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A must-have for road trips

Planning a long drive? Keep this kit in your car.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 5, 2012 2:30PM
Image: Man checking car tire pressure © Tetra Images/Tetra images/Getty ImagesHitting the road this summer? Put together a roadside emergency kit before you leave.

That's not paranoid, it's prudent -- even if you already belong to an auto club or your car insurance includes roadside emergency service.

In an article called "Roadside emergency kit: What to carry with you," Consumer Reports suggests carrying certain items in your car at all times. For example:
  • You'll want to put out some safety flares if your car gets stranded.
  • Your cell phone battery might run out.
  • If somebody skins a knee at the rest stop you'll have a Hello Kitty bandage at the ready.

You may already have some of this stuff. There's no reason to overpay for the rest. I've pulled together some frugal ways to create your own auto emergency kit. Start building it now, before you need it.

The tactics

Use one or more the following money-saving techniques any time you have to buy an item:

Cash-back shopping. Start online shopping through cash-back portals for rebates of 1% to 30%.

Discounted gift cards. Save 2% to 30% on retail cards through the secondary market. Compare prices through Gift Card Granny.

The Freecycle Network. You might not see what you want right away, but it'll be free when it shows up.

Free gift cards. Earn them by taking online surveys or using programs like Swagbucks and MyPoints.


Online discount codes. These work like coupons and can get you discounts, free shipping and more.

Price comparison websites. Aggregators like and let you shop by category or by specific item. Note: If you prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, use these sites to find the best deal at local retailers.

Yard sales. You never know what you’re going to find.

The wheels on the car

Drive around long enough and you'll probably get a flat. The following items will help you cope.

Foam tire sealant.
In an emergency situation this is a temporary fix for a minor puncture. Some drivers opt for portable compressors and plug kits.

Gloves/rags/hand cleaner.
Check the dollar store for cheap gloves. Hit an automotive supply shop or department store for waterless hand cleaner; wipe it off with rags cut from old shirts or worn-out towels.

Jack and lug wrench.
You probably already have these. If you're not sure, for heaven's sake go check.

Tire gauge.
Check your pressure regularly; don't forget the spare (if your car has one).

Other useful stuff

Just in case. Consumer Reports suggests $20 in small bills and change.

If you don't have one already, prepaid cells cost as little as $20. Get a car charger, too.

Fire extinguisher.
Consumer Reports suggests a compact model labeled "1A10BC" or "2A10BC."

First-aid kit.
Buy a ready-made one or put together your own.

You've probably already got one. Headlamps are even better because they leave your hands free.

Jumper cables/portable battery booster.
When driving in deserted areas a battery booster might be the better choice.

Paper and pen.
For notes on the windshield, for writing down accident info, to play hangman with the kids while you wait for the tow. Tear old printouts in half and staple together at one end for an instant notepad.

Spare fuses.
Some electrical problems can be fixed simply by replacing a burned-out fuse. Check the owner's manual.

Warning light/hazard triangle/flares.
Let other drivers know something's up, lest you be struck by an oncoming vehicle while you change a tire or call for help.

More on MSN Money:

Jun 6, 2012 7:14AM

I have lots of things with me when i travel: Toilet paper, soap, water, candy bars, blankets, rubber gloves, first aid kit, spare tire,

jack, fire extinguisher, matches, pens, walkie talkie, cell phone, 100 feet of rope, tow rope, jump box, can of oil, can of transmission fluid,

extra cans of gas (4), tow hitch, converter to 110 volts, microwave, fishing gear, shot gun, 357 hand gun, folding chairs, sleeping bag,

bug off, rolls of surgial tape, large lantern ( 3mil candle power), full tank of gas, rain gear, wadding boots, maps, fishing  box, tool kit,

fuses, electrical kit, portable toliet, life vests, bungee cords, couple of peices of plywood, pick and shovel, rake, Hurricane kit, small inflatable boat, snow chains, swiss knife, medicines, portable 12 volt TV, short wave radio, tent, flares, flashing lite, flare gun, pepper spray,

rubbers, deck of cards, cash money, jack, foam tire sealant, electrical tire pump, 5 gallon of spare water for motor coolant, cooler full of ice,

2 cases of beer, bags of dry food, my dog, 100 pounds of pet food,chain saw,cooking stove, charcoal bricks, cameras, extra batteries, 2 flashlights, GPS extra suit of clothes, walking shoes,Snake bite kit,winter coat and gloves, and then i put on a monkey suit and off we go. DAM i forgot the Car.

Jun 5, 2012 11:35PM
Water is a definite thing to have. If you live in an area that gets cold a blanket can be a lifesaver. Large trash bags have many uses. You could haul water, tape around a leaking radiator hose, cut a couple of holes in it for rain gear to keep dry while trying to do a repair. A small tool kit you can get at auto parts store's for aprox 30.00 will have lots of things that could get you back on the road
Jun 5, 2012 8:59PM

And your "comments" have exactly WHAT to do with a road trip?????

Jun 6, 2012 1:48AM
Beer has many uses, I just can't think of any right now.
Jun 6, 2012 3:36PM
I live in snow country, so I have the basic stuff than some seasonal items. In warm weather I keep a old pair of tennis shoes in case I need to walk. Since 80% of my time in the car is work related I'm usually dressed up and don't always have walking shoes on.
Winter I have a collapsible snow shovel, old snow boots, warm socks, mittens and hat. I also keep a bag of kitty litter for traction. If I haven't used at the end of the season I donate it to the local shelter.

Jun 5, 2012 11:10PM
Jun 6, 2012 4:13AM
Food and water, of course, would be brought along each time you traveled. The focus of this piece is to build a kit you leave in the car all the time.
Thanks to all for reading, and commenting.

Jun 11, 2012 8:20AM
Especially for women who often wear shoes for fashion rather than walking reasons, a spare pair of sneakers can be very handy if you wind up having to walk far! 

Also when travelling with kids, having games on hand is great.  We had a breakdown in Montana once, dad went with the tow truck to the nearest town, 20 miles away.  The kids (then early teens) and I played our newly-purchased National Parks monopoly game for a few hours.  Yeah, they had electronic games, but this was much nicer, all three of us were actually is one of our great family memories, us sitting by the side of road in the middle of nowhere, playing monopoly!
Jun 7, 2012 9:05PM

Flashlights are useful only to get the trunk open especially when trying to change the tire alone without someone to hold the light. Opt for a rechargeable camping lantern if you will be traveling any distance at night.


Replacing the wimpy, fold down tire irons make changing a tire a lot easier when the driving can just stand on the tire iron, balancing with hands on the car then rock slightly to the left to get lug-nuts loosened.

Jun 6, 2012 5:47AM
a battery operated pop corn popper would make any roadside situation much more enjoyable.

Jun 16, 2012 12:03PM
Even when not traveling I keep a cheap plastic 10'x10' tarp (the kind they sell in the paint sections of stores - it takes up almost no space at all) and an old rain-resistant jacket in the trunk in case I get a flat in bad weather.  I always keep a cell phone charger in the glove compartment.
I also keep "Band-Aid Plus Antibiotic" bandages in my car (and in my bicycle bag).

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.