What to pack in a car emergency kit for your holiday road trips

Winter holiday plans often involve abundant road travel—whether it's multiple gift-shopping expeditions to the mall or piling the clan into the family car for the annual road trip to visit Grandma.

If you're going to be one of those hitting the crowded highways and byways this holiday season, do yourself a favor and have a well-stocked emergency kit. Even if it seems like your travels are through busy, civilized areas, inclement weather and ensuing accidents can cause traffic to grind to a halt, making many of these emergency items helpful.

Checklist: Car Emergency Kit Basics

While properly preparing your car for holiday road trips will minimize the risk of mechanical troubles during your journey, various roadside emergencies—from punctured tires to collisions to passenger illness—can happen at any time.

Our guide of what to carry in your car's roadside emergency kit contains an extensive list of items to have on hand to help manage almost any emergency while traveling in a car.

Here's a short checklist of the basic items every car should always have:

  • Cell phone. You can't call for help without a phone. And a mobile charger will help too since areas with weak cellular reception can kill your phone's battery.
  • First-aid kit. Pack basic non-prescription drugs in your emergency medical kit, such as pain killers to handle holiday shopping headaches.
  • Fire extinguisher. A compact dry powder unit that's labeled "1A10BC" or "2A10BC" can handle fires fueled by solids (plastic, rubber, paper, etc.) as well as by combustible liquids and gases.
  • Warning light, hazard triangle, or flares. Give motorists the heads-up that you're stuck at the side of the road.
  • Jack and lug wrench, foam tire sealant or a portable compressor and plug kit. Most newer model cars don't have spare tires anymore, so make sure you know how to use the car's included "mobility kit"—and how to reach roadside assistance if you have a severe flat tire.
  • Jumper cables or a portable battery booster. New, "mini-jumpers" can start your car as well as provide back-up power for your smartphone, tablet, GPS navigation unit, or other portable electronic device.
  • Flashlight. Remember, you have fewer hours of daylight in most parts of the country during the fall and winter seasons. A head-mounted light can be especially helpful during tire changes.

Car Emergency Kit Items for Winter Road Trips

For long-distance road travel in the fall and winter months, consider adding these additional items to your roadside safety kit. Drivers will find them especially useful in dealing with car emergencies during road trips through the cold and dark.

  • Windshield scraper. Good visibility is your most important safety item, but persistent snow and ice can build up quickly and make it hard to see. A long-handled, soft-bristled brush can also come in handy. Be sure to do the heavy clearing with a tool, rather than the windshield wipers.
  • Tire chains and tow strap. Familiarize yourself with how to put the chains on your vehicle's tires or attach a tow strap before you need to do it in cold and possibly dark conditions.
  • Blanket, extra layers, winter hat. If you run out of fuel or if your battery dies, the vehicle won't be able to provide heat. A blanket, extra layer (like a sweatshirt or fleece) and hat can help keep you warm if you have to wait for a long time in cold conditions.
  • Chemical hand warmers. These small, inexpensive packets are available at ski shops and sporting-goods stores.
  • Water and nonperishable emergency food. Bring enough food and water to sustain you and any passengers for at least a meal—longer for remote areas or in extreme cold regions.
  • Small folding shovel. If you get stuck in snow, this can be a vital tool. A folding camping-style shovel will require more digging effort than a longer-handled shovel, but it is more convenient to store in the vehicle.
  • Bag of cat litter. Spreading the litter around your tires might provide extra grip to help you get unstuck from slippery embankments. Plus the added weight in the trunk might give a bit more traction with a rear-drive car.
  • Reflective safety vest. These can fit over your warm, oversized winter coat, yet still allow you to be seen up to 300 feet away.

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