Live Wisely

16 Things to Keep in your Car: A Car Essentials List

When an emergency arises during your commute to work or long road trip, you will be glad you planned ahead with this list of things to keep in your car for safety. What to keep in your car varies slightly depending on your region, but there are several car essentials that apply regardless. 

Traveling by car is a convenient mode of transportation, but it’s important to have an emergency kit packed and ready in case something goes wrong. There’s always a chance of a flat tire, accident, or breakdown, and you’ll be glad you thought ahead if those situations arise. 

Aside from the everyday things to have in your car in case of emergency, there are special precautions to take during the summer and winter months if you get stranded. No matter the time of year, UV rays can reach you in the car and cause damage, so sun protection is key. Here are 16 car necessities for every driver to keep in mind when going out on the road.

Image of car essentials for an emergency, like jumper cables

Emergency Essentials

There are certain safety items to have in your car, no matter where you are going or for how long. These items are necessary and will help with some of the most common issues that occur when traveling by car. Whether your vehicle is used or new, these essentials are vital to keeping you safe in transit. 

Jumper Cables

One car essential for new and experienced drivers alike is a set of jumper cables. If your car is not starting, you do not want to be caught without jumper cables handy. A dead battery is an ordinary car problem, especially with older cars and during the wintertime. 

Dead batteries can be caused by simply forgetting to turn off the interior lights in your car. Jumper cables allow you to jumpstart your battery by connecting with another vehicle’s battery. Most cars will have a hidden spot in the trunk that is perfect for storing jumper cables. When shopping for jumper cables, look for the following features:

  • Cables of 10-20 feet in length 
  • Heavy duty clamps so they properly secure to the battery, with rubber handles for safety
  • Lower wire gauge number (4 is preferred) for faster jump speed
  • Clear instruction manual

Tire Kit

A flat tire is a major disruptor of travel, so being prepared with tire gear will go a long way to get you back on the road as quickly as possible. Some cars will come with a spare tire in the trunk, but it’s worth it to double-check that you have both the spare tire and the tools needed to change the tire. When preparing your tire kit, be sure to include the following items to address any issues with tire pressure, tire leaks, and flat tires:

  • Tire gauge
  • Tire sealant 
  • Spare tire
  • Tire jack
  • Lug wrench
  • Work gloves

First Aid Kit

Another basic item on the list of things you need in your car is a first aid kit. A medical issue could happen at any moment, so having a first aid kit packed is crucial. 

It’s a good idea to keep your first aid kit in the glove compartment because it’s a secure and cool spot that children won’t be able to access, but you can. Many stores will sell first aid kits already assembled with everything you need. Be sure that your kit includes these items:

  • Adhesive bandages and bandage wrap in multiple sizes
  • Gauze pads and tape
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn gel or aloe vera
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofen
  • Eye drops
  • Tweezers and small scissors

Flashlight

Last on the emergency necessities list is a flashlight. Having a flashlight in your car can help if you need to jump your car late at night or need to alert other drivers if you are stranded on the side of the road. These key features will ensure your flashlight is ready to help during any emergency:

  • Long battery life
  • High brightness level (500-Lumens or above)
  • Convenient size for storing in your center console
a photo of a wallet as a smart thing to keep in your car

Personal Essentials

In addition to the necessary emergency essentials, it’s also a good idea to keep some personal items stocked in your car. These are convenient things to have in your car, not just for emergencies but also for everyday use. 

Water and Snacks

When hunger and thirst strike, it’s good to have a small stash of food and water in your car. Snacks are best stored in the glove compartment or center console to keep cool. Keeping a water bottle in the front with you and maybe even an extra gallon of water in your trunk can be a lifesaver in an emergency. When stocking your car with food, look for those items with a longer shelf life, such as: 

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Protein bars
  • Dried fruits

Multi-Tool 

Multi-tool devices such as a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife are versatile items to keep in the car and will come in handy more often than you may realize. They combine many functions into one tool and have many practical applications. Some even have things like a bottle opener or nail file. When shopping for a multi-tool device, look for it to have these standard components:

  • Knife
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutter
  • Screwdriver
  • Scissors

Emergency Cash

Cash is often overlooked nowadays, but it’s wise to keep it in your car, especially if you are traveling in remote areas. You never know when you might find yourself in need of cash. 

Maybe you are running low on gas, and the only gas station nearby does not accept credit cards. Or your car broke down, and you need some cash to pay someone for a ride into the nearest town. When getting money ready for your car, keep in mind the following:

  • Make sure to have a variety of smaller bills like fives and tens
  • Store the cash in a hidden place like the center console or glove compartment
  • Avoid large quantities of cash (nothing more than $100)

Phone Charger

Running out of phone battery on the road can make an emergency situation even worse. Stay prepared by always having a backup phone charger in your car. While phone chargers that plug into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter or USB port are great when your car is running, choose one that does not depend on your car, like the options below.

  • Battery pack that charges via USB (select one that holds many hours of charge)
  • Charger with a removable battery (be sure to keep a spare battery on hand)
  • Solar power phone charger
car essentials header image of a person scraping snow off their car

Winter Essentials

The list of essential items for a car grows longer if you live in a colder climate. Winter storms can wreak havoc on your car and travel plans. Get your car ready for winter with these things to have in your car trunk.

Snow Shovel

Whether you’ve hit ice and veered off the road or left your car outside during a snowstorm, a snow shovel is a major winter essential, and it’s easy to store. If you are stuck and having to remove lots of snow, you’ll want a winter shovel that will hold up to the wear and tear, so consider the following when shopping:

  • Comfortable grip
  • Durable material like aluminum or carbon steel
  • Collapsible to save room in your car

Traction Aid

Getting your car stuck in the snow can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared. Having a snow shovel to dig yourself out is great, but you might also need a traction aid for your tires. This will help give your tires some grip so you can more easily accelerate out of the snow. 

When stored in the trunk of your car, large bags can also improve overall traction when driving by adding extra weight to rear- and four-wheel drive vehicles. Some examples of traction aids are:

  • Sand
  • Salt
  • Kitty Litter

Ice Scraper

Even if you aren’t stuck in the snow, you’ll want a tool to remove snow and ice from your windows and windshield during or after a snowstorm. An ice scraper will come in handy during the wintertime and should be on your car necessities list. Look for an ice scraper with the following features:

  • Comfortable grip
  • Scraper for ice removal
  • Brush for snow removal

Winter Gear

Other items to always keep in your car during the winter include extra winter gear. If you happen to get stranded, you may have to wait multiple hours for help, especially during a severe storm. Be prepared with extra equipment to keep you warm, including:

  • Winter boots
  • Extra winter jacket
  • Hat and mittens
  • Blanket
things you need in your car during the summer time

Summer Essentials

During the summer months, when the sun’s UV rays are powerful, there are a few simple items you can keep in your car to minimize sun damage to your skin

Sunscreen

The windshield and windows in your car offer some limited protection from the sun, but there’s a reason that most skin cancers occur on the left side of the face and body. If you drive often, you get consistent UV exposure and damage from the driver’s side window. Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen daily and keeping extra in the car. When shopping for sunscreens, look for these qualities: 

  • Mineral-based
  • SPF 30 or above
  • Water resistance

Driving Gloves

Wearing gloves when you drive can actually significantly impact skin health on your hands, especially if you drive frequently. UV damage to the delicate skin on your hands can cause aging, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. There are many options out there, but here are some important features to look for in driving gloves:

  • UPF 50+
  • Tech gloves or fingerless gloves
  • Coverage for your wrists and arms 

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a good thing to keep in your car, and most cars have storage explicitly made for them with easy access for the driver. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV damage that can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration. They can also reduce glare when driving. A few things to look for when shopping for sunglasses: 

  • 100% UVA and UVB protection
  • Polarized lenses for the best protection
  • Large enough in size to protect the sensitive skin around the eyes

UPF Clothing

Last but certainly not least on the list of car needs is UPF clothing. This is especially important in the summer when the sun is the strongest and during long road trips. Even though you are in the car, your skin can be damaged if left unprotected. Here are some UPF 50+ clothing and accessory items to consider: 

Shop Coolibar to Stay Protected From the Sun in your Car

Preparing your car for emergencies is important for all drivers, regardless of age and experience. In addition to emergency and personal essentials, items for sun protection can help you avoid skin damage and stay safe in the car. Read more sun safety tips on our blog, and check out Coolibar’s UPF 50+ clothing for you and your family.

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