An emergency car kit is one of those things that you put in your car and forget it is even there until you actually need it. When you face a problem on the road, whether that means breaking down in the middle of nowhere or having an accident and treating an injury promptly, an emergency car kit rapidly transforms from a forgotten item to the most valuable item in your car.
Some people like to buy a ready-made emergency car kit, but others prefer to have full control and assemble their own. If you want to completely customize your emergency kit, this article provides a helpful guide to what you should include in your self-made one. You'll also get the lowdown on the best way to use each item in an emergency so that you'll be fully prepped for most situations.
Jumper cables are an essential part of any emergency car kit because they can help restart a dead car battery. Car batteries die for a variety of reasons, but the most common reasons are cold weather conditions, wear and tear, and corrosion. The job of your car's battery is to start the engine, so without a functioning battery, your car won't start, which can leave you stranded.
Building your own emergency car kit is all about being prepared for the worst and ready to respond when it happens. If your car's battery suddenly fails in the middle of nowhere, jumper cables can be life-saving. Jumper cables are thick cables with clips at either end. They work by connecting your car's dead battery to another battery with ample power, which is used to start your car.
To jump-start your car using the jumper cables in your emergency kit, you will, of course, need to encounter another vehicle with an owner who is willing to stop and help you. After you get the assistance of another driver, here is how to safely jump-start your car:
- Put both vehicles into neutral and make sure to turn off the ignition.
- Park the vehicles side-by-side without touching so that the two batteries are as close as possible to each other.
- Locate the battery of each vehicle; it'll typically be under the hood or, in some cases, in the trunk.
- Connect the red (positive) clips to the positive points on each battery.
- Connect one black (negative) clip to the negative point on the functioning battery. The cables will now be live so take care not to touch the metal part of the remaining black clip.
- Handle the remaining black clip by carefully grasping its grips, attach the clip to a strong piece of metal under the hood, away from the battery terminal. This step completes the circuit and is known as a grounding point.
- Start the car with the good battery and leave it running for a few minutes until your dead battery gets enough power. Start your car to verify that the battery is now working.
- To break the circuit safely, remove the negative clip from your engine's grounding point and then remove both ends of the jumper cable from the car that is assisting you. Lastly, remove the red clip from your car's engine.
- Leave the engine running before driving to charge up the battery for a few minutes.
Jumper cables can get you out of all kinds of precarious situations while on the road, and you never know when you'll need them. All you know is that they are an essential tool to have in an emergency car kit.
In the event of an accident or breakdown, road flares help to warn oncoming motorists about the accident or breakdown site ahead. Road flares provide consistently bright light and they are typically up to five times brighter than electric alternatives.
Another couple of things that make road flares so useful is that they are a universally understood danger signal and they are self-illuminating, which means you don't need to worry about the battery dying just when you need them.
Part of what deters some people from using road flares is that they don't know where to put them. The main idea of using flares is to provide sufficient warning of an accident site to oncoming drivers. The important thing to know is the speed limit of the road where the accident occurred. You can abide by the following guidelines to know what distance from an accident site to place road flares:
- If the speed limit zone is 50 mph or under, place the flares approximately 120-feet from the accident area.
- If the speed limit zone is over 50 mph, place the road flares approximately 340-feet from the accident area.
The large discrepancy in distances stems from the fact that when driving at speed, braking distance greatly increases. Drivers need ample time to slow down and avoid the accident site.
There is a specific process for lighting road flares. Here are some steps to light your road flares correctly if you ever need to use them:
- Gauge the correct distance behind the vehicle to light your flare and make sure the surface is level and free of debris or vegetation.
- Remove the plastic lid located at the cap end of the flare if your road flares have these lids. Some flares do not have a lid, so you can locate the cap by comparing the two ends of the flares and noticing that one end feels rougher.
- Remove the cap to expose the end of the flare. The end of the flare has an ignition surface.
- Hold the flare firmly in the middle part of it and make sure to hold it as far from your body and anyone else present as possible.
- Rub the rough end of the cap against the ignition surface of the flare briskly.
- With the flare lit, point it downward and place the removed cap on the back end of the flare, which is the end that you have not ignited.
- Place the flare on the ground gently. Don't drop it down on the ground. Make sure to position the flare so that it will not roll.
- If you need to extinguish a flare after it serves its purpose, douse it with some water.
Road flares are the most effective source of light you can use to warn other drivers of an accident, and they are compact enough to store in your emergency kit without taking up a lot of space.
A first-aid kit is another crucial piece of equipment to include as part of an emergency car kit. Whether you need to respond quickly to an accident, help treat an injury en route to the hospital, or take shelter during a snowstorm, it is important to carry a first-aid kit in your trunk.
Knowing you need a first-aid kit is obvious enough, but choosing what should be in it is sometimes tricky. Here is a recommended list of first-aid kit essentials:
- Band-aids to cover cuts
- Gauze pads to treat wounds
- Antiseptic ointment to prevent infection
- A blister packet of aspirin, ibuprofen, or any other pain relief medication
- Medical gloves to control infection when treating serious wounds
- An extra blanket or two to keep warm in case you become stranded
Tire Pressure Gauge
The risk of having under inflated tires is that too much of the tire's surface area becomes exposed to the road, which increases friction. Eventually, the increased friction between your car's tires and the road can cause a blowout, which can be a very dangerous incident, particularly when driving at high speed.
An emergency car kit doesn't need to only contain items you specifically use in an emergency situation. A tire pressure gauge is a good example of something you should keep in your car at all times as a preventative tool to avoid an emergency situation. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns in its advisory post on winter driving tips, as the temperature outside drops, so does tire inflation pressure.
Regularly use the tire pressure gauge to check that your car's tires are in line with the manufacturer's recommended optimal pounds per square inch of pressure. During colder months, check the tire pressure once every month. Always check tire pressure when the tires are cold, which means three hours before or after driving.
Other useful items to consider as part of your emergency car kit are:
- A lug wrench to help remove lug nuts and change a flat tire quicker
- A high-quality scissor jack that is more compact than the one that comes with your car
- A portable jump starter to restart your car without relying on help from other drivers
- A portable power bank to keep your phone's battery charged and call for help
- Drinking water to stay hydrated
- A flashlight or head lamp with some spare batteries
Following these tips and equipping your car with a good emergency kit can make all the difference between being able to effectively respond to difficult situations on the road and finding yourself in a dangerous situation because you weren't prepared. Check out our website to buy high-quality accessories for your emergency car kit.