This complete checklist of items you should have in your car supplements the article Checklist of Safety Items For Your Car. Click on the numbers below to learn more. Blue indicates items needed for cold climates.
Common items you should have in your car
1. Spare tire
Depending on the manufacturer and model of a car, a spare tire is typically located in the trunk, tail-mounted, or attached to the undercarriage. Ensure that you have a viable spare tire and that it is fully inflated based on the recommended PSI. The PSI information can usually be found on the sticker inside the driver’s side door or in the owner’s manual. Also make sure that the clamp screw, spare tire housing (or lock) is secure but easily accessible. Sometimes rust or corrosion may build-up making it difficult to access your spare tire.
Tip: Check your spare tire pressure as frequently as you would check your regular tires. This is especially important before a long trip.
Other considerations: It’s always good to have some WD-40 on hand. It’s useful for loosening and penetrating rusted parts. Some other uses found have included the following: cleans spare tire mount, keeps cable on spare tire rack from seizing, lubricates tire air knobs, unfreezes car doors, keeps tire jack working smoothly, keeps car locks from freezing during winter, removes melted gum from dashboards, removes road debris from license plates, helps remove road salt from car locks, keeps keys from rusting, and more.
2. Car jack
Review your vehicle owner’s manual to ensure your car jack and all accessories are accounted for and in working order. Similar to the spare tire housing, clamp screw, or lock, this item may develop rust or corrosion over time. Perform maintenance according to the vehicle owner’s manual recommendations.
3. Tire tool/lug wrench
The tire tool (lug wrench) is typically located with your vehicle’s tire jack.
4. Tire air pressure gauge
Make sure you have a tire gauge that provides accurate readings, feels solid in-hand, and has proven to be reliable with consistent pressure readings. There are some really poor tire gauges available that will give you inconsistent readings all the time. Take some time to read reviews on tire gauges and choose one with a proven record of quality and consistency in pressure readings.
5. Jumper cables
Jumper cables are a must for every vehicle. Make sure your cables are heavy-duty (thick gauge like 6, 8 or 10), copper-plated for increased conductivity, and engineered for warm and cold climates. Your cables should have durable rubber insulation. Invest in some cables that have sufficient length as well. Cords typically come in 12′, 16′, 20′ and 25′ lengths. Pay particular attention in consumer reviews regarding the clamps and insulation. Poorly-made clamps and cheap insulation are pretty common complaints about certain brands.
Other considerations: There’s no substitute for a quality car battery charger. They are quite affordable and will save you a lot of trouble down the road. One product that seems to be getting a lot of buzz and 5-star reviews is the Battery Tender 021-0128 Battery Tender Plus 12V Battery Charger. However, If you are looking for a professional grade, portable car battery charger, then the Clore Automotive JNC660 Jump-N-Carry 1,700 Peak Amp 12-Volt Jump Starter is definitely the best choice.
6. Aerosol Tire inflator/sealant (Flat Fixer)
Pressurized, canned tire inflators (with sealant for tire punctures) are aerosol cans that provide a quick-fix solution to minor tire punctures. They will seal a puncture while inflating your tire to an extent that you can drive for a short period. These products may help you reach a garage for proper repair. They are not always 100% effective but provide an option you should not be without.
Tips: Don’t drive for extended periods after applying a puncture sealant or it may ruin your tire rims or TPMS device/tire pressure sensors. Seek a proper repair at a garage immediately. Also, read the can’s recommended storage and usage temperatures. The product will freeze when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit but it will thaw once the temperature rises and still be usable. It’s also recommended that you keep cans in a sealed container within your car. In the event of an accidental discharge, you want to protect your car’s interior.
Additional considerations: A portable air compressor is another good option in case your flat fixer does not provide enough pressure. Portable compressors plug into the cigarette lighter power port. Quality portable compressors typically start at $50.00. Be sure to check the amps/voltage of your vehicle to avoid blowing any fuses depending on the power draw of your air compressor. Keep in mind that an air compressor has many other uses so this could be a good investment. One technique to get a car out of the mud is to release approximately 1/2 of the air from the tires. Half-inflated tires can create more surface area and provide just enough additional traction to free a vehicle from the mud. Once free from the mud you would desperately need an air compressor to refill your tires.
7. Car tow strap or recovery strap
Keep a strong, high-capacity tow strap in your car in case you get stuck in mud or snow. A typical rope will not suffice in most situations. Tow straps are also known as recovery straps and come at various ratings based on vehicle weight. You should find one that is sturdy, preferably with double-stitched webbing, and that meets or exceeds your vehicle’s weight (be sure to include passenger weight and luggage when you assess capacity rating). Most come in 20′ and 30′ lengths. A quality tow strap should come with forged steel safety hooks that have retaining clips.
8. Gas can
A good gas can is always nice to have for obvious reasons.
Additional considerations: For most people, a gas can is more than sufficient. However, you can take this a step further by acquiring a siphon and pump system for under $15.00. It’s rare that you would need to siphon fuel from another vehicle but in remote regions, this could be handy.
A flashlight with new batteries is essential especially when you need to replace a tire or look under the engine hood at night.
10. Snow chains and snow tires
If you live in a cold region snow chains and winter tires make a world of a difference. Snow chain installation can be time-consuming and difficult but worth your effort. Snow tires are a must-have.
Tip: It’s recommended that you apply snow chains before you leave your garage or driveway. This way you are less likely to feel rushed and will take additional time to adjust and tighten the chains properly. The last thing you want is to have to pull-over constantly to adjust or tighten your chains especially in a storm.
11. GPS, Smartphone & Paper Road Map
GPS devices are affordable and provide an array of useful features. You can also find GPS features on most smartphones, and when there’s a strong signal you will be able to access a variety of services on the Internet to map your route. But, don’t become overly dependent on an electronic gadget that can potentially fail. Keep a paper map handy in case your GPS or smartphone becomes unreliable.
Tip: AAA offers paper roadmaps for hundreds of cities and states across the United States and Canada. Stop by your local AAA branch to pick up a map for your next trip. Maps for AAA members are free. If you need to calculate travel distance on a map or mark locations, make sure you have something to write with!
Alternatives: Make your own paper road map. Before you leave on your next road trip find a computer with Internet access and a printer. Use the Google Maps service to get directions and to chart your route. Print the route as a backup to your GPS.
12. Paper towels, shop cloth and hand wipes
It’s always good to have paper towels or a shop cloth for checking fluid levels, wiping away excess fluids like after topping-off the oil, and for cleaning the windshield and mirrors. It’s also nice to keep a good supply of hand wipes in your glove compartment. They will provide just enough moisture to remove most grime after changing a tire or performing other maintenance.
13. A folding shovel (entrenching tool)
A folding shovel, also known as an entrenching tool, is a compact, last-resort necessity when you get stuck in the mud. Lets say you have a tow strap but there are no other vehicles to provide assistance. A folding shovel can be utilized to dig yourself out of an otherwise hopeless muddy area. Look for an entrenching tool that also has a saw-toothed side to it. This may be helpful for cutting tree branches to place under your wheels for traction.
Other considerations: You may find that a small folding shovel is too labor intensive with such a short handle and not really effective for shoveling snow. If you want to save your back and have ample storage space in your vehicle, consider getting a good snow shovel especially if you expect to be moving lots of snow frequently. There are also some pretty effective plastic telescoping shovels that provide a longer handle than a simple entrenching tool. These are pretty decent space-saving tools but do have a tendency to break more often than the alternatives discussed here. My choice would probably be an Aluminum Sport Utility Shovel. These are lightweight shovels, adjustable, and have the ability to break-down into separate pieces. Plus they seem to get the best consumer reviews on Amazon.
14. Traction mats (Portable Tow Truck, Tow Truck in a Box)
Traction mats, also known as traction ramps, are merely textured plastic, rubber, or fiberglass mats you place under your tires in order to gain traction in mud or snowy conditions. There are several brands of traction mats including Tow Truck in a Box, Portable Tow Truck, and Smittybilt products. Traction mats must be placed well under the tires in order to work properly. Ensure that the traction mat you choose has a leading edge that’s thin enough to easily slip under your tire. A good traction mat has a very gradual incline with pronounced cleats or ridges that will provide sufficient traction when you initially mount the mat – this is the most crucial stage. When you review all the available brands you will note there is a difference in length among them. Try and go with a product that has as much length as possible.
Other considerations: If budget is not an issue, you have a heavy vehicle, or you just like to do a lot of off-roading, you can search Google for waffle boardsor element ramps. They are typically fiberglass, are corrosion resistant, and extremely durable.
15. Deicing and Granular traction: Rock Salt, kitty litter and sand
Rock salt, kitty litter, and sand are recommended for cold regions. Rock salt is used for deicing and precedes laying down sand or kitty litter for traction. Regular table salt can be used but you will tend to need larger quantities in order to achieve the same result. The granular qualities of kitty litter and sand provide great traction once applied properly. Make sure that the kitty litter is the cheap non-clumping litter. Many people prefer sand over kitty litter because it’s not as messy. Kitty litter tends to stick to your shoes and you can end up tracking it into your home.
Other considerations: Sand has a dual purpose. Sandbags are sometimes used in the trunk to weigh-down a rear-wheel-drive car to provide better traction.
16. Ice scraper & cigarette lighter
A good ice scraper can be purchased for under $10. Some products have a brass blade that are more effective for scraping ice than the more common plastic alternatives. This is true, but some consumers have reported that the brass blades scratched the glass on their windshields. These claims have not been confirmed at this time. To be on the safe side I would recommend using a plastic ice scraper. You can also look for products that come with a dual system of ice scraper and ice chisel.
A cigarette lighter is a good tool to have for frozen locks. You can thaw a frozen lock by heating the key and gently moving the key in-and-out of the key hole.
Other considerations: Some consumers have reported that WD-40 helps to prevent locks from freezing in winter. This has not been confirmed.
17. Vehicle owner’s manual
A vehicle owner’s manual provides you everything you need to know about the operation and maintenance for your car. Crucial information provided includes jump starting, push starting, towing, emergency start, and changing a flat tire.