By Rik Paul
The gear you carry in your car while driving in the winter can make or break your trip. Here are the everyday essentials, some emergency items in case your vehicle has trouble, and some things you can probably leave behind.
Ice scraper or snow brush
Clear the car’s glass with a tool long enough to reach across the windshield yet designed to crunch down for storage in a small trunk.
The best ice scraper we’ve tested
If you prefer a foam broom
If you just need a scraper
Seasonal temperature changes can lower your tires’ pressure without you realizing it. That hurts your car’s handling and gas mileage, and can cause the tires to fail. Regularly checking their pressure with an accurate gauge is the best safeguard.
The best dial gauge
The best digital gauge
When—not if—the low-tire-pressure light comes on in your car’s dash, a tire inflator can fill tires up on the spot, sparing you a subfreezing detour to a gas station.
The best tire inflator for most drivers
Easy to use and versatile, but more expensive
The best cordless value
USB car charger
Keeping your phone charged is critical when driving in iffy conditions, and the better plug-in USB car chargers can work measurably faster than other options.
The best car charger
If you don’t need a USB-C port
Both of the PowerCruise C2’s USB-A ports support Quick Charge 3.0, which offers slightly faster speeds for compatible devices.
If you need more than two ports
This four-port model is especially useful when you’re traveling with a car full of passengers, as it can charge up to four devices simultaneously.
Phone charging cord
To get the maximum charging rate from the faster USB-C car chargers, you need a compatible cable.
For charging an Apple device
For charging a device with a USB-C port
First aid kit
Anything can happen on the road. This first aid kit can treat minor cuts, burns, and other ailments, and it even includes a 52-by-84-inch aluminized emergency blanket.
The best first aid kit for carrying in the car
Put it over the windshield before a storm and then peel it off—along with the snow and ice—afterward.
A quicker way to clear your windshield
Whether you need to tighten a screw, cut some tape or cloth, or securely grip a small part, a good multi-tool can substitute for a small toolbox, and it’s much easier to stow in a car.
A handy tool for a wide range of uses
A good phone mount makes it easier and safer to use your smartphone hands-free for navigating, streaming music, or voice-messaging, helping you keep your eyes on the road.
The best phone mount for cars
If you want to wirelessly charge your phone
If you want to wirelessly charge your phone
Portable power bank
If you need to charge your phone when your car isn’t running, having a backup power bank handy can literally be a life saver.
The best power bank for carrying in a car
Whether you need to read papers during a nighttime drive, check fluids under the hood, or change a tire, a headlamp is a better choice than a flashlight because it leaves your hands free.
The best headlamp
If you want a rechargeable headlamp
In case your car has trouble
Here’s hoping you won’t use these items often—but if you do need them, you’ll be glad to have them along.
Portable jump starter
If your vehicle’s battery dies, a portable jump starter can get you up and running again in minutes, so you don’t have to wait for roadside assistance or a Good Samaritan with jumper cables.
The best jump starter for most vehicles
For larger V8 engines
If you need to pull off on the side of a road, it’s critical that you give other drivers as much warning as possible. Battery-powered LED emergency beacons are convenient and effective.
A safer alternative to road flares
Aerosol tire sealant
Using an aerosol can of sealant is easier and quicker than changing a tire. It won’t fix tires with large holes or sidewall damage, but it will seal the tire if you run over a nail, for instance.
A quick fix
If your car gets stuck in deep snow, digging out the tires may be your only way of getting it free, short of a winch or tow truck.
A sturdy, collapsible shovel for digging out a car
If your car is stuck and just spinning its wheels, pouring some kitty litter around the tires could give them some much-needed grip.
An inexpensive kitty litter for emergency traction
Emergency thermal blankets
If you’re stranded in cold weather in a vehicle that won’t start, you may need extra help to stay warm and avoid hypothermia. Mylar blankets reflect back 90 percent of your body’s heat.
An inexpensive and effective way to stay warm
If you have the room to store it in your car, an inexpensive sleeping bag can be an effective way to stay warm when the engine isn’t running, and it’s a lot more comfortable than an emergency blanket.
A smart balance of price and utility
In a stalled car, these hand warmers can ramp up the effectiveness of an emergency blanket or sleeping bag.
Instant warmth when you need it
Tool storage bag
If you need to use your emergency items, it helps to have them organized in one place.
The best tool bag
Things to leave behind
Although the following items can be useful, if you’re carrying the things we recommend above, you probably can get by without them.
Jumper cables: These are bulkier than a good compact jump starter and harder to store in a vehicle. And, of course, they require you to get the aid of another driver who can park within a few feet of your car—no small feat in a tight parking lot or driveway.
Road flares: Traditional road flares are a common way to alert other drivers when your car is parked on the side of a road, but newer LED emergency beacons are safer, longer lasting, and easier to store.
Fire extinguisher: While a class B or C fire extinguisher can help you snuff out a small fire that’s just beginning, most experts recommend that you get well away from the vehicle as quickly as possible. Of course, turn off the engine to stop the flow of fuel.