When it comes to the items you should keep in your car at all times, some essentials might jump to mind.
A scissor jack and requisite tool kit for changing a flat tire makes an awful lot of sense, as does some extra washer fluid, and a snow brush and winter gloves and hat – though the former still come fitted to most vehicles from the factory, and those last ones take up an unnecessary amount of space for about half the year that they aren’t needed.
This isn’t about phone-charging cables, either – though you should probably have one or two of those handy as well. No, this is about the stuff that’s easy to overlook but can prove invaluable when it’s needed. Some might seem as obvious as a scissor jack, but it’s all handy to have nonetheless.
With that in mind, the following is a list of the 10 most important items I keep in my car – and you should, too.
1. Jumper Cables
OK, let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first: jumper cables. The number of people I’ve seen wandering around parking lots over the years looking for someone with a set of cables tells me there are too many drivers out there taking chances. Yes, they can be clunky and awkward, but I keep mine coiled up around my spare tire under the trunk floor. Out of sight, out of mind.
Pro tip: spring for heavy-duty cables – the lower the gauge the better – that are nice and long. That extra length will come in handy the first time you have to boost a car that’s parked nose-first in a spot or garage; robust cables can’t hurt a small engine but they’re essential for big ones. Look for a set that measures 16 to 20 ft, and remember: positive to positive; negative to ground.
2. Booster Pack
Now, you might be asking yourself: why would I keep booster cables and a booster pack in my car – why not one or the other? To each their own, as the saying goes, but I prefer to keep both, and for a couple reasons.
Chief among them is convenience. Jumper cables are great, but they’re useless without another vehicle (or battery) around to get a boost from in the first place. That’s where a tiny booster pack like my 1,000-amp unit comes in handy. It’s barely bigger than a block of cheese, and yet it’s good for starting gas engines as large as 6.0L and diesels as large as 3.0L. If that won’t cut it, a 2,000-amp unit isn’t much bigger but can handle 8.0L gas engines and 6.0L diesels.
So why jumper cables, too? Sometimes a battery can be depleted beyond the point that a booster pack isn’t up to the task but another vehicle can get it started. Then there’s the issue of the cables on the portable packs being short like T-rex arms – not ideal for a car like, say, my 1995 Mazda Miata, where the battery is mounted in the trunk and the ground point is the trunk latch that’s just beyond the reach of my booster pack.
3. First Aid Kit
This is about as self-explanatory as it gets, but a quality first aid kit should occupy some of the small-item storage space in your car. Soft-sided kits like mine barely take up more room than an owner’s manual, so you won’t even know it’s there. Gauze, gloves, bandages, antiseptic wipes – it’s all the kind of stuff you should have easy access to on the go.
4. Window Hammer and Seatbelt Cutter
It’ll be the best $10 you’ve ever spent even if you never have to use it. This two-in-one emergency tool is designed to help prevent being stuck inside a vehicle after a crash, with a guarded razor blade on one end that can cut through seat belts, and a pointed hammer on the other that can shatter tempered automotive glass in an emergency.
Another item that speaks for itself, stashing a blanket in the back of your car should be a no-brainer. If you’re stranded and need to keep warm while waiting for help, you need to crawl around outside the car for a repair, or even turn one into an emergency tourniquet, it’s hard to find a good reason not to keep a blanket close by.
I keep two blankets in my car, because you just never know. One is a blanket roll that sits on the back seat for some extra style points, while the other is folded neatly in a clear vinyl storage bag that’s stashed in my under-floor storage tray.
6. Hand Sanitizer
I have a sneaking suspicion hand sanitizer is already on the list of stuff each and every one of you already keeps in your cars, but it bears repeating anyway. Now more than ever, stashing a bottle or two of hand sanitizer in the car is a must. While no hand sanitizers have been approved by the federal government to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s a good habit to keep your hands clean and free of bacteria after you use a gas pump, before you eat, or after you sneeze or cough.
7. Garbage Can
If you’re anything like me, the thought of stuffing your car’s door pockets with dirty napkins and food wrappers is enough to make your skin crawl. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s hard to take pride in a car that’s filled with trash.
That’s why I keep a small covered garbage can within reach. I have mine attached to the floor mat in the back using hook-and-loop fastener strips so it won’t tip over while I’m driving and it’s easy to remove when it needs to be emptied.
Not everything on this list gets transferred into the vehicles I test from one week to the next, but I’m always sure to bring my sunglasses with me. Having them around isn’t just for looking good and blocking out the haters, either – protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays is paramount, whether you’re driving or otherwise.
Sunglasses aren’t just for summertime, either. Clouds are like prisms, so UV rays are projected even when it’s overcast. Besides, wearing sunglasses will reduce eye strain and keep your vision sharp when you’re out on the road.
9. Notebook and Pencil
Sure, almost all of us have our phones in the car and connected through Bluetooth or a smartphone interface these days. That also means Google Maps is barely more than a glance away, whether through a phone mounted in a holder or projected right on the infotainment screen. But there’s still a place in the car for some primitive technology.
Whether it’s to jot down directions on a road trip through an area with poor – or no – phone service, or to note a licence plate number or other information after witnessing a crash or a crime, keeping a notepad and pencil is another in the so-simple-you-probably-forgot category. And yes, that’s a pencil, not a pen, since the latter can dry out over time but the former will work without fail (I prefer a mechanical pencil for that very reason).
This one’s inspired by a former colleague with the cleanest dashboard around, such was his congestion-filled commute to the office that he kept a small duster in his door pocket. I’m not quite as dedicated to the
craft of car cleaning as Mr. Paul Piche, but I keep a hand duster stashed in the back of my car under the trunk floor for when the mood strikes. To look good is to feel good, folks.