The Essentials I Keep In My Car “Just In Case”

posted by Andrea | 01/30/2015
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car essentials

We live in Michigan… more specifically, West Michigan. This means we have pretty nasty winters, thanks to “lake effect” snow, sleet, and ice that blasts our area on a very regular basis ALL winter long.

One of the many reasons I’m SO grateful to work from home is because I absolutely hate driving in bad weather. Even though I have lived in Michigan my entire life and have driven on many, many icy roads, I’m still a nervous wreck every minute I’m driving during adverse conditions. And after having kids, this got much worse as I always dreamed up the worst-case scenario (usually that we would get in an accident and I wouldn’t be able to call for help so we would be stranded and the kids would be screaming).

Before kids, I just kept jumper cables and a blanket in my car “just in case”. However, after Nora was born (at the end of November — and right at the beginning of bad weather) it didn’t take long until I realized that I should probably have more of an emergency kit in the trunk of my car. After all, getting into an accident or being stranded with a newborn baby would be 100 times more stressful than if I was all on my own.

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Now, after 2 kids and a few more super snowy winters (we had record-breaking snowfall last winter!) I’ve come up with a pretty good list of items I keep in my car at all times — and while it might seem a little “over the top” to some of you, it sure makes me feel better knowing I’m always prepared (and remember, I live in Michigan!)

I’ll often swap out different items based on the time of year and as my kids grow older… but today, I’m sharing everything I keep in my car year-round, as well as the extras I add in during the winter and summer months.

I’m also sharing additional tips and advice from the Allstate Information Team. Lots of good advice no matter where you live — but especially if you live in a cold, snowy climate like we do!

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What I keep in my car year-round:

  • License, registration, and insurance paperwork for the car: obvious, but I figured I should mention it.
  • Jumper Cables: yes, you should definitely have these in your car!
  • A rope: usually used to tie down the back of my trunk when I’m carrying a large Craigslist load — but still potentially useful in the event of an emergency 🙂
  • Umbrella and flashlight: obviously — also, the flashlight is one of Nora’s favorite “toys” to play with in the car!
  • Phone charger: I have this charger. It plugs into the car’s AC adapter and also any USB port so I could charge it from a laptop as well.
  • Sunglasses: for me, for Dave, and for Nora.
  • Blanket: We have a nice one that is waterproof on one side and warm/fuzzy on the other. It also folds into a pillow. It’s similar to this one I found on Amazon — although I got mine when I was in college.
  • Umbrella stroller: we just got this stroller as a gift over Christmas and I really like how convenient it is to always have a stroller in the car.
  • Boba Air baby carrier: seriously, this has been life-saving so many times, especially when Simon was smaller!
  • Yondi Kid’s Travel neck pillow: we actually have 3 of these, so we are all set for baby #3 (although they really don’t need them until they are forward-facing in their car seats)
  • Smaller blanket for each kid: these blankets have come in handy year round — but they are extra handy in cold winter months.
  • Plastic grocery bags and reusable grocery bags: I always have a few plastic bags in the car for trash and dirty diapers. I also keep my reusable shopping bags in car for groceries or in case I need to carry something extra.
  • Diapers and wipes: I always keep 2 or 3 diapers and a package of baby wipes in the passenger seatback pocket. This has come in handy so many times — especially the baby wipes as they can practically clean anything!
  • Gum, mints, and candy: If you look inside my center console, it’s basically like a Halloween party as it’s full of gum, mints, Smarties, and other candies. No, I’m not ashamed of this 🙂
  • Paper and pen: seriously, I can’t tell you how many times this has been extremely useful.
  • Chapstick, lotion, and hand sanitizer: all basic necessities if you ask me!
  • Bottled water: although we almost always bring our own reusable water bottles with us everywhere we go, I like to keep a few bottles of water in the trunk just in case. These have actually come in handy when I’ve had to clean something and didn’t have access to water!

So that probably sounds like A LOT of stuff to keep in the car at all times — but I promise it doesn’t take up much room at all.

year round car kit

All the car registration and other information is in the glove box; and we have a special sunglasses compartment up by the visors.

The candy, gum, mints, pens, paper, sanitizer, chapstick, lotion, etc. is in the center console; and the phone charger stays plugged in to the AC adapter all the time (it doesn’t take energy when the car is not running).

The diapers, wipes, plastic bags, umbrella, and flashlight are in the passenger seatback pocket. The first aid kit is under the driver’s seat. The Boba carrier and reusable shopping bags are in the driver’s seatback pocket.

We keep the blankets and pillows right in the kids’ car seats since they use them every time we travel.

The jumper cables are in a “hidden” compartment with our car jack — kind of under the trunk floor and totally out of the way.

The umbrella stroller is always folded up in the trunk, along with a cute picnic basket that contains the water, larger blanket, rope, and seasonal necessities (which I’ll elaborate on below).

Extra Winter Essentials:

During the frigid, icy, winter months, I always make sure my kids (and myself) are wearing good boots whenever we go out — just in case we need to walk through snow. And of course, we have the blankets for each car seat — and all the other “goods” I listed above.

However, in addition to the items I keep in the car year-round, I add in some extra stuff for cold weather. I keep everything inside the picnic basket in our truck so it’s very portable and light-weight if I need to carry it anywhere.

  • Ice Scraper (I think we actually have 2 in each vehicle — and this is the one thing I don’t keep in the picnic basket.)
  • Hand warmers
  • Extra hat, gloves, socks, pants, and sweatshirts for the kids.
  • A few non-perishable snacks, an extra bottle (with some travel-size formula packs), and an extra sippy cup, just in case we’re stranded for a longer period of time.

The folks at Allstate also suggested keeping a container of kitty litter (for traction), extra windshield washer fluid, and an emergency shovel on hand — all of which I never thought of!

winter essentials

Extra Summer Essentials:

In the warmer months, I swap out our winter essentials for summer essentials (and again, I store everything in the picnic basket in the trunk so it’s portable).

  • Sunscreen (I realize it’s not good to keep this in a hot car, but I figure it’s better to have something than nothing if I’m really running stuck)
  • Bug spray
  • A couple beach towels
  • An extra sun hat for each child
  • A change of clothes for both kids — we get dirty a lot in the summer!

summer essentials

It honestly only takes me a few minutes to swap out the winter stuff for the summer stuff (and then summer for winter 6 months later) and everything else just stays in the car. So while I realize this might sound like a huge list of things, it’s something I rarely even think about anymore — it’s just there for us when we need it and out of the way when we don’t.

In fact, I’m positive it took me longer to write this blog post, listing everything out, than it did to stock our car — or replenish our supply after we use an item.

I’m also positive that the benefits I’ve gained from always being prepared have far outweighed any small amount of time I’ve spent packing up our essentials. I’m to the point now where I feel comfortable leaving the house for a quick trip with nothing but my wallet, keys, and phone. I know that IF I need to change a diaper or change clothing for some reason, or IF the kids randomly become starving, or IF someone get’s hot/cold, or IF we need to walk further than I thought, I have everything we need “just in case”.

And yes, that makes my Type-A momma’s brain (and heart) happy! 

If you don’t already have most of these items somewhere in your car, I would highly encourage you to find a place to stash them — especially the winter essentials if you live in a snowy state!

Better safe than sorry… right! 

What essentials do you keep in your car?

This post was written as part of the Allstate Influencer Program and sponsored by Allstate. All opinions are mine. As the nation’s largest publicly held insurance company, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most—but to guiding people to live the Good Life, every day. For more helpful tips like this, visit the Allstate Good to Know community.

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33 comments

  1. Lee Cockrum

    02/02/2015

    Great post! I have a tire pump in my car too, with a pressure gauge. It was funny to look in your picnic basket and see the little blue flowered zipper pouch! I have one I use in my purse. It was from some freebie!!

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  2. Lynn Dirk

    01/31/2015

    I live in North Dakota so I can relate. I agree with all on your list but I would add a lighter or some such fire starter. If you take a wrong turn it could save your life. Oh and you know never ever leave your car. Someone will find you eventually. Stay with the car! I always told my teens if they got stranded stay with the car and start the spare tire on fire for warmth in the worst case scenario.

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  3. Karen D

    01/30/2015

    I always keep a pair of socks and sneakers in my car. We don’t get snow here in sunny California – but we do get earthquakes. I want to be able to walk home if my car gets stuck somewhere. Walking a few miles in flip flops or heels just seems like a bad idea in an emergency. I also keep a pair of sweatpants there too – in case I’m wearing a skirt.

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  4. HoosierMom

    01/30/2015

    My dad was always big on being prepared in the winter. As young drivers, he had a list he would go through whenever we left the house–“Do you have your boots? Do you have your gloves? Do you have your longjohns? etc.”

    When my sister and her new husband left on their honeymoon this past December, we all hollered after them, “Do you have your boots? Do you have your gloves? Do you have your longjohns?!”

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    Andrea Reply:

    Cute story 🙂
    We don’t usually have longjohns, but we do almost always wear boots and gloves when it’s cold and/or snowy!

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  5. Debbie

    01/30/2015

    Thank you for this post! Being prepared is another way to show love to our family!
    I can’t tell you how many times extra clothes came in handy for our kiddos! I think all the way
    into teenager years! Im going home from work today and re-evaluating what’s in our vehicles!
    I want my kids cars prepared too!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I like how you phrased that — it’s a way to show love to our family!

    However, I’m sure 16 year old kids don’t think about it that way when their parents are making sure they are prepared 🙂

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  6. Jody

    01/30/2015

    This is the kick in the pants I needed to finally buy a second set of jumper cables. We have one between two cars….Last year our battery died just as my husband pulled up to the hospital to pick me up with our newborn. Great timing!

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! You definitely need a set of jumper cables in the car at all times!! And holy smokes, I can’t even imagine a battery dying when I’m trying to get out of the hospital with a newborn… that’s REALLY bad timing!

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  7. JoAnn C.

    01/30/2015

    if there are no nut allergies, may I suggest a bag of almonds or some other type of nut. While working as a nanny I got stuck/stranded on the side of the road with three young children. I too had all the essentials our Michigan weather calls for including the nuts. They provided a source of protein for the kids and me as we waited two hours for back up to arrive . You can use any source of protein that works for you and your family, remembering to change it out at the beginning of each season. Happy weekend, Andrea.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes JoAnn, I actually do have some snack bars, fruit leathers, packaged crackers, and packaged nuts in the diaper bag and/or in the car door (often times for me). They get eaten so quickly that I restock regularly 🙂

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  8. Kimberley

    01/30/2015

    This is all great information! Thanks so much for posting it all!

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  9. Lisa P.

    01/30/2015

    A few years ago I put a small scissors in our center console. I can’t even tell you how many times that thing has come in handy. I’ve opened clam shell packaging, a kid’s snack whose “tear here” wouldn’t budge, you name it, I’ve opened it in my car with that scissors.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for that reminder Lisa. I’ve been meaning to put a scissors in my glove box for months and keep forgetting.

    I saw something on 20/20 several months ago about how a little girl got tangled in her seatbelt and it was choking her and her mom couldn’t get it loosened because the seatbelt had “locked” like when you get in an accident. The only reason her daughter didn’t choke to death was because she has a scissors and cut the seat belt.

    So yes, ever since then I’ve been meaning to put one in our car… and thanks to your reminder, today is the day it actually happened 🙂

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    Brenda Reply:

    My mom gave all her adult children a safety hammer thingy one year for Christmas. It has a hammer to smash a window and a knife in a safe spot (think letter opener) to cut the seat belt. It also does a couple other things that i can’t remember. Only bad thing is that it is currently in the drawer to the china hutch in my kitchen….

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    Robyn Reply:

    I too have a LifeHammer in the car. I keep it in the driver’s side door. A friend gave it to me. He also gave me a reflective orange triangle to put up at the back of the car to caution other drivers in case of a break down or tire change. Never thought of these until he gave them to me. Now I will be getting them for my daughters car!

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    Shari Reply:

    I too have a life hammer & reflective triangle. The other thing I have, other than an LED flashlight, is a hand squeeze flashlight. It’s not super bright or anything, but in an emergency situation, it would be so reassuring to know you had a light you could continue to use, and not have to continually sit in the dark to conserve your flashlight’s battery.

    The other thing I keep – beyond a regular blanket – is a couple of emergency blankets. They’re the little square silver packets that sometimes come in first aid kits. I never realized how well they worked until we were tent camping & the temps dropped much lower than the forecast. We grabbed one out of our first aid kit & it worked wonderfully. Since then, I always make sure to carry a few in the car.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha!! Well, sounds like a great gift — but you’d better put it in your car ASAP 🙂

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  10. Nicole

    01/30/2015

    I love the picnic basket Idea! We also live in a state with heavy lake effect snow (upstate NY) and in addition to the items you listed, we have also found a travel potty immensely useful. I don’t know how many times it has saved our tooshies when we have been stuck without a store in site. We live in a rural area and have four little ones. This is the one that we have:

    http://amzn.com/B0016KV73W

    It cost around $10 and folds up quite small. We don’t buy the refill bags, but just use grocery bags or occasionally just put it on the ground (gasp!). Like I said, we live in a very rural area!

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES! This is an awesome idea Nicole — I will definitely need to look into that travel toilet!

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    Kim Reply:

    We too keep a potty in the car and have used it a ton with our toddlers/preschoolers. Never in an emergency situation but on long car trips when they have to go in the middle of no where or even at the park when there is just a really dirty port-a-potty. Ours isn’t a travel one but it’s quite small and I line it with a diaper. The diaper just absorbs everything (since that’s what they’re made to do 🙂 ) and I roll it up and throw it away.

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  11. Becky

    01/30/2015

    Since I live in west Michigan as well I have basically the same stuff you keep in your car! My dad made sure at 16 that I had all this stuff. i can’t even remember how many times as a kid we pulled over to help someone out of a ditch or put them in our car to keep them warm. Fast forward years and three kids and more stuff for them. But it gets less as they get older. 🙂
    I will do the same for them. Great post ! Thanks

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  12. Pamela

    01/30/2015

    Eeeek. I need to get on this. We never have bad weather here in Southern CA, but one bad accident can cause a freeway jam that’ll leave you stranded for hours.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Oh yes, I’ve seens some of those CA accidents on the news — I would go insane!

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  13. Deni

    01/30/2015

    This list is great, Andrea! I’m going to make up a kit today. Some extra things that I keep in the car are straws, plastic cutlery, napkins, sanitizer, first aid kit and a phone book. Whenever we get an updated phone book, I always put my old one in the trunk of my car. I guess I’m just a pen and paper type of gal 😉

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  14. Michelle Bonk

    01/30/2015

    All great essentials … especially in the snowy weather (like up here in Ontario!)

    The blankets in the car seats are great … one thing we learned (the hard way!) is that carseat buckles get so very HOT in the sun … and in the summer months with babes in shorts/skirts, you can easily burn that sensitive inside area of their legs. We used receiving blankets and just covered the carseats in the summer to keep them out of direct sunlight.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we actually have little pads that go around the buckle part and only let the button show — so that solves the hot buckle problem for us! However, your method would work just fine too 🙂

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  15. Suzanne

    01/30/2015

    All great ideas! However, how do you handle the water in the winter, as it will freeze? Do you add that with each trip? Also – I’ve always just assumed the handwarmers I keep in my car will work after spending a deep freeze winter in the car, but haven’t tested that theory. Have you?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Since our car is parked int he garage (and our garage almost never gets below freezing) our water is usually fine. Plus, we don’t have a separate “trunk” in our car — it’s just the “back” so when the car is running, the entire back area is heated just like the car.

    I guess if it DOES freeze, we could always just put it inside our coat or something to defrost it — in very desperate times!

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    Suzanne Reply:

    My concern here in upstate New York would be that the water bottle would split when it froze and I’d have a mess on my hands when it would thaw. I just take a water bottle along with every journey.

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    Andrea Reply:

    ahhhh… I actually never thought about that 🙂

    We too, also take our reusable water bottles wherever we go, and I guess maybe I should put the plastic water bottles in a ziptop bag or something. Good idea!

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  16. Stel

    01/30/2015

    Good ideas. Extras for me: a set of stationary + clipboards (for kids to do homework or just draw), saline nasal spray, R5 coins for parking/car guards (hey, we’re in RSA), small crochet project (waiting a lot now at school).

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    Andrea Reply:

    I love if your idea to keep a small little project in the car. I used to keep magazines, but I don’t read those anymore — and pretty much everything I need/do is on my smart phone 🙂 That said, I should think of a little project for Nora to work on when we’re in the car… hmmm, good ideas for a 3 year old?

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