Do You Need An Emergency Car Kit?

emergency_car_kitMany of you are probably already familiar with the concept of carrying around an emergency kit in your car.  If not, it’s time for you to get familiar, as many people are creating custom emergency car kits and putting them in their car trunk, or under a desk at work – or both. They usually consist of a 5 gallon bucket full of the supplies you might need to get you through a short term emergency. One that could prevent you from returning home in a timely manner. These emergency car kits are meant to help you get over a few days away from home and are not meant to replace the comforts of your home for an indefinite period of time – just a day or two, maybe three at most.


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Any number of things can happen that could prevent you from returning to your home for a few days.  Earthquakes, brush fires, tornado, flood, snow storm, well – you get the idea.

You’ve probably thought about making one for awhile – after all, we aren’t the kind of people to go buy one. We like doing it ourselves – better than store-bought – with our personal touches.

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Photo by: Mayday Industries

How Much Will It Cost?

That’s pretty much up to you and the supplies you have on hand. You can buy an “entry level” pre-packaged one for about $80 (shown above). The more complex ones can be anywhere from $150 to $200. And, although you think you can do a better job for less, you probably won’t save much money unless you have a lot of the stuff already around your house. In order to make one of these that’s truly custom for you and your family, you’re probably going to spend at least $100. The good thing is you don’t have to spend it all at once. Get the bucket, then start adding items you feel are important as you can afford them. Even if an emergency happens before you get everything you had hoped to include, you will be better off than if you did nothing.

One word of advice – and most of you already know this – don’t buy the important stuff at the dollar store. Yes, wash clothes and small notebooks from the dollar store are fine. You probably shouldn’t be willing to trust your life to a Leatherman knock-off that you paid $5 for at a discount store.

It’s far better to have less items of a higher quality. Don’t have a bunch of stuff that only makes you feel secure, only to find out they are worse than having nothing when an emergency happens. Don’t scrimp on quality and you won’t be sorry later.

The Bucket

Your bucket should be able to seal well enough to keep bugs out and not pop open if you accidentally knock it over. Some people may be fine with a 5 gallon bucket and the lid it comes with. Most of these lids have an o-ring mounted in a groove that allows them to be pounded on with a rubber mallet and get a nice air-tight seal.  The problem with these lids is that if someone without a lot of brute strength tries to get the lid open, they may not be able to. In that case there are a couple of options.

You may want to purchase a Gamma Lid for your emergency car kit. The Gamma Lid (see picture below) has a ring that pounds on the bucket, but it also has a removable section that is screw-on. Another possibility for opening the bucket is to zip tie a bucket wrench to the handle. You may think this is not needed, but in an emergency you may not be the one who needs to open the bucket. Also, if your hands are injured in almost any way, there would be no way most people could open these buckets once they are fully sealed.

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Photo by: Gamma2.net

Keep In Mind

As you read through the following lists, keep in mind you will not be able to fit everything listed into a 5-gallon bucket – or maybe even two 5-gallon buckets. The idea is for you to pick and choose what makes sense for you / your family’s emergency car kit.

Items You’ll Need

There are plenty of sites that already address this subject, but we’ve tried to put together a more comprehensive list of items you may want to consider – based on your needs like where you live, what kind of emergency you might face, etc., but most importantly, things you / your family considers important.

Contents To Consider

Every emergency car kit should have the items just below and they should be packed on top of everything else, as you are likely to need them first.  Throw these in last, so they’ll be waiting for you at the very top of the pile when you open the bucket.

  • Glow Sticks – can be used for light or to warn other motorists in the event of a wreck
  • Flashlight – same comment as the glow sticks. It would be better to have a high quality hand crank model.
  • Batteries for flashlight / radio – Remember to change these every 6 months – minimum. They discharge faster in a hot car trunk.
  • Protein bars – maybe it’s going to be just a few hours delay and you forgot to eat lunch
  • Boxed water or juice – same as the concept for the protein bar
  • First Aid Kit

These should be in a box or bag, so everything is organized and handy.  If you want to pack quite a bit of first aid supplies in your emergency car kit, you may need two containers. You should at least consider a soft sided container for the first aid items, as it will be easier to pack other items around if it is more malleable. I have mine packed in a couple of smaller bags (by category, like bandages of all types in one bag and “medicines” in one small bag) within a larger bag.

First Aid Supplies

  • Bags or box to keep it all in
  • Tweezers
  • Nitrile gloves – especially important if you are helping bleeding strangers
  • Hand sanitizer – get the kind with the alcohol as this can also be used as a temporary fuel to help start a fire
  • Aspirin / Ibuprofen / Acetaminophen – whatever your choice is, or include all three
  • Moist towelettes
  • Bandages – small, medium, and large
  • Benadryl – Or your choice to address possible allergies / bug bites – enough for three days
  • Nail clippers
  • Scissors
  • Instant ice pack
  • Instant heat pack
  • Tampons – good for wounds (please note these are usually not sterile, but are better than nothing in an emergency)
  • Sanitary Napkins – also good for wounds
  • Burn cream
  • Ointment like Neosporin
  • Cough losenges
  • Imodium A-D
  • Water purification tablets
  • Sewing kit
  • Particulate mask N95 – Don’t bother with dust masks. They may be “better than nothing” but not much
  • Mylar blankets
  • Chemical hand warmers
  • Gauze roll and pads
  • Medical tape
  • Moleskin – for blisters
  • First Aid book / pocket guide
  • Q-tips
  • Super glue – One use tubes are great for this
  • Ace bandage – for sprains
  • Arm sling (aka triangle bandage)
  • Cotton balls

Generally Good To Have

  • Duct tape
  • Cash – $100 in $5’s
  • Recent photo of your family members
  • Laminated card with pertinent information – insurance policy numbers, etc.
  • Toilet paper – we’re not savages – just vacuum pack it to reduce the volume
  • Matches – the windproof kind if possible
  • Magnesium fire stick
  • Magnifying glass / fresnel lens
  • Lifestraw water filter
  • AMFM hand crank radio – buy a GOOD one, you shouldn’t trust your life to cheap junk. Some also come with a USB outlet for charging your phone
  • Trash bags – can line the bucket so it can be used as a toilet if necessary
  • Pencils and paper – Pens can leak, especially in a hot vehicle.  
  • Zip ties – in various sizes, about 5-10 each
  • Plastic tarp – this is a good one to get from Harbor Freight
  • Compass
  • Signal mirror – if you have an old CD you don’t listen to anymore, that will work great, too.
  • Strong cord
  • Gloves – leather or heavy canvas
  • Earplugs – in case you happen to be stuck by a siren or a screaming baby and would like to be able to think…
  • Floss – it’s not just for teeth
  • Sunscreen – you can write manufacturers, sometimes they supply samples in individual packets
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Wash cloth – good one to get at dollar store
  • Soap – You could use the small ones from hotels that are individually wrapped
  • Kleenex – in small travel packs
  • Leatherman
  • Knife
  • Folded map of the area – Hard to find anymore, but worth the effort, as phone batteries go dead
  • Small container of peroxide
  • Small container of bleach
  • Small container of honey

Food Type Items

  • Boxed water / juice – make sure the straw is attached. Enough for everyone to have 8 ounces 3 times a day. It’s not optimum, but it’s enough for only a few days.
  • Protein bars – enough so everyone in the car can have at least one 3 times a day – so 3 per person times 3 days
  • Beef Jerky
  • Gum
  • Candy bars – sneak this for yourself. Get your favorite kind.
  • Can opener – in case someone wants to trade you canned food for a protein bar
  • Instant coffee with sugar and creamer packets
  • Bags of nuts – Individual servings are best, as a hungry muncher can eat everyone’s ration in one go.
  • Dried fruits – Rotate these according to the dates on the bags.  Eat the ones about to expire.
  • Peanut butter in packets or dehydrated
  • Other protein / fat based foods that will make you feel full such as SPAM

Nice To Have

  • Hand lotion
  • Comb / brush
  • Shampoo – also a good idea to have in packets, as bottles leak
  • Pocket chain saw
  • Snake bite kit
  • Crayons – can be used by youngsters, or burned as candles if needed
  • Foldable fishing rod, line, hooks, bobbers, etc.
  • Chapstick or other lip protectant
  • Small jar of vaseline
  • Small bottle of Gold Bond powder
  • Vice grips
  • Crow bar
  • Collapsible water bucket
  • Hammer / Windshield hammer
  • Hatchet
  • Small portable stove with fuel
  • Change of clothes including comfortable shoes and socks
  • Baseball cap
  • Deck of cards or card game like Uno
  • Cell phone charger (from batteries or solar)
  • Sharpie
  • Sunglasses
  • Real blanket – especially if you might get trapped in the snow
  • Extra reading glasses
  • Flash drive with your home insurance information
  • Cheap plastic ponchos for rain or trash bags can be used for this too
  • Book for reading or puzzle books to keep you entertained
  • Slingshot
  • Sporks from fast food place
  • Cups for water (if not using packaged water)
  • Folding shovel / pick
  • Line / tube tent

Don’t forget supplies for your dog if your dog travels with you

  • Dog Food
  • Treats
  • Collapsible bowls
  • Laminated copy of dog license / vaccination records
  • Toys
  • Extra leash
  • Muzzle

Just keep in mind the possibilities are kind of limitless, so pick the ones that make the most sense for you and your family.

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