You get a lot of advice about what you absolutely, positively must have in your car.

Most of it is spot-on; some of it is a tad excessive.

You don’t really need a space blanket if you aren’t planning a long trip through a desert or a frozen wasteland.

Some folks take their preparation to an extreme.

I myself was guilty of this for a time when, living in Los Angeles, I wanted to guard against the consequences of an earthquake by keeping a few gallons of water stashed in my minivan.

You don’t have to go that far. But even if you don’t have jumper cables, a tool kit, a tire-pressure gauge, and all the other stuff the gearheads say you should have on hand, there is one item that, in my book, is absolutely necessary.

It’s a rag.

Yes, a humble rag.

Could be an old dishtowel or washcloth. Could be an old T-shirt. Could be a bandana. But everybody must have one in their car.

Why? Because the rag can serve many purposes.


You can use it to wipe stuff off of the engine so you can get a better look at fluid levels. You can use it to wipe the dipstick when you check your oil. You can use it to protect your hands when you have to loosen a stubborn lug nut. You can use it to clean your headlights and taillights when winter gets them all grimy and slushy.

You can also use it, if it isn’t too filthy, to clean up spills in the interior and even to polish up the exterior.

Best of all, this is an item that for most people will be 100% free, because rags are often headed to the garbage.

So get yourself a good old rag and keep it in your vehicle. You’ll be glad you did.

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