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15 Things to Keep in Your Car at All Times

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In 2015, AAA rescued 32 million stranded drivers—a record amount. The most common problems, AAA Northeast Manager of Media Relations Robert Sinclair Jr. tells mental_floss, were flat tires, dead batteries, and people locking themselves out of their vehicles. In the event that you pop a tire or run out of gas, don’t be caught unprepared. Sinclair shares 15 items to keep in your car at all times in case of emergency.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

1. CELL PHONE AND CHARGER; $10

“Believe it or not, I think a cell phone charger and cell phone are probably the most valuable devices,” Sinclair says. Most people have never had to change a tire and can’t tell an alternator from a carburetor. So having the ability to call for help should be a top priority.

Sinclair also recommends making someone at your destination aware of your planned route and estimated time of arrival before you hit the road on longer trips. “Some areas can be spotty” in terms of cell reception, Sinclair says. But if someone knows when to expect you, “when you don’t show up, they can send someone out to look for you.”

Find it: Amazon

2. FIRST AID KIT; $24

You should keep a first aid kit, complete with vinyl gloves, bandages, scissors, and antiseptic, in your glove compartment. AAA sells a car-friendly kit that also includes a whistle.

Find it: Amazon

3. JUMPER CABLES; $26

Leave your headlights on while you were out to dinner and return to your car to find the battery dead? Sounds like you’ll need a jump. Follow your car manual’s instructions to safely return power to your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

4. JACK; $25

Keep a car jack in the trunk in case of flats—and learn how to use it! Practice jacking up the vehicle and replacing the tire at home. Sinclair also recommends keeping a flat board (a sturdy piece of 3/4-inch-thick plywood) in the car to place under the jack. “Oftentimes, when you pull over to the side of the road, you’re on soft ground, and particularly if it has rained, the jack will just sink into the soft ground,” he says. “Additionally, if the jack isn’t secure, the vehicle can slip off the jack. About 70 people are killed every year when a vehicle falls off a jack.”

Find it: Amazon

5. LUG WRENCH; $11

“A lug wrench is the wrench that you use to remove the lug nuts that hold the wheel on,” Sinclair says. “Generally, the one that [the dealer] provides with the vehicle is a little rinky-dink thing—it’s generally a tool that doesn’t give you sufficient leverage.” Sinclair recommends purchasing an X-shaped wrench, which will give you enough leverage to budge those stubborn, factory-installed lug nuts.

Find it: Amazon

6. WHEEL CHOCKS; $20

To help prevent your car from rolling off the jack, place chocks (those triangle-shaped stoppers) under the wheels. “Those are designed to keep the vehicle from moving,” Sinclair says.

Find it: Amazon

7. SPARE TIRE

Your new car must have a spare tire in the trunk or attached to the underside of the vehicle, right? Wrong. Sinclair explains that, because of ever increasing mileage requirements, many dealers are nixing the spare. “One of the easiest ways to meet [the requirements] is to lessen the weight of the vehicle. The lighter it is, the better fuel economy it’s going to get. Spare tires, depending on the model, of the vehicle, can weigh 40, 50, 60, 70 pounds, and so they’re leaving them out when you buy a new car.”

Find it: Check with your car manufacturer or local automotive service center to find the correct spare for your car.

8. TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE; $15

Check your tire pressure on a monthly basis, not only during an emergency. Properly maintained tires will not only keep you safe on the road, but will improve your gas mileage. Check your car’s owner manual to find the proper pressure for your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

9. NON-PERISHABLE FOOD ITEMS; $12

If there’s anything worse than waiting for a tow, it’s waiting while hungry, so keep snacks on hand. “Like energy bars, a bag of Craisins, that kind of thing,” Sinclair says. In the unlikely event that you are stranded for a significant amount of time, that trail mix could be a lifesaver.

Find it: Amazon

10. WINDOW PUNCH AND SEATBELT CUTTER; $17

In the event of water immersion, Sinclair says you need to have a a window punch close at-hand. “If the vehicle goes underwater, generally, you have some time to get yourself together,” he says. “And what that window punch is, it’s a small handle, with a round metal piece that’s shaped in a point, and it concentrates the energy so you can try and break the window.” Sinclair cautions, however, that side glass is incredibly strong and can be difficult to break. “So get the biggest, heaviest, most powerful one that you can.”

Most window punches come equipped with a seatbelt cutter as well. “Sometimes, going into the water as a result of a crash, the seatbelt mechanism might not release on its own, and you need to cut it,” Sinclair says.

Find it: Amazon

11. FIRE EXTINGUISHER; $20

Sinclair recommends purchasing a small fire extinguisher that will work on flammable fluids such as gasoline and oil as well as electrical fires. “Now the key is where that thing is going to be located, because people will keep it in the trunk, but they might not be able to get to the trunk,” Sinclair says. He recommends Velcroing the extinguisher to the car’s console or inside of the front door for quick accessibility.

Find it: Amazon

12. DUCT TAPE; $11

Many small on-the-road repairs can be taken care of on the spot if you have a little know-how and the right tools. “I remember, when I was in my youth, I had an old car, and saw steam coming from under the hood,” Sinclair says. He pulled over and saw that a hose was leaking. “So, I let the vehicle cool off, and when it did, I went and got my electrical tape and duct tape and wrapped the hole. I used my gallon of antifreeze that I carry and topped off the radiator and went on about my business. I got a new hose the next day. A quick, little, easy repair and I was back on the road in about a half hour.”

Find it: Amazon

13. GALLON OF ANTIFREEZE; $14

Antifreeze raises the boiling point of water in order to prevent your car’s cooling system from freezing and your engine from overheating. Just like Sinclair did with his quick repair, be sure to let your car fully cool before adding new antifreeze to the radiator. Check your car’s owner manual or speak to a mechanic to find the correct type of antifreeze for your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

14. TOOL KIT; $14

A basic tool kit containing a screwdriver, hammer, wrench, and pliers should do the trick in a pinch.

Find it: Amazon

15. WINTER READINESS KIT (INCLUDING SHOVEL, BLANKET, AND ICE SCRAPER); $38

Should you be stranded due to a blizzard or other inclement weather, you need to be prepared for the elements. Keep a small shovel, winter gloves, blanket, ice scraper, and abrasive material (such as sand or salt) in your trunk. You can often buy ready-made kits that contain these materials.

Find it: Amazon

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

Buy on Amazon.

3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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