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17 items you should always carry in your car
By Charles Plueddeman of MSN Autos

Many of today's new cars have the latest gizmos for comfort, navigation and safety, but no car is really equipped until there are two basic staples in the glove box: a flashlight and a tire-pressure gauge. These are the first two of 17 items that drivers should have in their cars at all times for safety, for convenience and for the day the gizmos let them down. How many of these items are in your vehicle right now? Let's take a look.


A big aluminum Maglite used to be the favored flashlight to carry (good enough for police work, good enough for everyday citizens), but now there are compact LED flashlights that are really bright and don't take up much space in the glove box. It's a help that you can hold one in your teeth when you need both hands to change a tire or open a fuse box on a dark night. An LED headlamp is a great alternative, and a set of spare batteries is always a good idea.

Tire-pressure gauge

Keep an air gauge in the center console as a reminder to check each tire once a month. Low tire pressure can cause dangerous blowouts, and tires underinflated by only 6 pounds per square inch can reduce fuel economy by 5 percent and reduce tread life by 25 percent. Your car's specified tire pressure is posted on a sticker in the driver's side door frame. It's normal for tires to lose a pound or two of pressure a month.

First-aid kit

For those minor injuries that don't require dialing 911, a few bandages, gauze, tape, disinfectant, tweezers and ibuprofen are handy for handling minor cuts and scrapes on the road, especially if you are traveling with kids. Medication for motion sickness is another thoughtful addition.

Owner’s manual

If you buy a used car and the owner's manual is missing, order a replacement through a dealer. One of these days you might need it to identify a blown fuse, figure out how to reset the clock or know where to place the jack when you get a flat tire.

ire-changing tools

If you buy a used car, check to make sure that all the components of the jack and other tools you need to change a flat tire are actually in the car and haven't been misplaced by the previous owner. There are usually tire-changing directions in the owner's manual or on a sticker near where the spare tire is stowed. There is a spare tire, right? Make sure that is properly inflated.

Warning triangles

A replacement for old-fashioned flares, a set of triangle warning reflectors fold and pack into a box that will fit in the trunk or spare-tire compartment of most vehicles. Whether it is day or night, professional truckers place them 10 feet, 100 feet and 200 feet behind a rig to give following traffic plenty of notice of a disabled truck. You should do the same if you get a flat or are forced to pull over, especially when there's not much shoulder on the road.


You should carry a good multi-tool that is equipped with at least a knife, pliers, screwdriver tips and scissors that can cut wire or slice a blown radiator hose, tighten a loose clamp or tweeze out a tiny fuse. If you also have duct tape and a little imagination you can now handle almost any emergency. A pair of vice grips and an adjustable wrench also are great additions to a car's basic tool kit.


A set of spare fuses and the tool used to pull them from the fuse block will cost only a few dollars, and with them you can fix common electrical issues. For example, it's not unusual for the windshield-wiper fuse to blow if the blades are frozen to the windshield. Check the owner's manual or ask your mechanic to find out what style and size fuses you should carry as spares.

Jumper cables

Some day you will turn the ignition key and hear — nothing. A dead battery is not a disaster if you have a set of jumper cables and a friend to call, or if a friendly driver happens by. Your owner's manual will have instructions on how to use the cables to start your vehicle without harming the electronics or — more importantly — hurting yourself.


A big roll of duct tape can mend a lot of things and solve a lot of problems. You can use duct tape and a sheet of plastic to cover a broken window, for example. A roll of self-fusing silicone Rescue Tape is another great choice. Able to withstand pressure to 700 psi and temperature to 500 degrees, it can patch a blown radiator hose or even secure a dangling tail pipe.

Map or atlas

Carry a map of at least your home state and city. Unlike a fancy GPS navigation system, a good, old-fashioned paper map will never lose its signal, blow a fuse, go wacky from sunspots or lead you astray. And in a pinch you can use it to start a fire or hang it in a window to shade a cranky baby.

Paper towels

Save all the extra napkins you get from fast-food joints. They are great for mopping up spilled coffee, checking the oil, cleaning a squished bug or smeared bird droppings off the windshield and even handling a big sneeze. Store them in the glove box.

Spare key

Sooner or later everyone locks their keys in the car. If you have a copy of the key stashed on the vehicle, you can simply unlock the door. A magnetic key case you can get at any hardware store can be placed behind the bumper, for example. Your spare door-lock key does not need to have the expensive microchip required to start the car.

Pail or bucket

There are a lot of things you can do with a simple 5-quart plastic ice cream pail. Start by using it to store small items on this list, such as tape, gloves and plastic bags. It can also be a barf bucket, a tote for the sandy shells the kids pick up at the beach or a receptacle to carry the water you need to refill the radiator after you've repaired the blown hose.

Garbage bags

Keep a few large, heavy-duty plastic trash bags in the trunk. They can be used to cover the muddy ground when you need to change a tire in the rain, as an improvised poncho or as an emergency seat cover under a wet dog or soiled child. Or use one with duct tape to cover a broken window.


A pair of leather work gloves makes it possible to touch hot stuff under the hood or to grip a sharp bit of dangling exhaust pipe, and they will keep your hands clean if you need to change a flat tire on the way to a business meeting.

Old cellphone

If that old flip phone has a charged battery it could be a lifeline. Even a deactivated mobile phone will place a 911 call if it can get a signal. Keep the phone and its charger in your car and you'll have a backup for your active phone or for when no other phone is available

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