Rating: 5 out of 5.

There exists a set of basic things that everyone should keep in their car. I decided to spend several weeks thinking about this and coming up with the ultimate list of items. I also did a bunch of informal questionnaires and searches to aid in the list. 

I hope you find this list helpful, If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to add it!

Note: PracticalMechanic.com is reader-supported. If you buy through links on my site, I might earn an affiliate commission.

This is a pretty comprehensive list; I tried to be as thorough as possible! As such you may want to pick and choose what you include. Also, depending on your locale, some of these items might not apply to you (looking at you, cat litter – if this comment makes no sense to you, ignore…).

Ultimate List of Things to Keep in Your Car

Alrighty, here is the list!

USB Charger

The first thing on the list is probably most important besides the actual car itself. Make sure you have a good quality USB charger for charging phones, tablets, computers, and batteries, along with an assortment of correct charging cables.

Phone Holder

If you spend a fair amount of time in your car, a phone holder for complying with hands-free laws as well as a convenient and secure place to put your phone. Also good when using your phone for GPS directions. Get one that fits in your cup holder for extra secure fit (no suction cups! woohoo!). I don’t know if the WeatherTech ones you see on billboards everywhere are really worth it, however, if you swear by them, please let me know in the comments!

Tire Inflator

Don’t rely on the gas station air pressure station which may or may not be in service. Get one of these easy battery operated automatic tire inflators with auto pressure shut-off at your tires ideal pressure setting, so your tires are always filled to the exact correct pressure! Don’t need an extra gauge, this thing is the bomb!

Aux Cord

If your car stereo has an auxiliary input, make sure you invest in an appropriate cord for playing music/ podcasts/ audiobooks from your phone to your car stereo. Get a 3.5mm to 3.5mm aux cable or an Apple lightning to 3.5mm aux connector wire.

Trash Can

This one isn’t flashy, but it needs to be said. And I can say it because I suffer from the same affliction, so no judgement. Your car is a bit of a pigsty… Get a mini trash can (or plastic bag) of some kind. If there’s no place to put trash, it just accumulates and accumulates and… Give it a home – that is not the car. Let’s do this together…

Car Cleaning Supplies

Speaking of cleaning, don’t forget some micro-fiber cleaning cloths for spills/ accidents/ cleaning; sometimes those McDonald’s napkins just don’t cut it! Also keep a canister of wipes. Infinitely handy! Get a car swiffer to get that haze off the inside of your windshield, you know, that stuff that is impossible to reach?!?!

Sun Visor Extender

Do you ever get the sun shining directly into your eyes from the tiniest little crack between your sun visor and the car frame? Block the sun with a sun visor extender and drive in shady-eyed bliss!

Ice Scraper

If you live in colder climates, an ice scraper is a must, for extreme climates (or if you’re from MN) get the beast of all beast ice scrapers and show those sun-worshipers who’s boss!

Duct Tape

Roll of duct tape. A roll of ‘duck tape‘ is basically a necessity anywhere, why should your car be any different? Also, what else are you going to use if part of your bumper falls off...

Scissors

If you’re not much for handling knives, then put a high-quality scissors. You’ll be surprised how often a scissors comes in handy in the car! Everything from cutting open that infuriating packaging around your kids latest Barbie, to trimming the tags off your new shirt, these can be invaluable.

Spare Cash

Emergency money and spare quarters. You never know when you’ll find yourself on a toll-road somewhere and they don’t take credit cards.  Everyone else is flying by in some EZ-toll-pass lane, and you’re pulled over scrounging for coins in between the cushions… (wish I wasn’t speaking from experience here…) Speaking of personal experience, just don’t keep your spare cash in a plastic bag in the glovebox while trying to cross the border into Canada and such; it simply raises too many questions and they don’t like that and they end up hating you as well…

Spray Deterrent

You know another thing to keep handy? Pepper spray. Lots and lots of pepper spray. They messed with the wrong person. Just be careful in hot weather, these things can spontaneously combust in very hot temps – result – a big mess!

Medicine Cabinet

Here’s something that is handy to have. Aspirin. You know those headaches? They hit around 2-3pm? A few over-the-counter aspirin will get you back to feeling great in no time! Right??? Whatever you favorite OTC, get some backup and keep a kit in the glovebox.

Air Fresheners

They’re not tacky, they give your car character, you know what I’m talking about… No, not fuzzy dice, much more classy than that. I’m talking ’bout little trees. Scented awesomeness, and for a buck a piece, how can you go wrong? (Also, get the black scent, not those girly vanilla or lavender.)

Windshield Washer Fluid

Washer fluid tends to be one of those things you sort of neglect until you really need it. Suddenly you find yourself driving down a dusty dirt road, with the sun in your face, and the wipers scratching over the glass like sandpaper. You press the ‘squirt’ button and a little mechanical sound comes from the area of the dashboard and nothing happens as the windscreen turns to sandy, hazy streaks. Don’t let it happen to you, brave soul! Keep an extra jug of bug wash in the trunk and keep that windshield crystal clear!

Zip Ties

Not for the kids. You know, for other stuff that you need to keep bundled up and contained… Get a nice neat kit of assorted zip ties and use them freely, it is so satisfying! Zzziiipppp!

Sunglasses

Sunglasses. This one is pretty obvious, honestly. Get polarized sunglasses, they really make a difference. Now, for the true stud or studette, get yourself some Blublockers to eliminate the light from those annoying LED headlights, but take extreme care, you might need to run from your new throngs of admirers…

Cheaters

Similar to sunglasses, if you are of the persuasion that uses reading glasses, keep an extra set in the car. These ‘cheaters’ will come in handy more times that not… I’m not saying you’re old, just well-cured…

Now I’ve got to mention some of the real practical stuff.

Jumper Cables

Dark, cold night, middle of winter, wind howling, and your car battery decides to give up the ghost. No worries, pull out the jumper cables and ask someone nearby if they’d be willing to “give me a jump”? You’ll have a new friend for life if you ask someone for a favor.

A car battery with jumper cables attached.

Jump Pack

Okay, maybe you don’t have any friends, or you frequent remote places, no one is judging you for that. In my case, it’s like the stove calling the kettle metal. Don’t worry, get a jump pack and safely jump start a dead car battery without the need of another car.

Seatbelt Cutter

I don’t even want to set the stage for this because it is simply too frightening. Okay, anyway, you’ve been warned. You swerve to miss hitting a pretty little fawn who has been grazing near the curve in the road down by the lake. Your car goes over the embankment and soars into the water, nose first. Within seconds the vehicle is submerged with you inside it. What do you do? I said, WHAT DO YOU DO!?!?!? There’s not much time. Fortunately you were recently reading a really insightful blog and purchased a seatbelt cutter and window breaker! Simply cut your belt, smash the windshield and float to the surface to safety! This will make for a great story! 

Flares???

Okay, I don’t know anyone who actually carries real flares anymore, however I know plenty of people who carry an emergency light kit. When you’re stranded on the side of the road, make sure you are seen and not hit! 

Water

Stash a couple of bottles of water in your car, you never know when you might need those. Remember, a human being can only go about 3 days without water, and more like 3 weeks without food. If you need to choose between food or water, bring water.

Flashlight

Get a heavy duty vehicle emergency flashlight and keep it in your car. This thing can also charge cell phones. Just get in the habit of having one and you will undoubtedly need it at some point. And it comes in handy just for general use as well, not just for emergencies!

Extra Key

Ever lose your keys? What a hassle! Not fun at all. My brother lost the keys to his 1977 Camaro and ultimately ended up selling the car as a result. Don’t let this happen to you! Get a couple of spare keys made, and keep one hidden under the car. I do this and highly recommend it. It has come in handy on more than several occasions over the years! Get a small magnetic key box and stop worrying!

Gas Can

Never a bad idea to keep a small 1-gallon gas can in your car. Great for times when you run out of gas. 

Bungee Cords

Bungee cords are great to have around to keep things from sloshing around in your trunk or back seat. Pick up an inexpensive set of bungee cords and just keep them around to be handy.

Old Cell Phone

Have an old cell phone lying around? Even without a current SIM card, any cell phone can still be used to call 911, so instead of throwing it out, keep it in the glove box for emergencies!

Multi-Tool

A multi-tool is the perfect device to keep in the car. Includes a scissors, knife, and a range of tools like pliers, screwdrivers, and etc… If you can’t store an entire toolbox in your trunk (which I also recommend – but I get it, who wants that rattling around all the time?), then at least keep a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife in the glovebox. I personally use and recommend the Leatherman Wingman, read my review here.

wingman-unfolded
All tools on the Leatherman Wingman.

Rain Poncho

Never a bad idea to keep a poncho in your car for those times when rain threatens to ruin a great day. Don’t worry about that again!!! Pull out your poncho and keep your threads nice and dry while you continue enjoying everything nature has to offer!

Reflective Vest

Okay, someone has to change the flat tire, put them in a nice reflective vest so not only will they feel safe, they will also know how much you care! Also great for walking your dog and cat at night because I know quite a few people who walk their cats in the evenings, and they are very dear folks, out there, at night, walking their cats, as one does…

Bonus – What NOT to Keep in Your Car!

Now for those things you want to keep in a safe place that is not in your car, Keep a copy of your vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and drivers license somewhere safe. Because, guess what, if someone steals your car, a lot of that stuff will be gone! Having a copy of that information elsewhere where you can get at it quickly and easily will be very helpful!