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Parenting Hacks

11 Things Every Parent Should Keep in Their Car

By Cari Wira DineenFeb 1, 2018

Whether you drive an SUV a sedan, or that ubiquitous parent favorite—a minivan—there are certain items that you should always have in your car. Because, despite our best efforts, emergencies happen. And when you're traveling with kids, you don't want to get stuck.

There’s the usual car-related stuff to try to be prepared for, of course, like battery issues, getting locked out, flat tires and running out of gas — all of which rank as the top reasons people call for roadside assistance, according to Michael Calkins, spokesperson at AAA. And that’s why you should always keep the obvious — a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a windshield scraper and brush, a spare tire, and a flashlight and flares — in every car you drive.

But, when you go on a family vacation, issues can pop up when you’re on the road that aren’t just auto-related. Here are some other items you might want to keep in your car, just in case.

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Paper Maps or an Atlas

Wait, what? Who needs a bulky fold-out map when we can use our phones to navigate? You do.

If your phone battery dies, GPS signals fail, having U.S., state and county maps on hand can help get you out of a jam and back on the road. And while you’re at it, it’s not a bad idea to keep a pen and paper in the glove box as well.

Potty Needs

If you’ve got a baby, toddler or a potty-training preschooler, keep your car stocked in case of a pee-mergency. Krista DeMaio, a mom to three, always keeps a portable potty in her car should she not be able to get her kids to a bathroom in time.

“My 4-year-old always has to go at the most inopportune moments,” she says. While you’re at it, keep a roll of toilet paper, wipes and a plastic garbage bag with your potty, as well as a change of clothes for each kid, and extra diapers or pull-ups if your child uses them.

Non-Perishable Food and Bottled Water

Not only do snacks keep the ‘hangries’ at bay and help make road trips more bearable, it’s also good to have on hand in the case that you’re stranded and waiting for help to arrive.

Make sure to store both energy bars and bottled water in a dark, cooler area of the car — but avoid the trunk since it can get too hot or too cold during the summer and winter months, says Calkins.

A Kid-Friendly Playlist

Is there a better feeling than everyone belting out a song together in the car at the top of their lungs? All it takes is one ride around the block with your kids singing Cake By the Ocean (the edited version) to remind you why it’s worth your time to put together a playlist with kid-friendly lyrics.

A Few Plastic Shopping Bags

Having a few extra bags on hand can make a big difference. “You never know when you’ll have an emergency puke, garbage, or wet bathing suit situation,” says Bryce Gruber-Hermon, a mother of four. Keep a few stuffed inside the car doors or in a center console for easy access.

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A Blanket

Or two. Perfect for a picnic, or to keep your family warm if the car breaks down in the winter.


Or some other treat to placate children who are melting down when you’re at your wit’s end in the middle of a traffic jam.

Pro Tip: Make sure you have the same exact type of treat and enough for each child to avoid further arguing. And since you’re in the car, be extra careful about candies that could be choking hazards. (I’m looking at you, Whoppers).

Baby Wipes, Napkins, or Paper Towels

Or all three. Clean up spills and wipe off dirty hands.

A Utility Knife or Multitool

A Swiss-army type knife that can fit on your keychain and comes with scissors or a knife. It can help you cut a jammed seatbelt, or break a window. Hey, you never know.


If you or your child has asthma or allergies, stashing an extra inhaler/EpiPen can literally be a lifesaver. Just be sure that it is stored only as directed and that you check the expiration date and replace it as needed.

An Umbrella

What’s worse than getting a screaming toddler from the parking lot into the supermarket? Doing it while it’s pouring rain on both of you.

There’s a reason why Mary Poppins always keeps hers close at hand. Stash an umbrella or two under the car seat for rainy days.

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Written by

Cari Wira Dineen

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