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URBAN SURVIVAL: The Vehicle Emergency Kit

Puppies may be delicious but they are of no use to you if you become stranded

As most of you know I am not really a fan of the BOB and I think the E&E bag is best suited to CIA agents and Ninjas. But one type of bag or kit I think everyone should have is a Vehicle Emergency Kit.

I have been stranded out in the middle of nowhere after my car broke down two times, once way in the mountains in the middle of winter in Virginia and once in the desert in the Middle East.

Both times I was stranded I was seriously unprepared, I was hungry and freezing my ass of in Virginia and the other time I couldn’t get a cell signal (and my phone battery died) when I was stranded in the desert.

Despite working as a civilian contractor and generally being involved in the survival community for most for my life I still catch myself being complacent. So after screwing up and being completely unprepared two times I put together a list of basic things to keep in my trunk in case of emergencies.

– Full sized Shovel: not a folding shovel, and actual full length shovel.

– 10 Road Flares: these are not only good for signaling and preventing people from crashing into your car but you can use them for starting a campfire.

– Water: Both drinking water (I just use bottled water that I replace every month) and water for your car (I keep the old bottled water for that).

– Disposable/Portable Car Battery Jump Starter: these go by names like “Auto Emergency Jump Start Battery”, “Power Pack Car Battery Charger Start” and a bunch of other names. It is hand-held a battery that you plug into your cigarette lighter that will trickle-charge or straight-up jump start your car.

– Cyalume Chemical Light Sticks: their is nothing more annoying than sitting in the dark all night in your car.

– Battery Powered LED Lantern: These are way better than a regular flashlight especially if you are digging or doing something with both of your hands.

– Handheld Flashlight: In my opinion you can go with a chicom flashlight from Wal-Mart if you want, no need to keep a 200 dollar light in your trunk (unless you have the bread).

– Duct Tape: No explanation needed

– Jumper cables: You won’t believe how many guys (who are otherwise squared away) don’t have jumper cables in their car (or they are so old they probably won’t even work without barbecuing someone)

– Fixed Blade Knife: Anything from a K-Bar copy to a short machete, no need for anything expensive. I keep a 15 dollar meat cleaver in the trunk, it is a great utility knife.

– Blanket: A real blanket (like you would use on your bed) or a sleeping bag. When I was stranded in the mountains in VA I had a cheap surplus blanket in my car, it didn’t keep me warm for shit.

– Cheap Rifle and some Ammo (if legal and you choose to, this is optional): I keep a Mosin-Nagant and a box of ammo all wrapped in 3 heavy duty glad bags with a bunch of anti-moisture packs and cleaning kit. When I was stranded in the mountains I swear I saw/heard a bear, I had a .38 stub nosed with me, but I figured that would only be good for shooting myself to avoid being eaten alive by a bear. Plus, you can’t go wrong with having a rifle handy.

– Full Sized Spare tire: The doughnut spare tire isn’t worth a shit, I tried to use one once and it fell apart (I was going like 60 MPH so it was on me).

– Full Sized Car Jack: The car jack that came with your car sucks, buy a “real” hydraulic jack from sears.

– First Aid Kit: I use a kit similar to my combat FAK but I add basic things like band-aids and aspirin. More info on a Putting Together a First Aid kit here.

– Food: This will depend on the weather where you live, some guys can get away with canned food, some MRE’s and some (like when I was in the Middle East) should used expensive freeze dried camping food. You will need about one day worth of food per-person, based on how many people are usually in your car.

– Car Charger for your phone: You should have one of these anyway.

– Handheld CB Radio: Only if you can afford one, this is more of a Vehicle Emergency Kit “luxury” item.

– Pair of Prescription Glasses: If you normally wear contacts keep a pair of glasses in your glove box, just imagine trying to walk out from being stranded after your contact popped out.

– Other: Screwdriver (Phillips and flat head), pliers, extra batteries, adjustable wrench, vice grips, 3 quarts of oil, bottle of antifreeze, car fuses (you will thank me for this one), windshield scraper (with long handle, even if you live in non-snowing states), notepad and sharpie, baby wipes, hefty paper towels, can of fix-a-flat (may or may not work), box of Glad brand heavy duty 3-ply garbage bags, a bucket and a bottle of Listerine.

Note: I am writing this out of memory so I may have forgotten a few things – also please feel free to post the items of your own Vehicle Emergency Kit, I am interested to hear what other people are using so I can add new things to my kit.


~James G
Founder – Editor in Chief

James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long. He spends his off time in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns, writing poorly written articles and fending off killer bears with a 38.

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  1. Tow strap, rope, paracord, zip ties, I also keep a hatchet and a folding saw. And keep most of my “survival” oriented items in a camelbak hawg should I actually have to leave my vehicle for one reason or another. A little money in a mixture of coins and cash, some bungee cords. I knew one guy who worked for DOD who kept spare upper and lower radiator hoses, as well as a spare drive belt for his pickup

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  2. I wish road flares weren’t so damn expensive. My one addition is a (relatively) inexpensive portable AED.

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  3. I wish road flares weren’t so damn expensive.

    The most economical way to buy flares is to buy a case with a few other guys at work and split them up, you will get a cheaper price. I just saw a case of 36 30-Minuite Flares online for 109.99, that’s about 3 bucks a piece.

    ~James G

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  4. Nice. Can you link me to those?

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  5. I keep a good pair of gloves around in case I have to wrench on my car in less than favorable conditions. I use box handler gloves for my job and I have a spare pair in case of emergency, they’re a little pricey, but they are reinforced and provide a good grip.

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    • These also require a $25 haz-mat shipping fee, so I don’t know if its such a good deal :-/

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  6. Ballistol or WD-40 is also a must have and maybe catnip/sand/puppies for traction if you live somewhere with wonderful snow and other common devil spawns.

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  7. “When I was stranded in the mountains I swear I saw/heard a bear, I had a .38 stub nosed with me, but I figured that would only be good for shooting myself to avoid being eaten alive by a bear.”

    Reminds me of a time when a buddy an I were talking guns and I was showing him my .38. He said, “If you are ever in bear country, be sure you file the sights off.”
    “Huh?” I said.
    “Because if you shoot a bear with that he’s gonna shove it up your ass.”

    Be sure to keep one round in your FAK.

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  8. Great list. I have most of that in the back of my rig but you gave me some good ideas. I also carry a fire extinguisher, ropes, tow straps, good pair of gloves, ski mask (great if you have to knock over a 7-11), rain poncho, at least one extra loaded mag for my CC gun, my camelback that has CO2 for tire inflating, some basic tools, half a jug of antifreeze, 4 or 5 bottles of beer, a damned good mountainbike on the rack on back (most all the time), a heavy coat, a couple folding camp chairs, and I don’t know what all else, but it’s a lot. Friends joke that I could live a year out of my rig. I might try that some day…

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  9. i guess its a given since you listed a decent jack, but a tire iron is a must. to make it easy i painted the end for the lugnut size my car has. a little brake or trans fluid not a bad idea either and a small or large gas can with gas. though at times i don’t have all of those items either, but try to have the most critical, fix a flat, jumper cables, air compressor, patch kit. jack , tire iron and tools

    sure i forgot something

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  10. I saw fire extinguisher earlier which I had forgotten about but that s a good idea to have, not as a survival item but as a safety item.

    Something people seem to forget is clothes. When I make long drives in winter (which I do on a regular basis) I do not wear clothes that I would want to be outside in longer than it takes to fill a gas tank. If you get stranded you might want at least a heavier coat than normal, maybe some long johns, maybe a set of insulated coveralls [that last was what my dad always told me to pack]. Something so that you can be outside doing stuff in and not need to be hopping around doing said stuff in your sleeping bag. (Which I forgot to mention but a good cold weather sleeping bag never hurts, along with your blanket.)

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  11. The tire iron is important, get one with leverage, the POS that comes with the car might not be enough to loosen the bolts from your tire unless your name is Arnold.

    A thin rain jacket is nice to have because it always seems to rain when you break down, I also have an old hoodie in it if it gets cold. If you need to stay overnight somewhere one of the little freebies that they give you in long-haul flights might be nice to have.

    I missed the warning triangle, guess it is a given, get a couple of cheap plastic ones. When you secure an accident site odds are that you have to leave them there. Also the working gloves are a must, I learned the hard way, mine are now attached to the back of the emercency kit.

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  12. I have a single shot 12 gauge as my truck gun, with a variety of ammo for different needs. If I ever needed extra ammo, I can find 12 gauge at any mom & pop store in the U.S., but finding extra 7.62x54r might be a problem. There’s nothing quite as simple and reliable as a break action single shot shotgun – and very PC if you ever have to go before a jury. Of course I also carry my Glock with multiple mags for close up work.

    I also keep one of the shaker-magneto flashlights in the vehicle as a backup in case all the battery powered lights fail. Some cheap fishing gear comes in handy and the fishing line has multiple purposes. I have thought about buying one of those solar panels for keeping your vehicle battery charged up. It looks like a good product, is not too expensive, and would be a lifesaver if you were stuck for several days and ran out of fuel.

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  13. One everybody forgets: Tire Chains, this really only matters if you live in a state that has snow fall on a regular basis. Even though I have 4wd and decent tires, tire chains are great when the snow turns to ice. To store this in I recommend a Rubbermaid Action Packer, think Rubbermaid tote on steroids, they work great and mine stays in the tool box of my truck year round. Plus if for some reason you have to take a different car, you just have one thing to grab. I also have two VS-17 panels in my truck as well to help me get spotted from the air if I need it. And as far as tow straps, have multiples, they don’t take much room and you have extra length if you need it. One that if you have room I recommend as well, a come-along, theyre like a hand powered winch.

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  14. i dont know about you Yankee’s,but i can tell you if you ever make a run to the south better add some bug juice to your kit. trying to sit in your hot humid car all night is bad enough,not being able to roll down the window because of the swarm of blood suckers just waiting for a chance to get at you is unbearable. the baby wipe kind, work well enough and if you hang them from the back of your hat or around window openings it will do double duty.

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  15. ultrathon is the best bug juice ive ever used by the way.

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  16. H+K signal-flare gun, where no rifle is allowed. Perfect for making noise, sending out a signal (red, green, yellow, etc.) in case of emergency and honestly, a good and simple less-lethal gun.

    The ones you can find are licensed copies from Poland, but I can’t find a (working) difference to an original H+K version.

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    • I found your weblog webtise on google and test a number of of your early posts. Continue to keep up the excellent operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. In search of ahead to reading extra from you afterward!…

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  17. Food: lifeboat rations have a 5yr shelf life and hold up pretty well in a trunk
    -lots of other good ideas on here, though it sucks not having concealed storage in my 4runner

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  18. In addition to the comment I made above, I’ve got 6 or 7 various MRE’s, a box of power bars, a couple full water containers, and recently added a water filter bottle that wiil filter out 99% of anything that could hurt you. Scoop up muddy water from a puddle, a few minutes later you drink it.

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  19. Now being a mechanic I would love to know the types of cars you have, as if it is a truck with a tool box you are fine, but for others most of this stuff would not fit in the trunk of a car today.

    I have a truck and car, most of the items described are in my tool box, in the back of my truck, however half of this stuff would not fit in the trunk of my car, and leave room for grocery shopping.

    I would say that some of the list needs to trimmed, and the items like a a full size jack, be placed in the car when on a trip.

    I do agree about the full size tire but again space is the issue, most cars I see that are later models have a full size tire.

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  20. Don’t forget a roll of toilet paper.

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  21. Fuses! You need extra fuses especially if your booster pack that you plugged into the cigarette lighter blows that fuse.

    Find out what type of fuses your car uses (If it is an older European car they can be hard to find) and get multiples of all the amperages. Then you have backups and can step up the amperage if something isn’t working right and it is more important to get out than to have a safe electrical system.

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  22. Wow, a lot of great ideas to add to my kit.

    A few things I keep in my vehicle(s) is a Hanies Repair Manual for the year/make/model of my car. Either on the road or at home this book has helped get me quickly on the road again, and saved me boat loads of cash in what could have been major repair bills

    A cheap 2 way flashlight with a magnant and a hook on it in my car. Being able to shine light from an odd angle fastened to the car in the day time let alone the middle of the night has been huge factor.

    For @ $10 you can pick up a flat tire repair kit from the Walmarts, if you have extra cash a small air compressor that plugs in to the cigerette lighter is smart too. After running over a nail on my full sized spare, it was quickly repaired long engough to get me a new tire.

    Something I have learned from my cousin who is a truck driver is to have a breaker bar with a spark plug socket that fits your lug nuts. If kneeling down would present a problem (or if your back is facing the road), you can easily break the lug nuts free with leverage. This can also double as an impact weapon IF need be.

    Also if you have the extra dough, a pocket charger for your cell phone and a pack of extra batteries to go with it incase your car battery is dead. They can be picked up at the Shack for about $20. (Solar chargers SUCK! Specially at night.). Also an extra charged battery or 2 for your cell phone does not hurt. I keep a couple in the car and rotate on a regular basis on my in home stand alone wall / desk charger (Also good for use when power goes out at home, however I guess that is a different post).

    Lastly, suggested by my wife, coloring books, crayons, toys, hand held/travel games, juice boxes, and some hard candy for the youngins. Keeps them occupied for a bit.

      Scoutmaster ROC(Quote This Comment)

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