Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Sam Casteris. Sam Casteris is an avid traveler, a lifelong lover of education, and a strong proponent of financial literacy. She is a regular contributor to Transfer Ways and Fresh U, where she writes tips for students and student transfers. Follow along with her work here. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
We take our vehicles with us wherever we go. Last year alone, Americans traveled over three trillion miles in the United States. With the height of summer just around the corner, plans are being made and camping trips scheduled, which is why now is the best time to start thinking about supplies to have on hand in case of a car-related emergency.
Whether you’re embarking on a cross-country trip in your all-wheel drive beauty, exploring a nearby recreation area, or even going to and from campus, having a reliable multi-use car emergency kit could do more than just protect you. You could also use it during an unexpected emergency in which someone else needs supplies and doesn’t have them readily available.
These items can be compiled over time and are listed here because they last. Few items will need to be replaced during the life of your vehicle (though batteries and first aid kits should be routinely checked). Here’s our master list of items you should be keeping in your car for unexpected situations, broken down by category.
Car Maintenance Essentials for Students:
These items will get you through most car catastrophes, from a popped tire to a battery that has run out of juice, whether your vehicle is part of the emergency or you see someone stopped on the side of the road and decide to help them out of a bind. In most cases, you can use them on any vehicle (jumper cables are universal, for instance), but some gear (like tire irons) can be specific to certain makes and models. Make sure that all tools are universal or fit the specifications of your car before buying them!
- Jumper cables: These are as much for your benefit as they are for other drivers, should you find yourself or someone else with a low battery and a car that won’t start.
- Windshield scraper: Inclement weather comes in many forms, but ice is especially heinous to drive in. You can’t go anywhere if your windshield is iced over and your view is entirely obstructed. If winter is on the horizon, be sure to winterize your vehicle before it gets too cold out.
- Tire iron and jack: While plenty of cars come with these already tucked away inside the vehicle, it’s good to double-check and make sure that you have one with you. Flat tires are usually a minor inconvenience, but they can become a major one if you don’t have the right tools available.
- Tool set or multi-purpose tools: This can be anything from a small tool kit to a Swiss Army knife. Having a screwdriver, pliers, and even a bottle opener on hand will help out when you need to make a minor repair.
- Tire gauge: Tires are the most common sources of motorist woes. Stay on top of tire maintenance no matter where you are with a pressure gauge. Check your owner’s manual to learn about the right pressure for your tires, and top them off with air before long trips. It will help to have quarters on hand; many filling stations only accept coins.
- Extra phone charger: Chances are your phone is going to die at some point. You may not be near a Starbucks or your hotel, but your car battery has what it takes to bring your phone back to life. Make sure you have the right adapter to plug your charger into your car (nowadays most cars just have a USB port).
- GPS unit: As much as we like to rely on our phones, they tend to be out of battery or out of range when we need them most. Travel with a GPS unit so you have a backup, and if you’re preparing for a long-distance road trip, grab a paper map of the routes you’ll be taking.
- Emergency radio: Although nearly all cars have a radio, if you’re stranded on the side of the road, you don’t want to run down your car battery by using it. An emergency radio, whether it’s cranked or battery operated will keep you up to date on the weather and other emergencies in the area. Pack several sets of spare batteries with it, and keep them separate from any other batteries you pack.
- Seatbelt cutter: It’s awful to imagine that you’ll be in an accident, but if you are and you’re uninjured enough to move around, you need to be able to get out of the vehicle. Invest in a seatbelt cutter and window breaker (they’re typically hammer-shaped tools that fit into your glove compartment or center console) so you’re prepared for the worst.
General Safety Items for Your Emergency Kit:
Moving on from the car-specific items, you’ll want to have your kit stocked with multi-use items for general safety. As a student, you may travel to and from campus, to the gym, or to the library, and these supplies can come in handy at any time. These items are those you can grab from your car in the event of an emergency anywhere, not just on the road.
- Comprehensive first aid kit: Don’t just pack some antibacterial cream and bandages—you’ll want this to be specific to your needs. Keep the basics in there, like gauze, hand sanitizer, Benadryl, and aspirin, but also pack medications and information relating to you and your specific medical needs. Copies of health insurance cards, EpiPens for allergic reactions, and nonperishable food items for low blood sugar are common additions.
- Flashlight and spare batteries: This will come in immediate handiness should you run into car trouble at night, or even just drop something while getting into your car. Test the flashlight every month or so to be sure it still works.
- Duct tape: This is the universal solution to many of life’s problems. Whether you just need to hold something together long enough to get home, or hold something together until the end of time, duct tape has your back. Keep a full roll with your kit, or more if you’re the clumsy type, depending on how much space you’re willing to devote to it.
- Warm blanket and rain poncho: Sometimes, despite all your preparedness, you’re going to be stranded with your vehicle. And sometimes in these situations, the weather will be unbearable. Keep yourself warm and dry while you wait for relief.
- Fire extinguisher: This is self-explanatory: If there is a fire, you want to be able to put it out. Car fires can be especially dangerous, so use your best judgment on when it’s right to put it out, and when it’s right to clear the area.
- Collapsible shovel: Snow can build up surprisingly fast and cause you to become stranded, so it’s best to have the simplest solution: a shovel and a bit of elbow grease.
- Nonperishable food: If you’re stranded on the roadside for an exceptionally long time, you’re going to get hungry. Avoid packing anything that requires a significant amount of preparation to eat, as well as anything you’d be tempted to munch on during a long car ride. Emergency food is for emergencies, so keep it out of reach. Check expiration dates regularly.
Being a student is hard, but emergency preparedness doesn’t have to be! This list should keep you prepared for any of the trouble your car could throw at you, but don’t be afraid to add to it; your travel needs are specific to you and your emergency kit should reflect that. It’s all about making your college adventures fun, memorable, and safe. Safe travels!