The 5 best roadside emergency car kits, backed by a paramedic
- Roadside emergency car kits provide all-in-one assistance in the event your vehicle breaks down.
- We spoke to Arthur Pliaconis, RN, NRP, who highlighted essential items to store in your car and how to use them.
- Our top pick, Swiss Safe’s Ultimate Roadside Kit, is packed with essentials like first aid supplies and jumper cables.
Let’s face it, there’s never a convenient time for your car to break down. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on your commute to work, running to the store for groceries, or on a cross-country road trip; when your car stalls out, it’s going to be stress-inducing.
Some of that stress can be alleviated, however, with a properly equipped roadside emergency car kit, which, like your wallet or cell phone, is one of those items you shouldn’t leave home without.
A roadside emergency car kit is usually equipped with a number of useful tools and accessories designed to keep you safe while parked alongside a busy highway. These kits often include such things as a first aid kit, a flashlight, safety cones, flares, and other items to help you stay visible to passing traffic. Some kits even include basic tools to assist with minor repairs, as well.
While it’s certainly possible to piece together your own kit, collecting everything you might want to include can take time and cost a fair amount of money. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent pre-made kits to choose from in a variety of sizes and price points. These highly convenient options make it easier to hit the road with confidence, knowing that should an unexpected breakdown occur, you’ll be well-equipped to deal with it.
We’ve identified the best roadside emergency kits to help ensure you’re well prepared. Our selections are based on a number of factors: The items contained in the kits, the quality of what’s included, whether any valuable items are missing, and the kits’ price points.
Many of these bundles include items the National Safety Council, Ready, and the American Automobile Association recommend in a roadside emergency kit, too. Two two of our picks even include a first-aid kit (one of our 14 essential winter car items), and they make excellent gifts for new drivers or for anyone who has a vehicle but doesn’t yet own one.
Here are the best roadside emergency car kits:
- Best roadside emergency car kit overall: Swiss Safe Ultimate Roadside Emergency Kit
- Best roadside emergency car kit for winter: Lifeline 4390 AAA Severe Weather Roadside Safety Kit
- Best roadside emergency car kit for frequent travelers: Autodeco Car Roadside Emergency Kit
- Best budget roadside emergency car kit: Cyecttr Car Emergency Kit
- Best roadside emergency kit for staying visible: Hokena LED Road Flares Roadside Emergency Kit
Updated on 4/6/2021 by Kraig Becker and Victoria Giardina: We interviewed Arthur Pliaconis, RN, NRP, a paramedic at Denver Health Paramedic Division and Coursera emergency medicine instructor to explain the essential products you should have on hand and how to effectively use them. We also completely overhauled the guide with all new selections.
The best overall
The Swiss Safe Ultimate Roadside Emergency Kit is stocked with plenty of essentials to help you survive an unexpected breakdown. Drop this kit in your trunk and you’ll be prepared for virtually anything.
Pros: Has a 348-piece first aid kit, 12-foot jumper cables, an emergency rain poncho, and a variety of handy tools all in a water-resistant and rugged nylon bag
Cons: Doesn’t come with a flashlight and is a bit pricier than other options
If you’re looking to purchase a convenient emergency car kit that includes everything you could possibly need in single package, it’s tough to top the Swiss Safe Ultimate Emergency Kit. This well-equipped option comes with so many handy tools that it’s hard to list them all here. After all, what other kit comes with a bungee cord, electrical tape, zip ties, and a compressed towelette (to name only a few)?
Other items included in the kit’s water-resistant and surprisingly durable storage bag include 12-foot jumper cables, an emergency rain poncho, and a pair of work gloves. You’ll also find a bright yellow safety vest and a set of glow sticks, both of which help increase visibility to passing drivers. The extra-loud emergency whistle could be a tremendous help in flagging down assistance during emergency situations, too.
The kit also comes with some very handy tools, including a reversible screwdriver, a tire gauge, and an 18-piece socket set. A durable ice scraper is a nice item to have on frosty mornings, as well. These items won’t replace a fully stocked tool kit of course, but they can handle some minor repairs without taking up too much space.
Perhaps the best item found in this emergency roadside kit is its excellent first aid kit. With 348-pieces — ranging from a variety of bandages and first aid tape to gauze pads and antiseptic wipes — this kit-within-the-kit will likely prove to be highly useful even when your car hasn’t broken down. That includes potentially rendering aid when another motorist has found themselves in an emergency situation. There’s even a first aid guide that provides procedures and advice for dealing with a wide variety of injuries and ailments.
This kit finds itself on the higher end of the price spectrum but considering everything that it delivers — in one convenient package, no less — it’s easy to recommend to any motorists looking for additional insurance. The kit won’t prevent your vehicle from breaking down, but it just might make sure that you get through such an experience in one piece.
The best for winter
Thanks to the inclusion of some cold-weather specific tools and gear, the Lifeline 4390 AAA Severe Weather Roadside Safety Kit is the one you’ll want with you should your car breakdown during winter.
Pros: Equipped with severe weather and winter-specific tools, includes shovel
Cons: Lacks some fundamental tools
When your car breaks down in the winter, the inclement weather and cold temperatures can add an additional level of stress and anxiety. Thankfully, the Lifeline 4390 AAA Severe Weather Roadside Safety Kit was designed specifically for those kinds of situations, packing in some additional gear designed to keep motorists warm and safe.
Endorsed by the American Automobile Association (better known as Triple-A or just AAA), this kit includes a set of hand warming packets, an emergency fire starter tool, and a fleece blanket and gloves. It even comes with a set of candles and bags of tea to brew up a warm drink. These accessories may not seem like much, but if you’re stranded on the roadside in freezing temperatures, they’ll be much appreciated.
Other items include a folding shovel to help move snow, an ice scraper, an emergency whistle, and a survival blanket that provides added warmth when paired with its fleece counterpart. A 45-piece first aid kit and a battery-operated flashlight rounds out the package, which comes in a durable carrying pack that includes the AAA logo embossed on the outside.
While the kit is nicely equipped for winter weather, I’d have liked to have seen a few additional basic items included. For instance, a reflective emergency vest and roadside triangle would be a good addition, as would a few simple tools such as a screwdriver or safety hammer. Curiously, a set of jumper cables are also not a part of the package, despite being an important accessory for use in cold conditions.
Despite these omissions, this kit is great option for motorists who frequently find themselves on the road in cold weather conditions. You’ll just want to be sure to augment the contents of the kit with a few additional tools to make up for some of the items it lacks.
The best for frequent travelers
Frequent travelers will find a lot to love in the Autodeco Car Roadside Emergency Kit as it’s packed with everything from an air compressor to a tow rope, proving that you can never be too prepared.
Pros: Comes standard with numerous items not found in other emergency car kits, and features a roadside triangle and yellow traffic vest for added visibility
Cons: First aid kit could be better stocked, included multitool is hard to use
Built for someone who prides themselves on always being prepared for disaster, the Autodeco Car Roadside Emergency Kit puts a surprising number of handy tools into one compact package. Its biggest strength is the line-up of unique items that simply aren’t found in most other kits of this kind.
This includes a tire repair kit that comes with a 12-volt compact air compressor for re-inflating a flat, as well as a multifunctional shovel and blade, a tow rope, and a hammer with a multitool in the handle. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a car fuse kit, a reflecting roadside warning triangle, and a compass.
Of course, this kit features plenty of the standard equipment you’d expect, too. For instance, it has a bright yellow emergency traffic vest, a rain poncho, and work gloves. The included jumper cables are also a very generous 13.5 feet in length and the inclusion of an emergency blanket, tire pressure gage, zip ties, and electrical tape are a nice touch, too.
If there’s one glaring weakness, it’s with the included first aid kit. Considering all the other items that come in this package, the number and quality of the medical supplies seem woefully lacking. Yes, there are some bandages, gauze, a tweezer, and a few other items, but overall it feels like somewhat of an afterthought. This is easily rectified by adding a fully-stocked first kit — or even just some additional medical supplies — of your own. But this product could have earned “best overall” honors had it delivered more in this area.
That said, the sheer number of other truly useful items found in this kit make it an exceptionally good choice for those who spend a lot of time on the road.
The best on a budget
The Cyecttr Car Emergency Kit provides everything most drivers need in a small, compact, and affordable package.
Pros: Budget-friendly price
Cons: No first aid kit, jumper cables could be longer
Motorists on a budget will find the Cyecttr Car Emergency Kit to be a great addition to any vehicle. The kit includes a well-rounded set of tools that may be lacking in quality but are still more than adequate enough to see them through an unexpected breakdown.
The kit comes with some important basic tools, including a set of jumper cables, a reflective warning triangle, rain poncho, screwdriver, and an LED flashlight. You’ll even find a 10-foot tow rope, reflective safety vest, a set of car fuses, and a tire pressure gauge are part of the package.
While I would have liked to have seen a few additional items included with the kit — most notably a first aid kit — a few corners were understandably cut to achieve a $25 price tag. My biggest gripe is that the included jumper cables are just 8 feet in length, which could be a bit short for use in some circumstances.
Still, it’s hard to be disappointed by a kit that delivers so much value in a such a compact package. If you’re looking for a simple, well-equipped roadside emergency car kit that doesn’t cost too much, it’s hard to top this one.
The best for staying visible
The Hokena LED Road Flares Roadside Emergency Kit greatly enhances visibility in low light and poor weather conditions, keeping stranded drivers much safer in the process.
Pros: Bright LED lights increases visibility and safety
Cons: Small selection of included tools, lights aren’t rechargeable
Best when used in conjunction with any of the above car kits, the Hokena LED Road Flares Roadside Emergency Kit is designed to enhance safety by improving visibility. Getting stranded on the side of the road after dark or when the weather is particularly bad can bring a whole new level danger, but these bright LED lights can help mitigate those risks substantially.
Designed to be set out on the ground around your vehicle or magnetically attached directly to it, these LED lights are bright and eye-catching. Much like traditional flares, they can be used to alert approaching traffic to your whereabouts, giving them plenty of time to slow down and move into another lane, providing a bubble of safety and security around your stranded car.
The lights themselves are rugged and waterproof, which makes them ideal for use in the outdoors and in inclement weather. They are also powered by AAA batteries and have nine different light modes — including a strobe setting — for attracting attention. The batteries come pre-installed and ready to use, which is useful in an emergency situation. That said, I’d have preferred that the flares were equipped with rechargeable power cells. Still, AAA batteries are very common, easy to find, and are often sold in roadside convenience stores.
While the LED lights are the main focus of this safety kit, it does come with a few additional tools that prove highly useful. For instance, it features two mylar safety blankets, a keychain screwdriver and emergency whistle, and a 2-in-1 window breaker and seat belt cutter tool.
Beyond being used for roadside illumination, these LED lights can be used around the house, on a boat, or in a variety of other environments too, making this an emergency kit that’s a versatile addition to your vehicle or home.
What should be in an emergency car kit?
Roadside emergency kits can come with more than 50 items, half of which you may not know how to use. It’s important to understand what to reach for first if you’re in an emergency. But regardless of the tools at your disposal, the most important first step is to stay calm.
“As an emergency responder with 13 years of urban experience, the biggest barrier to responders is panicked victims,” said Arthur Pliaconis, RN, NRP, a paramedic at Denver Health Paramedic Division and Coursera emergency medicine instructor. “While it’s understandable you might be upset, emotional, or distressed, you must do your best to control your panic response.”
He advises reserving 911 and EMS calls for true emergencies where a person is injured or personal safety is compromised or endangered.
Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, assessed your situation, and called for help if necessary, you can start to dig into your tool kit. Here’s a comprehensive list of materials Pliaconis recommends to stow away in your trunk or under the car seat:
- Food: This includes non-perishable items, like ready-to-eat meals, and meal replacement or high-calorie protein bars.
- Bottled water: Keep at least a gallon in your vehicle.
- Mouth barrier device: This is good to have for performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Pliaconis also recommends printing out how-to guides on bystander CPR to reference and keep in your car for emergencies.
- Warming or instant heat packets: Having several of these in your kit can help prevent hypothermia when stranded in winter conditions. Pliaconis advises rationing them out in gloves for your hands and socks for your feet.
- Flashlight with a rechargeable, solar, or crank battery: This is best used as an emergency signal, especially if stranded in dense woods to help guide responders to you. He recommends a flashlight with a strobe pattern, as flashing lights are more easily seen than steady ones.
- Emergency lights: These can come in the form of flares, reflective triangles, or LED light pods and make you easily visible and reflective at night. They can be easily moved, don’t burn out or require power, and remain upright. Pliaconis recommends using them as a barrier around you: place one about 100 steps from your vehicle, another walking back to the car about 30 to 40 steps, and then walk another 30 to 40 steps to place the last one. Most come in a set of three, and this allows some warning or oncoming traffic to slow down and begin to merge over. Pliaconis recommends not using hazard lights if your vehicle’s engine or battery is disabled to prevent battery power consumption that could be used for more life-saving issues. And, never stand in front of your disabled vehicle while on the shoulder because you may be struck and killed by your own vehicle if it is impacted by oncoming traffic.
- A traction device: Tire chains or shovels work equally as well to help you get out of stuck earth or snow.
- Navigation tools: Carry a GPS device if you’re going off-road or toward a rural area. This can be a smartwatch, cellphone, or GPS system that can provide coordinates to a medical professional for further assistance. And, for more remote areas, consider carrying an SOS beacon device.
- Essential medication: If you have prescriptions that are necessary to sustain your life, consider packing an emergency supply in the kit. This may include glucose tabs for people with diabetes.
- Tourniquets: Bandages are convenient for small cuts, but tourniquets are best to control heavy bleeding and, according to Pliaconis can save lives. Tourniquets should be applied to armpits or groins to stop fatal arterial bleeding from arms and legs, which may occur if you’ve experienced a particularly bad crash. Tourniquets, once applied, should not be removed until emergency aid is obtained by medical professionals. Pliaconis referenced a 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health, which found the risk of death from bleeding largely outweighs complications from long-term use of a tourniquet. Other options include pressure bandage dressings and special dressings impregnated with blood-clotting agents (hemostatic dressings).
Check out our other emergency kit guides
- The best first-aid kits
- The 5 best emergency kits
- 15 items for an emergency kit
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