What’s in your trunk? Most people lack even the basics to protect themselves in case of an emergency on the road.

You’ve seen it before — some poor sap stuck on the side of the road, standing by his car and waiting for help. Or maybe you remember the time a guy approached you in a parking lot looking for jumper cables because his battery was dead.

Situations like this happen all too often. And according to a recent study from State Farm, only 5 percent of drivers carry all the emergency supplies they should have in their cars.

State Farm includes a list of the supplies, but we’ll go a few steps further and help you build most of the kit — and a few other things you might need — on a budget.

1. Getting the basic emergency kit

State Farm’s basic kit includes the following…

  • Hazard triangle (with reflectors) or road flares
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Windshield scraper and brush
  • Spare tire with a working jack
  • Blankets and extra warm clothing
  • Cell phone and charger
  • High-calorie, non-perishable food
  • Road salt or cat litter to help with tire traction
  • Brightly colored distress sign or “Help” or “Call Police” flag
  • Candle/matches, lighter, and/or flashlight
  • Tarp for sitting or kneeling in the snow for exterior work like a tire change

While you can find a lot of these items bundled into affordable kits on Amazon — for instance, a 42-piece AAA-approved kit goes for around $25 — make sure they actually have what you need. Many come with stuff that sounds useful but doesn’t cover the basics.

Especially watch out for kits that sound like a bargain (100 pieces for $30!) that actually inflate the number of pieces by individually counting each plastic bag, brochure, or bandage in the first aid kit.

You can probably fill in the blanks cheaply at a dollar store or, in the case of things like cat litter or blankets, at a local supermarket when they’re on sale.

2.Supplementary items for winter driving

Consumer Reports recently compiled two additional lists for driver safety in certain kinds of situations. The winter driving list includes these add-ons…

  • Tire chains and tow straps
  • Chemical hand warmers
  • Small folding shovel

Tire chains can be expensive, but if you go on eBay you’ll find a variety of bargain chains especially suited for your car or truck. One gentleman came up with a cheaper alternative to tire chains — a snow rope. But don’t mess with this technique unless you’re sure you understand it, and that it won’t damage your vehicle.

Another option made for slippery situations is a product called Tyre-Grip. This spray-on product can be purchased for around $25 — but it’s not recommended for extreme snow conditions.

The hand warmers can be had for less than $1 each on Amazon, but you get a better value when you buy in bulk. The shovel will probably run about $20.

3. Additional items for long-distance driving

If you’re on a road trip with the family, preparing for emergency situations is a must. Consumer Reports recommends…

  • Screwdrivers, socket set, pliers
  • Coolant hose repair kit and tape
  • Extra clothes
  • Drinking water
  • GPS
  • Foam tire sealant

You can pick up a can of Fix-a-Flat and the hose repair kit cheaply at an auto parts store, and the rest you probably already have around the house.

Maintain your kit

You don’t want to end up in a situation you thought you prepared for, only to find you really weren’t. Once you’ve assembled your emergency car kit, don’t forget to check the items a few times a year to make sure they’re in working condition.

According to the State Farm study, 38 percent of drivers with emergency supplies say they check that their supplies are working at least twice a year or more, which is the recommended frequency. Thirty-one percent of drivers say they only check once a year, and 32 percent say they’ve never checked.

“Ensuring that the roadside emergency equipment in your vehicle works properly is often overlooked,” says John Nepomuceno, auto safety research administrator for State Farm. “In fact, according to the State Farm survey, a majority of drivers with emergency car supplies are putting themselves at risk by failing to regularly check that their equipment is working properly. The only thing worse than getting a flat tire is finding out that your spare is also flat.”

Meet the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski


Bienkowski is a contributing writer and is the face of Debt.com's 'By the Numbers' videos.

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Article last modified on October 14, 2016 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How to build an emergency car kit on a budget - AMP.