During winter, you might occasionally hear a news item about things to keep in your car in case your stranded. Consistent messages like water, blankets, and so on, are always good ideas. What about the rest of the year? What sort of things should you have in your car when you go out every day? What sort of surprises are you least likely to think of?
This article is dedicated to the “Planning Challenged”. You may not ever forget to leave the house without your diaper bag or your car keys, but you might get a couple of “oh yeahs” out of this. What’s more, it could make a difference that is more than just “convenience”.
Let’s start with a First Aid Kit. These come in all shapes and sizes. There are the small, promotional ones that come with a few bandaids and a moist towelette, and then there are the Trauma Kits that we carry on the Ambulances, and are generally available to the public for about $200 or so, fully stocked. Beware of the kits that advertise they come with “85 pieces” (or some other impressive sounding number). Often times, most of those “pieces” are aspirin, or wet-naps. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20-$40 for one that should do the trick. You’ll want a first aid kit that has a selection of bandages (you can buy band aids anywhere), gauze, alcohol pads and white, medical tape. Remember, the point of the First Aid Kit is to treat immediate emergencies. You don’t need every type of band aid under the sun. You want something that will stop the bleeding, and you can clean up and “fix the rest” later. Your first aid kit should also have some instant ice packs, and instant heat packs. I also suggest learning a bit about First Aid, as it’s more than just “boo boo management”. There are real emergencies out there, so I recommend a Basic First Aid class every few years, where you can learn how to do more, like stop major bleeding, splint fractures, and more.
Now, let’s talk about the “Kid Pack”. I used to call them “Diaper Bags”, but the Diaper Bag quickly became, for my wife, her purse, and for me, a duffle bag. We started out with Kate Spade and Eddie Bauer Diaper Bags, originally, but form took over fashion at about 5 months. Now that our kids are 8 and 4, our “Kid Pack” is basically our SUV, which I refer to as “The Wagon Train”. In addition to diapers, wipes, and the assorted powders and ointments of choice, I suggest adding the following: A couple small bottles of water, a few “durable” snacks (no squishy cereal bars, and not something that will go stale). Sunscreen (or as my youngest calls it, “Sunscream”, if you heard him when we try to put it on him, you’d understand). Include a hat (either baseball style, or full rim, whichever you and the little ones can agree on), a light jacket for junior, a change of clothes (maybe for all family members…ever been thrown up on at Chuck E Cheese?), and, possibly most importantly, some treasured games, toys, dolls or stuffed animals. Rotate the items in the pack, especially if they are designed to divert attention, to make sure they are new and interesting.
Some other things to consider for your car: Get a Road Service membership. AAA is one of the better known plans. You get 4 emergencies a year (lockouts, jumpstarts, tow trucks, whatever). While I know somebody who uses up her allotment by March, four calls a year is sufficient for most families. There are a lot of others out there, offered by car dealers and insurance companies, as well, so find the one that’s right for you. Most people over the age of 12 now seem to have cellular telephones. Keep your battery charged. I also recommend not only a car charger, but a small, AA battery powered quick charge, for emergency use only (not to send your friend that quick text message. OMG.) Both are available for about $20 each both online, and at stores such as Target and Walmart.
Don’t let your gas tank get below ¼. If you do a lot of long distance or rural driving, nudge that limit up to ½ tank. If you’ve ever run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service, you’ll understand. I actually siphoned gas out of my lawn tractor last summer because another family member had run BOTH car tanks well below empty, and then had to get to a client appointment in DC “right now”.
If you require a regular medication for health maintenance (ie: glucose, blood pressure medication), or emergencies (ie: an epi-pen, or an inhaler), make sure those are in a place where you can get to them, and that you don’t leave without them. Can’t tell you how many emergencies I’ve responded to where the inhaler was forgotten (or, in one case, packed in luggage on an airplane, inaccessible during the asthma attack at 38,000 feet).
While you’re at it, get a can of “Fix-A-Flat”. Not designed to completely inflate your tire and maintain it for another 20,000 miles, it will temporarily patch the hole (usually) and give enough air pressure to get down the street to a service station to get a “real fix”. Don’t like to change your own tires? Get a can. It’s about $5.
Finally, include a flashlight. I suggest a hand cranked flashlight, that does not require batteries. Sure, it’s harder to use, but you don’t have to worry about batteries being fresh, or lost.
One of the great enemies of the prepared person is the person that I call “The Weasel”. The Weasel is the person in your house who borrows from things. They’ll take the batteries out of your cell phone emergency charger to stick in their iPod, or take the aspirin from the first aid kit when they have a headache (not what it’s intended for). The flashlight from the glove compartment might be found in the laundry room, and the outside “ouches” will be treated by the nearest band aid, from the trunk of the car, and not replaced. The gas tank is usually on or near empty, because “the little light didn’t come on”. Don’t be a weasel, and train other household weasels to do better. Being prepared takes discipline not only on your part, but on the parts of those you interact with. If you are going to commit to being prepared, get commitments from other family members, and do your own follow up. At the same time you set your clocks back and change your smoke detector batteries (we all do that every six months, right?), inventory your car supplies. It takes about 10 minutes (how long does it take to change all of your batteries in your smoke detectors?), and may make a HUGE difference in the end.