51 Things to Keep in Your Car – Some Essential, Some Optional, All Useful

For some of us, our car is a second home, and we seem to keep in it everything we could ever need.

Others prefer a minimalist approach, and they barely have a spare tire and jack.

Whether your vehicle resembles Mary Poppins’ magic bag or is sparse as a cave, some items will make your life easier if you always have them to hand.

In this article, we discuss the things to keep in your car, from what we consider essential, to many optional ‘nice to have’ items.

A collection of things to keep in your car, isolated on white

This guide will help you to make a checklist of indispensable objects to keep in your vehicle.

In case of emergency, if you get stranded somewhere far from help, or if weather conditions are extreme, read on.

We’ll give you a list of the necessary items to carry with you to be prepared for any situation, as well as some things that can be helpful or provide some luxury, even though they cannot be considered essential.

What are the Essential Things to Keep in Your Car?

It’s always better to be prepared than to be sorry later when it comes to items you keep in your car.

To break up the list into more manageable and meaningful sections, we’ve separated items into four main categories:

  1. Vehicle repair and maintenance.
  2. Emergency and safety equipment.
  3. Winter weather.
  4. Handy items.

If you take the most important from each section, no matter what happens while out in your car, you’ll have what you need to deal with any situation.

You might also want to check out our guide to the best trunk organisers to stow all these things away neatly and keep them easily accessible too, as there’s nothing worse than a full and messy trunk when you’re looking for an item in an emergency!

Category 1: Vehicle Repair and Maintenance

The first category includes all the must-haves in case your vehicle has a problem. Of course, unless you are a mechanic, you won’t be able to fix major issues. But, at least you’ll be prepared for common, minor malfunctions.

Here’s a quick reference list of the items you may need:

  • Car user manual.
  • Spare tire.
  • A good jack.
  • Tire irons.
  • Lug wrench.
  • Pressure gauge.
  • Inflator for your tires.
  • Sealant foam.
  • Jumper cables.
  • Windshield wiper fluid.
  • Duct tape.

Let’s now look at each item in a little more detail:

Car User Manual

Unless you know it by heart, it’s always a good idea to keep your car’s manual with you. It will help you troubleshoot common issues more easily.

If you lose it, you can always find a downloadable version online, specific to your vehicle model.

Spare Tire

One of the most common issues that could happen is getting a flat tire. The majority of vehicles nowadays are equipped with a spare tire, so it’ll be hard enough to forget one.

If you have had to change a tire before, remember that you will need to source a replacement.

Tire Jack

Without a jack, it’ll be pretty impossible to change a flat tire. Make sure you always keep yours in your trunk.

We recommend one of the best scissor jacks from our guide, as they are small, portable, easy to stow away in your trunk and are reasonably inexpensive.

Tire Irons

These usually come in sets of three, and are used to pry the tire from its wheel. This is in case you need to repair the inner tube.

Without these irons, it’ll be very difficult to fix an inner tube.

Lug Wrench

This is what you’ll need to loosen the lug nuts and be able to remove a flat tire. Once the tire is replaced, you’ll also need to tighten them again.

Tire Pressure Gauge

If you even suspect that one of your tires is a little deflated, it’s a good idea to check the pressure because an under-inflated tire causes excessive wear, reduces handling and increases fuel consumption.

Over-inflating a tire can be just as dangerous as driving on an underinflated tire, so is worth checking for too.

We have a guide to the best tire pressure gauges you can check for the best available.

Tire Inflator

Nowadays, you can find fancy digital tire inflators that are highly portable and come equipped with a pressure gauge. We highly recommend to keep one handy, so you can inflate a tire while on a journey, even if only enough to get yourself to a garage.

You can find a few top models in our best portable air pump guide.

Tire Sealant Foam

This is a non-permanent quick fix for your tire that temporarily closes the hole in a flat tire, allowing you to inflate it again and get back on the road…without having to replace the tire.

Most experts agree that you’ll have to replace a tire treated with sealant foam with a new one, but a tire sealant is an excellent and speedy fix in an emergency to get going again.

Check out this product in our guide to the best tire sealants.

Jumper Cables

In case your vehicle doesn’t start due to low battery power or a bad starter, you’ll need some jumper cables. You’ll also need another car to start your own.

You connect the two positives (red cables) to the battery terminals in each car, then do the same with the two negatives (black cables).

This will allow your car to start using the power from the second car’s battery, enabling you to get moving again.

Check out our guide to the best jumper cables on the market for buying advice.

Tow Strap

You’ll need to use this if you need to have your vehicle towed, or to tow another vehicle yourself.

It is simply a strap to connect the vehicle being towed with the one towing it.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

Even if you regularly fill your windshield wiper tank, it’s always a good idea to carry extra fluid in case you run out.

While this is an important thing to keep in your car, be careful of the hazards involved with antifreeze.

Check this guide for the best windshield washer fluids.

Duct Tape

Some people use duct tape to fix just about anything. It can be used to temporarily fix rips, holes, and tears in seats, hoses or even windows, to reattaching mirrors or holding broken lights in place.

You never know when you may need it…Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Category 2: Emergency and Safety Equipment

Here’s a quick reference list of the items you may need:

  • First aid kit.
  • Emergency escape tool.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Flashlight
  • Multi-function tool.
  • Matches or an alternative fire starter.
  • Energy bars.
  • Water bottles.
  • Maps.
  • Reflective triangle.
  • Gas can.
  • Tire traction mat.

You could check out our guide to the best car emergency kits for collections of all the items you may need in one handy kit, or you can choose to seek out the pieces individually.

Let’s look at each item in detail to see what they are used for and why you should have them in your car:

First Aid Kit

You can buy a pre-assembled first aid kit for your vehicle. This will include a wide array of items to cover many different emergency situations.

Be sure to store this in an easily accessible location within your car, just in case you need quick access to it.

Emergency Escape Tool

We don’t wish it on anyone, but in case of an accident, you don’t want to get trapped in your vehicle. You need to have a tool to cut your seatbelt and/or break a window to get out fast.

Make sure you keep it where you can reach it easily from the driver’s seat.

Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is a must-have item since vehicles can easily catch fire during an accident, or if leaks and components failures occur.

We would advise to source one of the best car fire extinguishers you can find, always keep it within reach. Make sure to prioritize your safety and that of passengers, before the car.

Car Flashlight

Most modern phones have a light, but it’s still a good idea to keep a flashlight handy in your vehicle to cover the times You may be stranded in a dark, isolated place with a dead mobile phone!

Make sure it’s always fully charged. Keep spare batteries too if the flashlight requires them.

Alternatively, a manually-charged flashlight can be a great solution. These require you to manually wind a handle in order to generate a charge for power.

Multi-Function Tool

These are improved versions of the classic Swiss army knife. Depending on the situation, you may need a variety of tools.

The good thing is that multi-function tools are compact in size, contain everything from screwdrivers, pliers and a knife, to scissors and even spanners and tweezers.

Matches or an Alternative Fire Starter

Matches, a lighter or an alternative fire starter can come in handy, and not only to light a cigarette. You may need to keep yourself warm or signal for help.

Energy Bars

Hopefully, no matter the emergency you won’t be stranded for long, but it’s always better to have some non-perishable food with you in case no help reaches you for many hours or even days.

Energy bars and other such items can keep for a long time and come in handy if you’re stranded far from civilization.

Water Bottles

Water is even more important than food if you are stranded.

Experts advise keeping at least a case of drinking water in your trunk. You’ll be glad you thought of this beforehand, especially if the weather is very hot.

Local Maps

Even if everyone uses their cell phones now, you may be stranded somewhere with no signal.

An old-fashioned map will never leave you high and dry. Make sure to take a map of the local area you’re visiting.

Reflective Triangle

This breakdown tool is for when your vehicle dies on the side of the road, to alert other road users of your situation.

If you cannot move your car to a safer spot, put the reflective triangle down as per the included instructions. It should be far enough behind your vehicle to alert other drivers and prevent them from hitting your car.

Some kits come with three reflective triangles. They’re to be placed at 10, 100 and 200 feet from the rear of your vehicle for extra safety.

Gas Can

Gasoline is highly flammable, and its fumes are toxic. But if you’re driving very long distances in places where service stations are rare, you may need extra gas.

Just make sure the can is perfectly closed and doesn’t leak. Also, never keep it inside your car, not even in the trunk. The safest place is on the car rack on the top of your vehicle. This way, you will not suffer any consequences from inhaling gasoline fumes.

For standard car users though, keeping an empty can in your trunk is a good idea so you can hitch a lift or walk to the nearest gas station to get gas if you do run out and your vehicle stops.

Tire Traction Mat

Use it if your vehicle is stuck in mud or snow and the traction from the tires is not sufficient to move.

Just place it in the path of your tires to free your car. Don’t accelerate too much, a little bit of gas will be enough to get unstuck.

It’s also helpful to know that you can replace this with cat litter, sand or cardboard if in a pinch.

Category 3: Winter Driving

Winter driving is classed as driving anywhere in extreme weather, very cold climates with a lot of snow and ice.

Here’s a quick reference list of the items you may need:

  • Ice scraper.
  • Snowbrush.
  • Snow shovel.
  • Winter blanket(s).
  • Gloves and spare warm clothing.
  • Hand warmers.
  • Driving sunglasses.

Let’s now look at each item in a little more detail:

Ice Scraper

Used for scraping ice and snow away from your windows to increase visibilty.

You want to make sure it’s a sturdy model that won’t break if you have to scrape off hardened ice. Check out some top models in our guide to the best ice scrapers.

Snow Brush

Snow brushes are used to sweep off large layers and clumps of snow from your vehicles before you drive. If left, they can blow off while you’re driving onto a vehicle behind, impairing visibility for the driver behind, or even shocking them and causing an accident.

If your vehicle is covered in snow, you’ll be glad you don’t have to use your hands. Frostbite is a very real danger in severe winter conditions.

Snow Shovel

Useful to clear a path for your car in case of a snow blizzard or heavy snowfall, or to dig out around the wheels if you become stuck so you can use a traction mat (see above) to get going.

Winter Blanket(S)

In case your vehicle dies, the inside temperature can get very cold, very fast. You want to have some very warm blankets to keep yourself and other passengers warm enough until help arrives.

Gloves and Spare Warm Clothing

You may have to leave your vehicle when the outside temperature is very low. It’s a good idea to keep spare winter clothing and gloves for yourself and other passengers in the event it does happen.

Hand Warmers

They will protect your hands from frostbite in case you need to expose yourself to very low temperatures.

High-Quality Sunglasses

Usually worn in summer, the best sunglasses for driving can also be useful to minimize the glare when driving in snow.

Category 4: Handy Items and ‘Nice To Haves’

These are extra items you may want to keep in your vehicle for any possible situation.

  • Paper towels.
  • Tissues or a toilet paper roll.
  • Pencil and paper.
  • Umbrella or raincoat.
  • Battery bank to charge mobile.
  • Money for an emergency.
  • Personal hygiene kit.
  • Sleeping bag/pillow.
  • Breathalyzer.

Paper Towels

These can be used for anything you need to mop up, wipe or clean. They don’t take up much space and have multiple uses.

Tissues or a Toilet Paper Roll

If you have a cold, or if you may not have a bathroom handy, never leave home without them. You just never know when they might be needed.

Pencil and Paper

Younger generations seem to have forgotten how to write by hand, but a pencil and paper can come in handy. This is especially the case if you need to write down directions or instructions in case your phone battery has died.

Umbrella or Raincoat

If you have to leave your car and it’s pouring, you’ll be happy to have packed an umbrella or raincoat. Keeping the water off you will ensure your core body temperature doesn’t drop too low.

Battery Bank to Charge Mobile

A car mobile charger is useless if your car is unable to charge your phone. In this situation, a backup phone battery bank is useful. It’s always better to be sure you can use your phone for calling help.

Money for an Emergency

Even if credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, keeping some spare cash in your car will save you in an emergency.

Don’t leave too much in your car in case it gets stolen. You just need enough for emergencies, such as gas or food and drink.

Personal Hygiene Kit

In case you get stranded and have to sleep in your car, it’s always nice to freshen up. What to include in your personal hygiene kit? Here are some basic ideas:

  • Wet wipes.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Hairbrush or comb.
  • Razors.
  • Body soap/shampoo.
  • Disposable washcloths.
  • Deodorant.
  • Nail clipper.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • Body lotion.

You can always personalize your kit with your favorite perfume and any other items you can think of.

Sleeping Bag/Pillow

If your car has problems and help cannot arrive for many hours, you may have to sleep in your car. If it’s cold outside, a sleeping bag and a pillow will make your rest more comfortable.

Breathalyzer

Most of us like to enjoy a drink or two on occasion, and all of us are aware of the risks of drink driving.

But how can we be sure we’re not over the drink drive alcohol limit if we’ve had a couple of beers, or a couple of glasses of wine with a meal, and we’ve waited 3 or 4 hours to allow our bodies to process and get rid of the alcohol before driving?

The general rule is our bodies can get rid of one unit of alcohol per hour, but it varies wildly from person to person. The only accurate way to know if you are safe to drive is with a breathalyzer. So this can be a handy item to have to make sure you are within limits, increasing the safety of you, any passengers and all road users.

Check out our guide to the best breathalyzers for personal use here.

Final Thoughts

We’ve seen that to be prepared for any situation when driving, there is a long list of things to keep in your car. You need to think ahead and pack them before they’re needed, so they can you help you in emergencies.

We’ve given you four main categories of items above, from vehicle repairs to safety and personal hygiene products.

We’ve also explained in detail when and how to use each item. We’ve got you covered in any driving related emergency, from basic first aid to extreme weather conditions.

Always better to be safe than sorry!

Some of you will likely have some more items in your car that you find indispensable. What do you always take with you that you cannot do without? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, feel free to ask us if you have any additional questions.

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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