Modern cars are more reliable than ever. But during a recent five-year period, 45 percent of drivers experienced at least one breakdown, according to a 2018 study by Siegfried and Jensen, a law firm specializing in automotive-related accidents and injuries.
Breakdowns have many causes—among them a flat tire, an empty gas tank, a dead battery, or a crash—and they usually happen unexpectedly. Older cars are more prone to breakdowns, but you can take steps to make a breakdown less likely regardless of your car’s age: inspect your tires regularly and keep them properly inflated; when you have the car serviced, have the battery tested if it’s more than 3 years old; and check your oil and coolant levels periodically.
Of course, if a breakdown occurs, AAA members can always summon Roadside Assistance by calling (800) AAA-HELP (222-4357) or by using the Auto Club app. But if you’re at all handy, keeping certain items in an emergency kit could help you get back on the road quickly; others could keep you comfortable and safe until a AAA truck arrives.
Essential items will vary depending on where you drive and, sometimes, on the season. If you’re going on an extended road trip or driving in unfamiliar territory, you might want to pack certain additional items, described at the end of this article.
Store items in your glove compartment that you use regularly and that can also be handy in an emergency.
- Owner’s manual. This helpful (but generally ignored) book specifies the type of oil your car uses, the procedure for topping off the coolant tank, and how to jump-start your car’s battery without frying its electrical system, among other useful things.
- Cell phone charging cable. The kind you plug into your car’s USB port (less than $10).
- Tire gauge. A reliable one costs less than $20. Check your tires at least once a month (do it when they’re cold). The correct tire pressure is on the driver’s doorjamb, the glove box door, or in your owner’s manual.
- Registration and insurance cards, family and emergency phone numbers. Besides storing them in your wallet or phone, it’s a good idea to keep copies where they’re easily accessible when you need them—say, inside the front cover of your owner’s manual.
- A pen and a small writing tablet to record essential information in an emergency.
- A window punch enables you to easily smash a side window to escape a burning or sinking car if the doors aren’t operable (less than $20). Many window punches have an integral seat belt cutter.
Trunk or cargo area
- A spare tire, jack, and lug wrench. Some cars have run-flat tires instead of a spare; others have an inflator kit with an air compressor and sealant. Find out which system your car has—and learn how to use it.