Every car needs to have one of the emergency car kits to get back on the road. Whether it's a breakdown, flat tire or an accident, you need to make sure your kit is road-ready. No matter where it's stashed, an emergency car kit is crucial for making sure you're prepared for the worst.
You’ll hopefully never need to use it, but with the right roadside emergency car kit you stand a good chance of getting back on the road and helping anybody who’s been injured. While some may accuse you of being overly-compulsive, there’s no harm in preparing for the worst.
Whether it’s a flat tire, dead battery or the aftermath of a fender bender, the best emergency car kits can be both a lifesaver and your best driving companion.
What are the best emergency car kits?
Emergency car kits come in all shapes and sizes these days, and there are hundreds of different kits for you to choose from. They attempt to package all that’s needed to deal with a roadside emergency in a bag but have two flaws.
First, each commercial emergency car kit lacks at least one key item - so the perfect kit that has the tools for every contingency doesn’t exist. How much they miss depends on the kit, and how much you’ve paid. That’s where the second shortcoming enters the equation: They all come in a zippered bag.
That’s not a fault in and of itself but the bags are generally only big enough for the included gear. That leaves little or no room for adding your own emergency equipment.
Our favorite emergency car kit is the Justin Case All Weather Ultimate Safety Kit. The $48 price tag is reasonably affordable, the bag has space for additional kit, and includes a year’s 24/7 roadside assistance from Vehicle Administrative Services. That’s worth the initial cost all by itself. If you’re not a fan of that, the DOT Essential OSHA ANSI Compliant Kit is another great option that includes a lot of tools other kits lack - including a fire extinguisher and one of the best first aid kits we’ve seen.
The First Secure Car Emergency Kit fits in a lot of important basics, including tools and equipment for repairing any damaged tires.The kit is also small enough that it can fit underneath your car seat for quick access. Lifelines Premium Excursion Road Kit is an expensive option, andhile the contents aren’t anything to write home about, the bag itself is notable for having dedicated compartments for all your stuff.
The Haiphaik Emergency Roadside Toolkit is great value at $48, but it’s still missing a bunch of important stuff. But while not extensive, it’s a good low-cost option to get yourself started. Finally there’s the Everlit Roadside Assistance Kit. While it’s not built to handle a diverse collection of roadside emergencies, it’s got everything you need to handle any tire problems.
The best emergency car kits you can buy right now
Costing just $48, the Justin Case kit is an absolute bargain. One of the few kits to come with 24/7 roadside assistance, courtesy of the Vehicle Administrative Services, that addition alone is almost worth the price alone.
On top of this you have 10 additional items, including a set of jumper cables, a first aid kit, and basics like a shovel and flashlight. The bag it all comes in offers plenty of extra space as well, so there’s room to add any additional equipment you might want to have just in case.
Read our full Justin Case All Weather Ultimate Safety Kit review.
Neatly packaged in a small duffle bag that has plenty of room to spare, the DOT Essential OSHA ANSI Compliant Kit is more than all the government acronyms in its name would suggest. It’s an excellent emergency car kit, and with some of the best equipment of its type that we’ve seen so far.
Included is a fire extinguisher, an incredibly extensive first aid kit, an LED flashlight and the best reflective triangles this side of a state trooper’s squad car. There’s a lot of stuff the DOT Essential Kit doesn’t have, like a tire inflator or jumper cables, but what it does offer is some of the best in its league. Luckily there’s room to stow any extras as and when you buy them.
Read our full DOT Essential OSHA ANSI Compliant Kit review.
The First Secure Car Emergency kit is a great start to building a fully-equipped emergency kit of your own. Not only does it pack in a great selection of important equipment, it’s also small enough to fit under your car seat for quick access when you need it most.
Inside you’ll find a tow strap, jumper cables, multi-tool alongside an air compressor and tire repair kit. Sadly it does without the likes of a fire extinguisher and shovel, both of which can prove to be useful under the right circumstances. Worse still, the bag isn’t big enough to add any additional extras. But, at $80, it’s a solid choice to get yourself going.
Read our full First Secure Car Emergency Kit review.
While it still misses out on some key items, the Haiphaik Emergency Roadside Toolkit is still great value at just $48. As the name suggests the emphasis is on the tools inside, including things like a hammer, knife, tape measure - and other pieces you don’t find included in other emergency car kits.
Of course the value is offset by the fact it’s missing a number of important pieces of equipment, including the fire extinguisher and a tire inflator. But if you’re looking for something to get you going, with the intention of adding to it early on, this might be the kit for you.
Read our full Haiphaik Emergency Roadside Toolkit review.
Another kit that lacks some basic essentials, the Everlit Roadside Assistance Kit still comes with a number of quality items to handle some of the problems you may encounter on the road. 12 foot jumper cables are a major asset, and the first aid kit is noticeably better than what a lot of competitors seem to think is adequate.
But no emergency car kit is perfect, and the Everlit kit includes enough well-made equipment to get you started. Just be sure to buy another bag to keep any additions inside, because Everlit’s doesn’t have room for anything extra.
Read our full Everlit Roadside Assistance Kit review.
The Lifeline Premium Excursion Road Kit may carry the AAA logo, though the branding doesn’t make it any more premium than kits by lesser-known brands. Still it has several driving must-haves, including jumper cables, tools and everything you need to patch up and re-inflate a leaking tire.
While pricey, what you get in this kit is very well made - and should last you for several years at the very least. That said it still falls short of being a complete emergency car kit, despite its association with America’s best known roadside assistance network.
Read our full Lifeline Premium Excursion Road Kit review.
What to look for in an emergency car kit:
Putting together an emergency car kit should always start with the assumption that Murphy was an optimist. Anything that could go wrong on the road almost certainly will at some point, so it pays to overpack and have equipment for every possible disaster. You’ll be happy you packed it when it happens.
The old adage that "you get what you pay for" certainly rings true when it comes to emergency car kits. Some emergency car kits sell for as little as about $15, but they are deficient in many areas. Expect to pay at least $50 for a quality kit that comes with many of the necessary items, but don’t pay too much without shopping around. Some that cost upwards for $200 are no better than ones that sell for a quarter of the price.
Forget about branding too, because kits that have a TV show or an automaker’s logo embossed on the bag are often no better than those made by companies you’ve never heard of. Look at the range of components and the quality of the items. Don’t go by the number of items either, since advertised figures are over-inflated by counting every single object inside.
Unfortunately, the bottom line with automotive emergency kit is that the kit will likely be just the start. Be ready to spend some extra money to customize it and add your own equipment to the mix.
Here’s our checklist:
Jumper cables: Look for ones that not only have red and black cables but are marked for polarity to prevent potentially dangerous errors. The minimum length should be 8-feet but 10 plus foot cables are more convenient.
Tire inflator: Essential kit, even if it only offers enough to limp to a service station. The best ones can fill a tire in a few minutes, though their pressure gauges can be inaccurate. It’s best to also have a pencil tire gauge on hand, as well as a tire repair kit.
Fire extinguisher: Few emergency car kits have one when it should be the opposite. Not only can extinguishers save lives, they can also mean the difference between a charred wreck and a fixable car.
First aid kit: Fairly self explanatory, and best kept in a grab-and-go bag for emergencies. Mine includes bandages, gauze pads and adhesive tape, antiseptic, burn cream and an ice pack. Scissors, latex gloves and tweezers are also good ideas.
OBD-II scanner: The best OBD-II scanners can easily fit in your glove box, and can be the difference between identifying a dangerous engine fault and a mere loose gas cap.
Tools: The right tools can be the difference between fixing a loose accessory belt and sitting on the hood waiting hours for help. Start with a hammer, adjustable wrench, pliers and screwdrivers and add a set of sockets and some hex keys. Some emergency kits come with a leatherman-style tool, which whole not ideal is better than nothing
Flashlight and reflective gear: Breakdowns happen at the worst time, it’s a good idea to have a flashlight, reflective triangles and a reflective vest. Glow sticks and a blinking warning light are also very useful.
All-weather gear: Weather never cooperates, so be prepared for all outcomes. That includes keeping a poncho, gloves, and a snap-together shovel to handle all eventualities.
Tow strap: Because you might need to have your car pulled out of a muddy road shoulder. Your tow strap should be rated to handle at least double the car’s weight, and something that can handle four tons is a good place to start.
Emergency fuses and tape: A set of fuses can get you back on the road after electrical problems, while heavy-duty duct tape is useful in all sorts of settings - be it a stripped wire or to prevent parts falling off your car .
Other useful kit: A bungee cord can keep a crumpled hood in place long enough to get home while a whistle can help alert those driving by of a hazard and they might even stop to help. Meanwhile a combo glass breaker and seatbelt cutter can help get out of a burning or sinking car.
A roadside assistance plan: Some breakdowns will need professional help. Some kits include this, so if you don’t have auto club or other break-down service, this one item can be worth the price of the entire kit.
How we test roadside emergency kits
To test roadside emergency kits and separate the good from the bad and the ugly, we start with the bag it came in. That involves measuring and weighing a fully-loaded bag, while also checking for ruggedness and extra features like reflective strips.
This was followed up by checking if there was room for additional equipment that hadn’t been included, and checking for any dividers that will help interior organization. The final bag test was seeing if it would fit under the seat of our test car — a 2014 Audi A4 AllRoad.
Each kit’s contents were checked against the checklist in the previous section. Rather than counting individual items, as manufacturers are wont to do, the contents were grouped into major categories and checked over one by one.
Important things we went looking for were dedicated polarity markings on jumper cables, whether the tow straps had hooks, and what sort of nighttime equipment was included. if the kit had a hand-cranked flashlight, we’d test the battery by cranking it 20 times and seeing how long it lasted.
The performance of any air compressor/tire inflator was timed, checking to see how long it would take to from 20 pounds per square inch to 35 psi in a front tire. Once done the compressor’s built-in pressure gauge was compared against a standalone gauge.
For those kits that included a fire extinguisher, we looked at the size and type as well as the spray’s rated duration. For the first aid kit, one of the most important items, we checked the contents for the kind of things you’d need for a roadside emergency: Gauze pads, bandages, tape, gloves and antiseptics, plus scissors, tweezers and other medical tools.
Checking the toolkits involved checking what tools were actually included, plus any accouterments like tape, electrical fuses or gloves. The same was true of any multi-tools that may have been included instead. On the rare occasion a kit included roadside assistance coverage, we checked out the company involved and what the plan actually included.