Emergency Car Kit

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Gear
Tags: , ,

Winter is upon us.  This is a great time to build an emergency car kit if you don’t have one.  If you already have one (you get an attaboy!) this is a good time to review and update it.  We spend a lot of time in our cars.  Most of us travel thousands of miles per year.  This is a great place to target some of your preparedness energy!

I would like to relate the tragic story of James Kim and his family.  He was a senior editor for CNET.  I pasted most of the article from Wikipedia to save me the time of rewriting it.

After spending the 2006 Thanksgiving holiday in Seattle, Washington, the Kims (James, Kati, and their two daughters, Penelope and Sabine) set out for their home in San Francisco, California. On Saturday, November 25, 2006, having left Portland, Oregon, on their way to Tu Tu Tun Lodge, a resort located near Gold Beach, Oregon, the Kims missed a turnoff from Interstate 5 to Oregon Route 42, a main route to the Oregon Coast. Instead of returning to the exit, they consulted a highway map and picked a secondary route that skirted the Wild Rogue Wilderness, a remote area of southwestern Oregon.

After encountering heavy snow at high elevation on Bear Camp Road, they turned, by mistake, onto one of hundreds of unpaved logging roads supervised by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A road gate intended to prevent such mistakes was open despite BLM rules requiring that it be closed. Media outlets reported that vandals had cut a lock on the gate, but a subsequent investigation showed that BLM employees had left it open to avoid trapping local hunters and others who might have ventured past it.

Early on the morning of November 26, the family stopped because of fatigue and bad weather. As more snow fell around their immobilized Saab 9-2X station wagon, the Kims kept warm by running its engine. When the vehicle ran out of fuel, they made a campfire of dried wood and magazines. Later, they burned their car’s tires to signal rescuers. Search efforts began shortly after November 30, when coworkers of Kim filed a missing persons report with the San Francisco Police Department. After investigators learned that the Kims used their credit card at a local restaurant, search and rescue teams, including local and state police, more than 80 civilian volunteers, the Oregon Army National Guard and several helicopters hired by Mr. Kim’s father, Spencer Kim, spent several days looking for the family along area highways and roads, to no avail.

On December 2, James Kim left his family to look for help, wearing tennis shoes, a jacket, and light clothing. He believed the nearest town (Galice) was located four miles away after studying a map with his wife. He promised his wife he would turn back the same day if he failed to find anyone, but he did not return.

On the afternoon of December 4, John Rachor, a local helicopter pilot unaffiliated with any formal search effort, spotted Mrs. Kim and her two daughters walking on a remote road. After he radioed the family’s position to authorities, the three were airlifted out of the area and transferred to a nearby hospital.

On Wednesday, December 6 at 12:03 p.m., Mr. Kim’s body was found in Big Windy Creek.  Lying on his back in one to two feet of icy water, he was fully clothed and had been carrying a backpack which contained his identification documents, among other miscellaneous items. He had walked about 16.2 miles (26 km) from the car to that point, and was only a mile from Black Bar Lodge, which, although closed for the winter, was fully stocked at the time. An autopsy revealed that Kim had died because of hypothermia and that his body had suffered no incapacitating physical injuries. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy guessed that Kim had died roughly two days after leaving the vehicle.

James Kim and Family

There was an excellent 2 hour-long special aired on 20/20 called “The Wrong Turn”.  This tragic story illustrates how easily something like this can happen, to anyone, at anytime.  There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this.  The one thing I want to underscore is the usefulness of a well thought out emergency car kit.

As usual you can buy car kits premade.  This is better than nothing but I would recommend making your own as it will be better and cheaper.  This looks like a decent kit but I don’t have hands on experience with it.  AAA Severe Weather Road Kit

Emergency Car Kit List:

Put this all in a backpack, duffel bag, or Rubbermaid plastic bin and leave it in your car

Jumper cables – longer and bigger is better.  Smaller gauge numbers mean bigger cables = good.  Go with 8 or 6 gauge.  Heavy duty jumper cables.

Wool blanket – wool works even when wet.  A sleeping bag or heavy blanket works here as well.

Heavy Duty Emergency blanket – Not the flimsy foil things.  Get the Grabber Space Blanket.  It will reflect heat.  It is substantial.  Get the orange one to double for signaling.

Extra clothes – have the appropriate warm clothes in general.  We get spoiled with warm cars, warm homes and offices.  Exposure kills.  Have extra (for everyone).

  • Jacket
  • Beanie
  • Work Gloves – I like mechanix wear
  • Shoes/boots
  • Warm gloves

Ice scraper

Extra food – crackers, trail mix, jerky, anything with calories.  I like these Emergency Survival Rations.  They are used in survival rafts.  They are good for at least 5 years regardless of temperature (very good if sitting in your scorching hot car).  They taste like flatbread cookies.

Bottled water – Gatorade and sugared drinks may provide needed calories.

Knife – having a good knife or multi-tool is a huge must for your car.  Check out the All-star knives post


  • Multi-tool – having a leatherman wave or similar would be a huge addition to any car kit
  • Wrenches
  • Screwdrivers

Flashlight – a headlight comes in very handy if you are attempting any repairs.  Blackdiamond Spot is a great headlight.  Energizer headlight is cheaper and decent.  I would also consider a nice big D-Cell flashlight.  D-Cell Maglight is a great flashlight.  It has a lot of mass and could be used in a defensive role.  It puts out a lot of light.  Put high quality alkaline batteries or even better lithium batteries in your emergency lights.  I like Energizer Lithium batteries and Duracell alkalines.

Spare batteries

Duct tape – do yourself a favor and get gorilla tape it is amazing stuff

Whistle – you will lose your voice quickly when calling for help.  A whistle carries much farther and doesn’t fatigue.

Shovel – useful for digging out of snow if you get stuck

Cat litter (good for traction in snow and ice)

First aid kit

Fire extinguisher

Fire (ability to make it) – lighter, matches, flint

Extra cash

Battery powered radio

Ham radio

Emergency reflectors or flares and bright-colored flag


  • Keep your car at least half full of gas
  • Tell people where you are going and how you plan to travel
  • Check weather before travel
  • If stuck make yourself visible
  • In general it is better to stay with the vehicle.  It is your best source of shelter.  This is of course situational.
  • Adjust as appropriate for your environment
  • You can always use your floor mats for traction if you get stuck in snow (place in path of tires)

This list is just a starting point to get you thinking.  There are lots of useful things.  What do you have in your kit?


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