Cell phones and other electronic devices offer instant communication, but there are still times when drivers find themselves stranded because of engine problems, mechanical breakdowns or natural disasters, such as rainstorms or flooding. To be prepared for such a situation, it's a good idea to keep an emergency kit in the car.
One option is to purchase a basic emergency kit from a car dealer, garage or auto supply store. Most kits include jumper cables, blankets, gloves, first-aid materials, a flashlight, bottled water, flares, electrical tape, screwdrivers, a socket set and a wrench.
"You should shop around. I've found that you can purchase a first-aid kit for less than all the supplies would cost separately," says Gail Klanchesser, a CPR and first-aid instructor with Coastal CPR and First Aid.
The second option is to put together your own emergency kit, which means it can be personalized according to needs or season. One of the first and most important things to include is contact information that would be helpful in an emergency, according to Andrew Shipp, communications manager for the Busam Auto Group. "It is important to have all your necessary roadside assistance phone numbers and paperwork," he says. "It's also important to have any other numbers, such as AAA or the state police, on hand."
Cash is considered another basic ingredient for an auto emergency kit. It comes in handy if you have to call a tow truck or run into other expenses. "You never know when you might need some cash, especially if you don't have your credit cards," says Michele Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the website Drive Like A Woman.
The contents of a kit should be changed depending upon the season. This can include adding insect repellent, sunscreen and a few bottles of water in warmer months and chemical hand warmers and a small bag of cat box filler for the winter, according to Klanchesser.
Lowell Bike, president of the website My Auto Tips, offers detailed suggestions for what an emergency kit should include by season. "If you're traveling in a warm weather climate, it is recommended your kit contain a couple of beach towels that you can dampen to help keep your body cool, a hat, lightweight long-sleeve shirts, lightweight pants and sunscreen to protect you in case you need to walk for help," he says. "Plus, flashlights and extra batteries for increased visibility, a first-aid kit, food containing protein, such as nuts and energy bars, canned fruit and a portable can opener, bottled water and an AM/FM radio to listen to traffic reports and emergency messages."
Shapiro recommends including water tablets. "The tablets can be put in almost any kind of water to make it drinkable," she says.
Klanchesser suggests including a cell phone charger for the car and small trash bags in case someone needs to vomit.
As for lights or flares to place outside the car, Klanchesser says, "Emergency triangles are nice but can take up a lot of space in a small vehicle. There are small firefly lights that are really bright and are compact."
It can get cold if a car breaks down, especially at night. To avoid this problem, Klanchesser swears by Mylar, or emergency, blankets. "If your vehicle breaks down at night, you can keep yourself warm in a Mylar blanket. Brand-new in its package, it is ridiculously small for the size it is when it's unfolded, and it has the added benefit of being highly reflective," she says.
Shapiro recommends making a backpack part of a car emergency kit. It can be used to hold kit items or carry things if a stranded driver has to walk. "If there is a disaster or an accident, you may have to make a quick exit. You can just grab and go with a backpack," she says. "It frees your hands, which is important if you need to carry a flashlight."
Shapiro thinks people should consider a head lamp, the kind attached to a band that slips over the forehead, instead of a hand-held flashlight. One advantage is that you don't have to worry about dropping or losing the light in the dark.
Some of Shapiro's suggestions are aimed at female drivers, for example, keeping a pair of sneakers in the car. "Most women wear high heels when at work or out. You could get stuck in a situation where you have to walk, and old flat shoes will be more comfortable," she says. "Don't buy a new pair for your emergency kit; you definitely want a pair that is broken in."
Feminine hygiene products, an extra pair of glasses, prescription medicine, a raincoat and a snakebite kit also make Shapiro's list.
Klanchesser has a different view regarding medications. "I don't recommend keeping EpiPens, for example, in the car, as they don't like temperature extremes. Those types of things should be in a purse or tote that goes with the person in and out of the vehicle," she says.
Shapiro believes that an umbrella can prove to be a handy item because it can do double duty. "An umbrella is good for walking in the rain, of course, but it can also be used to protect you from the sun if you are stranded and have to walk on a hot day."