Be Prepared: Precautionary Packing Tips for Your Car

ParentMap and Carter Subaru have partnered to bring you helpful content related to car safety and maintenance. This month: Precautionary Packing Tips for Your Car.

Cute boy in carSchool papers, toys, empty water bottles — these all litter a parent’s car at one time or another. You know what you have in your car, but do you know what you should have in your car? You never know when you’ll break down or get stuck in traffic, but when you do, you’ve got to be prepared.

We asked Jennifer Cook, senior manager of corporate communications at the Automobile Association of America, Washington (AAA), what the prepared parent has in his or her car. “For passengers, you should have a year-round kit that is refreshed a few times a year,” she recommends.

Your car kit should include:

  • Two to three days’ worth of food (high-protein, nonperishable, low-sodium)
  • Water (one large bottle for each person)
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra seasonal clothing and a change of shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Emergency blankets
  • Supply of essential medications

Emergency gear changes with the seasons, says Cook. A winter kit should include:

  • Abrasive material (kitty litter, sand) or traction mats
  • Small snow shovel
  • Snow brush
  • Flashlight with new batteries
  • Gloves
  • Ice scraper
  • Rag or paper towels
  • Window washing solvent
  • Booster cables
  • Tire inflator can
  • Blanket
  • Warning flares or triangles
  • Charged cell phone
  • Paper and pen (in case you have to leave a note on your car)

A summer driving kit doesn’t require the snow items above, but should include water or coolant for the car; and if you’ll be heading to the mountains, depending on the weather, you may need both summer and winter items. If you prefer to buy assembled emergency kits, know the contents, Cook says. Emergency kits can differ considerably, and you want one that will work for you.

For long trips, says Cook, “One of the best precautionary things you can do before leaving the driveway is to have a maintenance inspection done on your vehicle. This will identify any items — such as tires or belts — that are worn to the point that they could fail when you put the stress of a long road trip on them. Summer heat can be just as hard on your battery as winter cold. Have it tested to make sure it doesn’t fail you when you’re a long way from home. “You can carry a small tool kit if you’re mechanically savvy, but if you don’t know anything about a car engine, you can do more damage trying to fix it than the actual malfunction, ” she warns. “It’s best to have a motor club membership, such as AAA, if you are not able to fix things yourself,” says Cook.

 “Also, before you leave home, be sure that you have a properly fitting child restraint for each child and that they are correctly secured in the vehicle.” Parents can get help with child restraints at

Danger! Distracted Driving!
Be careful! Distractions are one of the leading causes of traffic crashes, says Cook. And for parents, children are the leading causes of distractions, aren’t they? “The younger the child, the more of a distraction they’ll be,” Cook says. Some tips:

  • Make sure your children are settled with the items they’ll need before you leave.
  • Always pull over to a safe location to get items or help children.
  • Put your cell phone away or turn it off while on the road.

Are we there yet?
What about the kids? How do we keep kids happy in the car? DVD players are popular with parents and kids. “We took my two grandkids, Jaylen, 9, and Hailey, 8, to Louisiana from Virginia. They both had DVD players. Best thing ever!'' says Virginia grandma Liz Blanchard. “Twelve hundred miles one-way and Jaylen will tell you it takes 13 movies to get there.” Bothell mom Penny Wright goes one step further. When she takes daughters, Madeline, 6, and Annika, 4, on long trips, she buys a Barbie DVD specifically for the trip. “They'll watch it several times, enthralled,” she says. (See related article, Road-Tested Tips for Stress-Free Road Trips with Young Kids.)

Child happiness is important even on short trips, or in unanticipated traffic slowdowns. One solution is the alphabet game, where they try to find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, and the first to complete the alphabet wins. You can also fill a jar with small items, add enough sand to obscure them, glue the jar shut and have the kids look for all of the items. Depending on your child’s age, you might want to include puzzle books, Mad Libs, a joke book, and electronic games.

Snacks should be readily available and easily digestible, says Arlington mom Bernadette Geyer. Dairy and heavy foods can contribute to car sickness, she warns.

Kelli DeKay, mother of two and a seasoned carpooler from Kenmore, keeps a container of baby wipes and antibacterial lotion on hand. She also stores extra clothes and pajamas for her children in nylon drawstring bags that she hangs over the back of each child’s seat. She changes the clothing in the bags by season, so they’re always weather-appropriate and the right size. Different families may have different needs (like diapers), so make sure you keep those covered as well.  

Maria Bellos Fisher is a freelance writer, blogger and the distracted driver of a preschooler and a toddler. Her blog, Hereditary Insanity: Surviving Family by the Grace of Madness, is at

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