By on November 21, 2019

1968 Ford LTD in Colorado wrecking yard, trunk - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Wednesday night marked the first time this season that yours truly was called upon to perform an annual ritual; one that falls on random days throughout the cold and dark months. A friend called me for a boost. While jumping dead batteries is a task I loathe — all stemming from a childhood fear of electricity — I perform the task at least once a winter, sometimes several times, and have for two decades.

Why? I’m always the guy with the cables. And it’s only during battery-reviving excursions like this that I pause to think about all the crap that accumulates in a person’s trunk during the year and how, quite often, most of that junk is of zero usefulness to the owner in the event of a breakdown or emergency.

So, how much of what’s in your trunk actually serves a useful purpose?

In this writer’s trunk (and yes, it actually is a trunk), a number of helpful things take up space and add weight, but I’d never want to take to the road without them:

  • Full-size spare (just one of my unneeded winter/summer wheels, as the base Cruze didn’t even come with a space-saver spare. And I hate those anyway…)
  • Jack and lug wrench (useful for obvious reasons, latter doubles as a makeshift weapon)
  • Jumper cables
  • Car blanket (useful for tire-changing and in emergency situations)
  • Ratty but indestructible jacket from the ’90s (see above)
  • Quart of 0W-30 motor oil (if the engine needs it, I’ll want to have it)
  • Cheap flashlight with hook
  • Snow brush/window scraper (now residing in front passenger footwell)

That completes the list of useful items currently residing in my trunk, though the garbage bag and plastic water bottle I found could be used to make a urine-powered solar still, should the need arise. Maybe I’ll keep them in there.

Given that I’ve started a decluttering trend in my life, little else lurks back there. This wasn’t always the case. I’ve known a number of people whose trunks are like an archeological dig site — layers of refuse and assorted crap, weighing down the vehicle and holding back their fuel economy, all the while while providing no benefit to the owner. Not even peace of mind.

Speaking from experience, if you’re the type who might cross a border anytime in the near future, it’s best to clear that shit out. You don’t want to be surprised by what Checkpoint Charlie discovered back there.

So, B&B, if your daily driver has a trunk (and even if it doesn’t), what’s back there right now? How much of it serves any purpose?

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

46 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Lurking in Your Trunk?...”

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Where I live in California, it is ILLEGAL for supermarkets to provide free bags to take your groceries home. As such, I carry a selection a bags for grocery-getting.

    Ain’t freedom grand?

    • 0 avatar

      The food-borne illnesses on the rise in California because of bacteria from reusing grocery bags is totally worth it to reduce the amount of plastic trash being dumped into the ocean in Asia and Africa.

      A friend came back from Oman this week and we went out for breakfast. The place we went had excellent bloody marys with paper straws that dissolved if you didn’t finish your drink in less than five minutes. Dumb.

      • 0 avatar


        Nat Geo data shows 93% of ocean plastic comes from the 4 biggest rivers in the 3rd world.


        But the US must stop all plastic use.

        This is just as smart as not burning our coal (which is burned 95% clean out the stack). WE ll eventually export it to India and China where it will be burned 100% DIRTY. NO SCRUBBERS.

      • 0 avatar

        When I go to CA, I bring new disposable plastic bags that I buy in bulk from the local restaurant supply store. So yes, I bring my own bags! The look on peoples faces at Whole Foods is Priceless. Also, can someone tell me the logic of still having to buy bags for t-can liners and dog poo duty?

        In CA its all about getting max $ from the taxpayer. Hefty bags etc.. are taxed….

    • 0 avatar

      The answer about food borne illnesses is to use the throw away bags for meats and the
      Reusable ones for everything else. Common sense. But cheapness makes people do odd things. My county has a 5
      cent by fee, ostensibly for litter reduction. Use of throw away bags dropped 70%. Interesting that somebody spending $300 in groceries is concerned about fifty cents in bags. I use some of those bags still because they are the trash bag for the kitchen. We generate so little garbage that a typical Hefty kitchen bag would take a week to fill. Nd buying those bags most certainly are a waste of resources and money

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        “Interesting that somebody spending $300 in groceries is concerned about fifty cents in bags.”

        No. My concern is that Government is poking its nose in places it doesn’t belong—such as the manner in which I carry groceries.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        “those bags most certainly are a waste of resources and money”

        Not your call. I reused those bags for other purposes at home–usually for soiled kitty litter. I can make my decisions in daily life…stay out other peoples business!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    1) Gym bag with toiletries kit, gym clothes and spare sox, underwear, t-shirt.
    2) First aid kit.
    3) Booster cables.
    4) Small 12v compressor.
    5) Folding shovel.
    6) Emergency kit with candle, foil blanket, protein bars, flare, flashlight, work gloves, pencil, paper, etc.
    7) Washer fluid.
    8) Dog treats and ‘poop’ bags.
    9) Grocery bags as they charge 5 cents per bag up here (just remembered this from reading the post above).
    10) Kitchen sink. Well just kidding about #10.

  • avatar
    Big Smoke

    I used to have a lowered sports car. To get the jack under the vehicle, I packed a 2×4 piece of wood to drive up onto, so I could get the jack under there.
    I also have no spare in this vehicle. I have sourced a spare tire.
    Mag wheel lock? Those are stupid. If said thief really wants my wheels? They are going to smash the window and retrieve that mag wheel lock key from the glove box or trunk. Every BMW and audi has a little holder for it.
    Damn – Now I’ve just told every thief the secret hiding place.
    Air compressor and tire plug kit. I also change my wipers as needed. The old ones go in the trunk, as spares, in case of over exuberance with an ice scraper.
    Car prepper, Big Smoke.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I have a blanket and a plastic tote bin for grocery shopping at Aldi. And the 120V charger for my EV that I’ve never even opened.

    If we can count the glovebox, then I also have a flashlight and a tire pressure gauge.

  • avatar

    Don’t have a trunk, wagon has a cargo area.

    2018 Regal TourX
    Snow brush/ice scraper
    golf sized umbrella
    Armor All cleaning products
    first aid kit
    warning triangles for disabled vehicle
    Rubber cargo mat to protect the carpet

    1967 Mustang Convertible
    old cut pile shag carpet as a liner (thanks Dad!)
    golf clubs
    golf shoes
    jack (but no spare)
    fix a flat
    shop towels

    2016 GMC Terrain (Wife’s car) cargo area
    rubber cargo mat
    snow brush/ice scraper
    golf sized umbrella

  • avatar


    10 Best list is out

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I generally don’t leave things in my cars that don’t belong there. I never understood people who keep a closet full of clothes and other stuff in their cars.
    In the GTO I don’t have anything. In the Subaru I have a bag that has a couple towels and some straps and an emergency ratchet and (metric) socket set. In the Lexus I have the OEM carpeted floor mats still in the plastic – it came with all-weather mats installed.

  • avatar

    I won’t restate the obvious that everyone already has, or ought to have, but one that I didn’t figure out for a while is a Coleman cooler in the back of the trunk or the rear footwell. Gives you the flexibility to go somewhere else after a grocery run and you can keep your other gear in it the rest of the time so you don’t lose much space.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    So I don’t keep tools and stuff in my trunk anymore. I do however, keep an igloo cooler behind the rear seat of the van, a habit I picked up when we lived in the tropics to help keep the cool stuff cool on the way back from the supermarket.

    It also helps keep beer and wine bottles from rolling all over the place.

  • avatar

    Full spare, jumper cable, small tool kit, gloves, jacket, ground cover, sun hat, jack, lug wrench, flashlight, chains, tow strap, reflector triangles, grocery bags. All fit in the spare depression or in side pockets so most of trunk is empty.

    I have never used the tow strap or reflectors but all the rest has gotten some use.

    My wife on the other hand only has a AAA card and a CC card as emergency gear. :)

  • avatar

    Chains, lot of chains. Oh and bandaids.

  • avatar

    Storage cubby in the ‘Vette has a can of fix-a-flat, funnel for gas tank (capless design), towel and one of those shower grab rail suction things that makes removing the targa top easier.

    In my truck I’ve got a 4-way tire iron since the trailer lugs are a different size then the truck lugs. Learned that lesson the hard way. Also got some tie down straps and tow rope, plus a small tire inflator.

    The wife’s car has reusable shopping bags along with the factory spare, jack and tools but nothing else.

    I hate things rattling around, so I tend to be a minimalist when comes to storing things in my vehicle. At home in the garage I have tons of car-fix items, like 2 storage tubs that I take to the track for brake changes. Since my wife works from home I figure if I get stuck I can call her or AAA. Now my boat is a different story… that thing is loaded with random spares of parts that might break plus a few tools.

  • avatar

    Cooler with a fifth of good bourbon, metal glasses and ice! :)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    95 Thunderbird- milk crate with an assortment of waxes
    and a bottle of rubbing compound. Container of Teflon lube. WD-40 spray can.
    Lucas engine and transmission additives. A couple of metal and plastic funnels. Spray bottle of armor all. Flashlight. Towels and rags.
    A Harbor freight 3 in one charger/light/compressor unit that stopped working.

    New 2018 Challenger GT-bottle of leather conditioner. Spray bottle of armor all. Towel rag. Shopping bag-reusable.
    I’ll probably buy a set of jumper cables or a new charger/light/compressor unit since they fairly inexpensive.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The car in the picture looks like an early Chevy II by the tail lights and the bumper. My father had a 62 Chevy II.

    I keep jumper cables, insulted shopping bags, snow scrapper brush, and battery operated emergency flashers in each of my vehicles. I bought a spare tire with tire jack and tire iron online for my 2012 Lacrosse

  • avatar

    I’ve made a padded safe space for persons with TDS. I keep a teddy bear, chocolate cookies and a large extra absorbent towel for all the tears. For those commenters here, and you know who you are, I welcome you to use the safe space anytime!

  • avatar

    I hate car clutter more than any other kind of clutter. I also hate thieves.
    The result: the visible parts of the cargo areas in both my cars are empty.

    Under the floor of both cars, I’ve got tire-changing tools, a triangle, and a blanket. I don’t carry jumper cables with me because I don’t think I’ve ever had a dead battery except when the car has been sitting at home for a week or more.

    The Highlander has a bit more room under the floor, and so I also have the cargo cover (when not in use); a few basic tools; and a small portable air compressor. It carries its spare tire under the body. The Bolt doesn’t have a spare and so there is a can of fix-a-flat.

    • 0 avatar

      I am reborn. I detest clutter of any kind, whether at the office, at home, or in the vehicle.

      Americans are the most rampant consumers of all things, from the most necessary to the least necessary, and hording is the result, in addition to a massive misallocation of resources, and this poses economic, ecological, mental health and physical health issues.

      I have a strong belief that approx 30% to 40% of things that Americans purchase or consume, be they consumer goods (e.g. cheap, Chinese crap), food, medical services/treatments/testing/pharmaceuticals/supplements, other services and goods, etc., are not only not necessary, but actually stress Americans even more as these things cost units of labor, diminish quality of life, physical and mental health, but also result in a massively inefficient economy (e.g. end of life care rendered to terminally ill persons and medical care rendered to very elderly people with a very low quality of life consumes a massive and disproportionate % of health care costs, leading to massive wasted resources, whereas effective preventative care is far less costly and far more efficient in terms of improving quality and length of life).

      Buy/consume quality. Buy/consume things that are proven quantities. Buy/consume things that will I prove physical & mental health, not decrease them at the added detriment of wasting resources and adding to clutter and making the economy less efficient, while making quality of life worse.

      • 0 avatar

        DW – I am so with you. Not to detour from the subject article, but all the asinine decorations people need to “complete” their lives is the most wasteful, self-indulgent excesses for absolutely no purpose but to support their mental illness. I have a friend who is a “collector of car memorabilia”. No, he is not. He is a hoarder who won’t throw any car part away. Ever. Probably the largest collection of dead batteries on the east coast. I understand being prepared… even erring on the side of improbability. But he who travels furtherest and fastest, travels alone. Think about that.

    • 0 avatar

      Years of living in Manhattan taught me that nothing should be visible in your car that didn’t come with it. You’d be amazed how many people refuse to listen to this advice when street parking in Manhattan, and maybe not amazed that I know they didn’t listen only because their cars were broken into during one night of street parking. “But the Bloomingdale’s bag on my back seat was empty when my window was smashed!” Must not have been a psychic thief then.

      • 0 avatar

        Happens here too. I know people who’ve had three or four car break-ins in a few years, and every time it turns out they’ve been leaving all kinds of crap visible, sometimes including briefcases or even laptops.

        I’ve been parking in cities for 25 years and have never had a car broken into, not once, that I parked. (My wife once left her purse on the seat of our C-Max and, sure enough, it was stolen.)

  • avatar

    I keep a giant rainbow double-box kite in my trunk.

  • avatar

    Gee, I never even thought to ask her name…

  • avatar


    Medical Kit
    Motor oil
    Paper towels
    Spare tire
    9 mm Luger
    Socket set
    water bottle
    Tire iron

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Could be a 68 Torino.

    I agree on clutter but I don’t know what that has to do with having emergency items in your vehicle. Are you saying that you should not have any items in your vehicle in case of an emergency? What happens if you break down in a remote area or it is freezing outside? Having no emergency items in your vehicle is as bad of an extreme as having too much.

  • avatar

    I have a dry box in the back of my truck and I have tools,jackall(hilift),small bottle jack, jumper cables, saw, chains, tow cables, tow strap, cargo tie downs and season appropriate survival gear. I have a few tarps in their too.
    In the winter I’ll usually keep the jumper cables and a tow strap with a few short chains under my back seat since it is easier to grab.
    In the winter I carry an extension cord for plugging in the block heater.
    I always have a few flashlights in the cab along with a few pairs of work gloves and reflective safety vests. I have some road flares and safety reflectors too. An old rain coat always sits under the back seat.

  • avatar

    Generally nothing the cars didn’t come with. So the Fiata has the factory goo-compressor since it lacks a spare, and the GTI has a spare and associated accoutrement. Actually, the roadside emergency kit it came with is probably under the floor back there. First aid kit, jumper cables, other crap, in a neat bag.

    I keep a good tire pressure gauge in the glove box of each car.

  • avatar

    I no longer carry jumper cables. Don’t want to take a chance on frying alternators etc. AAA card instead.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    You can carry one of those portable lithium chargers they shouldn’t fry an alternator.

  • avatar

    I have a small tire compressor, tire gauge (well that’s in my glove box), jumper cables and an old fitted sheet. I suppose the fitted sheet can provide a bit of extra warmth in an emergency, possibly, maybe.

  • avatar

    Have a miniature tool shed in my car, in return, usually get called on by friends to help fix their crap as im like a wrecker but in a car. Least changing flats is a 5 min job with power tools.

  • avatar

    Depends on the vehicle. In the tool box of the truck there is a good selection of tools along with two strap, small floor jack, tire chains, a selection of chemicals, rags, tarp, straps, bungies, zip ties, gaff tape. The Jumper cables reside behind the back seat. Next to the driver’s seat is a good flashlight. On the dash are leather work gloves and/or winter gloves that time of the year.

    In the van the jumper cables are above the driver’s seat and there is a small tool kit between the seats, flashlight, gloves, and some other tools in the engine cover console’s various sections. Then a reusable shopping bag hanging from the e-track with the e-track straps, bungies ect.

    At the other end of the scale the Lincoln usually has nothing that stays in the trunk long term. The flashlight, a 6 way screw driver, a dusting rag, and some napkins in the door pocket. Tape measures, note pad and a selection of power cables in the lower levels of the center console.

  • avatar

    Fleet consists of 2 college vehicles plus 3 at-home vehicles (two have trunks). Everyone gets Premiere roadside assistance through auto insurance carrier. Everyone gets a 25-inch breaker bar with the appropriately-sized thin-wall deep-well socket. Some have jumper cables, some have jump starters, all have inflators.

    My trunk has more – nice inflator, jump starter/backup phone charger, copper jumper cables, small inverter, some cleaning supplies, multimeter, OBD2 code reader, some hand tools, dedicated socket set, oil, hand-cleaning wipes, some camping/first-aid type items, large umbrella and a folding chair. (Goal is to keep my car running, be on-call for family members and also be able to help other people I run across.)

    As a teenager, I watched a car burn at a gas station – the fire started in the rear hatch and he tried to put it out with the floor mats, then asked the gas station if they had a fire extinguisher (they didn’t), then watched his car burn. Because of that, I carry a 10-B:C fire extinguisher in my trunk.

    The folding storage boxes from Ikea make ideal trunk organizers.

  • avatar

    Gym bag with large towel, plenty of suntan lotion and insect spray (nudist camp visits)
    canvas tool bag bulging with hand tools
    tire compressor (Autozone special)
    cross lug wrench
    bungy cords

  • avatar

    Decent jumper cables are a must ~ not those crappy ones most people carry .

    A habit left over from growing up Down East in the time of short lived batteries .

    Full size spare, jack, lug wrench I know fits, a wheel chock for safety along with a long sleved shirt .

    Spare oil & ATF too plus some basic tools, I don’t think modern vehicles will be needing many tools though .


  • avatar

    Recently an abandoned car was about to be towed here in California’s Orange county. The CHP were there as it was on a state hwy. Details are not clear, but a dead human was discovered in the TRUNK. Shortly after an arrest of the alleged murderer was made. At the place where the arrest took place a kidnap victim was found along with a large quantity of fentanyl.
    My van does not have a trunk, but in the cargo area is a box with a 4 way lug wrench, a quart of oil, a gallon jug of coolant mixed 50/50, spare V belts and to tools to change them, work gloves and a 1 gal gas jug.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Garak: Honestly, just the low maintenance of the electric drivetrain sounds appealing to me. Gas or diesel Rangers...
  • stuki: For a current production car, it’s almost bizarre. Really sluggish, to the point of almost wanting to...
  • Oberkanone: 250 HP AWD Hatchback or Sedan Mazda3 Turbo, a vehicle you can buy and drive. So much more fun than...
  • RHD: ILO needs to wake up… and get a life.
  • Carlson Fan: “I could see quite a few places where you’d might want an electric model.” I’ll bet my...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber