Prepare for Auto Emergencies
Keep an emergency kit in your car for the unexpected breakdown.
Having a car is great! You use it for work, school, shopping and travel. You count on your vehicle for mile after carefree mile of driving.
Sometimes, though, cars don’t cooperate. They break down and leave you stuck.
There’s never a good time or place for a car to break down, but there are ways you can minimize any potential danger. Keep an emergency kit in your car at all times so you can summon help or make small repairs to get back on the road.
Here’s a list of items you’ll want to include in your emergency kit:
- Cell phone and charger – Any cell phone, even an older model without an active plan, will let you call 911 for help.
- Flashlight – This basic item lets you signal other motorists and gives you light for simple repairs.
- Warning light, hazard triangle or flares – If your vehicle is stuck on the side of the road, these warning devices will make other motorists aware of you.
- Jumper cables – If your battery dies, jumper cables can enable another motorist to get you started so you can drive to the closest repair shop. Refer to your owner's manual for instructions on how to properly connect jumper cables. (Tip: Another option is a portable jump start pack sold at most auto supply stores. Unlike jumper cables, these do not require another car to get you started.)
- Can of tire sealer and inflator – If you have a flat tire, these products will seal small holes and inflate a tire enough to drive to the nearest repair shop. (Note: Many shops will not repair the tire because of the sticky residue these sealants leave inside it. Use only in an emergency and do NOT consider this a permanent fix.)
- Tow rope/strap – If you become stuck, a passing car may be able to help pull your car back onto a solid road surface. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to attach a tow strap before you need to do it in inclement weather or dangerous conditions.
- Duct tape – This universal fix-it tool can make emergency repairs to hoses or wires to help you get to a repair shop.
- First aid kit – Choose one that allows you to treat a wide range of injuries. The American Red Cross has descriptions of several types of first aid kits and what should be included.
- Fire extinguisher – If your car catches fire, move away as quickly as possible. For extra security, it's good to have a fire extinguisher that can be used in any emergency to quickly dose small flames before they spread. Get a fire extinguisher that is rated A, B and C, to extinguish all types of fires.
- Jack and lug wrench – Most vehicles come with these tools to change a tire. Refer to your owner's manual to learn where they're located and how to use them. (Note: Some cars come with run-flat tires and do not have a spare. A run-flat tire is not a permanent solution. It is intended to get you to the nearest repair shop.)
- Raingear – Such protective clothing lets you stay dry if you need to change a tire, make a small repair or seek assistance in the rain.
- Basic tools – At minimum, include both a regular and Phillips-head screwdriver, pliers and a crescent wrench. Your tool kit should allow you to do simple jobs such as changing a light bulb, tightening battery cables and replacing a fuse.
- Spare fuses – If you experience an electrical problem, check your fuses first. (Your car’s manual will show the location.) Keep an assortment of fuses on hand for emergencies.
- Water and nonperishable food – Keep enough food and water for at least one meal – more when traveling in remote or extreme-temperature regions.
- Gloves, hand sanitizer and clean rags – Even the simplest jobs can get your hands dirty. Having these items on hand will help keep dirt from getting on your clothes or your vehicle's interior.
- Small tarp – Even if all you do is change a tire, this can help keep you clean.
- Car window breaking tool – Keep this in your glove compartment in the event your car goes into water. You may need to break a window for a quick escape.
If you’re driving in cold weather, add these items to your kit:
- Blanket, warm gloves and winter hat – If you run out of fuel or if your battery dies, your vehicle won't be able to provide heat. A blanket and hat can help keep you warm if you have to wait for help in cold conditions.
- Chemical hand warmers – These small, inexpensive packets are available at sporting-goods stores and provide instant heat.
- Small folding shovel – If you get stuck in snow, this can help clear snow away from your car’s tires.
- Windshield scraper – Keep this handy at all times to remove ice buildup from your car’s windows. A long-handle brush is also helpful to remove snow.
- Cat litter – Spread under your tires, this substance can help provide traction on slick road surfaces.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to use the items you've collected. If you have any special needs, make sure to take them into account when you put your kit together.
In any emergency, the most important item is good judgment. For example, don’t change a tire in a high-speed lane. Instead, go as far onto the shoulder as possible.
Being stranded on the side of the road is stressful enough without worrying about calling for assistance. Having an emergency roadside assistance plan in addition to an emergency kit can be a lifesaver. American Family’s Emergency Roadside Service coverage is there to help you get back on the road as fast as possible. For more information, see your local American Family Insurance agent.