Emergencies, Repairs, And Safety: Supplies To Keep In The Car

Before heading out on any major road trip, stock your car with a few essential items that can help to protect you when needed.

The next time you plan a road trip, whether for business or pleasure, pack a few basic items in the car in addition to luggage. You never know when the car will break down or roads will become impassable due to weather or an accident, so prepare for unexpected contingencies like these.

The time of year, the regional climate, and the length of your trip will impact the things you take with you. Of course, if your vehicle breaks down, you can always call a towing service approved by your insurer or you can contact the American Automobile Association if you are a member, and hopefully you are. But even if your vehicle is new and is covered by a comprehensive repair policy, it is a good idea to carry along a few basic things in case you meet with the unexpected. In general, here are suggestions for must-have extras:

1. A flashlight or lantern. Even if you plan to travel during daylight hours only, it's possible you could run into a rainstorm or heavy fog at some point. If the car gets stuck in the mud or you need to check the battery cables for a stalled engine, a flashlight will certainly come in handy. Even simply losing a small item under the seat may need the extra illumination generated by a flashlight. Tuck one into the glove compartment or trunk, and check the batteries to be sure they are still good.

2. Emergency flares or banner. Even the newest of vehicles have been known to break down under mysterious circumstances. While the repair may be paid for under your warranty, that's not much help when you need to get the car off the road and into a service dealer. Pack two or more emergency flares that can be placed at either end of your vehicle, even in daylight, to warn other travelers of your plight so they avoid hitting your car. A white banner that can be attached to the top of your vehicle or draped from a window may serve the same purpose.

3. Water and food. Driving for hours at a time may mean that someone is bound to get thirsty. While it's a good idea to stop and stretch the legs, sometimes you want to keep driving. Include a few bottled beverages or a thermos to take the edge off your thirst. Do the same to stave off hunger pangs between meals. Granola bars, easy-to-handle fruits like grapes or apples, and a few carrot sticks or cookies will let you keep driving without suffering from hunger or spending a small fortune at the next convenience store. If you happen to get stranded, you'll be especially grateful that you brought along something to nibble on.

4. A Blanket. During hot or cold weather, chances are someone in the car is going to feel uncomfortable. With the air conditioner cranked up, pass the blanket to someone whose legs or arms feel the chill. Or if you drive at night or early morning, a cuddly blanket can help passengers doze off until it's time for a rest stop. Blankets may come in handy during a car accident if someone goes into shock. Hopefully this won't be your family, but if you come upon an accident scene, you'll be able to offer help.

5. Tire-changing and battery-jumping tools. A flat tire can happen to any vehicle, new or old. Most cars are equipped with a jack and a spare tire, but some folks remove them to make room for other things. Be sure to bring yours along. Even if your battery or vehicle is new, you should throw battery cables into the trunk in case you pass another car in distress. While you may not want to stop for just anyone, in certain seemingly safe situations you can offer your cables to a person whose battery needs to be jumped.

These are just some of the basics to add to your packing list. Don't forget a cell phone for emergencies or a phone card so long-distance calls won't cost as much. A container for those with car sickness may be useful, along with paper towels or baby wipes. Think of other things that your passengers may need before setting out, keeping in mind that helpful items like these tend to cost more when you buy them far from home.

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