11 Car Essentials Every Parent Should Keep On Hand

From wet naps to paper maps, adhesive bandages and plastic grocery bags, these all come in handy when those minor catastrophes arise.

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Before you go on a road trip, or even a quick drive to the grandparents’ house, make sure you have a car emergency kit on hand. Sound ominous? We’re talking about car essentials for parents, like water, snacks, and, of course, first aid basics.

Because a car tip can go south in a hurry thanks to a bloody nose, a spilled drink, or a backseat brawl between bored siblings. While you can’t preempt every possible car crisis, a little preparation can make snafus less likely — and keep all hell from breaking loose when incidents do occur. Here’s what every parent should keep in their car at all times.

Water Bottle

Dehydration is a real issue for kids, especially in the warmer months, so always travel with stash of drinking water. Although single-use plastic water bottles do the job, they create extra garbage.

And when that cheap plastic heats up in your hot car, chemicals can leach into the water — not healthy for anyone. A safer choice that also keeps water cool and tasting fresh: Hydro Flask’s 21-ounce vacuum-insulated stainless-steel water bottle with a sport cap for easy drinking. Just fill it with filtered ice water and stick it either in a side-door compartment or right in a backseat cup holder (the bottle is 2.8 inches in diameter).

Throw Blankets

Keep a couple of thin fleece blankets in your car that you can roll up tight, tuck away, and pull them out when the moment calls. You don’t need anything fancy or cushy — just a cheap throw that can cover small bodies and warm them up. These blankets are also clutch for picnicking, covering cold (or hot) bleachers at baseball games, and giving you a dry seat at the playground when all the benches are taken. They fit behind the back seats of sedans, beneath bucket seats in minivans, or rolled up and kept right on any kind of car seat to double as pillow.

Bath towels

True, much of what a towel can do a blanket can do too. But it’s nice to have both in the car. A designated car towel can sop up spilled water and protect a car seats from a wet swimsuit. We think a well-worn old bath towel works best because it’s not too bulky, aka easier to stow, yet it’s big enough to stand in for a forgotten beach towel on the fly — if it’s still clean, that is. Honestly, our car towel doesn’t have a set home because we use it so often and, shocker, don’t wash it enough (reminder: must wash towel). We’ll stash it wherever it fits after a use, but the truth is it sometimes just rides on the floor. In case you need a new supply of car towels, Amazon offers ’em on the cheap.

Nonperishable Snacks

Incessant wails of “I’m hungry!” coming from the back seat will sink your ship — and sanity — fast. When you’ll be home in 10 minutes, the kid’s just gotta wait. But when errands take longer than expected or traffic extends your commute, you’ll want to have snacks at the ready. We keep a container stocked with a couple of granola bars, two Justin’s Classic Almond Butter Squeeze Packs, a few pouches of Stonyfield Organic fruit snacks, and a six-pack of Ritz Cracker Sandwiches. Another trick: Keep the container hidden so kids don’t ask for snacks just because they spot ’em. We like to stick ours in the space below the passenger seat for easy access.

A Variety of Wipes

Whether for post-potty maintenance or cleaning up sugary fingers, spilled lattes, spittle-covered faces, and those I-don’t-know-what-that-is-but-it’s-sticky messes, these wet wipes are indispensable. The 40-count canister is perfect for the car, as it keeps towels moist and lets you pull out however many the mop-up job requires. We find the center console is a great spot to store Wet Ones — accessible for you and riders in the passenger and back seats.

Hand Sanitizer

Keep this 2-ounce pump-action bottle in your glove compartment or center counsel so kids can clean their mitts after swinging on monkey bars, using ill-equipped public restrooms, or sneezing all over themselves. Definitely have them squirt and rub their hands together before they put food in their mouths. The bottle’s small size is easy for little hands to manage without making a mess, and even with frequent use, it should last you quite a while.


A bottle of sunscreen will come in handy more times than you can count, both for planned fun in the sun and spontaneous stints outside. It’s such an easy thing to forget at home or to not even think to bring if it’s cloudy when you leave your house.


Cuts, scrapes, scratches — they can all happen in the car or right before your kid climbs in. You need Band-Aids at the ready, in an array of sizes, so you can contain the blood for now and, if necessary, deal with the wound properly once you get home.

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A Road Atlas

Yeah, yeah, everyone uses GPS. But what if you’re headed somewhere unfamiliar, your phone dies, and suddenly you’re lost? Or, when navigating through a skyscraper-filled downtown, the satellite signal keeps cutting out? Tuck the Rand McNally Road Atlas into your seat-back pocket so that, technology be damned, you won’t be screwed. It has full-page maps of each state plus blown-up insets of major metropolitan areas.

Activity books

When kids get bored in the car, they’ll tell you. Then they’ll tell you again. And again. Or they’ll just start slugging their sibling. To keep those active minds occupies, stash an activity book for each child in the seat-back pocket, under the back seats, or anywhere, really. Activity books are especially great for leaving in the car because they won’t get fried when sun blazes through the windows. See our roundup of the 10 best activity books for kids of all kinds.

A Tool Kit

All the tools everyone should all have in their car just in case—flashlight, jumper cables, screwdriver, rain poncho, duct tape — you definitely need when transporting children. Lifeline’s AAA 42-piece kit give you all those plus more tools to save your ass if you break down, have a flat, or get into an accident. It all comes in a handy zip-up soft-side bag with handles that fits in any trunk and some spare tire compartments.

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