The Five Essentials Any New Driver Needs in Their Car

Illustration for article titled The Five Essentials Any New Driver Needs in Their Car
Photo: Bret Hartman (AP)

Your child just got their license! Congratulations are in order. A newfound freedom is about to pass over your home not witnessed since before the days of “Honey, I have a craving for Rocky Road Ice Cream and pickles”. Date Night is back, baby! Time for a trip to Ruth’s Chris for a porterhouse and then out of the town for a show. The kid is gone!


Or maybe congratulations are not in order. Maybe you’re one of millions of parents who quite frankly don’t care about driving and wish Uncle Elon’s Auto Shoppe would create tunnel cars and self driving Teslas so you don’t have to parallel park downtown. Maybe you dread having your precious honor student joining the masses of the road going public behind the wheel.

You have had your child’s driving critiqued by a trained professional, Doris, at DriveAdjective. Your child has mastered her 2006 Toyota C-Rav4. You’ve bought her a new-to-them late model import that is “not some old clunker so I know it’ll be safe” and “only has 40,000 miles so I know it’ll be reliable.”

Most folks would say that is the ideal scenario for a new driver. What more could you ask for? Well, life happens. Vehicle usages vary depending original owner demands. Reconditioning processes on used cars vary depending on the seller’s standards. Dealers will have Certified Pre-Owned Programs to exceed State/Provincial expectations in some areas while simply comply in others. Joe’s Go-Gos may not see the need to recondition a car as thoroughly. This means you’re susceptible to the experiences of used car owners from generations before. Dead batteries, flat tires. Or worse: an accident. You name it, chances are it has happened to someone and “they’d only had it a week!” Here are some key items to put into a new young drivers car.

First Aid Kit

Several manufacturers provide a First Aid Kit with a new vehicle at time of purchase. Chances are by the time the vehicle gets to Owner #2 the kit has been long since pilfered. This is great for just about anything—chances are, you’re going to need some rubbing alcohol and a bandaid, and you’ll only have your car handy. Better to not need it and have it than need it and not have it.

Jumper Pack / Cables

Teens leave lights on. It happens. Jumper packs are pretty cheap now online. Name brands are available for ~$80 to $120. The upside to these is they are very simple to use for novice drivers in a time of crisis when they’re obviously going to be a bit flustered if this is their first dead battery. Red on Red. Black on Black. Press a Button. Car Starts. At least that’s how it is supposed to go. You’ll have to also remember to maintain a charge on your jumper pack so it will be useful in a scenario you need it.


This brings me to my personal preference: jumper cables. The set I was given for Christmas when I was a young driver had the instructions on the bag the cables were kept in. Locating correct jump terminals and following proper procedure for using cables with each vehicle involved is also essential to not having a safety issue.

Emergency Rations

The worst can happen and almost always does not. However, should you be susceptible to things like snowstorms or gas truck explosions (you are—trust me, I’ve been stuck in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic because a tanker exploded on all six lanes of a highway) stranding you on the interstate behind the pile up for hours on end until it’s cleared, it’s nice to have snack. Generally keeping a day’s supply of water on board and some snacks would be the best call. If you’re on a longer road trip then maybe keep an additional days supply on board. Think: granola bars and beef jerky, the kind of stuff you’d take on a hike. Chances are your teen isn’t going cross country much.


Vehicle Documents, Personal ID Card

May I see your papers? Generally young drivers don’t do much but drive the car. They have their wallet with their license and that’s it. Obviously they’ll find the registration in a fluster if they get pulled over. But we can make it easier. It varies by state and province which documents may be copied and which must be original issue so confirm yours. You need a VIN to get virtually anything.


Your young driver also probably doesn’t know their own blood type. Information like this, along with allergies to medications and emergency contacts, should be noted on a personal ID card. If they’re in an accident and are unconscious, making sure this information is handy will allow them to get the best possible care.

Roadside Assistance Membership

You may be thinking, wait what? Yes. Roadside Assistance is the number one thing to provide your new driving teen. Roadside Assistance (CAA, AAA, Manufacturer) will generally provide whatever your teenager will require in an emergency situation. They will bring you gas if you run out, change your tire if it’s flat, jump you if your battery is dead, or just tow your immobilized garbage off the side of a dangerous highway construction zone. The trade off to the safety and security is your time. On a busy night you can wait hours for Roadside Assistance due to volume. On a good day you’ll still have a bit of a wait. For some this wait is the catalyst for more automotive education in the name of self reliance. It’s either get Roadside or figure it out when your runflat is run flat 100 miles from nothing and your car wasn’t equipped with a spare.


Adding these five essentials to your teen’s new car will provide a sterling foundation for them to learn the items required of them as a motorist. Let them worry about getting that phone charger or auxiliary cord. You’ve handled the basics. Over the course of time you can add things like road flares, kitty litter, and extra clothes/snow provisions for more long distance travel like out-of-state college or daily commuting. It will vary from person to person. Your car is, after all, an extension of yourself. And you should always be prepared.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.


Still Deadpan Andre Braugher

TEACH THEM TO CHANGE A SPARE TIRE. Specifically, the spare tire in their car.