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Emergency Garage & Car Essentials [Prepping Guide]

We tackle the best gear to prep your garage and car with in case of emergency or, you know, zombie apocalypse. See what we recommend stocking up on!

    The importance of a vehicle in a disaster situation is paramount.

    We live in a world where the nearest doctor can easily be a 20 minute drive away, and it’s because of this that we take distance for granted. 

    Carjacking Distrated in purse
    We can just hop in a car and go!

    We have cars, trains, and airplanes that we’ve grown accustomed to. And the notion that such would never be there is foreign to us. 

    Despite such a normalcy bias, however, the fact remains: when disaster strikes and your access to food, medical care, and other necessaries of daily life is broken, you need to do everything you can to reforge that link.

    Part of that means ensuring your car or truck still runs.

    5. Prep Garage Gas Can
    Don’t let a lack of this stand between you and life-saving medical care…or y’know, a new pack of diapers.

    Entropy exists, and things do break down though. 

    Thankfully, there are a number of steps that we can take to help mitigate our risk and keep our means of transportation up and running. Today, we’re going to talk about just that.

    We’ll tell you what you should stock in your garage and have on hand in case disaster strikes.

    So without further ado, let’s take a look at how to prep your garage for emergency vehicle maintenance. 

    Gear to Have in Your Car & Garage

    1. Headlight Bulbs

    In my experience, headlights like to go out at the worst possible times.

    It’s not until you’re three hours away from home at 9 PM and it’s raining outside that one of your headlights will decide to say sayonara.

    Within a post-disaster world, you can likely bet on the same type of situation happening to you. 

    Vehicle headlights
    Each side houses at least two bulbs: your normal headlights and your high beams.

    Fortunately, headlight bulbs are incredibly cheap to pick up at your local auto repair store.

    While some makes/models are easier to repair than others, for the most part, this is a relatively straightforward fix.

    Keeping some spare lights in your garage can prove the difference between being able to see what’s on the road ahead as you drive or not. 

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    2. Motor Oil

    You’re not going to be able to run to your nearest Jiffy Lube for a quick oil change post-disaster. So, you’re going to need to know how to change your own oil.

    This isn’t that hard of a job to do by oneself, but you are going to need the oil to do so.

    motor oil (Auto Guide
    If you haven’t had to top your oil off, it’s a skill worth knowing! (Auto Guide)

    Personally, I think you could likely get by with 2 to 4 bottles of oil. Anything more than that is likely overkill. 

    And don’t forget the funnel!

    Though you can craft a makeshift funnel out of just about anything, a funnel only costs around $2, so you may as well just go ahead and pick up one now. 

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    3. Oil Filters

    Right alongside your need for oil is going to be your need for an oil filter.

    These keep little gritty particles from getting into your engine and wearing away at the metal within.

    Used Oil Filter (Auto Guide)
    Used Oil Filter (Auto Guide)

    That’s vital if you want your truck to continue serving as a means of transportation post-disaster.

    Call me crazy, but I only change this every 2 to 3 oil changes, so I think you could safely get by with just one of these. 

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    4. Brake Pads

    Brakes have to be occasionally replaced. Not doing so is one of the best ways I know to enjoy an adrenaline-packed race down a mountain.

    no brakes
    Check your brakes often!

    You need brake pads, and you need to know how to change them.

    So take the time and money to invest not only in this equipment but in this skillset as well right now.

    Making it through a nuclear war only to die from having bad brakes is an ironic way to go, don’t you think? So do what you can to ensure that your vehicle has good brakes

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    5. Air Filters

    You know that little disintegrated and dirty paper cube that the mechanic always shows you when you ask him to do an oil change?

    That’s your air filter.

    These help to filter out little pieces of debris that are in the air. (The same air the engine uses to combust the fuel.)

    They are relatively cheap and easy to install. 

    Installing a clean air filter
    Installing a clean air filter

    Without regular replacement, contaminants can eventually lead to the grinding down and gunking up of the inside of your engine.

    The end result is a very expensive lawn ornament.

    I really don’t see any reason not to have two of these on hand at all times. 

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    6. Spare Battery

    How many times have you gone out to start your car in the wintertime only to discover that your battery no longer has any juice?

    A lot of times this is a fix that can be solved by simply jumping the battery — provided that you have another car available to do so.

    However, eventually, even this method won’t work. You’ll have to resort to shelling out $100+ for a new battery. 

    16. Prep Garage Battery
    It’s seen better days but it works!

    For disaster purposes, I highly recommend keeping a spare battery in storage at your place.

    Really, if it came down to it, you could also use that battery to power other items as well.

    If you’re interested in learning more about such techniques, I highly recommend reading Yago’s Lights On

    7. Portable Battery Charger

    Yeah, jumper cables are nice, but as implicated above, if you don’t have another car to jump yours with, you’re toast.

    For these types of situations, a portable battery charger is just the ticket.

    unlimited power
    Never having to rely on someone else to jump your car? It’s a power trip!

    I’ve had to use these more than once, and I have to say, they’re one of the best auto investments out there for day-to-day use.

    It’s not that you’ll be using it frequently, but they’re incredibly convenient to have nearby when a dead battery happens. 

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    8. Spark Plugs

    Spark plugs are what provide the spark that ignites the gasoline within your engine.

    No spark plugs, no travel. It’s as simple as that.

    Spark plugs, old and new
    Spark plugs, old and new

    As someone who’s had past troubles with spark plugs, I most certainly think that you get what you pay for here.

    So let that be a word to the wise. 

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    9. A Pack of Fuses

    Fuses are the bodyguards of your car’s electrical components.

    If a sudden surge of power hits your alternator, you could easily end up without an alternator.

    8. Prep Garage Fuses
    Look at ’em — little heroes, all of them <3

    It’s the humble fuse that throws itself into the line of fire so that it gets destroyed instead of the more expensive and important electrical components.

    Seeing that a pack of these is incredibly affordable, there’s simply no reason not to have some at hand at all times. 

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    10. Antifreeze

    Also known as coolant, antifreeze helps regulate the temperature of your engine.

    Extremes in either direction can quickly lead to irreparable engine damage. So, a little antifreeze truly is an indispensable preventative measure

    3. Prep Garage Antifreeze
    This stuff is SUPER important.

    Occasionally, due to leaks or other issues, your antifreeze will need to be topped off.

    If it turns dark brown due to degrading, it’s high time to replace it as well.

    In either case, having a container of antifreeze in your garage can be a great help.

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    11. Spare Tire

    Your vehicle likely already has one of these stowed away in the trunk somewhere. If so, that’s great.

    What you want to ensure though is that it’s in working condition.

    I’ve changed a flat tire on too many occasions only to find that the spare was flat as well or simply unfunctional.

    10. Prep Garage Spare Tire
    The handy dandy spare!

    So do what you can to make sure that your spare tire is in healthy condition as well. 

    If it’s bald, dry rotted, flat, or has a hole in it (yes, I’ve witnessed pretty much all of these) then you need to replace it ASAP.

    If you already have a spare tire, then great! Just keep it in good shape, and you’re good to roll!

    12. An X-Shaped Tire Iron

    Your vehicle will have a tire iron in it, and it’ll look like a deformed candy cane. It’s a piece of trash.

    What you want to replace it with for each vehicle is a quality tire iron – one of the ones in the shape of an “X.”

    The extra leverage you get out of one of these is amazing. 

    6. Prep Garage Tire Iron
    By the power of PHYSICS, your lug nuts will be undone!

    Sometimes those guys at the repair shop really overdo it tightening your lug nuts with their pneumatic socket wrench.

    Unless you have one of these types of tire irons stored away, you’re likely to have a next to impossible time removing some of the lug nuts.

    So go ahead and buy one of these for each of your vehicles.

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    13. A Few Lug Nuts

    This goes hand-in-hand with the above.

    As mentioned, sometimes mechanics get a little overzealous with their tools, tightening things to the point of their breaking when being removed.

    Tightening lug nuts
    Tightening lug nuts

    Lug nuts are one of the things that this frequently happens to.

    Keeping some spare lug nuts on hand serves as an excellent backup should one of these end up stripped or broken in your process of replacing a tire.

    14. A Quality Jack

    Everybody needs a good friend named Jack, but that’s not the kind I’m talking about.

    You would think this would be a given, but again, I’ve witnessed too many times where a jack was nowhere to be found when a flat tire needed changing.

    Car jack (Chicago Tribune)
    These ones are way nicer to use than those little scissor jacks that come with most cars. (Chicago Tribune)

    Keep your jack in your trunk at all times. And make sure you have all of the parts to it as well.

    If you decide to put this off, you’re only leading yourself to a massive headache later. 

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    16. Gas

    I like to keep at least three full cans of gasoline on hand at all times.

    Aside from being used in my vehicles, I also use them for lawnmowers, weed eaters, chainsaws, generators, and other gasoline-run equipment.

    You never know when you might need it, and I’ve found that I often end up using my stored cans on a monthly basis. 

    4. Prep Garage Gas Can
    You’ll never, ever regret having gas on hand.

    I do recommend that you properly treat your gasoline with Sta-bil, however,  if you’re planning on storing it for more than 2 to 3 months.

    Gasoline degrades over time, and you don’t want to be putting funky gas into your car’s tank.

    It’s a surefire way to cause yourself engine trouble. Sta-bil helps to slow down the degradation process.

    at Amazon

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    16. Tools

    It’s hard to do just about any repairs to your vehicle without having the proper tools to do the job.

    And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned while working on my own cars, it’s that investing in the right tool is well worth it in the long run.

    11. Prep Garage Socket Wrenches
    Look, I even have my 10mm socket!

    Pretty much all of the above can be accomplished with a good set of wrenches and a quality ratchet wrench.

    But the key is having the proper size heads and lengths to access each nut and bolt.

    You’ll likely want some sparkplug pliers as well. 

    If you have those though, you have the tools that will allow you to accomplish 95% of the jobs you’re likely going to do on your car. 

    at Amazon

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    Final Thoughts

    Your vehicle is important, and post-disaster, especially so.

    Stocking up on gas canisters, spare plugs and fuses, and the right tools is the only want to ensure you’re prepped and ready to bug out should the need arise.

    Car Survival Trunk
    A stocked garage and car means you’re ready to roll should disaster come knocking.

    There are undoubtedly other tools and pieces of equipment out there that make your garage the garage when it comes to post-disaster vehicle repair.

    Without turning your home into a fully functioning mechanic’s shop, I believe the above list is the best return on your money when SHTF. 

    A functioning vehicle is likely to be your only way to access much-needed professional medical care in these types of situations. As a result, it’s absolutely vital that you do what you can to keep your vehicle on the road. 

    Dead Reckoning Land of the Dead
    Get in, losers. We’re going to go pick up Grandma.

    Are there other tools, spare parts, or equipment you believe that we should have included in this list? Let us know in the comments below! Need a kit worthy of the car? Check out the Must-Have Gear for Car Survival Kits.

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    13 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar

      Great article. I do all of my regular maintenance on my vehicle and most repairs, rarely do I go to a mechanic.

      I would also add jack stands (so you don't get crushed if your jack fails or falls over), windshield washer fluid, an ice scraper, and because this article is about emergencies I would add safety glasses and gloves (latex and thick mechanic). It sucks when you're underneath a vehicle and crap falls in your eye, or the tool slips off the bolt when you're really leaning into it to get it off and you cut your hand.

      Also, an air pump, if you don't keep one in your vehicle already (which you should along with a gauge)

      September 20, 2022 9:34 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Timothy Van Orden

      I'd suggest adding a volt-ohm meter and some slip-joint pliers and a gap gauge or feeler gauge - if the spark plug gap isn't right, you're asking for trouble. Even new plugs should be checked. Also, I'd add some means to top-off tire pressure, even if it's a manual bicycle pump (I use a HALO Bolt Air+ Car Jump Starter and Air Compressor w/AC Outlet - it works great to inflate tires to the correct pressure, and I had no problem at all jump-starting my wife's car with its tired (8.5 volt) battery after two years of Phoenix heat!).

      November 27, 2021 5:05 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      As a mechanic, I have a few comments.
      1. Headlight is a good choice to have in your vehicle - at least put one in the glovebox. Many vehicles only require 1 bulb per side of vehicle which will minimize cost. Keep in mind that many modern vehicles use HID bulbs which tend to cost around $100 and are incredibly fragile.

      2. Oil. By bottles, I assume you mean 2-4 5 quart jugs of oil. Many vehicles may take 7-8 quarts for an oil change, and diesels tend to take 10-14 quarts. Make sure you get the appropriate weight for your car. European vehicles especially are very picky.

      3. Oil filters. You're crazy. Change the damn filter when you change your oil. Filters are cheap and they can only hold so much crap.

      4. Brake pads. You mentioned "good pads" and linked to $30 amazon pads. Expect to spend around $50 for most vehicles. Don't cheap out on brake pads.

      5. A couple of inexpensive air filters is a great idea. Alternatively, you could also have a reusable air filter (like a K&N).

      6. Spare battery. No. Just no. Batteries do have a shelf life - even with a trickle charger (which you did not mention having). Get a cheap battery tester and check it at least twice a year. If the tester says it bad, replace the battery. Most vehicles will get 5-7 years out of a battery, depending on climate.

      7. Portable battery charger. Excellent choice.

      8. Spark plugs. Most vehicles since the late '90s use iridium or double platinum plugs that have a service life around 100,000 miles. If you are nowhere near the service interval, there's no need to keep a set on hand. Add to that that a lot of Japanese vehicles' plugs cost about $15 each.

      9. Fuses are a great choice. Don't just buy a random box though. Make sure the sizes fit your car. ATM, ATC, FMX, AGC, MICRO2, and about 10 others are common.

      10. Antifreeze/coolant. Make sure it is the kind specified for you car, not universal stuff as pictured. That stuff is good in a pinch, but you don't want to mix the 7 or so different types.

      11. Spare tire. Yes, if your car has the space for it. Fix-A-Flat also works quite well.

      12. Lug wrench. Most definitely.

      13. Lug nuts. Not a bad idea. If you have a Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, or a handful of others with a 2-piece lug nut, you should also replace all of those with a one piece design that is less susceptible to problems.

      14. Jack. Definitely a must-have.

      15. Gas. You could also consider buying a gallon of preserved gas to keep in your vehicle. Its pricey, but it is sealed and will last for a really long time.

      16. Tools. Yes, have a decent set of tools. But spark plug pliers? Did you mean spark plug sockets? Sure, there's spark plug wire pliers, but I certainly would not consider them essential.

      Tl;dr not a bad list for sending people in the right direction.

      May 16, 2021 1:06 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        This was an excellent follow-up!

        September 20, 2022 9:19 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      range rat

      all that is fine...also a good idea to consider is putting a UPS on your garage door opener although most of the newer units have a battery backup...that way if the power goes out because of a fire or other calamity you still can exit the garage....important especially if you have an older wooden door

      May 9, 2021 12:36 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        That would certainly be a nice luxury, but not absolutely necessary. If you pull on that rope with a handle that hangs from the overhead track, the door is free to move. You can still use the opener as the lock for the garage door. When you close the door, push on the on the latch until it clicks into place on the overhead track. I know this because I’ve been living with a broken garage door opener (and a garage to crammed with crap to park in) for years.

        May 11, 2021 9:24 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Local Treeper

      Maybe you can get ahead of this flop... but seriously?! Who wrote this article? The last thing you need in your vehicle for an emergency is a headlight bulb! Oil filter?!! Seriously.

      Here is the real kit you need in your car for emergencies:

      120+ piece self contained toolkit.
      A wrench and socket that works for your wheels
      A solid 20 ton bottle jack
      2 or 3 2' pieces of 2x6 wood
      Running shoes
      First aid kit
      Fire extinguisher
      Gas can (empty)
      Military style shovel

      This kit should serve as additional to your bug out bag.

      May 9, 2021 10:52 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        SK prep

        This article is not the “bug-out” or in car emergency kit. If that’s what you are looking for go to the Pew Pew Tactical article for car survival kit. Maybe you didn’t catch the repeated use of the phrase “keep in your garage”. This article seems to be items to have available if you need to ensure your vehicle is operational during a longer term emergency. In my opinion, this is a pretty good list of things a well prepared family should have. In a longer term emergency these items would be hard to get and could be absolutely necessary. Many disasters involve failure of the power grid (California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina and Michael come to mind). Headlights would be critical if you needed to travel at night (or anytime in the wildfire situation). Honestly, after this article a spare headlight bulb is going in my in car kit.

        May 9, 2021 12:04 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Aden Tate

          I'm glad you enjoyed and appreciated it! Also glad that you found the information helpful. Thanks for the encouragement.

          May 10, 2021 8:39 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jacki Billings

        This article is aimed at things to stock in your garage. For car survival kits check out: https://www.pewpewtactical.com/car-survival-kit/

        May 9, 2021 2:39 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Aden Tate

        That's not the goal of the piece. The intent is to look at what a well-prepped at-home garage would look like.

        The headlight bulb wouldn't be kept in the vehicle (neither would the spare battery, spare gas, fuse kit, brake pads, oil filter, or most other equipment on this list), it would be for an emergency garage part.

        So if you didn't have access to a mechanic but still needed to ensure you had a working vehicle post-disaster, you would then have the parts you needed to do basic maintenance on your vehicle.

        As far as gear for keeping in your vehicle in the event of an emergency, perhaps that's a future piece that could be written.

        May 10, 2021 8:37 am
        • Commenter Avatar

          I thought the article was pretty good Aden! Apparently not everyone reads every word or they lack basic common sense. Anyway, I DO keep a pair of spare headlight light bulbs in my truck. It's a pain but they can be replaced in my truck without tools, and I've had them go out three times while on the road where you NEED headlights, not at home. They're small so easy to fit in any kit. It doesn't make sense to not have spares in your vehicle.

          May 10, 2021 9:57 am
          • Commenter Avatar
            Aden Tate

            Hey, thanks! I'm glad you liked it!

            May 13, 2021 7:55 am
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