Planning on taking a drive to visit some of the must-see sites in Michigan’s Upper Thumb? When it comes to safety on the road, we should all have an emergency kit in our cars. In order to decide what to put in your kit, you need to take into account the weather in your area (here in Michigan, we know it will often be cold and snowy!) and what items will suit your family’s needs.
Being Prepared for An Emergency
Your kit should be divided into three separate areas. These include (1) items you keep accessible in your car, (2) emergency items for an auto breakdown—I keep these in the compartment with my spare tire, and (3) emergency items to take with you in the event that you have to abandon your vehicle on the road. I suggest packing the third group of items in a backpack with multiple compartments to make it easy to carry.
Aside from your emergency kit, you should always travel with a fully-charged cell phone and keep a car charger in your vehicle at all times. If you don’t have a smartphone with GPS (or a GPS system integrated into your vehicle), consider buying a stand-alone unit. And, when you live in Michigan (or any other cold, snowy climate), make sure that you have snow tires (or chains) to put on your car in the autumn.
Items to Keep Accessible
- Small tool kit. This can include a multi-bit screwdriver, scissors, pliers, box cutter, tape, and Allen wrench.
- $50 or $100 in small bills, hidden in your center console. If you’re stuck and need food or a hotel room, this stash could be a lifesaver!
- Tire pressure gauge
- Several bottles of water
- Ice scraper and snow brush
- Adhesive bandages and antibiotic cream
- Flashlight with extra batteries or a hand-crank model
- Umbrella and rain poncho
- Extra medication if you have a medical condition and rely on prescriptions.
- Extra hats, gloves, scarves, and earmuffs (or 180s)
- Car safety hammer and seatbelt cutter. This item is one you’ll want to have within arm’s reach. Some models feature velcro straps for easy attachment.
Car Breakdown Items
- Fire extinguisher
- Three reflective warning triangles. Most kits come with one, but you should have three of them to place at 50-foot intervals to warn oncoming traffic.
- Emergency flares
- Foam tire sealant
- Spare tire, tire iron, and jack
- Jumper cables (the longer the better)
- Tow strap rated to tow 6,000 pounds
- 550 Paracord. It can be used for just about anything.
- Assorted bungee cords. These are great for a loose bumper, muffler, or for tying your trunk down.
- Cat litter. If you’re stuck, cat litter works as well as sand to give you traction in icy conditions, but it’s much lighter.
- Ice fishing supplies. If you get stuck near a lake in the winter, what better way to take your mind off the fact that you’re lost! (That’s a joke, although you certainly could bring them along if you’re so inclined.)
Mobile Emergency Kit
- Hand crank flashlight with NOAA radio and USB port. This is a great multi-use tool that will allow you to hear emergency broadcasts, weather forecasts, and to charge your cell phone in the event that your car charger won’t work.
- First aid kit and first aid manual
- Duct tape. Astronauts take it into space as a multi-use tool, so you should take a roll on the road!
- Multi-purpose tool
- Space blankets. These are compact and lightweight, so you might as well pack a few.
- Non-perishable snacks. I keep protein bars in my pack and check them every 6 months or so to see if they need to be replaced. The chocolate-coated ones are fine in cold weather months, but avoid having these in your car in the summer!
- Waterproof matches/lighter/long burning emergency candles. These are staples in any emergency kit and can be used to start a fire, provide light, and even boil water.
- Maps and a compass. Of course, you’ll need to know how to use them. There are a number of online tutorials available if you need to brush up on your map and compass skills. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to read a map, and one on how to use a compass.
- Loud whistle or air-horn. These can act as a beacon to help emergency workers find you if you’re lost or injured. Keep several whistles on lanyards in your pack, one for every family member.
- Glowsticks. Not only will these amuse the kids, but they can also help you to keep track of your family in low-light situations.
- A pack of cards, travel-size games, or a paperback book. If you’re in a situation that you have to wait out, this can alleviate the boredom.
These are things that you may need, depending on your family composition. If you have a baby, you might want to keep some extra diapers, diaper rash ointment, baby wipes, and canned or powdered formula stashed in your car. If you regularly travel with a family pet, have an extra leash, some sealed dog (or cat) food, and a collapsible pet bowl in your car.
Be Prepared for Any Contingency
A well-stocked car will save you a lot of hassle down the road! You can learn more about preparing an emergency car kit tailored to your specific needs from the Department of Homeland Security and the DMV websites. We also have tips on getting your car ready for the winter.