Modern cars have countless places to store things, from the glove box to the console to myriad cubbies, map pockets, cupholders and cargo areas. What you keep in them is going to depend on what you use your vehicle for, but there are a few essentials that you shouldn’t leave home without. Whether tooling about town or hitting the road on a long haul, keep these things safely stowed in case of emergencies.
Jumper cables: While it’s much harder to accidentally drain the battery of a newer car thanks to lights that shut off automatically, dead batteries still happen, particularly in winter. Carry a set of jumper cables and you’ll be able to get your car started and your battery charged with the help of another vehicle.
Spare tire, lift jack and tire iron: Some cars don’t come with spare tires, so if you fall into this category you don’t need to add one. If, however, your car does come with a spare, you should make sure that it’s in good condition (even without use, a spare needs to be replaced every 6 years or so). You’ll also need a jack, a tire iron, and the know-how to change a tire if the need should arise.
Portable inflator: If left unchecked, a slow tire leak can be a serious safety hazard on the highway. A portable inflator that connects to your car’s 12V outlet can get you back on the road without needing to change the tire or call for a tow truck. Likewise, a portable inflator can be used to top up the air in your tires periodically.
Tire pressure gauge: If you check your tire pressure regularly, you’ll be less likely to miss a slow leak before it’s too late (see above). While digital gauges are easier to use, an analog gauge won’t ever run out of batteries when you need it.
First aid kit: While there’s sure no way to prevent an accident, being prepared can make a world of difference in the case of an emergency for you or someone else. That’s why a first aid kit should be part of your road kit, allowing you to bandage cuts and scrapes if needed, or perform first aid in the case of an accident.
Flashlight: You’ve probably got a flashlight on your smartphone, but it may not be up to the task in the case of an emergency, plus you’re going to want to save your phone battery for making calls. A simple LED flashlight can be helpful in a number of situations. Just be sure to check it regularly so make sure the batteries still work.
Gloves: Frozen fingers are not helpful if you need to change a tire or fiddle under the hood in the dead of winter. A pair of simple work gloves can keep your hands protected (and clean) should the situation ever require a fix on the fly.
Motor oil and a rag: Oil is essential to keep your car running well, and you should be checking your oil every couple of fill-ups to make sure you have enough. Keeping an extra supply of motor oil in your trunk (upright and firmly sealed) just in case can help prevent wear on your motor if you ever run low.
Sunglasses: A pair of shades can come in very handy if you find yourself driving into the sunset (or sunrise). Don’t keep your best sunglasses in the car, though, because summer heat can warp the frames and lenses.
Snow & ice scraper: No one likes clearing snow and ice off their vehicle in the winter, but not doing so can put you and other drivers at risk. Pack a scraper, and make you clear your roof, hood and trunk lid of snow before heading out on the road.
Phone charger: In any emergency your best option is usually going to be calling for help, and you can’t do that with a dead phone. Keep a charger cable in your car for exactly this reason.
What not to keep in your car:
Gasoline: With the exception of a jerrycan attached to the exterior of your vehicle (or in the bed of a pickup) you should never keep fuel in your car – even in the trunk. Fuel is highly combustible and even if the can is tightly sealed it poses a serious danger inside a vehicle.
Extra stuff: The more stuff you keep in your vehicle, the more your vehicle will weigh, and the worse your fuel economy will be. Try to empty your backseat and trunk of unnecessary items to keep clutter down and performance up.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.