For many Americans, the glovebox and center console storage bin are just places to put their registration and insurance info, along with a collage of random shit that just sort of ends up there. Hell, the glovebox was named so for good reason, yet how many people nowadays do you see breaking out leather driving gloves prior to heading down to the local Walgreens?
Over the years, gloveboxes have become these ceremonial burial grounds for the crap you never need or could ever possibly use in case of an emergency. The days of preparing for the worst are gone thanks to things like cell phones, OnStar, and S.O.S. road-side assistance buttons on rearview mirrors. Historical artifacts typically found inside an average daily driven automobile now include things like old packets of mustard, unpaid parking tickets, tire gauges that don’t work properly, and a scratched mixed CD from 2002 that conveniently skips every time Sisqo’s “Thong Song” comes on.
But some of us don’t enjoy the thought of being completely dependent on other people when things go sour on the open road, and the old saying about how it’s “better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it” comes to mind. Maybe our grandfathers had more of an influence on us than we’d like to admit, or perhaps the thought of complete societal collapse weighs heavy over our heads. No matter the reason, being prepared for a multitude of scenarios is never a bad idea.
So after looking over our options, we came up with 15 things every traveler needs to have in their car. Remember, even though you can call for assistance when a disaster strikes, being able to take immediate action on your own can mean the difference between life and death in certain scenarios. Naturally, it’s always best to gauge what kind of environment you will be driving in most often, as things like emergency snow gear aren’t all that necessary if you live in Athens, Georgia. So pack appropriately and remember that being properly prepared can mean the difference between being a good Samaritan or just another helpless traveler, stranded on the side of the road.
1. Tire puncture sealant
While it may be one of the largest health risks of your car, these carcinogenic cans of chemical sealant work pretty damn well on tires that have simple, small-scale punctures. This is one of those “use only if it’s absolutely necessary” kinds of fixes, but if it means the difference between being stuck in a dangerous situation and making it to safety, you’ll know what to do.
2. Four-way lug wrench
The average lug wrench that comes stowed in the trunk of most modern cars is typically small and tedious to use. By opting to carry a cross-shaped, four-way lug wrench, you boost the amount of torque you can apply to lug nuts, and you get a choice of pattern sizes that enables you to help out fellow stranded travelers.
We don’t suggest stuffing things like chocolate bars into the glove compartment, as they will likely become a hot mess in no time flat. Opting for pop tarts, protein bars, and bags of trail mix instead is never a bad idea if an earthquake renders road travel useless, and you have to hike to safety.
4. First aid kit
This is one of the most crucial, and often overlooked automotive additions, and while certain automakers have wisely begun affixing first aid kits to the trunks of various vehicles, not every new model comes with a kit. Buying a basic, pre-assembled first aid kit and tossing it in your trunk is an easy way to make sure you at least have some of the basics for when an emergency occurs.
5. Random grab bag
Items that you might want to toss in a napsack include things like a lighter (don’t use a Zippo, as they will lose fluid over time), work gloves, rags, a tool kit, and duct tape. You’ll be glad you have it if your car takes some damage and a side mirror, bumper, or grille needs taping down in order to make it to your destination or repair shop.
6. Siphon pump
Siphon pumps are great to have if you run out of gas and a fellow traveler offers a splash from their tank, thus eliminating the need to hike down the highway in search of a gas station. Affordable, compact, and readily available, we suggest picking one of these contraptions up at an auto or home improvement store because you never know when it’s your turn to be the person who comes to the rescue of a poor stranded soul.
7. Unused gas can
Keeping an unused gas or Jerry can on hand may sound like a great fall back plan if there’s no tank to siphon out of, but it also comes with a stern safety warning: Never keep a spare can of fuel on hand because driving with a jug of fuel, or even an empty canister increases the chance of fires and explosions. Remember, a hike up the road to a gas station is a far better situation than a roaring, four-wheeled inferno.
8. Large water canteen
Bottled water can be a real lifesaver and can mean the difference between heat exhaustion and staying level-headed. It can also help make basic roadside assistance issues less daunting. If a quick repair requires a fat splash of water in the radiator, you’ll be ready. Since plastic bottles can degrade over time, we suggest investing in a sturdy, decent-sized insulated metal bottle.
9. Traction mats
This shouldn’t be something reserved only for people up north who have to navigate ungodly amounts of snow just to make it down to the local bingo parlor. Limited traction isn’t just reserved for icy tundras, and a car’s wheel will spin in mud and sand just as easily as it will in snow and ice. A traction mat — typically made out of plastic or a lightweight alloy — is an easy solution to this issue as it fits in most trunks, and only requires you to wedge it under the tires that need grip in order to gather momentum before rolling to safety.
10. Reflective triangles
Road flares may get people’s attention, but they burn out eventually and are prone to expiration. Cough up a few bucks for some LED-clad safety reflective triangles instead, for they never go bad and are bright enough. A set of three or more triangles is recommended, and U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle guidelines advise putting them 10 feet and 100 feet behind the vehicle as well as one 100 feet in front of the vehicle. If your car is on a curve, place the reflective triangles ahead of the bend to warn approaching cars.
11. Blankets and jackets
In winter, a blanket and a thermal coat in the backseat can make a huge difference when waiting out a full-blown blizzard. While the blanket may help keep you warm when you’re stranded on the side of the road in white-out conditions, it also doubles as a cooling element in summer. Sitting and/or lying on a blanket will keep your ass from burning on the pavement when you’re forced to fix a problem on your own, and we suggest opting for a larger blanket. This way it can be folded over to offer a more padded pallet for working off of. Additionally, it makes a great sunshade if you’re waiting on a tow truck and it’s hotter than Hades.
Wu Tang Clan was right all along. Cash truly does rule everything around us. Simply put, don’t put too much stock in credit cards because certain toll booths, vending machines, and other situations require a little green to keep you pointed in the right direction. We suggest tucking about $50 in small bills into an envelope and placing it either in the glovebox or hidden in the trunk.
13. Jumper cables
While it may seem like the most obvious option, you would be surprised by how many people don’t own a set of jumper cables, or who leave them at home where they won’t do any good. Buy a set that’s around 6 to 8 feet in length, make sure it has a good warranty, and don’t buy the cheapest thing on the shelf — cheap cables tend to fray.
14. Magnetic flashlight
Even though most people have LED flashlights on their phones nowadays, they can’t cling to the underside of a hood or area of a fender well, which means you won’t be able to free up your hands to take care of the car. These lights are cheap, useful, and incredibly bright, and prevent you from draining your cell phone’s battery, which is helpful when for calling for assistance.
15. Battery pack/cell phone charger
If your car’s out of power, your phone charger won’t to do anything for your cell, which is why it’s a good idea to always have an external portable battery charger in the car, juiced up and ready to roll. We suggest plugging in one of these power packs at home and placing your car keys on top to guarantee you’ll remember to bring it the next time you head out. Another option is the non-electric charger, which charges devices with a small hand crank, which means four minutes of elbow grease can get you about one minute of talk time or a few emergency texts in order to return you to safety.