical advantage to assist in the changing of a flat.
Tire-iron: These offer great leverage and a plethora of socket sizes incase you ever get the hankering to be that good samaritan. Also pretty good in a fight! Just kidding! Well, sorta...
Spare tire: Tires pop, fact of life, and when they do it's handy to have a replacement, yes? Whether it be a doughnut or a full sized spare, having it when you need it (and you're going to need it) is one of those things that makes the world at large seem that much brighter.
Gas can: Even if you don't keep it filled you should have a gas can. Saves you the trouble of having to buy one at the station you just spent an hour walking to!
*Tip: if you do keep gas in the car use a fuel stabilizer as gas is a volatile compound and can/will go bad after a spell. Either that or be sure to rotate your fuel stores every three to four months.
Flash light: Under the hood, under the car and under the seats the sun don't shine and it's a whole hell of a lot safer then a lighter! I use the dynamo variety so i don't have to worry as much about batteries. Though I also keep a head lamp in the car as well.
Bungie cords or paracord: In case you've got to dress your wounds and limp home i.e. keeping a broken car door shut, or lashing the trunk closed after you last IKEA splurge.
Cash: Cash is king and you never know when a few dollars will be just the tool to get the job done. I like to keep just enough on hand for a half tank of gas and tolls as necessary. Current gas prices taken into account, a roll of quarters and ten singles ought to do it. No need to go breaking the bank.
Tarp: This one's not entirely necessary. But should you need to slip under the car for whatever reason when the grounds wet it can be a bastion of dryness unparalleled in the modern era.
Step 4: Reach Out and Touch Someone
In the event that you can't get your car rolling again you might need to call in the Calvary. Having a means with which to signal for help is a must. Now, you can actually call in the Calvary if you've got a cell phone with you, but if not, there are a handful of other options available. Here's a few:
Signal flares: These are cheap, bright and one of those things you're apt to notice rolling about on the side of the road.
Whistle: While can shout down Babylon the truth of the matter is yje human voice can only carry so far. A whistle is not only less taxing but the sound carries a great deal further then the sound of you voice.
*Tip: Three short blows is the signal for distress.
Reflectors: These are great little pieces of kit. They're got a good amount of surface area and they catch the night in the most delightfully unnatural way. Also it's a passive signaling device you can set it, leave a note and forget it while you rest.
*Tip: You can use a CD as a signal mirror if you should be so inclined. Use the hole as a sight, sight your target through the hole and rock it back and forth repeatedly. Practice makes perfect.
Sharpie marker: If you must leave the car for any reason after and emergency a sharpie marker turns any surface into a note pad!
Tip: Always leave a note with your vehicle if you venture from it stating your situation, date/time (if at all possible) and your current intentions i.e "Gone fishing"
Cell phone: Well duh....
Spare Battery for the aforementioned: Batteries die. But carrying either a spare battery or a car charger can make a world of difference in a bad situation.
Step 5: Creature Comforts
Though in all likelihood you'll be miserable stranded there on the side of the road, you will still be there, on the side of the road. Things shouldn't be all that bleak. Try and keep calm. there's no need to break out your trusty bushcraft ax and mach off into the wilderness to go all Swiss family Robinson. This is the 21 century and a little forethought can keep you in a relative state of comfort. The following are the items I carry in the car for those just incase moments.
Water bottle: From taking pills to staving off dehydration having some water in the car is just a good idea. I carry a Stainless steel 40oz water bottle, me being me, I like having a container I can boil water in if need be. Also plastic is pours, kept in a hot car it can leech chemicals. That's no bueno!
*Tip: Leave your water bottle only mostly filled. That way in winter it doesn't burst when the water freezes, or you can do what I do and buy a cheap styro cooler form the dollar store. Throw your bottle in, in the AM and take it inside at night.
Wool blanket: Where I live it can get awful cold at night and in winter, forget about it! You could always substitute a fleece blanket or one of those emergency mylar blankets. It's really a matter of necessity.
Box of tissues: May seem a little odd but believe me tissues are where it's at. Firstly you always seem to need a tissue when there's none around and secondly, they make great toilet paper in a pinch. (Ran out of tissues so I substituted these awesome re-usable paper towels I picked up at the local dollar store till I get back to the market)
Large Garbage bags: Plethora of uses. Don't even get me started!
First aid kit: I only keep a small first aid kit in the car for cuts and scrapes. Anything so bad as to require a tourniquet is well beyond my skill set to treat.
Datrex rations: Just in case you accidentally left the girl scout cookies at home. These are great in that they're not affected by heat or cold and have a shelf life of 5yrs! I like wrapping these in some bubble wrap to keep the thin mylar wrapper intact as these can easily rupture if jostled too much.
Poncho: This ones optional. If you've got the garbage bags, you've all ready got an option for cover should you have to hoof it in the rain. Having a poncho means you don't have to Ginsu the bags and Macgyver it, leaving you plenty of time to contemplate just why it was that you left home in the first place
Step 6: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points...
Every time you leave your home you're headed somewhere, even if you don't exactly know where that somewhere may be. All things considered, having a map is prudent. Knowing where you are and where your going is one thing. But knowing the route by which you can get from point A. to point B. is vital. From road work to Mud slides being able to navigate when the chips are down is a must. For this purpose I've included a few bits and bobbles to help you on your way.
GPS: Otherwise know as global positioning systems used to be in the realm of only the very wealthy. Now you can download GSP apps for the cost of a Starbucks grande pumpkin spiced latte! In fact not having one is, for lack of a better word... stupid.
Maps: I like having a hardcopy of my A.O.O (area of operations) on hand incase things go sideways. Just makes good sense. You may lose coverage or your batteries may die. Having a good ol' fashion map on hand makes it all better again when technology hoes awry. Just don't expect me to re=fold the damn thing...
Compass: You are not a bird, nor are you a sea turtle, presumably. Having a means with which to determine north from south, east from west etc can at the very least keep you moving in a straight line. OF course knowing where you are helps too. I'd say keep this one with the maps eh?
A plan: We live in an age of social media and sexting. Not that the two having anything to do with one another... What I'm trying to say is that if you leave the house let someone know where your going and when it is you're expected to be there. It's never been easier.
Step 7: Food for Thought
There are some items I've either chosen to exclude or simply haven't gotten around to purchasing yet. As I stated in the beginning. This kit isn't designed to save your bacon under every circumstance, rather to make life easier when things don't work out as planed. Regardless of what you might thing you can't plan for everything.,,
Window-breaker/seatbelt cutter combo" I've seen these tools all over the place. Are they a little gimmicky? Sure, vut the concept is sound. I just haven't brought myself to buy one.... I just can't foresee the need. Lets pray I never look back on this post with regret.
Fire extinguisher: It's not a multimillion dollar race car and it's insured. if the cars on fire I plan on being elsewhere as should you. It's just a car, life's too short to worry about the little things.
Oil/Dry Gas/Wrenches etc: If I were a mechanic then sure. As I'm not, why incur the expense?
Get home bag: To each their own... Personally I live close enough to where I work I could be home under any circumstance within a couple of hours. Your situation may be different. Plan and pack accordingly.
These items really should be kept in your kit as seasons or regions demand:
Shovel: Cars can't go digging themselves out now can they?
Kitty Litter: Hell of a lot cheaper then gravel and if you need to get some traction you'd be hard pressed to do better.
Wooden board: At lease 1'X2'X1&3/4' Ever tried replacing a tire on the beach?
Gallon of water: For those of you living in more temperate climate a water bottle alone probably wont cut it.
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