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We're so used to help being a phone call away, but what happens when you're out of cell range or your phone isn't working? With kids heading back to college this fall, you should make sure they're prepared if they find themselves stranded somewhere far from home.
This isn't an exhaustive list of essential emergency items for your vehicle; drivers who never leave the city limits won't require as much gear as someone who goes overlanding solo in the backcountry every weekend. (Most of these items are available at AdvanceAutoParts.com, while the others should be easily found in your local brick-and-mortar store.)
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For most, a standard first-aid kit is all you need, giving you all the basic items to clean and dress a minor wound. But it never hurts to supplement the items that come with the kit, including upgrading the bandages to include butterfly-wound closures for cuts that would normally require stitches, ibuprofen, and instant ice packs to reduce any possible joint swelling. If you plan to drive through an area where getting stranded is a possibility, be sure to include a day or two of any prescription drugs you may be taking as well.
Emergency Blanket/Disposable Poncho
In your glove compartment, tucked in between your vehicle registration and a virtual forest's worth of fast-food napkins you've accumulated over the last decade, you should keep a couple of items each about the size of a deck of cards – an emergency blanket and a disposable poncho. If you get stuck in bad weather, staying warm and dry could make the difference in a life-or-death situation. (If you have room in your trunk, consider keeping a spare set of clothes as well.)
Many young people rely on their phone as a flashlight, and in a pinch, it'll do. But what happens when your phone runs out of juice? A headlamp both shines a brighter light and keeps your hands free for making repairs or other tasks. A standard flashlight can be handy as well. Better yet, always keep your phone topped off with an iHome charger and cable.
Battery Jump Starter
Even if you pay for roadside assistance, having a way to instantly charge your battery is critical, especially if you're miles away from the nearest town. That's why a portable jump starter is a must-have for nearly every vehicle. (You should also carry standard battery jumper cables, but you can't rely on another motorist to help, especially in inclement weather or other potentially dangerous situations.)
For drivers who regularly do long distances, consider a larger, more robust jump starter that not only recharges your vehicle battery but also acts as a power bank and air compressor. If you rarely leave the city limits, a smaller version much like this should suffice. You do need to periodically re-charge the jump starters (check the owner's manual for the correct intervals), so, unlike most of the other items on this list, you can't just stash it and forget about it.
Slime Tire Sealant/Inflator
If you've never changed a tire or don't want to mess around with a jack and a spare, this Smart Spair Plus Flat Tire Repair Kit can get you back on the road in a matter of minutes. (Also, if you've never changed a tire before, you should definitely learn this invaluable skill ASAP.)
If you frequently travel in the backcountry or plan to take a trip through unfamiliar country, having food and water is crucial. Because you don't want to rely on Taco Bell hot-sauce packets to survive, stash between three and six bottles of water and a few granola bars in the back of your everyday vehicle. The granola bars will eventually expire, so remember to change them out once a year.
Nearly every Advance Auto Parts store sells paper atlases by the checkout counter. Buy one. You can't rely on Google Maps all the time, especially when driving through cellular dead zones. Having a good ol' paper map (and the ability to use it) will help you find your way back onto the highway or the nearest town if the need arises.
News stories about vehicles driven into ponds or other bodies of water are all too frequent on our airwaves. Many people panic when the water's pressure prevents them from opening their door and escaping. That's why having a simple window hammer can be a literal lifesaver. If the power windows short out and won't go down, the hammer allows you to make your exit.
Basic Tool Kit
Keep a socket set and screwdriver with multiple bits in all your vehicles. Even if you never need to use them in an emergency situation, they'll come in exceedingly handy when needing to replace a part in your driveway.
It may also be a good idea to keep a Leatherman multitool in your glove compartment for any small repair needs or to help in an actual survival situation.
With a lot forethought and a trip to your local Advance Auto Parts store, you should be ready to handle almost any situation that arises.
What's the biggest requirement in your emergency kit? Let us know in the comments below.