Every driver should have a safety or emergency kit in the car. But there are important differences in what these kits include, and all of them must be supplemented with additional items. We help you sort through the pros and cons of leading products and identify the best car emergency kit as well as other critical items you will need in an emergency.
What every driver and parent should have in the car
We have learned the hard way about the importance of car safety kits (also known as vehicle emergency kits or roadside assistance kits). Not only are they critically important if you break down or have an accident, but parents need them to be prepared for the scrapes, bumps and bug bites that come with having active kids. If you don’t have one in your car, you should get one today.
What did we do?
We researched the leading car emergency kits/car safety kits and vehicle first aid kits at reasonable price points. We then took them apart to see if they had the right items in the right quantities. We also tested the quality of their craftsmanship.
What did we learn?
- Everyone should carry a first aid kit and/or a car safety or emergency kit (with tools) for the unexpected emergency – it is better to be prepared!
- Not all first aid kits are equal, but all kits require additional items to be complete: You will need extra tape, neosporin, hydrocortisone and hand sanitizer.
- The emergency kits we examined had good or great tool/gadget kits, but both suffered from a minimal first aid kit.
- To be ready for the road ahead, get one of the recommended vehicle safety kits and supplement it as necessary.
What did we like?
- “Best” first aid only kit: Higher Gear Products First Aid Kit
- Pros: comes in a small water resistant case, very comprehensive, quality metal tweezers and scissors, inexpensive
- Cons: still needs additional bandages, tape, a bottle of hand sanitizer and additional ointments
- “Best” car emergency kit: Thrive Roadside Assistance Auto Emergency Kit
- Pros: comes in an easy to carry bag, lots of quality tools including jumper cables, sockets, multi-tool, bungee cords, gloves, rope and safety triangle
- Cons: missing glow sticks and it has a very small first aid kit – contains only bandages, small antiseptic, scissors and tweezers
If you have not read Brian’s story on diapers and duct tape, we highly encourage you to read it as it highlights why emergency kits are important to have in your car. We hope that you never encounter a situation where you are stuck on the side of the road or in need of a first aid kit, but if you drive long enough and/or if you have children, chances are good that you will need one. At Driving2Save, we believe that it is better to have a kit and never need it as opposed to needing it and not having it. Therefore, we examined four highly-rated first aid only kits (after looking at dozens of highly rated kits online and narrowing our list based on price and size) and two highly-rated car safety kits that also contain a first aid kit (after ruling out several other kits as clearly inadequate for various emergencies, too expensive or too focused on surviving a natural disaster rather than a fender bender).
- First Aid:
- Be Smart Get Prepared: 100 Piece First Aid Kit
- Divers Alert Network (DAN) First Aid Kit
- Higher Gear Products: First Aid Kit
- Johnson & Johnson Red Cross Safe Travels First Aid Kit, 70 Items
- Roadside Assistance:
- Thrive Roadside Assistance Kit w/ First Aid
- Top Gear Premium Roadside Assistance Kit (66-piece)
With each first aid only kit, we rated them according to the following criteria:
- Size of the kit (smaller is better – easier to store)
- Contents (quantity and quality)
- Band-Aids, antiseptics, tape, gloves, cold, compress, bandages, gauze, ointments (such as Neosporin and Hydrocortisone), scissors, tweezers and safety pins.
With the vehicle emergency kits, we rated them according to the following criteria:
- Size of the kit (smaller is better – easier to store)
- Contents (quality of tools)
- Safety triangle, reflective vest, screw drivers, sockets, booster cables, multi-tools, flashlight, knife, tire pressure gauge and tape as examples
- Size and content o the included first aid kit
First Aid Kits
Be Smart Get Prepared 10 – Person Kit $13.99 10/2017 Rating: C
Upon opening the package, we noticed that this kit is water resistant if not waterproof. The box has an o-ring gasket on the side, indicating that it provides some water resisting capabilities. The kit itself is approximately (LWH) 7 1/4 inches x 6 3/4 inches x 2 1/2 inches. It will likely fit in many glove boxes, large center consoles or (because of its water resistance) truck bed pocket.
The kit itself is fairly comprehensive. It contains the contents that we would expect from a first aid kit, such as adhesive bandages (2 sizes provided), sterile gauze pads (2 sizes), triangular bandage, antibiotic ointments, alcohol prep pads and globes. Upon closer inspection, some of the contents are not quite up to our standards. The roll of tape was extremely small – 5 yards of 1/2 inch tape is what you get. Especially given the manufacturer’s claim of a 1- person kit, we would have expected more tape and larger than 1/2 inch wide. The kit provides only 6 small applications of antibiotic ointment and it did not contain any hydrocortisone for use with itch relief. The biggest flaw with this kit is the lack of scissors and tweezers – scissors can be used to quickly remove sleeves/clothing in the event of trauma while tweezers will appeal to parents as they will likely have to remove splinters from their children’s hands, knees, etc.
In order to complete this kit, we would need to add additional bandages (of varying sizes), a tube of hydrocortisone cream, hand sanitizer, metal scissors and tweezers at a minimum. Overall, this is a kit meant for workspaces that might have OSHA requirements, but it is not meant for use in your car. While it contained a significant amount of materials, we do not believe that this will serve the needs of 10 people.
Diver Alert Network (DAN) Travel First Aid Kit $20.00 10.2017 Rating: A-*
Our Chief Scientist is an avid diver and thus, had this first aid kit during our first aid testing. This kit comes in a zip pouch that is compact and thus will fit in almost any part of the vehicle.
The kit itself is very comprehensive, especially given the low price of $20.00. In addition to the usual bandages found in most first aid kits, this kit contains dressings, elastic bandages, butterfly strips to help close wounds, wound cleaning syringe, pain-killers, antihistamines, a disposable razor and a face shield for CPR. The tape inside the kit is twice the width and length of the previous kit. When compared with the Be Smart Get Prepared 10 person kit, the items feel like they are of higher quality despite the fact that there are less of some items. Despite the overall quality, the kit is missing items that we would recommend adding: more bandages and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
*Why is this kit not our top recommended pick? Ease of purchase/availability is largely the issue – this is not a kit that can be purchased at a store or Amazon. It is, however, available exclusively on DAN’s website.
Higher Gear Products: First Aid Kit $19.07 10/2017 Rating: A-
This is our recommended kit in this group. This kit comes in the same type of zip pouch container that DAN comes in albeit slightly larger in size and thickness. Therefore, this is a kit that should fit well in large glove boxes and center consoles as opposed to car door pockets.
The kit itself is very comparable to the DAN kit; it contains nice additions such as moleskin blister pads, a carabiner, whistle, compass, emergence blanket and sewing kit to name a few things. However, it does not have the wound cleaning syringe that we find to be useful for cleaning out dirt-filled wounds and it also omits pain-killers and antihistamines that the previous kit contained. Furthermore, the kit contained a very small roll of tape that would definitely be supplemented if we owned this kit. Although it came with more bandages than the DAN kit, we would still like to see more in there.
We highly recommend this kit because it is the most comprehensive kit in our group. With a price of about $20.00 and available on Amazon, it is definitely a worthy buy. As we previously mentioned, additions such as more bandages, a better roll or tape and hand sanitizer would be welcomed in this kit. Otherwise, it is near perfect for most people’s needs.
Johnson & Johnson Red Cross Safe Travels First Aid Kit, 70 Items $14.66 Rating: D
The kit proved to be the smallest and most basic of our kits. It is small enough to fit into back seat pockets, door pockets and the glove box. It contains an assortment of Band-Aids, some gauze pads, alcohol wipes, Neosporin and that’s it.
We cannot recommend this kit for drivers as it is missing many vital pieces of equipment that would be useful in the event of an emergency. In addition, the price is very high for such a basic kit. We could easily spend an additional $5 to obtain our recommended kit.
Car Safety Kits
Thrive Roadside Assistance Kit with First Aid $42.95 10/2017 Tools: A- First Aid: C
Our recommended kit in this group. This kit arrived in a mechanic style top open zip bag with a (LWH) measurement of 12 inches x 7 inches x 8.5 inches. The large size of the bag means that this definitely belongs in the trunk.
The tools provided by the kit are very comprehensive – it includes rope, bungee cords, emergency whistle, electrical tape, screwdrivers, sockets, knife, ice scraper, jumper cables, reflective triangle and vest and gloves to name a few of the items. We tested some of the items such as the sockets, screwdrivers and tire pressure gauges and found that they were high quality and work as stated. We did not have the opportunity to test the jumper cables or the glass breaker, but reviews on Amazon (where this can be purchased) have written positive mentions regarding these items. Although the kit is very comprehensive, one missing item that we would add is a set of glow sticks that can increase night visibility.
Perhaps the biggest bummer regarding this kit is the small first aid kit. While the first aid kit is more comprehensive than the Johnson & Johnson kit, it is far from complete. While it does contain scissors, tweezer and the basic bandages, it does not have any gauze and barely any antiseptic wipes for cleaning wounds. Therefore, we would recommend heavily supplementing this kit for your first aid needs.
Top Gear Premium Roadside Assistance Kit (66-piece) $36.20 10/2017 Tools: B- First Aid: D-
At Driving2Save, we love Top Gear (especially when Jeremy, James and Richard were hosts). Therefore, we had to test a roadside assistance kit with Top Gear’s name on it. The kit arrived in a top zip pouch that is smaller than the Thrive kit, but still fairly large. It contains many of the same items as the Thrive kit, but with some additions and omissions.
The Top Gear kit contains glow sticks, which are highly welcomes, but omits useful tools such as screwdrivers and sockets. When we tested some of the times, we did not find the quality that we would expect from a “Top Gear” kit. The tire pressure gauge was inaccurate, showing a 3 PSI difference from our recommended gauge, and the multi-tool felt very flimsy – we would not use it on anything that was mildly tough.
We had previously thought that the Thrive first aid kit was minimal, but the Top Gear first aid kit had even less. It contained a very small roll of tape, some bandages, a couple of gauze pads and some antiseptic wipes. This kit is smaller than the Johnson & Johnson kit and contains very few bandages.
Overall, this is a cheaper tool kit in both price and quality compared to the Thrive Roadside kit. With the lower quality tools and the almost nonexistent first aid kit, we would highly recommend spending the extra money to get the Thrive Roadside kit – it represents a lot of value and quality for not much a price premium.
None of the car safety kits that we tested was perfect. Unfortunately, there will never be a perfect car emergency or first aid kit. The reason for this is simple – everyone has different needs and it would be impossible for a manufacturer to produce a kit that is all encompassing. Therefore, we would recommend that you look at one of our recommended kits and make additions according to your needs. Remember that it is always better and safer to be prepared!