The Smart Mom’s Checklist of Car Essentials

What’s the best thing about owning a car? It’s certainly not the french fries, graham-cracker crumbs, and assorted LEGO pieces littering the floor! No, we’re talking about the freedom provided by the great American road trip! Being able to motor the byways as well as the highways, stop whenever a roadside tourist trap grabs your interest, and set your own travel schedule — that’s the best part about having a car (or minivan, as the case may be).

With great freedom, however, comes great responsibility. When you’re 20-something, single, and childless, being sidelined by an unforeseen car repair can turn into an adventure. But if you’ve got three passengers under the age of 12 — or worse, three passengers between the ages of 12 and 18 — you don’t want any automotive troubles to trip you up.

You’ll need to take all aspects of car care into account, including getting your car smog certified. It’s an important part of car ownership – and a requirement when you register or renew a car in some states, including California. Finding deals like smog coupons from Smog Mart can help make the process more affordable, so you should check to see if there are any available before you go ahead and schedule an inspection. Smog is just one of many things to take into account when creating a car care checklist so, before you head out over the river and through the woods, or straight down Route 81, take a look at our list of car essentials to keep with you at all times.

Essentials for Roadside Repairs

We once heard a great story about how a friend’s mother changed her flat tires. She would stop the car, put on her hazards, take the jack out of the trunk, and place the jack next to the tire — upside down. It was never more than five minutes before a good Samaritan came to the rescue of the “clueless little lady.”

Of course, in this day and age, luring strangers to your aid is a good way to end up on an episode of Dateline. So if you don’t know how to change a tire, get thee to YouTube straightaway. We’d also recommend going through the process once before you set out — even that one practice run will serve you in good stead if you get a flat en route to  Grandma’s, or the Grand Canyon. Of course, you will need to have a spare tire and a jack with you, in addition to the know-how.

While you’re at it, a portable toolbox should be on board. A few other fix-it items that will come in handy include emergency flares, spare wiper fluid, jumper cables or a portable battery charger, a tire-pressure gauge, tire sealant, a can of good old-fashioned WD40, a roll of good old-fashioned duct tape, and some heavy-duty work gloves (no sense in ruining your manicure while you tend to your auto repairs, right?).

A clip-on work light is also smart to tuck in the glove box or toolbox. Yes, we know that your smartphone has a flashlight built-in, but if you’re stuck on the side of the road using both hands to loosen a lug nut, that smartphone won’t help unless you can cajole one of the kids to hold it (“There. No, higher. To the left a little. Not that far. Don’t drop — ugh.”). So spend a couple of bucks on a small, clip-on flashlight with an adjustable neck.

Cold-Weather Car Essentials

If you live in a cold-weather climate, you should be prepared to withstand cold weather, dig out of a snowdrift, or deal with ice and sleet. That means you should have a lock de-icer, a sturdy snowbrush or broom with an ice scraper, a couple of warm blankets, bottled water, non-perishable food supplies like protein bars, trail mix, or beef jerky, and some kitty litter or sand to use as traction.

It’s also smart to tuck a change of clothes and some sturdy boots into your car’s trunk. If you have a baby in diapers or pull-ups, grab some extras, as well as wipes.

Another lifesaver that you need to have on hand? A portable power bank or battery charger for your cell phone. Seriously, even if the only driving you ever do is to pick up the kids from school and pick up groceries from the supermarket, get one of these. You just never know when it might come in handy.

Health and Wellness Essentials to Keep In Your Car

First on the list of health essentials to keep in your car? A first-aid kit. You can buy one that will come stocked with everything you’d ever need, or put one together yourself, using an empty baby-wipe container, some snack-size plastic bags or recycled pill bottles. If you do take the DIY route, label everything clearly. Remember that you might not be the one rummaging through these supplies; even if you can tell the difference between an Advil bottle and an asthma inhaler at 60 paces, your 6-year-old might not be able to.

If you have room in that container, great. If not, grab another one, because you’re going to want a few other essentials from the medicine cabinet for the bathroom counter. These aren’t so much about saving your life as they are for sanity-saving purposes, but who’s quibbling? Include some spare toiletries like toothbrushes and toothpaste, a hairbrush and some spare hair ties, antiperspirant, facial wipes or baby wipes, tissues, sunscreen, and lip balm or an all-purpose moisturizing stick.

Afraid that all of these goodies won’t fit in your car? Or are you more nervous that your old junker won’t make it much further than the corner store? Maybe it’s time for a new SUV or minivan, and this is a good time of year to look for one. If you live in Kansas City, say, just google “Kansas City car dealer” along with “specials and offers” (or the make and model of the car you’re interested in!) to see what’s available in your area.

Et Cetera Essentials

You know better than anyone what items would be must-haves if you had to await car radiator repair – or if you simply need to keep an anxious kiddo distracted during a long ride. Whatever they are, procure some for your essentials kit. We know some moms who keep a picnic basket, replete with paper plates and napkins, plastic utensils, and a cheese board and corkscrew, tucked under the backseat. Others wouldn’t dream of setting off without a deck of cards, a frisbee, Play-Doh, and an Etch-a-Sketch.

In other words, once you’ve taken care of the toolkit, first-aid kit, and bottles of water, one woman’s “extra” is another’s “essential.” So you do you, mama — and happy trails to you!

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