DIY Car Emergency Kit You Can Make with Dollar Store Items

September 24, 2018

When you want to be prepared for a car emergency, with items specifically geared to your needs and activities, while keeping the dollar amount to a minimum.

Did you ever find yourself wishing you had brought some item along in your car, perhaps even in an emergency? It happens often enough. The Canadian federal government reported that in 2016, over 117,000 car collisions occurred. You wouldn't even need to be directly involved in one, but you might find yourself in a resulting traffic jam.

Whether it's in our temperate seasons, or in Canada's extreme heat or cold, various unexpected events could significantly delay us from reaching our destination. Look at what the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association), the most trusted brand in Canada according to the University of Victoria, reports. During the summer of 2017, CAA “helped 750,000 Canadians from the roadside, the majority of which involved battery problems, tire issues, or people locking their keys in the vehicle,” where “almost half of those calls...required the car be towed to a second location for additional assistance.”

What might all those different items be? While the Canadian government provides hints about various “kinds of emergencies,” we also looked at the various lists provided by CAA, and by the Insurance Board of Canada to help us zero in on needed items for our cars. Of particular concern is the CAA's finding of our inadequate winter weather kits.

We've looked for items individually and in pre-packaged sets. And they were great starting points, but we found that we often needed to add something; usually after the next car emergency event. Wouldn't it be great to have the kind of items we might need, always available in our cars, especially if we got them on a “dollar store” budget?

The Importance of Preparation & Cost

We've all wanted to feel better prepared, and really be better prepared for a car emergency that finds us stranded or delayed.

Those pre-packaged sets are okay but the prices are another thing! Unless you have lots of time and money, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) world is a favourite go-to, when trying to solve a problem that needs to be customized yet very affordable. If you rarely need to worry about unexpected traffic jams, you may not need the same things in your car emergency kit that we do. We want to share some lists and some ideas that would save you time and money, while, most importantly, being the right fit for you.

Prep Questions For Your Kit

To get started, answer each of these questions to generate a list of items you might need. You can generally find all the items, on our lists below, at your local dollar store.

  • how often am I in the car?
  • how long might the different drives be?
  • who is with me (age, purpose, pet)?
  • what kind of places are along the way? (remote, highway, city streets, country roads, small towns, etc.)
  • what kind of conditions will I encounter along the way? (weather, road, heavy traffic, light traffic, poor cell-phone reception, safety of neighbourhoods, etc.)
  • what are my specific needs throughout the day? (certain foods, medications, work, personal)
  • how comfortable am I trying to fix my car in a breakdown?
  • We’ve created the info graphic below for you to see these lists in an image on your device, at any time.

    List examples: These are divided into sample categories, but you'll probably want to pick and choose as you need.


  • phone charger, hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, keychain flashlight on keychain, lighter in your purse/pack (warms up door key when lock is frozen), first-aid kit, reflective duct-tape (or other reflective item – for bicycles and some toys), whistle, matches (waterproof is best), rope, hand sanitizer, photocopies of emergency-road service phone numbers and membership numbers, safety pins, painter's tape.
  • Organizing it:

  • backpack style storage for the portability of some items, roll-up travel make-up bags, and/or hanging shower baskets or shoe-storage bags, headbands and hair bands to secure items that may tangle.
  • Car Fixes:

  • backpack style storage for the portability of some items, roll-up travel make-up bags, and/or hanging shower baskets or shoe-storage bags, headbands and hair bands to secure items that may tangle.
  • Cold Weather:

  • insulating blanket, scarves (add layers by wrapping under your jacket), mittens, tights, socks, tuque, hand/feet warmers, bag of kitty litter, small shovel, ice scraper, snow brush, energy snack (nuts, cheese crackers, trail mix, seeds), water in non-cracking containers (or plastic bottles-should be checked every month), candle (campers/emergency) in a steel can/container taller than the candle (e.g. measuring cup), waterproof matches and lighter, camping fire-starter, salt.
  • Hot Weather:

  • instant ice packs, microfiber dishcloth, or light scarf for cooling (when moistened), water bottles (store out of sunlight in the car), metal spice jars (to insulate water bottles from heat), energy snack (nuts, cheese crackers, trail mix, seeds), insulated shopping/lunch bags to store snacks/water.
  • Travel with Kids/Pets:

  • Infant/toddler items: clothing, diaper, paper towels, roll of dog waste bags (for soiled diapers etc), toy/book/puzzle/colouring, to distract during the delay, energy snack (age appropriate nuts, cheese crackers, trail mix), water, sippy-cup, pacifier, ready-made formula, stuffy or toy.
  • Pets: water bowl (collapsible if possible), small pet-food serving, spare leash/collar/.
  • We hope you will find our lists useful and manageable.


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