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Not too many years ago, there was a massive traffic jam on an Interstate running through Wisconsin in the middle of winter.  Hundreds of cars that had been headed home during rush hour ended up stranded overnight on the highway due to an accident where a semi-truck jackknifed in the snow.  Local law enforcement agencies as well as National Guard troops did what they could to help, traveling back and forth on snowmobiles to provide blankets, water, and gasoline to the motorists until the roads cleared up.

What if happens to you?  Are you prepared if you end up stranded on the side of the road?  Here are some suggestions for your kit.

Warmth

Your vehicle emergency kit should have items to help keep you and your family comfortable until help arrives.  This includes one small blanket for each person who normally rides in the vehicle.  Around the holidays, many stores sell fleece blankets fairly cheap and these are great options for the car, van, or truck.  Many homes have at least a couple of old blankets taking up space in the linen closet and could instead be tossed into the trunk.

All too often, we rush out of the house without being properly attired for the weather, just figuring to sprint from the car to the store entrance.  With remote start, we can even have the car warm up while we’re at the checkout.  That’s all well and good but a spare hat and pair of mittens might be welcome if you end up stuck for a while.

While you’re at it, toss an old jacket and pair of boots into the trunk.  Trying to hoof it to a gas station or home while wearing dress shoes or heels probably won’t go well for you.

Sustenance

While you aren’t likely to starve to death waiting for a tow truck or other assistance to arrive, having some snacks can not only help pass the time but keep complaints to a minimum.  There are several great options for food that will keep well in a vehicle.  These include:

  • Mini candy bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Raisins
  • Granola bars

While these types of foods will be fine in the car for a few months or longer, get into the habit of rotating them out on a regular basis.  Remember, the idea here isn’t to provide a full meal for everyone, just to alleviate the inevitable, “I’m hungry!”

Water can be problematic, simply because it can freeze when the weather turns frigid.  Emergency water pouches like those sold by Datrex are designed not to burst if the water freezes.  Another option is to fill your own water bottles, leaving an inch or two of space for expansion.  If it becomes necessary to thaw a frozen water bottle, don’t put it directly on your skin.  Hold it inside your coat but on top of your clothes.  This will be plenty warm enough to melt the ice.

Tools

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been approached in a parking lot by someone who needed a jump start, I’d have enough loose change to buy a set of booster cables.  Having a set in your trunk helps people help you should the need arise.  A good flashlight is also a wise idea.  Be sure to tuck into your vehicle emergency kit a set of spare batteries.

Modern vehicles aren’t set up for easy repairs on the side of the road.  Once upon a time, you could put together a set of basic hand tools and you’d be prepared for just about anything.  These days, not so much.  But, a set of wrenches, a pair of pliers, a couple of screwdrivers, and a roll of duct tape might still get you out of a jam if you know what you’re doing.

A small shovel along with a bag of cheap kitty litter might be all it takes to get you unstuck.  Those are certainly better options than digging out by hand and using a car mat for traction.

When was the last time you checked your spare tire?  Do you have a jack and do you know how to use it?

Communication

Most people have a cell phone with them everywhere they go.  But, how often have you realized you’re down to less than 10% battery life because you forgot to charge it the night before?  Toss a portable charger into the vehicle emergency kit.  Make sure you have the proper cable to charge your phone, too.  While a plug for the power outlet in the car is great, if the battery is dead it won’t help.

If you don’t have a cell phone, consider picking up a cheap one with the most basic service possible, just to keep in the car for emergencies.

First Aid

Another essential for the vehicle emergency kit is a small first aid kit.  It doesn’t need to be anything massive or complex unless you have the training to use those more advanced supplies.  Most of the time, a simple adhesive bandage and some disinfectant will be fine.  If you scrape your knuckles while changing a tire, you’ll want to be able to clean and bandage it.  Bonus points if you get the bandages with cartoon characters for the kids.

Boredom Relievers

You’ll want to conserve power by not running the car constantly as well as by staying off of your phone except as needed to get help.  Keep idle hands and minds at bay by tossing into the vehicle emergency kit some things to do:

  • Word find or crossword puzzle books
  • Something to read
  • Crank powered radio
  • Small toys or games for kids

Even an hour can seem like an eternity if there’s nothing to do but stare out the window and wait…and wait…and wait.

Vehicle Emergency Kit Storage

Keep your vehicle emergency kit stored in a plastic tote in the trunk.  Another very workable option is to pick up a laundry basket at a dollar store.  The idea is to keep all of the supplies in one spot so they are easy to find.

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