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You plan out what items to bring to work, a friend’s house or the gym, but do you plan out what items you need in case your car gets a flat? Or even worse, breaks down completely – leaving you in a vulnerable position on the side of the road? More often than not, you don’t think of things to keep in your car until you actually need them.

Whether you’re embarking on a long road trip or a short commute, preparing yourself with car safety knowledge and being aware of things to keep in your car can decrease your chances of ending up in a position where you aren’t properly protected. To prep yourself for potential car emergencies requiring self-defense knowledge, read our guide to be ready for possible life-threatening scenarios and understand all necessary items to keep in your car.

Why Is It Important to Be Prepared?

the scary statistics

It only takes one time to understand the importance.

One time walking back to your car in a dark garage after a trip to the mall. One time when you’re stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire at midnight. You won’t know when it could happen, but preparing for the worst will help you prevent a lot of tricky scenarios.

15 Key Things to Keep in Your Car

We want you to stay safe and avoid potential harm to yourself or loved ones. By preparing and sharing these 15 key things to keep in your car, you will situate yourself for unexpected emergencies on the road.

Life-Saving Items to Keep in the Trunk

Things to Keep in Your Car Trunk

The trunk holds items that are unnecessary on a regular basis but can save you from car breakdowns and maintenance issues.

1. Jumper cables – Your car battery runs out from accidentally leaving a light on, or not properly maintenancing to your car. Always be prepared with jumper cables.

  • It’s best to find a local gas station/convenience store or call road maintenance to ask for assistance. When jumping a car, make sure both cars ignitions are off. Attach the red clip to the positive terminals of the batteries and the black clips to the negative terminals.

2. Canned instant tire inflator – Canned air is great to avoid waiting for maintenance or service and is simple to use.

  • Attach the hose of the can to the tire’s valve stem. Then, with the can upright, release the air into the tire until the it’s full.

3. Heavy-duty rope – This rope is handy when your car is stuck in an unwanted area or needs to be towed to the gas station.

  • When towing, keep a slow and steady pace. The driver of the towed vehicle should depress the brake pedal slightly to keep tension on the strap.

4. First-aid kit – If you’re involved in a small accident or hurt yourself on the road, have a first-aid kit on you.

  • Great items to include are gauze pads, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, curved scissors, hand sanitizer, and allergy medication.

5. Warm blanket and gloves – Breaking down in the winter means you won’t have heat. Keep blankets and gloves around for warmth.

  • Keep an extra hat and socks to keep warm as well.

6. Flags and flares – If you break down in an unpopulated area, it will be hard to track down help. Letting off flares and displaying bright flags notifies people.

  • Flags and flares notify oncoming traffic as well.

Helpful Items to Keep in the Glovebox

Things to Keep in Your Car Glovebox

Items in the glovebox are handy when you face a car emergency and your life is not in immediate danger. Having these items will ensure a smoother process to solve the issue at hand.

7. Flashlight – These come in handy for many situations, even if you’re not in the dark. If you need to look inside the hood of your car during the day, it can be tricky to see without direct light.

  • Consider getting a hand-crank flashlight to avoid needing batteries.

8. Cell phone – As a friendly reminder, always travel with a cell phone to have directions, contact information, and a phone to call emergency responders.

  • Screenshot directions and save to your camera roll. This is great to have on hand when traveling in spotty cellular reception areas.

9. Cell phone charger – How can you call roadside assistance with a dead phone? Not to mention, you might be lost without your phone’s map.

  • Having a backup battery with a charging cord is great in case your car runs out of battery as well.

10. Emergency contact info – In case you can’t respond, have emergency contact info readily available.

  • Have multiple people on the information list in case one person is not available.

11. Notebook and pen – In some situations, you’ll need to write down directions, phone numbers or other information.

  • Keeping both a pen and pencil will ensure you always have a writing utensil.

Prompt Items to Keep in the Middle Console or On Person

Things to Keep in Your Car Front Seat

You’ll want to keep some key items in close reach to counteract intruders. Please review our helpful self-defense tool list and learn how to safely practice using each.

12. Pepper spray – This is great for distracting any potential attackers and easily fits into your purse, pocket or a large wallet. Pepper spray comes in discrete styles, like ones that mimic a tube of lipstick. See here on usage.

  • You’ll aim pepper spray into the face of your attacker to immediately irritate their eyes, mouth and lungs — giving you time to escape.

13. Tactical pen – Small and multi-purpose, you can use a tactical pen to write (like any standard pen would) and as a protective weapon. They easily fit into your purse, pocket or wallet. Bonus points for being discreet. See here on usage.

  • Thrust the pen into the leg, arm or stomach of the attacker to stun them. You’ll distract them, allowing you time to run away.

14. Self-defense keychain – There are many self-defense keychains to fit your hand and style. Keep this item on your car keys for easy access when heading back to your car. Travel sources endorse this item.

  • These keychains loop through your fingers acting as sharp brass knuckles. This impacts a strong punch to any potential attackers.

15. Personal safety alarm – This item emits loud alarms to alert nearby people you are under attack. This will scare your attacker away. See here for usage tips by a self-defense expert.

  • Attach to your keys for easy access.

Why These 15 Things to Keep in Your Car are Essential

Crime reports show that car breakdowns in remote areas, or at night, can lead to life-threatening situations. These same reports also prove that parking lots and garages are common places for victims of theft or assault. The statistics we note below show the importance of staying aware on the road and help us understand why we should prepare.

Carjacking – Carjacking is the action of violently stealing an occupied car and can lead to auto theft, robbery, aggravated assault or even homicide. The most common occurrences of carjacking are in remote areas, including on the side of the road. The most recent study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on carjacking states that of 38,000 carjackings each year, 74% involve a weapon and about 15 homicides occur as a result.

Victims of assault – Parking lots and parking garages are common places for aggravated assault, as many attackers find them easy spots to track victims walking to and from their cars, often alone. While one may think women are the most targeted victims in these cases, a study from 2015 found that 43% of aggravated assault victims in parking lots or public places were men.

Lack of car maintenance leads to breakdowns – AAA found in their 2015 survey that 35% of Americans skipped or delayed recommendations from a car maintenance servicer to repair their car. Not receiving regular vehicle maintenance increases your chances of breaking down on the road, leading to unwanted and potentially dangerous outcomes.

Car breakdowns are commonAAA reports responding to 32 million calls for tow trucks and roadside assistance every year. In most cases, regular car maintenance could have prevented the issue.

How to Avoid + Prepare Yourself for Emergency Situations on the Road

When road tripping, be proactive with self-defense tactics and street-smart knowledge to avoid emergencies such as being robbed or injured.

On the Road

prevent car emergencies on the road

  • Avoid a breakdown – Breakdowns are avoidable if we take proper care of our cars. Here is a list of precautionary measures to take to avoid breakdowns:
    • Change your oil every three months or 3,000 miles.
    • Always travel with your gas tank at least a quarter full.
    • Take your car in for yearly maintenance.
    • Drive safely and properly to keep your car in top shape.
    • Don’t ignore warning signs, sounds or car shakiness.
  • Drive to a busy area if you’re in an accident or break down – Busy areas decrease your chance of running into any unfortunate incidents because there are too many people around to witness potential harm from an attacker. Carjackers use the tactic of “bumping and running” to take advantage of people in a vulnerable position — they will bump the end of your car with theirs and wait for you to step out to attack.
  • Only pull over for clearly marked government vehicles – Blue-light robbery is when an imposter poses as a traffic or police official to pull you over. Be wary by only pulling over for clearly marked government vehicles. If you’re unsure, put your hazards on, signaling you recognize the vehicle, and pull in to the nearest police station.
  • Allow yourself a getaway exit when stopped – Leave space between the car in front of you and yourself when stopped on the road in case an unwanted person or driver threatens you on the road. Allowing the space of one car length in front of you is a good rule of thumb.
  • Use your side mirrors to be wary of unwanted followers – If you notice someone tailgating you or suspiciously following every turn you make, you may be being followed. Take precautions if this is the case — do not drive home and head to the nearest police station.
  • Roll your windows up and keep your doors locked when stopped – There are instances of carjacking when windows are unrolled or doors unlocked at stoplights and stop signs. When you approach a stop, secure your car to protect yourself.

Parking Lot Safety

prevent car emergencies in a parking lot

  • Be aware of your surroundings – Wearing headphones, texting or having any other common distractions will prevent you from noticing any potential threats around you. Decrease distractions to stay safe.
  • Do not walk between cars – Walk through main entrances and use parking lot aisles/walkways to steer clear of strangers’ cars.
  • Walk in groups when possible – Offer to walk with someone you know to and from your cars. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to tag along with you — offer them a ride back to their car as well.
  • Your keys are weapons if needed – Hold your keys pointed down in a fist when walking around parking garages or lots. If an attacker grabs you, jabbing them with your keys will shock them to let you go.
  • Only unlock the driver side door – Someone hiding on the other side of the car won’t have an entrance.
  • Lock your doors when you get in the car – Forming this habit will ensure your safety once inside. Potential thieves or attackers will have a harder time getting to you with locked doors and closed windows.

Gas Stations

prevent car emergencies in the gas station

  • Avoid filling up your car at night – Nighttime is quieter and people can more easily hide out of sight. Making a mental note to fill up before dusk or waiting until the morning is safer. Most cars can run 30–50 more miles on empty.
  • If you must fill up at night, choose a well-lit and busy station – It’s easier to see any suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at lit stations. Thieves and attackers are less likely to hide out in well-lit areas.
  • Be wary of anyone following you to the gas station – If needed, look for a different gas station if you believe a car is suspiciously following you.
  • Only the driver door stays unlocked – A person can slip into the car without you noticing if all doors are unlocked. Only keep the driver door unlocked to not be caught off guard by a thief or life-threatening situation.

Although informing yourself of the above street-smart knowledge will prevent many potential car emergencies, equipping yourself with our mentioned self-defense or safety items on you or in your car is very essential to your safety.


Whether you’re driving close to home or renting a car in a new city, use this guide to stay aware of the potential dangers of driving unprepared. Please share this car safety guide with loved ones to keep everyone you know safe behind the wheel.

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Bureau of Justice Statistics | NCJRS | AAA | SmarterTraveler | Business Insider