Car Essentials: Things to Keep in Your Car in Case of Emergency

Keeping some essential items in your car, such as a map, a high-vis jacket, warm clothes, warning triangles and more, can help you to stay safe and comfortable when you drive, especially if you break down.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 02 October 2018. Last updated on 03 February 2021.
Car Essentials: Things to Keep in Your Car in Case of Emergency

When you’re driving it’s important to be prepared for all kinds of eventualities, including breakdowns, so you can stay safe on the road.

Whether you’ve broken down in the middle of nowhere on a cold, wet winter’s night, or you’re stuck for hours in traffic, it’s a good idea to have some essential items in your car to make your experience less stressful.

Even if you regularly look after your car and it’s in good condition, you could still break down and find yourself in need of certain emergency essentials.

Useful things to keep in your car

Some of the things to have in your car in case of emergency include:

High-vis clothing

It’s a good idea to have a high-vis jacket handy should you break down. Although it’s not legally required in the UK, it can help other road users spot you when you’re standing at the roadside, especially if it’s dark. In many European countries it’s a legal requirement to carry a high-vis vest in your car.

Red warning triangles

You can buy red warning triangles online or from garages and shops that sell car-related items. If you break down and it’s safe to do so, you can place a triangle at least 45m behind your car to warn other drivers about the obstruction. Just remember it’s not safe to put one out on the motorway. In most European countries it is compulsory to carry at least one warning triangle in your car.

>> MORE: What do I need to drive in Europe

Paper road map

It may seem old-fashioned to have a road map in your car, but it’s worth having just in case your sat-nav fails and you have no mobile signal.

Phone charger and/or spare phone

If you break down you will need to call for help, and a flat phone battery is the last thing you want to happen! To avoid this, you could have a USB charger or another in-car phone charger in your vehicle, or you could keep an old, spare mobile in your car as a back-up option.

It may also be worth downloading the what3words app on your phone as the reference code can help breakdown services track down your exact location.

Breakdown cover details

As well as saving the contact details for your breakdown cover in your mobile, keep them in your car just in case your phone runs out of battery. This means you will have the contact number ready even if you need to use another phone to call for help.

>> COMPARE: Breakdown cover

Car manual

Your car manual should join you on every journey as it has everything you need to know about your car. From the correct tyre pressure to what different warning lights mean, this handbook can help you out if you’re having trouble with your vehicle.

Warm clothes and/or blankets

These are especially key in winter, but it’s useful to have some extra layers in your car all year round. If you’re delayed in traffic or you’ve broken down, you might be grateful for an extra jumper or blanket to keep you warm, particularly at night.

Sunglasses

When you’re driving, the last thing you want is to get blinded by the sun. Wearing a pair of sunglasses can help to reduce the glare and help you drive safely, so they are an essential item to keep in your car. They’re not just a summer item either; in fact, the low-lying sun in the winter months can make glare even more of a problem for drivers than in the summer.

Torch

If you break down in the dark, a torch can help you to see and to stay safe when you’re outside your vehicle. Do periodic checks to make sure your torch is working as batteries can go flat if left unused for long periods, and consider keeping some spare batteries in the car just in case.

First aid kit

A first aid kit in your car will help you to treat any minor injuries. All vehicle first aid kits should include a packet of waterproof plasters in assorted sizes, sterile cleansing wipes, gloves, dressings, a Revive-Aid, and a pair of scissors.

If you are currently taking any medication, it might be sensible to have some with you in the car.

Snacks and water

When you’re stuck in a long queue of traffic you can start to get hungry and lose concentration. But, if you have water and an energy bar in your car, or other snacks that have a long shelf life, then you will be prepared if your journey takes longer than planned.

Similarly, if you break down and have a long wait before help arrives, you might appreciate having something to eat and drink.

Comfy shoes

It’s important that you drive in suitable shoes, but sometimes you may be wearing high heels or flip flops that may not be so easy to drive in. If you keep a comfortable pair of shoes in the car, you won’t need to worry about remembering to bring a change of footwear on these occasions.

Comfy shoes can also come in handy if you break down and need to walk some distance to get help.

Spare change

Although most places now accept card payments, including toll roads and car parks, it is still worth keeping some coins in your car as a back-up option.

Empty fuel can

Running out of fuel can be embarrassing and stressful. But, if you have an empty can in your vehicle and you’re near a petrol station, you could fill it up with fuel and then fill up your car so you can carry on your journey.

Jump leads

If your car battery stops working mid-journey, you may be able to jump start it with a pair of jump leads and the help of another vehicle. But only use them if you are confident you know what you are doing!

Spare bulbs

Especially if you’re driving in the dark, spare bulbs can be very helpful should one of your car’s headlights stop working. If you know how to, you can replace the bulb and continue driving without posing an increased risk to other road users.

Tyre pump

If your tyres start to go flat as you’re driving, it would be useful if you could pump them back to the correct pressure until you can get them properly checked. So, having a foot pump or another kind of tyre inflator in your car could come in handy.

Spare tyre

If you have room, keep a spare tyre in your car. Then, if you get a puncture and you have the right equipment, you could change the tyre yourself if you know how to. If not, you can call your breakdown provider and they should be able to fit the tyre for you, rather than taking you to a garage to get a new tyre.

>> MORE: What to do when you break down

What should you keep in your car in winter?

It may be a tight squeeze to fit all the above items in your car at once, so prioritise the ones that are the most important and consider what would be most useful for that particular time of year. Different seasons pose different challenges so pack your car accordingly.

Some winter driving essentials that will be particularly useful to have in your car in the colder months include:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer.
  • Spare warm clothes.
  • A warm blanket.
  • Torch.
  • High-vis jacket.
  • Shovel.
  • Rope.
  • Jump start cables.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Warm boots with a good grip.
  • Snow chains (if driving on remote and snowy roads).>> MORE: Winter car checks: Preparing your car for winter
About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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