Three best car emergency kits
Even the best-laid plans unravel sometimes, and that includes the plans you make for road trips and other car travels. Emergency situations can arise for even the most experienced of drivers. The best course of action is to carry a comprehensive emergency kit in your vehicle at all times.
What should you look for in a car emergency kit? The best kits sold today cover three Rs: rescue, recovery, and repair.
Rescue: A good rescue kit should contain high-quality extrication tools. For example, it is helpful to have a seatbelt cutter, a window-breaking hammer, and an emergency flashlight in your emergency kit. Other rescue-related items you may wish to look for include road flares, reflective tape, one or more mini fire extinguishers, and tow rope.
Recovery. A comprehensive first aid kit with everything from gauze bandages to medication is essential. There should also be a compartment containing emergency food and water supplies, along with insulated blankets to conserve body heat when rescue is not imminent.
Repair. The emergency kit should feature the tools needed to jump-start a dead battery, repair and inflate a flat tire, and tow a car out of a ditch without assistance. Jumper cables, tow rope, tire patches, a portable air compressor/pump, and other emergency equipment are recommended.
Considerations when choosing a car emergency kit
Let's examine three factors that can mean the difference between a good car emergency kit and a great one: portability, quality of contents, and comprehensive coverage.
A complete car emergency kit contains a large variety of tools, medical equipment, blankets, food, water, and other items. All of these elements should fit snugly in a convenient carrying case or compressible sack for easy transportation and storage.
Quality of contents
The packaging of a kit may promote the total number of items it contains, but this number is meaningless without context. A kit containing "200 pieces" may actually offer an inexpensive window hammer, a tire pressure valve, and 198 bandages. Be sure to examine the elements of an emergency kit to make sure you're getting what you might need in an actual emergency.
A vehicular accident can result in a number of scenarios. A quality emergency kit should address all of them. If the kit includes a tire pressure gauge, it should also include a tire patching kit or portable air compressor. If the kit includes road flares, it should also contain reflective tape or a flashlight.
Similarly, a first aid kit shouldn't be limited to the treatment of minor cuts and abrasions. It should also include an emergency blanket, food, and water. Even the best emergency kits, however, may require an upgrade after purchase.
Car emergency kit prices
You'll find lots of good car emergency kits for under $50, though prices can reach over $100 for some ultra-comprehensive kits. Indeed, the price of a car emergency kit often reflects how much "preparedness" it offers. For example, you might pay $35 for an entry-level car emergency kit that includes a set of basic jumper cables, but a deluxe kit with longer, more powerful jumper cables might cost you $75.
Notably, there are some car emergency kits that focus solely on one type of emergency response, such as rescue and repair. These kits can also run the gamut from about $25 to $100. If you invest in a kit with a narrow focus, you may need to supplement it with other items to make it more comprehensive.
Q. I just bought a very large emergency kit for my son's new vehicle. Where should he store it while on the road?
A. Some people prefer to store their emergency kit in the trunk. However, this may not be the best plan for everyone. Your son may want to divide the kit into several smaller collections and store each set where it will be needed most. For example, a "rescue" set containing a seatbelt cutter and window-breaking hammer could be stored in the glove compartment or center console, and a first aid kit with food and water could be stored under the back seat. Repair items, such as jumper cables and an air compressor, could remain locked in the trunk.
Q. I've had a car emergency kit stored in my trunk for nearly five years now. Should I take it out and examine it from time to time?
A. Yes. It's a good idea to occasionally inspect an older car emergency kit for damage caused by weather or age. Make sure the jumper cables are still in good working order. Replace any medications that may be outdated. Plug in electrical equipment to make sure it still works properly. The last thing a driver wants to experience during an actual emergency is equipment failure.
Car emergency kits we recommend
Best of the best: First Secure 90-Piece Car Emergency Kit with Roadside Assistance
Our take: The First Secure car emergency kit contains virtually everything a stranded driver may need, and the quality of the supplies and tools is not compromised for economy's sake. Plus, it's easy to stow in a trunk and completely weatherproof.
What we like: We appreciate how comprehensive this kit is. There is an 11-foot tow rope with a five-ton capacity, a 10-foot set of jumper cables, and a portable air compressor with a generous power cord. Essential hand tools and protective gloves are also included.
What we dislike: The performance of the air compressor is lackluster, and the storage case can be challenging to repack after use.
Best bang for your buck: Top Gear Premium Roadside Assistance Kit (66-piece)
Our take: We are pleasantly surprised at the number of high-quality car emergency items packed in this entry-level kit. It's a great gift idea for college students and other commuters.
What we like: This affordable kit includes a hand-cranked flashlight, which can be a lifesaver during a nighttime breakdown. The storage bag has enough space for additional items, such as first aid supplies, emergency food and water, blankets, and phone chargers.
What we dislike: The original tire gauge may need to be replaced with a sturdier one. The first aid kit may also need an upgrade.
Our take: While individual pieces may not be of the highest grade, the overall set is comprehensive enough to handle most common car-related emergencies. We recommend it as an affordable "first emergency kit" for new drivers.
What we like: The storage bag is compact and easy to store in the car's main compartment. The included gripper gloves are especially useful in wet weather. The kit contains a generous supply of zip ties and other tools that more experienced drivers might like for improvised repairs.
What we dislike: The original jumper cables are not rated for larger vehicles and may need to be upgraded. The first aid kit is on the sparse side.
Michael is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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