Most of us keep a handful of random essentials in our car: a box of tissues in the glove compartment, a stale sleeve of crackers hiding underneath the back seat “just in case” you ever get hungry on your commute home, and a questionable soft drink tumbling around from the 12-pack of sodas that broke open on the way home from the grocery store a few months ago. However, what about the real emergency essentials, the very things that may save your hide if your car ever unexpectedly broke down?

The fact is, many of us are woefully unprepared for an unanticipated emergency. While older vehicles are more prone to quirks and hiccups that may leave you stranded on the side of the road, newer cars aren’t immune to flats or other random crises, either. Us Florida drivers need to be prepared - and there's a lot more we can do to ready our cars than fill out the necessary tag renewal paperwork. To avoid unpleasant surprises or being caught flat-footed in the event of a breakdown, it’s a good idea to have these important items with you at all times when you’re driving.

1) Automotive fluids. Some of the more common reasons that a car may break down can be surprisingly simple. Nobody wants to find out that they’re critically low on gas when they’re dozens of miles away from the nearest service station. Keep a gallon of gasoline, a liter of coolant (and distilled water, if your car needs diluted coolant), two quarts of motor oil, and a quart of brake fluid in your trunk and you just may thank yourself later for your foresight.

2) Jumper cables. If your engine refuses to start while you’re on the road, it might be your battery. Even the most cautious drivers can’t always remember to check their battery levels, so jumper cables may be the difference between being completely stranded and being on your way home.

3) Have a tire repair plan. It’s always a good idea to keep a spare tire on hand, but if you don’t, make sure you have a good option that fits the make and model of your vehicle. There are two main ways to deal with a blown tire, assuming it’s still partially intact. If a tire is totally shredded, you will need to get help to have the car moved if you don’t want to take serious damage to your suspension and rims.

3a) The quick and dirty way:

If you run a bare bones setup, you may be able to get away with keeping some tire sealant squirreled away just in case. Tire sealant both reinflates the tire and plugs it up with an adhesive substance that gets pushed out by the force of the air. However, in the last decade, even entry level vehicles are including tire pressure sensors in the tires, so beware that foam tire sealant CAN destroy a tire pressure sensor.

Some products boast being Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) safe, as well as rim safe, but it’s unlikely any tire sealant manufacturer will replace your tire if it doesn’t work out. So doing this is more of a desperation move for most cars.

3b) The slow but rewarding way:

The most common fixable tire problem that you’ll encounter on the road is going to be a sharp object in the tire. You can pick these up easily from a variety of places.You can accidentally get a puncture from medians.Or it could happen from taking cordoned off parts of exits (or exiting too early).This is because the currents of air that come from from moving cars cause most flung objects to land in these areas of relative non-turbulence.

These puncture wounds in your tires can usually be plugged cheaply and easily, and will last for a while. You can buy small rubber bungs, a type of rubber cement that is compatible with your tires, and a nail puller (hammer or pliers) to pull out the nail.Or, you can grab a screwdriver to push the bung into the tire. If you don’t have time – or you’re stranded in are a precarious high speed area like I-95 -- and there’s a slow leak (like a nail that’s relatively tightly fit), you can just keep a small air compressor or a bicycle pump in your car.

A small air compressor can cost anywhere from $10 to $50 and will run off the car’s AC port, and it can pump the tire up from flat in 5-15 minutes. Think of the quarters you can save at the gas station when your air pressure is low! An air compressor is, by far, one of the most useful items to have in your car.This is because low tire pressure can happen literally with a change in the weather and affect your gas mileage and your car’s handling.

Decent ones will have a tire pressure gauge, but it’s a good idea to have an analog or digital pressure gauge that you stick in the tire just to make sure the reading is correct.

A bicycle pump will take a bit longer (and may need a specific adapter), but if you’ve ever pumped up an air mattress, you’re dealing with a much smaller volume of air, so it won’t be nearly as taxing!

3c) The expensive but relatively foolproof way:

If you don’t have a spare, and you don’t want to spend the time dealing with the problem on the road, run-flat tires are more expensive than standard tires but they will prevent your tire from decompressing fully for a good while, saving your rims and suspension from damage. Many European cars come with run-flats as a stock option. The hitch to the run-flat is that once punctured, it cannot be patched. Why? The system works as an inner tube inside an outer tire wall, and once the outer tire wall is patched, you cannot access it from inside as is required for most patching jobs. You can still plug a hole in the tread of a run flat. 

As an added precaution, it’s a good idea to brush up on how to change a flat tire. (Pro tip: there are many videos on the Internet that could teach you how in just a few minutes!)

4) Non-perishable food and drinks. First, grab those stale crackers and (probably) flat soda from your car and throw them out. There, don’t you feel better already for clearing that trash out of your car? Next, grab a few bottles of water, some protein bars, and some dried fruit and keep them in a small box in your trunk. You have no idea how long you’ll be waiting for assistance, so having food nearby can make all the difference in your mood while you wait.

Bonus items to keep in your car include an emergency first-aid kit, a change of clothes, and a flashlight (with extra batteries). Of course, you never want to need these items, but by planning ahead, you can avoid the headache and misery of being stuck on the side of the road with no cell signal, waiting anxiously for the mercy of a Good Samaritan to bail you out.


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Photo credit: Nishant Aneja