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The 8 best things to keep in your car emergency kit

Sometimes the right tool kit can mean the difference between minor inconvenience and a vehicle emergency.

The 8 best things to keep in your car emergency kit

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The Boy Scouts had it figured out from page one of the guidebook: Be prepared. And if you drive a car, you might have an ice scraper and spare tire, but you're probably not as prepared as you should be. Things can and do happen, whether it's a flat tire on the side of the road, a dead battery in a remote area or even a sudden deer sighting that sends you swerving into a lake. Do you have everything you need to handle — and, yes, survive — such situations? A few strategic items in a car emergency kit can make all the difference, so here's your guide to the best car gear for emergency preparedness.

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There are two ways you can go about this. First, you can take the piecemeal approach, buying just the items you consider essential or don't already have. Second, you can buy an all-in-one emergency roadside kit. The latter is the quicker, easier way to go — one purchase and you're done — but you get no control over what's actually in the assistance kit. It may exclude items you want, and it may have cheap, less effective versions of important tools.

I'll start with a kit, then dive into the piecemeal items you may want to consider — some of which aren't even in the kit, just saying. Although I haven't tried every product personally, each one earned top marks from thousands of Amazon customers. Consider the following emergency supplies before your next road trip!

Need a jump start? It may not have everything, but this roadside emergency kit has a lot: jumper cables, repair tools, a basic first-aid kit and much more. Indeed, there are some things in here I wouldn't have thought to pack, including a safety whistle, a folding shovel (which is also a saw, hoe and pickax) and safety gloves. You also get a hand-crank flashlight, roadside reflective triangles, a reflective vest, an emergency blanket and a tow strap. But you'll have to look elsewhere (like below) for things like flares, phone chargers and a tire inflator. 

$50 at Amazon

It's the rare flashlight-needed situation that wouldn't be improved by a headlamp. That's because a flashlight requires a hand to hold it; otherwise you have to put it on the ground, try to angle the beam where it needs to go, keep it from rolling away, etc. With a headlamp, all you need is a head for hands-free illumination. This one has a dozen different lighting modes (wide, narrow, red, etc.), a motion-sensing on-off switch (just wave your hand in front of it) and a waterproof design. Plus you get a pair of them, just in case your helper needs light too.

$13 at Amazon

It's not fun to think about, but in mere seconds you could find yourself trapped in a car that's on fire or underwater. Two things might block your chance of escape: a stuck seat belt and a door that won't open. The Resqme (res-q-me, get it?) combines a seat-belt cutting tool and a tempered-glass-window breaker, the latter designed to shatter a car window with just a simple jab. Stick one on your keychain or someplace else that's easily accessible from the driver's seat, and you'll have two less things to worry about.

$16 at Amazon

Whether you're changing a flat tire or need to attract the attention of a passing driver, it's hard to beat a road flare — especially one with a ring of 12 bright LEDs and nine different illumination modes. These ingenious warning-wheels are brightly colored, magnetic, rechargeable and waterproof. There's also an integrated hook you can use if there's no convenient magnetic surface. Better still, there are three additional LEDs up top for flashlight use. This is the four-pack, but you can also get them in sets of three, six, eight or 12.

$28 at Amazon

Suppose you have to abandon your car and go look for help — and it's getting dark. You don't want to run the risk of your phone running out of juice, but you don't want to carry one of those big power bricks either. This compact, lightweight mobile charger includes both Lightning and USB-C plugs (for iPhones and Android phones, respectively), plus it has a built-in flashlight that's probably brighter than the one in your phone. (If nothing else, it's an extra light source.)

$23 at Amazon

If you're stuck fixing a tire or pitching a tent in the dark of night, you'll be happy to have a lantern you can set down anywhere. This ruggedized water-resistant model, available with three different lumen/battery options (and priced accordingly), shines a full 360 degrees and doubles as a power bank: Just plug in your phone or any other mobile device that needs juice. It also has six modes of operation, including red light and flashing.

$60 at Amazon

Is that tire punctured or does it just have low tire pressure? Either way, it needs inflating, and VacLife's portable air compressor will get the job done quickly and efficiently. This rechargeable, battery-powered gizmo includes a digital pressure gauge readout so you can see the current pressure and then set it to where it needs to be. Once the air pump hits that pressure, it automatically shuts off. Plus, it doubles as a power bank and triples as a flashlight. I recently reviewed a similar VacLife model and found it a superb accessory. The VL798 is slightly smaller, with just a hair less battery power, but seems otherwise the same. Thus, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

$70 at Amazon

A dead car battery can be a minor inconvenience or a life-threatening danger. To make sure it's always the former, keep a portable jump starter in your safety kit. Way better than jumper cables (because you don't need a second vehicle), this handy power brick can start just about any vehicle — even big pickup trucks. It has an LCD screen so you can see exactly what's happening, powerwise, and USB ports for charging your phone or other devices. There's also a flashlight, compass and carrying case. Worth noting: Amazon is home to several zillion of these things, all from unknown brands. DBPower may not be a household name, but they've been around a lot of years, and I've used several of their products.

$80 at Amazon