I'm somewhat infamous among my friends and family for my bad car luck. Fender benders, hit-and-runs, flat tires, wild animals, you name it, it's happened. Thankfully, I've always walked away unharmed and I've learned a few lessons along the way. The main lesson? Be ready for anything. Here's a list of ten things you should always have in your car.

Proof of Insurance and Registration

This seems like a no-brainer, but I should add that they should also be the current versions. It can be very easy to space out that your current insurance card has expired, especially if you receive them online and have to print them. Keep these two pieces of paper clipped together and at the front of your glove compartment so you can access them quickly.

Maintenance Records

This is easily overlooked, but very important, especially for recent maintenance. I once had a new radiator installed, only to quickly discover that the new unit had a bad fan that left me stranded with an overheated car. I still had the paperwork and within the hour the shop manager had sent a tow truck and a fully paid rental car to my location. Tire documents are extremely important since most tires include a warranty and sometimes even roadside assistance coverage for tire problems.

Spare Tire and Jack

While this used to come standard on all cars, some newer ones only include it as an option, or you may have bought a used car that's missing one or both items. A tire shop can usually sell you a spare, and most auto parts stores carry portable jacks. Even if you don't know how to change a tire, you should have the proper tools available so you only have to worry about finding someone who knows how to use them.

Gas Can

If you run out of gas, it will be easier to walk to the nearest gas station with your gas can than to push your car there. True, some gas stations carry them, but this way you don't have to worry about stalling next to the one gas station that DOESN'T have one.

Jumper Cables

Not only should you have jumper cables, but you should have them attached to instructions that explain how to use them, as it's a bit confusing and can be hard to remember. Like the spare tire and jack, even if you aren't comfortable doing the jump-start, at least you'll have them available if you find someone who is.


You can also use reflective triangles if you prefer them. Set them up around your car if you're stalled on the side of the road and need to get out of the car to change a tire, check the engine, etc. and need to alert other drivers to slow down and avoid your car. If you don't feel like you can safely be outside the car even with triangles or flares, call roadside assistance or the police.

Roadside Assistance Phone Number

"But I don't need roadside assistance, I have my husband/sister/kids." Trust me, I've learned that calamity is very patient, and will wait for everyone you know to be unavailable when it strikes. Roadside assistance plans are usually cheap and available as an add-on to your insurance policy or through a third party like AAA. Not only can they tow you to a garage or your home for cheaper than the standard rate, they can also bring you gas or other fluids, and you just pay the cost of the materials.

Poncho and Gloves

Toss a cheap plastic poncho in your trunk. Even worse than changing a flat tire is changing a flat tire with rain or snow pouring on you. The gloves are useful for the same reason; bolting a muffler back on becomes much more painstaking when it's covered in slush and ice and your hands are bare.

Blanket, Water, and Snacks

A warm blanket can save your life if you're stranded in the cold, or better yet, one of those foil-looking space blankets sold at camping stores. They're not comfortable, but they work. If you own a sleeping bag rated for extreme cold, think about storing it in your trunk. Food and water are obvious: if you get stuck for a long time, you'll get hungry and thirsty.

First Aid Kit

You won't be healing any major injuries with this, but once you've had the joyful experience of driving home while holding your bleeding finger in your mouth after cutting it on a sharp edge in your trunk, you'll understand.

While it's impossible to prepare for every situation, you can save yourself a lot of time and headache by preparing for some of the most common ones you'll encounter on the road.