Get Prepared With An Emergency Car Kit: The Ultimate Car Survival Kit

Editor’s Note: This is a revised and updated list for 2018. 

We all know what a bug out bag is:  “A portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours when evacuating from a disaster.” You will hear such a kit referred to by many other names, including “72-hour kit”, “go bag” or “G.O.O.D (get out of dodge) bag”.  The exact term you use is not really important since the whole goal is to have basic essentials for survival readily available should disaster strike.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the myriad of things that could happen to put you and your family in a bug out situation (see A list for those that think it will never happen to them).  Some situations, such as an earthquake or tsunami, are natural disasters and others, such as a nuclear melt-down or civil disobedience, are man made.  The common thread with all of these disasters is the need to mobilize quickly and to have everything you need ready – really ready – with no scrambling around or afterthought.

So imagine this.  You are on a road trip and your vehicle stops.  It is early evening and starting to get dark but you are pretty handy around cars so you open the hood, move a few hoses and wires around, then try to get things going again.  You are alone and there is little if any traffic on the deserted road.  As much as you try, the engine is deader than a doornail and you are stuck.  It is now dark and there you are in the middle of nowhere.

Darn, you forgot to charge your cell phone battery so you can’t call for assistance.  And man oh man, it is starting to get cold.  You are hungry and you are thirsty.

What I have described is a situation where a bug out bag in your back seat or trunk would become invaluable.  So today, I will list out some essentials for the car kit and challenge you to gather these items and more so that you will be ready if and when you are stuck in your car for an extended period of time.

Best Practices: 46 Items to Include in your Vehicle Emergency Kit

  1. Tow chains
  2. Jumper cables
  3. Spare tire
  4. Tire jack
  5. Fix-a-flat (I like this brand) – Also check out BDS DIY Tire Fix Kit article
  6. Fire extinguisher
  7. Gasoline funnel
  8. Candles
  9. Flashlight
  10. Cigarette lighters
  11. Matches
  12. Flares
  13. Duct tape: Learn about the many ways to use duct tape here.
  14. Disposable gloves
  15. Well-stocked first aid kit (here is one I put together myself)
  16. Well-stocked tool kit
  17. Solar blankets
  18. Wool blankets
  19. Warm socks
  20. Rain coat
  21. Cash (bills and coins)
  22. Winter hat
  23. Heavy gloves
  24. Heavy sleeping bag for winter, lighter sleeping bag for summer: Learn about the best sleeping systems here.
  25. Paper
  26. Pen
  27. Whistle
  28. List of important phone numbers
  29. Can opener
  30. Knife
  31. Map
  32. Garbage bags in various sizes
  33. Paracord or rope
  34. Quart of oil
  35. Sewing kit
  36. Baby wipes
  37. Toilet paper – See article: Are You Toilet Paper Prepared?
  38. Hand soap
  39. Comb
  40. Hair brush
  41. Tooth brush
  42. Change of clothes
  43. Various towels in Ziploc bags (women can use to urinate in if caught in traffic)
  44. Water
  45. Water filter (such as the Lifestraw) – You can check out the guide to the best Water Filters here.
  46. Edible nuts stored in raw honey

I don’t know about you, but I got some good ideas from this list.  And shame on me; for all of my foresight I did not have a fire extinguisher in my car.  Thanks, Elaine, for your valuable contribution to Backdoor Survival and to our preps!

Consider getting a concealed carry permit if you travel a lot alone.

State laws vary on concealed carry permits. Some states recognize permits from some other states. Check your state rules and those of the areas you travel in or plan to before carrying but there is something to be said for having a legal right to carry a firearm in your vehicle. While times may be okay now, they can quickly change. Even if you do not think it is necessary now, it is nice to have the option. The classes are easy and cheap to take. Yes it is a bit of a hassle and honestly I think that it is just another tax to exercise your right to bear arms but it is best to go the legal route.

Some states like Alaska are open carry. I remember when living up there that it was no big deal to carry a firearm. Of course I also recommend that you don’t carry any firearm with you or in your car that you are not 100% proficient and comfortable with. This means taking it out and practicing sometime. I don’t care how long you have been around firearms, you get rusty if you don’t get out there and shoot some practices rounds and practice how to maintain and troubleshoot your firearm.

Also you want to always follow the rule of not pointing unless you really intend on using it. Just pointing a gun at someone can be considered a major assault charge a lot of places. Scary situations can lead to unclear thinking.

Tire Fix Kit

You don’t want to be stuck on the road because of something as simple as a flat tire. Check out the post “Tire Fix Kit For SHTF” for complete details. Some items to consider for basic repairs include:

  • Fix A Flat (Make sure to get the one that is rated for highway speeds)
  • 12 Volt Inflater. If your battery is the problem then this won’t help but if it is just a flat then you can get your tire pumped up in little time.
  • Spare Tire
  • Jack and other tools to change a tire

Always remember to make sure that your spare tire is properly inflated every few months and right before any hazardous driving conditions. If the weather forecaster says that there is a storm coming your way and you know that you will probably have to drive in it then you should check out your car.

Pet Supplies

There are a lot of people that travel with their dog. If you do this often then make sure to plan for them too. A few days of dog food, some treats, an extra leash, and a few days of any daily meds they take is a good idea. Chew toys can help them pass the time waiting for the situation they are in to change.

That being said it is important to make sure your dog has their rabies tag on and it is up to date when traveling. This is the one vaccination that the law pays the most attention to.

Further Resource: you can learn more about Pet Survival Kits here.

Bathroom Supplies

There are various ways to handle if you need to use the bathroom and are not anywhere near one. Carrying a roll of toilet paper or some type of tissue in your car is not a bad idea. There are also various urinal like appliances that you can have on hand but most of you are probably fine with roughing it without all that.

Supplies For Children

Getting trapped on the side of the road with kids poses its own set of challenges. It is a good idea to have some entertainment in the car for them. Now days a lot of kids have battery powered electronics so they may have some entertainment with them. Some battery banks stashed back can provide some extra power or you can pack some old fashioned entertainment suitable to the age of your kids. How about putting together a small tote that has a few items in it?

Also make sure that when you are packing emergency food and medications that you do not leave out the kids that travel with you. 3 days worth of food for you is one thing but 3 days worth of food for you and two kids or a family of 4 is a different scenario all together.

Remoteness versus urban break downs

This post was written from the perspective of being out in the middle of nowhere when a breakdown occurs. If you don’t normally travel that far from civilization then you may be able to narrow down how much supplies and the type of supplies you keep in your car kit.

Walking Shoes

There are some great shoes out there that are gorgeous and fun and all that but they are certainly not made for covering some ground if needed. I don’t go anywhere very far from home without having some shoes that I can cover a little ground in if need be. Walking 3 miles in flip flops is not something I am too keen on. If you have some idea of where you are and can walk to get help then that may be the best solution. Of course this is weather dependent as well. In some cases you are better off staying put for awhile until conditions improve somewhat.

You may need to change up your footwear that you keep in your car for walking sometimes or at least make sure you have thicker socks if you have to walk in colder conditions.

Flare Gun

For those that travel a lot, especially in areas where there are still some very isolated places, a flare gun is not a bad idea. There are plenty of cases of people running off the road and not being found until it is too late or they are in a lot worse shape. There are places in the mountains where if you ran off the road but were not visible right from the roadway, that you may not be found in time even if there is a search effort going on. Thick vegetation can mean death in extreme circumstances. A flare gun that is tucked away but still relatively accessible can allow you to signal for help.

This just happens to be my list and a pretty darn good one the average for Joe and Josie.  But this is just a starting point since your needs may vary, especially if you have children in which case you would also want to include some small toys and other amusements to keep the little ones occupied.

Getting stuck in a vehicle could happen anytime, anywhere.  Think about the list above and add the additional items that suit your particular situation.  As with all of the weekly preps in my “Getting Prepared” series, nothing is written in permanent ink.  Every situation, every household, and every budget is different.   The important thing is to take that first step.

The moment is now.

 

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  1. SW, a great list for automobile emergencies! Here is one other item that I HIGHLY recommend that you keep in your car that will recharge that dead cell phone and also allow you to run your laptop: It is a Power Inverter, a small device that plugs into your cigarette lighter (hopefully your battery is not dead). Just go to Amazon Electronics and type in “Power Inverter”. I have the Cobra 400 Watt and it works great. You might consider a much larger model to keep for home emergencies which, when properly connected (easy to do, just follow directions) will replace a smelly, noisy gasoline/diesel generator.

  2. A wonderful list and very similar to what I have in my car – I only put it together a month or so ago. To that I would add a sheet and a blanket. We keep the blanket over the back seat to protect the seat from the dog. It smells of dog, but if I was cold I would tolerate that. The sheet is one that can be torn up to meet first aid needs, say if you had a crash as you were marooned and needed pads to stop bleeding or bandages. A clean cotton sheet that can be torn up can give you whatever size bandages you need. I have scissors in my kit too.

    I think I made a mistake in putting all my kit into a 30 litre plastic container and it skitters all over the boot of the car. I think that keeping it in a soft carry bag would be more help. It could be wedged into a corner, and carried more easily if one needed to leave the car. However then one would lose the benefit of an extra clean container for collecting water.

  3. I would also add a method of starting a fire. You never know when, where you may get stuck. In WV it can get chilly in the hills at night even in the summer. I’m sure other parts of the country are the same way.

  4. I use Walmart heavy, see through plastic back packs. Will hold a lot. When I am on the road, I have a good first aide kit in the trunk. When I am at home, it is in the driveway. A person can bleach white older sheets and tourniquet or pressure bandage. The largers sizes can be tied over head to protect ears or over the nose in case of severe dust (volcano or sand storm). And the larger ones can be used as a sling. Just a more reasonable method of stocking your car kit.

  5. I saw glasses in the photo, but, not on the list. I buy the $8-10 pair at the discount stores. 1 pair? Try 3 pair, in hard containers, in most big boxes or bags. The first time you need them and don’t have them, you will not be happy. And, these are great barter items.

  6. Wow, I have most of the items on the list in my car, including food and water for my pets. They have their own BOB with extra leashes and a dog run cable. I also drive a Subaru and there are many compartment to stash smaller items. I also have a CB, this may work better than a cell phone if things go TEOTWAWKI.

  7. Great Survival Buzz with so much interesting and helpful info. I was so happy to learn about the web news article you mentioned in which people are FINALLY coming to terms with the fact that being politically correct will not save your life or keep a woman from being raped when threatened by those who respect only one authority: Extreme Islam.

  8. There are several things I would recommend you might want to add to your list. These include:

    1. A folding shovel (also known as an entrenching tool) – Helps you dig out when you get stuck or used when building shelter
    2. Heavy duty wire cutters or bolt cutters (if they are not already in your well-stocked toolkit!) – Used to cut through fencing that you may have to drive through
    3. A folding saw – Cut kindling, firewood, shelter posts, etc.
    4. Chemical glo-sticks – Good substitute for flares and flashlights
    5. Poncho – Rain protection, shelter (more utility than a rain jacket)
    6. Silcock – Used for faucets on commercial buildings that have no faucet handle
    7. Headlamp – Keeps your hands free while focusing light on the work area
    8. Emergency radio with NOAA weather stations – The ones with hand cranks give you another way to power them up when batteries run low
    9. Spare batteries for flashlights, headlamp, radio, etc.
    10. Waterproof tinder or cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly – Without this, you’ll have a heck of a time starting a fire in the rain.
    11. Gas siphon pump – Let’s you easily transfer gas from a can or other vehicle into yours.
    12. Self-defense item – Handgun, pepper spray, taser, etc. – I realize a knife can be used for this, but you don’t want your assailant that close.
    13. Small backpack – Something to carry all, or at least part, of this stuff in if you have to abandon your vehicle

    The Gerber Sport Utility Kit is a great way to get a folding shovel, folding saw, wire cutters, muti-tool, and flashlight all in a nice carry bag. I would also recommend a SOL Breathable Emergency Bivy Sack, in lieu of a sleeping bag. They are smaller, lighter, and waterproof, so you can use them in the rain or on wet ground.

    In addition, I’d carry a water filter bottle, in lieu of a LifeStraw. You want to be able to carry water with you, and these filter bottles have the filtration system built in. Not sure you really need to carry food, unless you’re traveling pretty far from home, in which case I would recommend lifeboat rations, as they will withstand heat better than other stored foods. If you’re storing all this in your trunk, it might get quite hot in the summer.

    Finally, the knife you carry should be fairly large, fixed-blade, rather than a small pocket folder. That way, with a beater stick or baton, you can actually use it to cut down larger trees. Better for self-defense, too.

  9. Add a small gas can to the list for just in case. We also have a gas siphon pump. In winter months we add a can of de-ice for door locks and windows. A container of kitty litter to aid in traction.

  10. This is a great list to start with and just like any other ‘kit’ needs adjusting for the users, the geographical area where you live, and just how far from your home you live. What I keep in my car depends on these things. Let’s take Gaye as an example. She’s told us she’s normally living on an island in the Pacific Northwest, her needs for traveling around that island are going to be different than when she goes off-island. The climate and season of the year also make a difference. Where she’s at now in the southwestern part of the US makes for a difference in what she carries. She may need to be more concerned about where and how to gather fuel should she need it for a fire than she would in the PNW.
    One thing which caught my eye was the heavy sleeping bag. In my travels around the western half of the US, heavy duty just didn’t enter into it. A light sleeping bag (in what is climate appropriate) along with the all-weather space blanket can do wonders plus if I have to leave the vehicle, it’s still light enough to carry.
    Water, I normally carry a gallon or two in any vehicle I drive. Traveling away from home more than 1 1/2 hours…I also have a collapsible 5 gallon container full (this has been needed several times while traveling). That fire extinguisher? Yep, have used that to help someone in need a few times also.
    Then, having all this in a vehicle is only good if you know how to use it. We have within us a thing called ‘muscle-memory’, this begins to work in situational events when you repeatedly use what you have in the vehicle. Just as any training requires repetition, so does any kit we have. For example, although I now have a foldable military shovel, my go to is my walking stick. With my stick, I can dig, I can also use is for defense and offense plus when walking it takes some weight off the legs and equalizes it to 3 instead of 2. My preference is for a pair of walking sticks but I like to have one hand free. Again, it’s about preference to the person, climate, geography, and let us not forget the size of the vehicle. 😉

  11. Good list, Elaine K!

    May I also suggest the following relatively compact items — minimum one set per occupant:

    -Mechanic’s gloves (in addition to items #14 and #23 in your list above);

    -Foam ear plugs (for sleeping beside the road or whatever);

    -Sleep mask (self-explanatory);

    -Snow goggles w/clear lenses (to be used — day and/or night — outside your vehicle in that blizzard that has you stranded);

    Also, carry a tarp (to lay on the snow when installing tire chains or changing a flat; also makes a great shelter if your vehicle should become uninhabitable).

    Above all, have the know-how to use your tools and other gear properly and effectively.

  12. What size car are you driving? If I put all that crap into my Honda Fit there would be no room left for anything else other than the driver. I’m 74 and doubt that long-term “survival” is any real option anyway. Thanks, but I’ll pass on this one.

      1. I don’t. My wife drives a two door Honda, I drive a Toyota 4X2 with the extra fake back seat (not the four door model). We both keep most of the stuff on the list in each vehicle. Since we live in Hawaii we don’t need the cold weather stuff, and people on the Mainland wouldn’t need it in the summer. A small backpack carries much of it, and the rest goes in her trunk or in a plastic box in my back seat.

        Still, if you think it takes up too much space, eliminate whatever you want. The list in’t a command: it’s suggestions for things to consider. Water, food (we like Lifeboat Rations as they taste good and are packed for long life in hot/cold conditions), a first aid kit, jumper cables, a couple or three flashlights, a cable to charge your phone, a small blanket, duct tape, a few disposable ponchos and a few other things don’t really take up much room.

        PS: We keep a small gas can in each vehicle, but they are unused because we don’t want fumes. If we ever need to use one, we will then replace it with a new one.

        1. PPS: I’ll bet a nickel there are plenty of people stuck in their cars in the NE today who wish they had all this stuff and a lot more. Especially more candles for heat, and a good snowmobile…

  13. Don’t forget the plastic liners from wine in a box. They can be used as a seat cushion, flotation device, etc. very handy and made out of a tough grade of plastic. Very handy.

  14. Here’s how a south american guvmint (Chile) views this problem:

    a fire extinguisher
    a safety triangle
    a spare tire
    a med kit

    and the latest: a reflective vest.

    The *stoopit* part of the vest is that it only needs to be IN the car (not in the trunk). And it MUST be saturn yellow. It can’t be any other colour. It can be draped over the driver’s seat or hanging on a clothes hook or in the glove box. There is no obligation whatsoever to actually WEAR it.

  15. Great information from the article and even more information from the comments. The list you provided will surely be used in my car. And I am so glad you tell us what car you have. I have a smaller vehicle and wasn’t sure if I could fit the list in my car but it worked great. Thank you so much!

  16. Ok I’m going to share two things I keep in my car at all times that would also be useful for survival. So far I use them several times a week and being prepared for day-to-day life is part of the Prepper Mindset we should all strive for.

    1. A foldable camping chair which I got from REI (quality)
    2. A lifeguard style straw sun hat, it looks almost Asian style in terms of how much it protects you from the sun

    As a parent of a kid who is really into sports we’re constantly going places where we are watching him play baseball games, practices, waiting to pick him up from camp, school, swim lessons, etc. having these two items sitting in my truck makes our day-to-day lives easier and much more comfortable than you can imagine.

    So why would these be important in a survival situation? The hat keeps the sun off your face and head thus making it possible to bare the heat or in cold environments can help retain some heat. It also has a para-cord styled strap one can use for other purposes.

    The chair you literally could sleep sitting in and it keeps you off the ground thus losing less body heat. If you are out in the middle of no where but you still have a comfortable seat to sit in then it gives you an edge.

    We also use the chair for pitching practice and if he can pitch the baseballs into the chair then we call it a strike. Did I mention the nice cup holder it has?

    P.S. If you happen to save someone else’s car from burning to the ground with your fire extinguisher that it is highly unlikely they will never replace it for you let alone barely thank you for your kindness. In their mind they are so overwhlemed by the situation (in a state of shock) that they will totally forget to do such things.

  17. Yesterday in my little corner of the world (PA), it was 101 degrees. I can’t even imagine how hot it was inside the car. Many of the items on this list will be crap after a few days like that.

    1. Hi Michael, I just reviewed the list am wondering which items you are concerned about.

      I know that some items in a first aid kit need to be replaced fairly frequently, especially things like triple antibiotic ointment, and that some bandaids and elastic “Ace-type” bandages may break down as well. Alcohol pads should be fine, though I would replace them every year.

      Cigarette lighters might leak in extreme heat, so some matches make sense as back up.

      Water: We live in Hawaii and have had no problems with commercially bottled water in hot cars. I would be much more concerned about water freezing and rupturing bottles in the winter on the Mainland.

      The list contained nuts in honey, which I have never heard of before. Interesting idea. We keep lifeboat rations in our vehicles as they are designed to survive extreme heat and cold for 5 years, and they have a decent sugar cookie-like appeal.

      One of the comments includes pepper spray. I had a small one clipped to my visor for a year or so, then tried it. While there seemed to be liquid inside, there was no propellant. I suspect, but don’t know, that the heat had boiled it off. Still, I never noticed any smell, so who knows? I would be inclined to keep pepper spray in a purse or bag removed from the vehicle when not in use.

      Any specific concerns would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    2. Then take those items out of the car and keep in your home or office during the heatwave. You’ll still have basics. As a fellow subscriber, I think it is more productive and courteous to offer a solution when stating a problem.

      Heat is a universal prepping problem. I keep water and food in a small backpack that I carry in and out of the house, stores, anywhere I go during the summer. It is heavy and inconvenient but getting stuck without water and food would be even more inconvenient.

  18. Hi Gaye! I wanted to just drop a line and let you know that the link for your Backdoor Survival Kit at Survival Gear Bags is shut down and they are not accepting new orders. Boo!

  19. I would add a multi tool or knife! They are so handy and can double as a weapon if need be in extreme emergency. I’m all about finding solutions but people get desperate in emergencies and you need protection and the ability to open cans, bags, make shelter. . .etc. . . all of which a simple knife can do!

  20. Axe. Sledgehammer. Marine Ka-Bar D2 knife Largish crowbar. Hatchet. Several methods of starting a fire. Also brake fluid, power steering fluid and window washer fluid. Gorilla tape is better than duct tape. Toilet paper is the most important paper in the whole wide world – 3 rolls, please. A good case of diarrhea will use a lot in a hurry. Wool blankets are better than any sleeping bag, unless you spend in the Mt Everest category. Aura makes an outstanding point for an inverter – allsorts of goodies too run from it, The reflective blanket should be heavy duty. It will help reduce heat loss and reduce the effects of cold air infiltration. Wrapped in 2-3-4 wool blankets and your person heavy duty reflective blanket you should stay warm. Footwear calls for 100% Merino wool socks and pair of logging boots from Columbia with the kiltie at the bottom of the lacing. If they are good enough for professional loggers to wear in the 2nd or 3rd most dangerous work in the world,, they’ll most likely do for you. A set of 100% Merino wool long johns would be great. Water purification tabs are MANDATORY with any drinking system. There is no filter in the world that stops the very smallest of critters – you know, the one that make you puke right in the middle an explosion of diarrhea. Either tabs or bring it to a boil. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Special Forces, SEALs: every survival manual they issue says the same thing. Anybody that claims 100% id either ignorant, foolish, or a liar, just so they get your money. Iodine and/or bleach will also purify water. If you carry a 12″x12″ 1″ thick stepping stone flat, you cab set up your little portable stove one the floor, get it running, open a widow a little to let the fumes out, and boil your water and heat your food, Having a good CB radio might get help in a hurry, depending on terrain. Andrew makes a good point about chilly. 51 years ago I was living in Clearwater, Florida, and I will say 29 degrees in a nasty, clammy, vile breed of cold. I’m 70 now, and live in West Des Moines, Iowa now. When I was 8, I lived in NE Iowa in Osage, Mitchell county, a little burg that hasn’t changed population much in 50 years. The winter of 51 it went down to -30F or lower for 29 days straight , and never went above 0 F. That, I submit, is cold, folks, So if I seem pedantic on the staying warm, fed, and watered…I think that’s one good reason.

  21. Re: fire extinguisher

    Kidde the MAJOR brand of fire extinguishers is having a massive recall of almost all of their “plastic valve “ models. You can go to their website and enter your model and serial number and they will send you a free replacement. Took mine about three weeks to arrive. The defective units can plug up while discharging rendering them useless.

    Tex

  22. This is a great “starter” list that can be readily adapted to the area/region that you are most likely to experience a survival/rescue situation. In my case, remote regions of the Southwest desert are where I spend most of my time. Although I wouldn’t carry every item on your list (e.g. the whistle or tow chain), here are a few additional items that are always in my vehicle.

    Tarp and heavy duty poncho: If you are stuck for an extended period of time, these two items can provide vital shade, as well as protection from rain and wind.

    Machete: This tool is much more versatile than a hatchet in areas where there is thick brush. I keep two machetes with 12″ blades in my vehicle.

    Frog Togs: From head to foot, these over-garments provide 100% protection against rain and wind. Compared to Togs and/or a really good poncho, a raincoat comes in as a poor 3rd place.

    Survival Rations: I maintain a supply of Mainstay survival rations (7200 calories) in my vehicle. Although the threat of starvation is miniscule compared to dehydration, you still need to maintain a proper level of energy if you are stranded for an extended period of time.

    Water: Because I live in the SW desert, water is the most vital emergency component of a survival kit. I never head out into remote areas with less than 10 gallons of water. Importantly, I have taken the effort to know where there are secondary sources of water in the remote area that I’m heading into.

    Tow Strap: I would advocate the use of a tow strap versus a chain. Why? Because chains are heavy and they take up more space than a 30′ strap. A winch is great to have, but if someone has to pull you out of a wash or creek from the rear, a front-mounted winch is useless.

  23. Good overall list. Quite a trunk full, too. Most of my gear fills the space behind the pickup’s seats.

    A few items I’ve added to my car gear are for northern areas that get serious snow:
    — a collapsible snow shovel
    — a folding spade (for stuff too hard/heavy for snow shovel)
    — a small bag of sand for traction grit
    — some Hot Hands packs.
    As a regular precaution, dress as if you had to walk in whatever weather you’re in. Don’t succumb to the notion that you’ll only be going from warm buildings to warm car and back to warm buildings and therefore dress lightly. You can shed layers in the car if you get too warm, but you can’t put them on if you left them at home.

    Stuff happens in winter driving, even if YOU were being careful. Might as well be ready.

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