My car is one of the most important tools I use for everyday life. I'm sure this holds true for most people.
I'll admit that I used to take my car for granted. I start my car, drive my car, and arrive at destination, hopefully, in my car.
In the last three years I have had car problems only four times. I had a flat tire once, a dead battery twice, and a dead alternator once.
Out of 1096 days, my car had problems on four of those days. Yes, there's an extra day, thanks to leap year. Four out of 1096 equates to a 96.5% day-success rate. In other words, 96.5% of the days that I drove my car I had no issues. The problems I had didn't disable my car for the whole day so I decided to find a more accurate success rate for my car. To be more accurate I took 1096 and multiplied it by a factor of 4 which represents the average number of times I actually start my car per day and the start-success rate becomes 99.91%. I think that's pretty good for a car that has over 200,000 miles on it.
Regardless of your cars success rate, the point is that having a proper car edc or car emergency kit will make your life easier and might even save you some money. In the situations I encountered over the last three years, it was the gear in my car that allowed me to be up and running in a matter of minutes. The alternator took a little longer though not as long or costly as having the repair performed in a repair facility.
It's important to remember that no amount of gear or tools will save you from lack of knowledge.
Most cars already have all the tools needed to change a tire and battery cables can be purchased easily. Yet, a particular survey discovered that 49% of us don't know how to change a tire and 80%-90% of people don't know how to jump-start a car with a dead battery. Those are two of, if not, the most common problems you might run into. I am fully aware that we live in an age of smart-phones and roadside service, but sometimes its good to handle these problems yourself. You may not always have a cell signal and roadside service can take upwards of an hour.
If you are reading this, you probably want to put together or make changes to a car edc. I applaud you. *clap clap clap*
But, first things first. Go and learn how to change a tire and connect two batteries for a jump if you don't already know how. Actually, don't leave. I've prepared some infographics for you. Then, keep reading.
Here are links to download printable PDF versions so you can keep them in your car.
Part 1: Just get off the side of the road.
What I consider to be the most basic and essential gear for car edc are battery booster cables, tire changing tools (jack, wheel chocks, lug wrench of some sort), and flares or other signal device. These are items every car should have. It is basic but realistic for most everyday drivers.
Make sure all the tools are in good working condition and where they should be. Check the battery cables to ensure the sheathing isn't cracked or split open and make repairs as necessary. Some cars require special tools or "keys" to access the spare tire. Consult your owners manual and familiarize yourself with the process and tools to access the spare and find the jack points for your car. The side of the road is not the ideal place to be doing research.
-While you're at it, add a pair of gloves and a flashlight.
I have never changed a tire and come away clean and unscathed. At some point I decided that gloves should always be in my car. I haven't looked back and my manicurist is grateful.
Logically. the flashlight comes in handy at night for diagnosing problems and changing a tire. It is also great if you have to walk in the dark.
Part 2: Enjoy your stay.
Sorry, no turn-down service here.
It's highly unlikely that a breakdown has ever been classified as pleasurable. They never are. There are, however, items that can turn a lame pit-stop into a...well, less lame pit-stop. More importantly, if you have a penchant for outdoor activities or just exploring mountain roads, some of these items might be crucial to your survival if you find yourself stuck on the side of the road or lost.
This is pretty much one of the most important non-tool items you can have in your car. First-aid kits come in handy even in non-emergency situations. If you have a child, then you know any little boo-boo is an emergency situation.
Despite being the number one cause of drownings worldwide, water can serve many purposes in a car edc kit. Water is particularly good for drinking. You need not find yourself in a survival situation to appreciate that stash of water you wisely stored in your car. If I were stuck on the side of the road, in near triple digit temperatures, even warm water would sound pretty great. Drinking water, from a plastic bottle that has been stored in the fluctuating temperatures of a car for extended periods of time, is not recommended. A non insulated stainless steel container is a good choice for potable water storage as it can also be used to boil water in a dire situation.
In a pinch, water can be used to top-off a radiator and allow you to "hobble" to a repair shop or to buy more coolant. Of course you can just keep some coolant in the car, but more on that later-this is waters moment. Enough about water. Just keep some in your car. The myriad of uses will present themselves.
What comes to mind when you think of those generic blue tarps? If images of hobo-camps and Burning Man come to mind, you might be thinking in the wrong direction. In the context of car edc or emergency car kit you should be thinking about how clean those tarps can keep your clothes. I keep a tarp in my car at all times. I have used this tarp as a ground-sheet to keep my pants clean when kneeling on the ground to change a tire or just to take a peek underneath the car to locate that noise I keep hearing.
Let's imagine for a moment that you are on your way to a classy affair replete with multiple utensils lined up and begging to be used in their respective orders. You are probably wearing something nice. The next thing you know your tire goes flat. Calling roadside assistance would take too long, so you decide to change it yourself. Lay out that tarp or and get to work. And those gloves.
Compared to tarps, emergency blankets are less durable but can be used in the same manner with the added benefit of being compact, lightweight, and able to retain and reflect body heat in a survival or just "I'm freezing out here" situation. If you are broke-down and really up the creek in the backwoods, the reflectivity of an emergency blanket makes a great eye-catching signal device.
I carry a pocket-knife at all times. It's the most useful tool in my edc arsenal. I feel naked without one. Despite that, I keep another knife in my car, with the tools. A tool like a knife deserves a little after-thought.
A knife in your car can be used to trim rope after tying down cargo or slice cheese for a picnic. You can use it to cut gauze from that first-aid kit you have wisely kept in your car.
It is not absolutely necessary to store a knife which looks like the one in the picture, in your car. I happen to prefer fixed-blade knives for my car kit. If you think about it, the only knife you have is going to be the best knife for the job. Choose wisely.
Lighters probably don't automatically come to mind when putting together a car edc kit. They aren't used in the course of a routine vehicle break-down so it makes sense that they are not considered in most cars. If it came down to it, the one thing the lighter will be invaluable for is to make fire in a drastic situation.
A slightly less drastic use for a lighter from your car would be singeing the ends of rope that's been trimmed for cargo tie-downs. It can be retrieved from your car and used to light birthday candles at your nephews birthday party because they always forget about fire.
Part 3: The "kitchen sink" and beyond basic car edc items
What else could an emergency car kit have? If you ask ten people you will undoubtedly get ten different answers. Some answers will have items that overlap because they make sense. An automotive technician will have different items than a seasoned prepper. If you are a zombie apocalypse enthusiast, you'll probably have different items than a person who only use their car to commute to work.
Your skill level, space-limitations of your car, and budget will all play a role in how large your car edc/emergency car kit will become.
Here are some other items that come in handy:
-Food: Its bad enough being stranded or stuck and waiting for a tow. Its exponentially worse if you're really hungry. All I know, is that keeping shelf and temperature stable foods are your best bet. For example, if I lived in the desert, I would not store Snickers Bars in my glove box. Similarly, If I lived in Antarctica, I would not keep meal-replacement-drinks in my trunk. Don't get hangry. They say you aren't yourself when you're hangry.
-Come-along : If you Overland or explore trails in your car, a come-along is an economical alternative to a winch.
-Funnels: For mess-free pouring of fluids.
-Rope or cargo-straps: Useful for tying down gear.
-Shovel: If you ever take your vehicle off-road, a shovel can be useful for digging-out a stuck car.
-Tools: Hammers, wrenches, socket sets, and pliers are useful for breakdowns if you know how to use them for car repair.
-Power inverter: Even though cigarette lighter adapters exist, I find it handy to keep an inverter for certain devices.
-Tow Strap: As implied by its name, tow straps are mainly used to tow a vehicle with another vehicle. I will say that I have personally used tow straps to move heavy items like rocks and sections of a downed tree.
-Zip-Ties: These are great for temporary or "permanent" repairs if you know what you are doing.
-Duct Tape:The Swiss Army knife of repairs, duct-tape can stand in for rope, band-aids, and even articles of clothing.
-Lubricant: Lubricants like WD-40 or Break-Free can be used to help loosen stuck bolts and nuts if you're attempting repairs on your car. In a survival situation, it becomes fuel for a fire. You could make an improvised flame-thrower. Its dangerous, but who hasn't tried.
-Large trash bag: Trash-bags are cheap, light, and easy to store. Use one as a ground-sheet, poncho, makeshift "pack", or emergency shelter. If needed, trash-bags can transport water or keep anything that fits inside of it dry. Though not recommended, you could use a trash-bag as a flotation device. Try weaving strips that you've cut with your knife to make light-duty cordage. Also great for making solar stills if you deplete the water you are already packing and can't find water to filter with your water filter that you've also packed in your car.