Building Your Own Emergency Roadside Kit

The one emergency nearly all of us will face at one time or another is a roadside vehicle breakdown or mishap. Most drivers, however, are woefully unprepared for such emergencies and have only a vehicle jack and a lug wrench to change a flat tire and perhaps a set of jumper cables. These are important items, to be sure, but comprise just a tiny fraction of the items that should be in every person’s emergency roadside kit. Indeed, a well-stocked, emergency roadside kit can not only save you time and frustration, but it can also save your life, especially if your suffer a mishap or breakdown at night on a busy highway.

Assembling the items that you need for an emergency roadside kit is surprisingly easy. All you need is about $100 dollars and about one hour to put together a kit that will provide you with most of the items that you will need in an emergency. The easiest route is to buy a ready-made kit like those found in auto-parts stores or on the Internet, but these kits often lack many of essential items required to get you through a crisis. In my opinion, the best option is to buy a ready-made kit and augment the contents with the additional items that you need. You’ll also want to add those items that meet your own personal needs and the needs of your climate. These can include things like snow chains and cat litter for traction, medications, pet food, and extra water for hot climates. Building your own kit will not only save you money, but will also make you more familiar with the kit’s contents.

Obviously, you’ll want to have an emergency roadside kit for each vehicle or RV that you own. I built the kit for my pickup truck from scratch using many items and tools I already had on-hand and bought only those items that I needed to complete the kit. As for my Jeep, I started off with Bell’s 56-piece emergency roadside kit, which set me back $23. Like I said earlier, ready-made kits like Bell’s are a decent starting point but that’s all they really are. The kit includes just a couple hand tools and the first aid kit is little more than a “boo-boo” kit with only band aids and alcohol wipes. More items need to be added to the kit to make it effective and useful.

Here are the basic items I recommend (this list assumes you already have a vehicle jack and lug wrench for changing flat tires):

Emergency Roadside Kit: 

  • Signal Flares (3 ea)
  • Warning Triangle
  • Flashlight (solar or battery powered)
  • Jumper Cables (heavy gauge)
  • Tow Strap (sized appropriately for the weight of your vehicle)
  • Silicone Repair Tape (for leaking radiator hoses)
  • Gloves
  • Bungee Cord
  • Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Hand Tools (Adjustable Wrench, Screwdriver, pliers, hammer, etc.)
  • First Aid Kit (should include gauze, bandages, butterfly sutures, anti-biotic ointment, burn cream, Ibuprofen and aspirin, tweezers, a roll of surgical tape, disposable gloves, sunblock, and alcohol wipes).
  • Glow Sticks (3 ea.)
  • Duct Tape (small roll)
  • Electrical Tape (small roll)
  • Water (1 gallon per person)
  • Energy Bars (6 ea)
  • Shop Rags
  • 12 volt Fuses
  • Fix-a-flat (1 can)
  • Safety Seal Tire Repair Kit
  • Rain Poncho (2 ea)
  • Zip Ties
  • Knife
  • Compass
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Reflective Vest
  • Hat

Cold Weather Items:

Personal and Pet Items:

  • Medications
  • Pet Food

Your thoughts on this list and any suggestions for additional items is welcome.

About Mello Mike 728 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top. - KK7TCA

11 Comments

  1. This is definitely something I should be putting together for my truck. I'm living by myself about an hour away from anybody I know. If I ever have an emergency it would be really helpful to have an emergency kit to help me get through it more easily. I've never really thought about having a better first-aid kit before. It really makes sense though. It's way to easy to get hurt to not have one.
    http://www.tiretownnorth.net/Services/

  2. Any of us wrenchers should be able to mount a properly shaped grounding point to our rigs. We can't do much for the ground point on a stranger's vehicle with a dead battery, but we can be sure to have our own. It sucks if you are trying to use the "approved method" of attaching the last negative connection to ground and can't find something other than plastic, painted surfaces or something that your clamp just can't get a bite into.

    My wife just showed me the $50 she put in my truck's glove box. Now we just need to get it broken down into smaller bills!

  3. I would add a tire repair kit. Fix-a-flat has left me less than happy more than once. I like the Gorilla kits that include a t-handle rasp for cleaning out a "wound", glue, prepared plugs and a t-handle insert tool. They have made for many permanent fixes for me, even sealing a large hole at the edge of my tread, angled in towards the sidewall. I know – bad idea in most cases, but it held long enough for me to get a replacement pair of tires (they were old Big-O tires, worn and getting wavy sides…)

    My wife told me yesterday that my glove compartment had some e-cash in it. $50. I didn't know. Nice to have, but we need to break it down into a bills smaller than that.

    As for jumping – the "approved method" of making the final connection to ground on the dead vehicle can sometimes be a pain. Occasionally, there is no obvious ground point to be had. Paint, plastic and improperly shaped engine ground possibilities can get in the way. Not much you can do about that in a stranger's vehicle, but you can take care of it for your own benefit. If you don't have a good ground, make one. Any of us should be anchor a suitable connection beneath a bracket nut, or by replacing a shot bolt with something longer. Just one little project to add to the list for a nice Saturday morning wrech-fest.

  4. Good list, Mike! Thanks for posting it.

    I carry all those items (and a good deal more), except for the flares and glow sticks. Safety experts I've read say that reflective triangles are more attention-getting than flares both day and night, so I carry three triangles in my motorhome and three more in the toad.

    As for the glow sticks, they have a fairly short shelf life (couple of years, tops), and I've never found them bright enough to be very useful. I have half a dozen super-bright LED flashlights scattered around the place, including one in the righthand pocket of every coat and jacket I own. I've found this inexpensive model to be outstanding:

    http://www.meritline.com/adjustable-zoom-led-flashlight—p-35630.aspx

    About the jumper cables: most emergency kits I've seen have short, really cheap cables made with light-gauge wire–often aluminum, which forms an insulating layer once it oxidizes at the clamps. (That's why houses are no longer wired with aluminum: too many burned down.)

    I can testify from personal experience that cheap jumper cables are all but useless. Make sure the cables you get are 1) copper, 2) HEAVY (you can judge them by hefting them in your hand), and 3) long enough to reach from your house batteries to your engine battery, so you can jump-start your own rig.

    I made my own cables for the motorhome, using 15' lengths of AWG 1 copper welding cable. They weigh 13 pounds, which gives you an idea of how heavy really good cables ought to be. The commercial Coleman jumper cables that I carry in my Honda Fit weigh 6 pounds; I consider them adequate for a small engine. Anything lighter than that… uh uh.

    I'd add one other item to the kit: $100-$200 in twenties is good to have tucked away, in case your credit card is lost or stolen.

  5. Thanks for the great post… I have been thinking of all the things that might be needed in emergencies. This is important along with a laminated list to make replenishing supplies easier.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. If you shop for bargains you can save quite a bit, but you're absolutely right about the tow strap. I didn't include that item in my original tally and have updated it.

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