DIY Car Emergency Kit You Can Make with Dollar Store Items

September 24, 2018

Staying prepared for on-the-road emergencies doesn’t have to break the bank. We’ve compiled a list of affordable ‘dollar store’ items to include in your DIY emergency supply kit. It could save you a lot of money when you’re on the road and in a pinch.

Do you ever find yourself wishing you were better prepared for life on the road? The Canadian federal government reported that over 115,000 car collisions occurred in 2016.

Whether it's due to inclement weather, an unreliable motor, or our own absent mindedness, various unexpected events could delay and prevent us from reaching our destination.

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,” and “almost half of those calls...required towing the car to a second location for additional assistance.”

There’s nothing worse than being stranded on the side of the road with an issue that you’re ill-equipped to handle. Car trouble can leave you in limbo for hours. Imagine being stuck in sweltering heat with a grumpy toddler that needs a snack...stat! Or at the opposite end of the emergency spectrum, you might be in transit when a zombie apocalypse sweeps the nation? In times like these, you might wonder to yourself, “If only I had taken the time to assemble an emergency kit!”

But, what if you did build an emergency kit? What kind of must-have items would you include?

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

With this information, we decided to assemble a list of all the items you might need to customize your own emergency kit.

Cost vs Preparation

There are pre-packaged sets you can buy, and while they make great starting points, they can be costly. And because your circumstances are unique, you might need to add some extras to ensure you’re covered for the most likely emergency scenarios. Wouldn't it be great to have all the supplies you need always available in your car, especially if you could get it all on a “dollar store” budget?

If you have the time, why not customize your own car emergency kit with items found in a local discount variety store? The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) world is a fun, cost-friendly option and a great idea. Here are some ideas for a kit that would save you money while providing the perfect fit for your circumstances.

Prep Questions For Your Kit

When brainstorming ideas for items to include in your personal kit, consider answering each of the following questions:

  • How frequently do you use the car?
  • Are your car journeys usually long or short? Or a mix of both?
  • Who is usually with you? Will you have friends, children, or pets as passengers?
  • What kind of places will you be passing through? Will you be driving on city streets or country roads?
  • What kind of conditions will you encounter along the way? What will the weather be like? What are the roads like? Can you expect a lot of traffic? Can you get smartphone reception at all times? How safe are the neighbourhoods that you’ll be passing through?
  • Do you or any of your passengers have any specific needs throughout the day? Do you need to keep any foods or medications in the car? Will you need to takes rests during your trip?
  • What kind of repairs or fixes can you safely do yourself if your car breaks down?

We’ve created the infographic below, and with a quick screenshot on your smartphone or tablet, you can retain this list for your own reference at any time.

We’ve assigned each item to one of five scenario lists: General, Car Fixes, Kids/Pets, Cold Weather, and Warm Weather. You can generally find each item at your local dollar store.

Go through the lists to pick and choose the most important items for your specific needs. Maybe you’re driving a decrepit vehicle in a colder climate? In that case, you might want to check out the Car Fixes and Cold Weather lists. Or maybe, you have a little one to transport during the summer months? If so, the Warm Weather and Kids/Pets lists might be of interest.


For general convenience, the following list contains items that everyone should store in their kit. It includes a phone charger to keep your smartphone powered up, tools (hammer, pliers, and screwdriver), a keychain flashlight, a first-aid kit, and reflective duct-tape.

Other items include a whistle when you need to signal for help, matches and a lighter, hand sanitizer to keep germs at bay, photocopies of emergency road service contacts and details, safety pins, a rope for towing, and painter's tape to protect your paint job on chip-seal roads.

Car Fixes

For quick car fixes, we recommend storing water for your overheated radiator and antifreeze to regulate your engine’s temperature. A hands-free flashlight (with batteries) makes it easy to do maintenance and repairs at night. It might also be a good idea to stash a raincoat if you have to change a tire during heavy showers.

Rubbing alcohol absorbs water that gets into your gas tank, while jumper cables will get your car battery running again if it dies. Glow sticks and stackable pilons make it easy for other cars to see you on the side of the road.

Other items for your Car Fix kit include a funnel for changing the oil, air-pressure gauge for checking your tires, tie-down straps, a plastic tarp to cover any broken windows, disposable gloves to avoid oily fingers, hand-cleansing towelettes, and a small fire extinguisher.

Cold Weather

When the weather outside is frightful, our Cold Weather list includes a few items to help you stay safe and snug when it’s icy out. To keep warm, we recommend storing an insulating blanket, scarves, mittens, tights, socks, tuque, and hand/feet warmers.

It’s a good idea to keep a small shovel, ice scraper, and snow brush for clearing your windows and digging yourself out of a parking spot. A combination of salt and kitty litter can be used as road grit.

Keep food and water, including nuts, cheese crackers, trail mix, and seeds in non-cracking containers.

Other items include a candle (campers/emergency) in a steel can/container taller than the candle (e.g. measuring cup), waterproof matches and lighter, and a camping fire-starter.

Hot Weather

There’s no reason you can’t stay comfy, cool, and content when driving in hot and humid weather. The list includes instant ice packs, and a microfibre dishcloth that you can soak in water, water bottles, and metal spice jars to keep the water bottles cool.

Nuts, cheese crackers, trail mix, and seeds make a good roadside snack while you're waiting for help to arrive, and during long road trips and unending traffic jams. Insulated shopping/lunch bags offer smart storage to keep your snacks and water cool and fresh.

Travelling with Kids/Pets

For infants and toddlers, it’s always handy to keep spare clothing and diapers stashed. Toys, books, and puzzles will keep them occupied while on the go, and snacks—such as age-appropriate nuts, cheese crackers, and trail mix—might help prevent a tantrum. Small bottles of water are must-haves, obviously. Other handy essentials include a sippy-cup, pacifier, and ready-made formula.

For a pet, you might want to keep a collapsible water bowl and a serving of pet food in the car whenever your little friend is on board. For dogs, it might be wise to keep a spare leash or collar with you.

Paper towels and a roll of dog waste bags are great for handling any messy situations that arise.

Organizing it

Once you collect everything you think you’ll need, you just have to store it all tidily. Your local dollar store should have backpack-style storage, so you can keep all your accessories stashed neatly in the trunk. You’ll also find some roll-up travel make-up bags, hanging shower baskets, or shoe-storage bags, plus headbands and hair bands to bunch smaller items together.

And there you have it. Now that you’ve got some ideas for your own car emergency kit, you just have to start building it. Look out for your future self, and stay well prepared for almost any emergency at a minimal cost.

If you’re planning for a lot of car fix-related emergencies, you may also be in the early stages of planning a new car purchase. Canada Drives can help! We connect customers with certified car dealerships across the country. We’ve helped thousands of Canadians get behind the wheel of safe and reliable vehicles. Simply fill out our quick online application and we’ll get you driving in a car you love.


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