Having grown up in an old farmhouse miles from... well, anything, I know firsthand how unfortunate it can be when your car breaks down or you get stranded with no one nearby to lend a hand. My only saving grace has been that I live somewhere warm enough to walk the miles that stood between my car and civilization. If I lived in a colder state, I'd probably already be a goner.
So whether you keep your ride spotless or your floorboards double as storage receptacles (holla!), there are certain things you should always have in your car—but probably don't. Here's the rundown:
1. A tire inflator and/or sealer
It won't break the bank to pick up one or two of these, and they're worth every penny anyway if they plug a leak long enough to get you to the auto body shop.
2. A blanket
When you're trapped in your car and the temp drops, you'll be grateful for the blanket you have stashed in your trunk. Bonus points if it's a Mylar space blanket, which will keep you warm even during a blizzard.
3. A seat belt cutter and window breaker tool
You've likely seen advertisements for these online or on TV and considered pulling the trigger on purchasing. Do it! They are inexpensive, easy to store in the glove compartment, and could save your life. You just never know, right?
4. An old cell phone
Most of us have at least one old cell phone languishing in a junk drawer at home. Grab yours, charge it up fully, and then stick it in your car. Even without a service subscription or Wi-Fi, old phones can be used to make emergency calls to 9-1-1.
5. Lots o' bottled water
I mean, you don't have to fill your trunk like it's the apocalypse or anything, but you can at least hang on to a few 1-liter bottles. That way, if you get stuck in your car, you'll have enough water to support your body's basic needs.
6. Duct tape
Yes, you read that right. You can use duct tape to do everything from sealing up a broken window to securing a busted front end up enough to limp back to safety.
7. A flashlight
When it's dark and you're alone in the middle of nowhere, you're going to want a flashlight… especially if you need to change a flat or perform some other on-the-fly repair. Don't forget to pack extra batteries, too.
8. Paper towels
Whether it's, ahem, the call of nature or just to wipe away the masterpiece of a sticky mess your toddler made with his snack, paper towels can be a necessity.
9. Granola bars (or any other portable food packed with protein)
Hunger can strike at any time, so why not have a filling snack at the ready to give you a boost of energy? Just make sure whatever you pack has a long shelf life: think granola, energy bars or MREs.
10. A carpet remnant
Wait, what? No, you're not going shopping for new floors. Rather, a carpet remnant can be placed under tires for traction should you get stuck in mud or snow. If you can't get your hands on carpet remnants, you could also use cardboard, sand, or cat litter.
11. Power chargers
Payphones? They've all been ripped out of the ground. In a true emergency, your phone is your only life line. A complete arsenal would have a charger for your current phone, a charger for your old phone (the one you stashed in the glove for emergency calls, and a portable battery charger to back them up and ensure you don't run into a total blackout situation.
12. Extra clothes
You might need extra layers. Or maybe you had to get out of your car in the pouring rain to change a flat. Heck, it could be as simple as spilling coffee on your crisp white shirt on the way to a job interview. Any way you slice it, having an extra pair of clothes in your car is always a good idea. Toss in a pair of gloves for good measure.
13. A pair of comfortable shoes
You never know what footwear you'll be rocking when emergency strikes. If you need to hoof it down the road for help, you'll be glad to have comfy footwear on hand to get you there.
14. A first aid kit
We all know by now that we should carry a first aid kit in our cars but, show of hands, who among us actually does? I have two small kids, and I've yet to get around to this. Bad mama alert! At the very least, throw a large plastic bag with bandages, sterile dressings, gauze, a syringe, anti-bacterial ointment, and aloe in my trunk to cover your bases.
15. A multi-purpose tool, or a small tool kit
You can buy either of these on Amazon for less than you probably spend on Starbucks in a month, so buying one to keep in your car should be a no-brainer. Chances are good you'll need a screwdriver sooner or later.
16. Some sort of fire starter
Matches are the classic choice here, but they could prove a no-go in inclement weather. Lighters, as long as they are full of fluid, could be just the ticket. Either way, you should have something to help you start a fire (for warmth, or visibility) should it come to that.
17. A bucket
This probably sounds more unorthodox than it is. A bucket can be used for just about anything—to corral garbage, to gather beachcombing treasures, to toss random odds and ends into, to collect rainwater, as an impromptu potty, etc. It can seriously prove invaluable in clutch situations.