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Perhaps the most important part of an in-car emergency kit is the First Aid kit.

Many commercially prepackaged kits are woefully inadequate for anything more serious than a cut on your finger.

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What to Include in a Car Emergency Kit

Part 3 :  Your First Aid Kit and Other Considerations

First Aid Kit

A professional first aid kit should be in a green colored container with a white cross on its exterior.

This is part three of a three part series on creating an in-car emergency kit.  Please also visit

1.  How to Decide What to Include in Your Emergency Kit
2.  Four Emergency Kit Checklists
3.  Your First Aid Kit and Other Considerations




There's no limit to how serious a medical problem you might encounter while in your car.

We all know about fatal and very serious car crashes, and while you probably don't have the first aid training or the specialized equipment to be able to assist a seriously injured crash victim, you do need to have a realistic collection of first aid items so as to be able to respond to less serious medical problems.

Starting with a prepackaged kit and adding some extra items might be a good approach to building a truly useful first aid kit.

Lastly in this final part of our three part series, we offer some closing thoughts on other miscellaneous aspects of your car emergency kit and situations where you might need to use it.

What to Keep in Your First Aid Kit

You can easily buy prepackaged first aid kits, and you'll see them advertised everywhere, sometimes boasting of having many hundreds of different items included.

But when you look at the list of the 500 or however many items included in the super special kit, you'll probably find that 490 of them are small sized bandaid plasters.

Don't shop based on number of items included.  Shop based on the actual contents of the kit, and consider adding extra items to whatever comes as standard (or building your own kit from scratch).  It is unlikely you'll ever end up with too much in a first aid kit, but it is possible you might find yourself with not enough.

First aid kits are worthy of the same considerations for what to include and exclude as is the overall emergency kit as a whole, and again involve the issue of where to stop adding extra things for extra eventualities, and a similar formula to what you should first include and what is least necessary, as detailed in the first part of this series.

As well as using the same formula for priotizing your inclusions, you also should consider any special needs you and your family members might have, and your level of first aid competence.

The more competent you are, the more extensive you should make your kit, especially if you'll be traveling to remote areas.

The First Aid Bag Itself

You should keep everything in a green bag, ideally with a white cross on the outside. and hopefully moderately waterproof.  This is the international standard for a first aid bag (yes, there is an ISO standard for first aid bags), which means that if you are incapacitated, anyone else may quickly recognize the bag as possibly containing life saving equipment to help them save you.

This is also a good way of testing the amount of thought and care that has gone into the creation of commercially prepackaged kits.  If they are not in a green bag, they are not nearly as credible a product as if they are.

Short Shelf Life of Some First Aid Items

First aid kits that are stored in vehicles are going to be in harsher conditions than if stored in your bathroom medicine cabinet.  In summer, they might suffer temperatures above 100°, and in winter, they could be way below freezing.

This means that temperature sensitive products will have a shorter shelf life in your vehicle than they would in your home, so be sure to replace such things regularly.  Plasters and gloves and other inert things are relatively impervious to such environmental factors, but chemical solutions such as burn creams, medications, etc, are going to be impacted.

One approach to this is to keep such things for a limited time in your car kit, then rather than throwing them away and replacing them, take them from your car kit and put them into your at home or in office kit instead, giving them some years of extra life in a kinder situation before finally discarding them.

Medicines Have Longer Effective Lives Than Claimed

As an interesting aside, reputable studies suggest that most medications, if stored well, have effective lives as much as ten years longer than the expiry dates printed on them (notable exceptions being insulin, liquid suspension antibiotics and nitroglycerin).

So we'd suggest keeping items for half to two thirds of their official shelf life in the extreme conditions of your car, then for maybe another five years in a more friendly environment at home.

Items For Your In-Car Emergency First Aid Kit

Here are suggestions of items to include in your first aid kit :

  • Antiseptic cleaning wipes and sprays

  • Bandaid type adhesive bandages of assorted shapes and sizes

  • Dressings of various sizes/shapes

  • A roll of gauze

  • Tape

  • Safety Pins

  • Quick clot dressings

  • Gloves

  • Insect sting relief

  • Burn cream

  • Topical painkiller (if not in burn cream and/or antiseptic spray)

  • Eyewash and eye cup

  • Aspirin

  • Anti-diarrhea tablets

  • Anti-histamine

  • Tweezers

  • Scissors

  • Magnifying glass

  • LED Flashlight (if not elsewhere included)

  • Emergency blanket (if not elsewhere included)

  • Waterproof matches or lighter (if not elsewhere included)

  • First Aid book(let)

  • Special meds you/your family might need

Don't Rely on Your Emergency Kit in Non-Emergencies

A problem can arise when you start relying on the contents of your emergency kit and modify your behavior such that you start regularly using emergency items.

The most obvious example of that is if you carry spare gas.  If you know you've got 5 gallons of gas in the trunk, giving you 100+ miles of extra driving range, maybe you'll start deliberately driving the car closer down to empty, making it more likely that you'll need the emergency gas.

This is maybe okay for driving around town, but if you're in a remote part of the countryside, you need to keep the spare gas for a real emergency, not just for convenience (and, in truth, how convenient is it anyway to run out of gas, and to then have to pour the gas from the container into your tank) on the side of the road.

Keep your car in good condition, and don't rely on the spare gas, spare washer fluid, etc.

Battery, Climate and Gas Issues if Stuck

If something occurs that results in your being stuck in your car for an extended time, you need to consider several things.

Battery management

The first is that if you have the radio on, and maybe interior lights on, too, and possibly external hazard flashers on, you're going to be draining the car's battery.  You don't want to run your battery flat and then be unable to start your car subsequently.

So every so often, if you can, you'll want to run the engine to charge the battery for a while.  Assuming you're not running low on gas, we suggest that you run the engine perhaps every 30 minutes, and for five minutes, with the car on a slightly faster than normal idle (so as to ensure the alternator is charging at maximum rate).

Climate Issues

If it is very cold outside, you'll of course want to wrap up in as much warm clothing and blankets as possible.

Run the car's engine and heating system infrequently to bring some heat into the car.  But you'll probably need to do this for at least five minutes at a time, both to recharge the battery from the drain on starting the engine and to give the engine time to heat up so that it can start to efficiently transfer heat into the vehicle.

When you're heating up the car interior, you might want to have the heater set on recirculate for the first few minutes, and then switch to bringing in external air once the engine is hot and better able to heat up colder air so as to change out the air in the passenger compartment and ensure you keep a good supply of oxygen inside.

Remember it is harder to heat yourself up again (or to cool down again) if you get too hot or too cold to start with, so as long as you can, attempt to keep yourself close to a comfortable temperature by the appropriate use of clothing and car climate controls.

Running the Engine - Carbon Monoxide

If you're simply parked by the side of the road, there are probably no safety concerns when running your engine.  But if you're strangely stuck in a confined enclosed space like your garage at home (we've no idea how this could occur!) then you don't want to run your engine because of the carbon monoxide exhaust.

Carbon monoxide is colorless and tasteless and lethal - it can and will kill you if you ingest too much of it.

If you're stuck in a snow drift or something like that, make sure your exhaust pipe isn't blocked.

Gas Issues

If you are running low on gas, simply turn off interior lights, the radio, and anything else using electricity.  Your battery should not now have any drain on it and can last for days with no problems.

If you need (or want) to monitor the radio for information about your situation, simply turn it on occasionally and for brief periods, and with lower rather than loud volume.

However, it is better to be rescued, alive and comfortable, with a nearly empty gas tank than it is to be found, dead from exposure, with a full gas tank.  So use your gas wisely, but do use it as necessary.

The Survival Rule of Threes

Here's a quick easy thing to remember.  A person can go three weeks without food, three days without water, and three hours without shelter.

In any extreme situation, your first priority is to keep warm.  When you have created suitable shelter, then your next priority is a supply of water (ideally a gallon a day per person, but you can manage with much less), and only when you have water secured, then you switch your focus to a food supply.

For a bonus, here's a strategy for getting the most from your food.  In an open ended situation where rescue is an unknown number of days into the future, you should eat half your food normally.  Then you should eat half the remaining food at half ration rates.  Then half the remaining food at quarter ration rates, and the balance at one eighth ration rates.

Part of a three-part series

This is part three of a three part series on creating an in-car emergency kit.  Please also visit

1.  How to Decide What to Include in Your Emergency Kit
2.  Four Emergency Kit Checklists
3.  Your First Aid Kit and Other Considerations

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Originally published 27 April 2012, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.



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