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.

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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.”

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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

The 25 Best Colleges in America

Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock via Getty Images
Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock via Getty Images

The college decision process is always a tough one, but review site Niche's annual rankings of the best colleges in America make it easier for prospective students (and their parents) to narrow down the choices to find the best fit. The 2020 list takes a variety of factors into account, including student life, admissions, finances, and student reviews. But the most important factor in their methodology, comprising 40 percent of a school's overall rating, is academics, which, according to the Niche website, looks at "acceptance rate, quality of professors, as well as student and alumni surveys regarding academics at the school."

Taking the number one spot on Niche's list for the second year in a row is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by Stanford University in the number two spot (again, for the second year in a row). Six of America's eight Ivy League schools made it into the top 10.

Here are the 25 Best Colleges in America for 2020, according to Niche's rankings.

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology // Cambridge, MA

  1. Stanford University // Stanford, CA

  1. Yale University // New Haven, CT

  1. Harvard University // Cambridge, MA

  1. Princeton University // Princeton, NJ

  1. Duke University // Durham, NC

  1. Brown University // Providence, RI

  1. Columbia University // New York, NY

  1. University of Pennsylvania // Philadelphia, PA

  1. Rice University // Houston, TX

  1. Northwestern University // Evanston, IL

  1. Vanderbilt University // Nashville, TN

  1. Pomona College // Claremont, CA

  1. Washington University in St. Louis // St. Louis, MO

  1. Dartmouth College // Hanover, NH

  1. California Institute of Technology // Pasadena, CA

  1. University of Notre Dame // Notre Dame, IN

  1. University of Chicago // Chicago, IL

  1. University of Southern California // Los Angeles, CA

  1. Cornell University // Ithaca, NY

  1. Bowdoin College // Brunswick, ME

  1. Amherst College // Amherst, MA

  1. University of Michigan // Ann Arbor, MI

  1. Georgetown University // Washington DC

  1. Tufts University // Medford, MA

12 Facts About Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
scgerding/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The only U.S. national park named after a person—America's 26th presidentTheodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) was established in North Dakota by Harry S. Truman in 1947. The park honors Roosevelt, who lived as a ranchman in the Dakota Territory in the 1880s and, as president, conserved 230 million acres of public land for future generations. Read on for things to do and see, plus what to know before you go camping, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

1. The plans for Theodore Roosevelt National Park began not long after Roosevelt’s death in 1919.

Medora, North Dakota, was chosen as the site of the memorial, and in 1921, the state’s legislature asked its reps in Congress to help set aside land for that purpose. One early proposal called for a park of more than 2000 acres, but that was controversial—the land was valuable to ranchers. Some believed a national monument was more appropriate than a national park.

Then, in the 1930s, drought and overgrazing led many homesteaders to abandon their land, which they sold to the federal government; some of those lands were set aside to create a park. In 1935, the land—which was in a north unit and a south unit—became the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area, and in 1946, it was taken over by the Fish and Wildlife Service and became the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge.

On April 25, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the bill that created Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park; at that time, the land included the South Unit and the site of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch. The North Unit of the park was added the next year. Finally, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that changed the memorial park to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In 2018, it received nearly 750,000 visitors.

2. Before the land became Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Native Americans hunted in the area.

A flint spearpoint and other projectiles from the Archaic Culture (5500 BCE to 500 CE) have been found in the park, as have artifacts from the Plains Woodland Tradition (1 to 1200 CE) and pre-Columbian peoples. Though one of the pre-Columbian sites includes a bison processing camp (or what remains of it), there was no permanent occupation of the area of that time, according to the park’s website.

There are a number of sites from what the website calls the Historic Period, which lasted from 1742 to the 1880s, and included artifacts like “stone rings, a rock cairn, and four conical, timbered lodges. Two of the lodges, presumably used by men engaged in seasonal eagle trapping, are still standing today … One archaeological interpretation indicated that the use of the badlands for hunting, gathering, and spiritual pursuits, though undertaken by numerous cultures and groups over millennia, had not significantly changed over that entire time span.” The Mandan and Hidatsa, among many other Native tribes, hunted in the area, and the lands have spiritual significance for some tribes as well.

3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains 70,488 acres.

The park is spread over three units. The South Unit, which is located in Medora off I-94, is its most visited area. The North Unit, 50 miles off the same highway, is more remote. Both units have scenic drives—though the drive in the South Unit is currently closed due to slumping—and hiking trails. The South Unit also has a petrified forest with a 10.3-mile trail.

The third unit of the park is its smallest, and very out of the way: The roads leading to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit are unpaved and sometimes require four-wheel drive. No roads go directly to the site to preserve the solitude TR would have felt living there, so getting to the site requires a bit of a walk along a mowed pathway.

4. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can see the future president’s Maltese Cross ranch house.

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin.
Erin McCarthy

When Theodore Roosevelt first came to the Dakota Badlands to hunt bison in 1883, he stayed with some cattle ranchers and decided to invest in a ranch himself. Before he left, he invested $14,000 into Maltese Cross Ranch. The cabin was built seven miles outside of Medora, and it was unusual for the area: While most houses were made of sod, Roosevelt’s ranch was made of ponderosa pine. It had a singled, pitched roof, which created an upper half-story where his ranch hands could sleep. There were three rooms (a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom for TR), and white-washed walls.

The cabin got new owners in 1900, and after Roosevelt became president, it went on tour: It could be seen at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, then to Portland, Oregon, for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. For a time, it sat in Fargo, North Dakota, and then on the state capital grounds in Bismarck. Finally, in 1959, the cabin came back to what was, by then, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Today, it can be found in the South Unit of the Park behind the Visitor’s Center.

The building is mostly original; the roof and shingles were removed at one point and have been restored. Inside, visitors can see several authentic Roosevelt artifacts, including a traveling trunk with “T.R.” on the top and a hutch.

5. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can go out to the site where Roosevelt’s second ranch house once stood.

A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
Erin McCarthy

In 1884, Roosevelt decided to abandon politics after the deaths of his wife and mother and settle at his ranch in the Dakotas permanently. But his Maltese Cross cabin was located on a popular route into Medora, and people were always stopping by. Grieving and seeking solitude, Roosevelt rode out to a site 35 miles north of Medora that had been recommended to him.

On the site, Roosevelt found the skulls of two elk, their horns interlocked, and named what he would come to refer to as his Home Ranch in their honor. He bought the rights to the site for $400; his nearest neighbors were at least 10 miles away.

Two friends of Roosevelt’s from Maine, Bill Sewall and Wilmont Dow, came to the Dakotas and built the 30-by-60-foot house of cottonwood pine; it had 7-foot high walls, eight rooms, and a veranda. Also on the site was a barn, a blacksmith’s shop, a cattle shed, and a chicken coop.

In Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Roosevelt wrote:

“My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand—though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and for, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset."

But the cattle business was not meant to be Roosevelt’s future. He eventually returned to New York, and after a hard winter where he lost 60 percent of his herd, he sold the ranch in 1898. By 1901—the year Roosevelt became president—the ranch was gone. A local said that all that remained was “a couple of half-rotted foundations."

Today, visitors to TRNP can take a scenic drive on gravel roads, then hike three-eighths of a mile to the Elkhorn site, located between the Little Missouri River and black, white, and yellow Badlands bluffs. There, they can stand on the foundation stones that mark where TR’s Home Ranch once stood, listening to the birds, insects, and low mooing of cattle, as he would have done. (They might even encounter a cow or two on the trail!)

6. More than 185 species of birds have been spotted in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The black and brown Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Wildnerdpix/iStock via Getty Images Plus

They include bald and golden eagles, blue-winged teal, American wigeon, turkey vultures, prairie and peregrine falcons, and the sage grouse. The park has a handy checklist [PDF] to help visitors keep track of the birds they’ve seen.

Birds aren’t the only animals you might see: TRNP is also home to elk, prairie dogs, pronghorns, feral horses, big horn sheep, coyotes, badgers, beavers, porcupines, mule deer, longhorn steers, rattlesnakes, and bison.

7. There are hundreds of bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Whether you call them bison or buffalo (though Americans use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference!), you’ll have a chance to see plenty of them at TRNP. Both the north and south units have herds—200 to 400 animals in the south and 100 to 300 in the north. Full-grown bison bulls can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2000 pounds, so visitors should give them a wide berth or risk getting charged and possibly gored.

The American bison (Bison bison) was once critically endangered and nearly went extinct. (Roosevelt was one person who was instrumental in saving the species from extinction.) The animals were reintroduced into the park in 1956. Because all of the living bison are descended from a small number of animals, monitoring the genetic diversity of the herd is important. Every couple of years in October, park staff round up the animals in both units by using helicopters to herd them into progressively smaller enclosures. Eventually, each animal ends up in a squeeze shoot, where staff takes hair (for DNA analysis) and blood (to test for disease) samples and weighs and measures the animals. Bison born since the last roundup are given tags and microchips so they can be tracked.

8. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a few prairie dog towns.

Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground.
Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
RONSAN4D/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Black-tailed prairie dogs are abundant in TRNP. Roosevelt himself described them as “in shape like little woodchucks,” and called them “the most noisy and inquisitive animals imaginable.” Visitors can see the first of many prairie dog towns in the park near the Skyline Vista trail.

9. In prehistoric times, Theodore Roosevelt National Park was home to a Champsosaurus.

Fifty-five million years ago, during the Paleocene Epoch, North Dakota—including the area of TRNP—was a swamp, and in that swamp lived a reptile called Champsosaurus. The animal looked like modern-day crocodilians called gharials and could measure nearly 10 feet long.

10. You can go camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There are three campgrounds in TNRP, but visitors just can’t drive in and set up a tent—reservations must be made, fees must be paid, and, in some cases, permits are required to camp in the park.

Camping isn't the only thing you can do in the park: It's also possible to canoe or kayak down the Little Missouri River if the water is deep enough.

11. The colors of the rocks in Theodore Roosevelt National Park tell a story.

A rock formation in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with gray, yellow, and light colored-layers.
hartmanc10/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The massive and unusual formations in TRNP, created by erosion over millions of years, are awe-inspiring—and you can tell a lot about them from the colors of their layers [PDF]. Brown and tan layers indicate sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, which came from the Rocky Mountains, while blue-gray is bentonite clay laid down by the ash of far-away volcanic eruptions. (The clay can absorb up to five times its weight in liquid, which is why it’s used in … kitty litter.)

Black is a layer of coal, and red is the delightfully named clinker, which is formed when coal veins catch fire and cook the rock above it. Locally, the red rock is called scoria, but clinker is its scientific name.

One coal vein located in the park caught fire in 1951 and burned for 26 years. Apparently, visitors could roast marshmallows over the fire, which finally burned out in 1977. Fires in the Badlands aren’t unusual; they can be caused by lightning strikes or even set purposefully to reduce hazards or benefit certain species.

12. There are a number of interesting historic sites near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

While you’re in the area, check out the Chateau de Mores—the mansion that was home to a French marquis who dreamed of bringing a cattle-slaughtering business to Medora—and the Von Hoffman House. And don’t miss the Medora Musical, a variety show held in an open-air amphitheater that features the history of the town’s most famous and infamous figures—plus an appearance by the president who once called the area his home.

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