Car Prep

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

I clearly remember my father instructing me on being prepared when I first got my driver’s permit. Not just knowing about the mechanics of actually driving the car, nor about being vigilant regarding the cars around me, but specifically about having a kit in the trunk of the car for emergencies. Being prepared. 

I’ve modified the contents over the years and updated a lot. I’ve included much of what I carry in the trunk of my vehicle, which may be more than many need. Given that I still participate in my son’s Scouting activities, I carry equipment that others may not need or want. Being one of the physicians in the troop, I also carry more than the basic first aid equipment.

This discussion is mostly about basic gear that I believe most people would benefit by carrying in their vehicle.

I have a sturdy black footlocker in the trunk. It’s leftover from camping years ago. It’s worn, but fully functional. Here’s the gear:

Cash. keep as much cash as you believe is appropriate, stashed somewhere in the car. A few dollars can be extremely helpful in a pinch.

Battery charger. Yes, I do have battery cables from years ago, and they are 20-foot, heavy gauge cables. However, these days, the book-sized portable battery car starters are the ones I recommend. You can jump start your car by yourself, not needing a anyone else to help you start your car. The trick is to remember to keep this battery charged. I recommend putting reminders in your cell phone to periodically charge this device.

Cross tire lug wrench and bottle jack. To change a tire, a sturdy jack is worth the investment, along with a dedicated tire iron.

Cans of Fix a Flat. Two or three of these cans can help inflate a tire if the puncture is small, and seal a tiny leak.

Water. You can store a few plastic water bottles, packaged water or whatever works for you. Warm water still hydrates.

Flashlight and headlamp. A headlamp allows you to illuminate the area while keeping your hands free. Again, if it’s rechargeable, remember to keep it charged. Having spare batteries is a good idea.

Basic tool kit. A few tools go a long way.

Basic first aid kit. Stock with whatever medications, EpiPen or specifics you may need.

Fire extinguisher. There are many available that are small, and easily fit in a car.

Clothing. Spare shoes, socks, shirt, jacket, hat, gloves.


Flares or battery operated flashing lights. If your car is stalled by the side of the road at night, these will help others see you.

Car operated tire inflator. This can be used if the tire is flat and inflate it on the road. They plug into the car’s 12-volt outlet (cigarette lighter…). Also, a tire pressure gauge, to assess how inflated your tire is.

Portable usb battery charger for your cell phone

Large moving blanket. These are available in the moving section of most big box stores, and are invaluable for covering items, placing on the ground and protection.

Miscellaneous. Consider adding rope, duct tape, non-perishable snacks, work gloves, trash bags, paper maps, bungee cords, hand wipes, paper towels, pens and paper, knife, scissors. 

This may seem to be quite a lot, and it can be. I’ve prepared these items over decades. You may already have most or all of these items. If not, start slowly and build up as needed. 

Then drive safely and enjoy the journey!

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at

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