May 25, 2017

Emergency Kit for Your Car – Urban and Suburban Driving

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Tires and Auto Safety

Sitting and reading an online article, you’re most likely in a comfortable and safe environment. However, if you’re in your car and it dies on you, being prepared could mean the difference between making it home safely or being featured in the local news under the category of “if it bleeds, it leads”. This article provides a list of what you should have in your car in case of emergency while driving through typical urban or suburban settings. A related article adds specific items for an emergency kit for winter driving, or driving through wilderness areas.

The Risks of Urban or Suburban Car Breakdowns

If your car breaks down or you have a flat tire while driving through typical urban or suburban areas you are more likely to have access to such things as pay phones, public transportation, or even nearby houses. All this makes such an emergency less threatening, but there are still specific risks to consider.

First and foremost, urban and suburban roads have higher traffic volume. While this can be a good thing if you’re hoping a Good Samaritan will stop and help you, there’s a higher risk of being hit by another vehicle. You might also be stuck in a bad part of town at night, with the attendant risk of being attacked.

Even if you have a road-side assistance contract, whether with the AAA, or another club, you need to be able to notify them of your problem. You then have to stay with your vehicle until help arrives, which might take hours. If the weather is poor, the wait might be longer, as well as less comfortable.

Preparedness and Emergency Kit for Urban and Suburban Driving

It’s good practice to always have at least half a tank of gas in your car. If you make it a habit to fill up once your tank reaches the half-full mark, you’ll be much less likely to run out of gas. This has the obvious benefit of avoiding an emergency situation, but also a less obvious one – residues from the bottom of the gas tank are less likely to contaminate your car engine.

A cell phone can be a lifeline if you get stuck, especially if there are no pay phones around, and the neighborhood doesn’t seem safe to walk around in, knocking on doors. In especially bad weather (think blizzard, dense fog, etc.) simply walking around can be risky. A cell phone charger in your glove compartment can help keep that lifeline alive for days (unless the car battery dies) which in urban and suburban areas is more than enough.

The following items should be kept in your trunk for emergency situations. The list is divided into a minimal kit you’d be foolish to leave home without, and a separate list of additional items that would make it a more comprehensive kit you’ll be happy to have if you do run into an emergency situation. The added items are especially good to have if you tend to drive through more rural areas where assistance may take longer to reach you.

Note that whatever your kit includes, you should know how to use each item, and periodically verify everything is still usable (e.g. not expired, broken, discharged, dried out, etc.). Regarding the mechanic toolkit, even if you don’t know the difference between a timing belt and a suspender belt, a Good Samaritan who stops to help may know more, but have no tools with him or her, so having tools in your car is a good idea.

Minimal Emergency Kit for your Car

  1. Fully charged cell phone with auto-club number and other contacts programmed.
  2. Emergency cash (at least $20, could be in your wallet).
  3. Fully inflated spare tire (check inflation regularly when you check the other tires).
  4. Jack and lug wrench (if you have anti-theft lugs you need the special wrench for those).
  5. Tire pressure gauge (keep this in your glove compartment for ease of access).
  6. Special hammer/seat-belt cutter – this tool can help you cut loose from your seat-belt after an accident and then smash through the windshield to escape the car if your door is jammed shut (keep this where you can reach it even if your car is upside down with you locked in place by your seat-belt).
  7. Ice scraper, preferably with snow-removal brush.
  8. Pen and paper to leave note on/in car if you need to leave it.
  9. Booster cables (with instructions if you’ve never used them before).
  10. Reflective hazard triangle and/or roadside flares to warn other drivers your car is ahead.
  11. Multi-tool.
  12. Engine oil (2 quarts or more, see your car’s manual for type).
  13. Antifreeze (1 gallon).
  14. Windshield wash fluid (1 gallon).
  15. First aid kit.

Added Items for Comprehensive Car Emergency Kit

  1. Compact dry chemical fire extinguisher for flammable liquids and energized electrical circuits.
  2. Automotive toolkit; This kit contains several of the minimal kit contents (e.g. booster cables and first aid kit) and can replace those, as well as the following which are only needed if you don’t get a complete toolkit.
    • Screwdriver with Philips and flat-head tips
    • Adjustable wrench
    • Pliers
    • Vise grips
    • Pocket knife
    • Weatherproof flashlight (preferably mountable to light the engine compartment).
    • Spare fuses (at least one of each type needed for your car per the manual)
  3. Extra batteries and bulb for the flashlight
  4. Spare headlight bulb
  5. Adhesive kit for rearview mirror remounting (if your mirror mounts to the windshield)
  6. Rags, paper towels, waterless hand cleanser
  7. Cat litter to cover oil slicks, icy patches, etc.
  8. Digital camera to take images following an accident (could be part of your cell phone)

Whatever you choose to carry in the trunk of your car, you should give some thought to the kinds of emergency situations you may get into (watch the local TV news a few times and you’ll see plenty of examples), and decide what you need in your car emergency kit just in case. In case you’re not convinced yet, a related article from Consumer Reports expands on some of the above items and why they’re useful.

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Series NavigationMaximize Tire Tread Life: Top Ten Tips with VideosEmergency Kit for Winter Driving or in Wilderness Areas

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