Years ago I was driving from Albany to Oswego NY late at night when I realized the rear end of my car was acting oddly – it felt loose, particularly when I went around turns. I pulled over and discovered that my left rear tire was almost completely flat. The good news: I had a spare tire and functioning jack. The not so good news: I was on the side of a 2 lane road about 100 yards past a big sweeping curve, it was pitch black out, I had no flashlight and no way to warn any cars coming around that turn. Fortunately I was able to get the flat off and the spare tire on the car and get on my way without mishap, but it was a bit of a scary experience.

Since then I’ve carried an emergency kit in my trunk, and it’s given me peace of mind and has come in very handy a couple of times over the years. If you’ve got about $50 and 15 minutes, you can have a terrific roadside emergency kit in your trunk.

Disclaimer: I am not suggesting you go out and buy the individual items for your kit, although that’s certainly an option. Any Wal-Mart or any decent auto parts store carries basic roadside emergency kits; I suggest you purchase one and then augment it with several additional items.

The kit shown below was actually purchased from for less than $20. Wal-Mart sells a basic emergency kit for $20 and a slightly more elaborate one for $30. These kits usually contain the basics:

Roadside emergency kit

In this case, it contains:

  • Tire inflator (cigarette lighter plug)
  • Flashlight
  • Jumper cables (not the best cables around, but serviceable)
  • Gloves
  • Bungee cord
  • Folding warning triangle
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • A couple of simple hand tools – pliers, screwdriver

To this I suggest you add several items as pictured below.

Additional emergency kit items

  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Disposable camera
  • Lightsticks or other back-up light source
  • Wire/zip ties
  • Roll of duct tape (of course!!)
  • A few granola bars (Clif bars are shown here)
  • Shop rags
  • Germicide to make water potable (sold in the camping supplies dept.)
  • 4-way screwdriver
  • Extra fuses & fuse puller (make sure you get the right type for your car – most cars manufactured in the last decade use mini fuses)
  • Can of Fix-a-Flat — for quick, on the fly flat tire repairs — NOTE: does not work well in cold temps!
  • Leatherman tool
  • Bottled water
  • Knife
  • A plastic poncho

With the exception of the Leatherman tool, all of these items are available at Wal-Mart or similar stores and you can purchase all of them in a matter of 10-15 minutes. Then just find a suitable bag (a small nylon gym bag would be fine) to hold everything and put it in your trunk.

Another obvious option would be to include a few road flares.

If you live in an area with tough winters, consider adding a shovel, blanket, ice scraper (although you’d presumably have this in your car anyway) and you may want to consider a couple of cans of Sterno and a small camping-style saucepan (for melting snow if you REALLY get stranded!)

A small battery or (better yet) crank powered portable radio is also worth consideration. Wal-Mart (and no, I’m by no means a big fan of Wal-Mart, it just happens to be convenient for a lot of people) sells this crank-powered emergency radio/light for $20; here’s a link.

Emergency radio/light

Take a few minutes this weekend and put together a roadside emergency kit for your car – with summer vacations and travel imminent, this is the perfect time to put a little peace of mind in your trunk!

Thanks for visiting, and let me know if you think I’ve missed anything essential! As always, if you like what you see here, please subscribe by clicking any of the 3 options at the top of the right hand column.

-kc 6/13/08

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5 Comments on Create your own roadside emergency kit!

  1. 2bneil says:

    Disposable surgical gloves available at Wal Mart etc can keep your hands dry and clean without sacrificing dexterity. A kneeler pad available at garden supply stores saves your knees and pants on hard surfaces. A small candle and tin cup are important in cold weather climates. A lit candle placed on the floor of a car can keep the interior above freezing for several hours.


  2. Ray says:

    Thanks, however for me I would add a better tire iron with a cheater bar for leverage. Lug nuts put on by an air gun are no match for the auto makers tire iron. Over the years I’ve had to change tires on all three American made cars and trucks, not once did the job go smooth using the supplied tire iron the vehicle came with. On my own vehicles I always up grade this item, as well my family cars or anyone that should know. Not sure why this is the way, using junk when you need it the most. What do the people of American Autos think, if you drive an American vehicle you never get a flat. I agree with your E-KIT for all vehicles at all times, you never know when you or someone on the road may need it. Also changing a tire is not for everyone, but if push comes to shove you’ll do what you have to do. The right tire iron will make all the difference, it did for me time after time. Again Thanks, I would ADD this to your E-KIT and just ask anyone to try changing the tire when the time is safe (test run) and see how they do. A poor tire iron will put an end to the job or they will give up every time. On a road by yourself late at night and that person is your kid or wife and a flat is a bad opportunity.


  3. Kevin says:

    @Neil: although I cleverly managed to not show it in the photos above, I actually have a couple of cans of Sterno in my kit, along with some matches.
    @Ray: I agree wholeheartedly – one of the areas many car manufacturers skimp is in the lug nut wrench/tire iron. Your suggestion to take a dry run is a great one – thanks!


  4. Hi Kevin,
    We live in northern New Hampshire, in the mountains, and winter driving can be pretty brutal (I am happy to report that we spent our first winter down south away from the snow!). A few things that I learned to keep in the car at all times was:

    – a 40-pound bag of water softener salt in the trunk (Cheap! About $4 or $5 at Wal-Mart). Not only does it add extra weight for driving in snow, but it’s also easy to break open and scoop out for getting out of spots where your tires might be spinning on ice or mud.

    – a large zipper-lock plastic bag with a hat, gloves, warm socks, and foot/hand warmers – they are pretty inexpensive too!

    Although I didn’t carry one (I had blankets in the car), you can get one of those very lightweight “space blankets” into a bag very easility as well.

    Thanks for the great tips!
    :) Kath


  5. Randy says:

    Great post. In addition to what others wrote, I would add a reflective vest to the kit. They can be had from pretty much any Wal-mart / Target / etc. for less that $10 and provide that extra level of visibility, even in daylight, to add the highest amount of safety while you are on the side fo the road. You might even want to get more than one in case you travel a bit with more than just yourself.


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