Water storage

The Best Ways to Store Water in Your Car

Nadia TamaraDo It Yourself, Emergency Preparedness, Vehicle Preparedness 5 Comments

Water storage

Water is essential. You should always have at least a bottle on hand no matter where you're going.

The wonderful thing about having a car is that you don’t have to worry about weight, so you should always keep a few liters of water in your vehicle’s emergency kit.

What's the best way to store water in a car?

One of the best places to store water is in a dry cooler in the back of the car. Ideally, you want the water to be away from direct sunlight.

The cooler provides a layer of insulation and light protection during both summer and winter temperatures.

The best container will depend on your needs, how much space you have available in your car, and weather conditions. In any case, I highly suggest using BPA-free containers.

In this article, we'll discuss container options and the best place to keep your car's water storage during the winter and summer months.

Why do I need to keep a water supply in the car?

It’s not at all uncommon for people to be stranded in their cars for long periods of time.

A few years ago, I was on my way from Tijuana, Mexico to Big Bear, CA. A trip that usually takes a little over three hours, took me about eight. There was a multiple-car accident in Temecula that caused bumper-to-bumper traffic and delays of over 10 hours.

You could argue that in this situation I could have pulled over on the first exit and waited it out, but anyone familiar with Temecula knows that the exits are miles apart and the city is far from the highway.

This is just one minor example. Other probable scenarios include getting stranded in your car during a winter storm or having car trouble in a remote location.

In any case, non-perishable food and potable water can become necessary on any trip, especially if you're traveling with children. It can serve multiple uses including rehydrating a meal, washing your hands, cleaning wounds, or cooling your car engine.

What difference does packaging have on water storage?

Plastic Bottled Water

There is a huge discussion about single-use plastic bottles because of the issue of BPA leaching into your water. BPA is the industrial chemical bisphenol A used to make certain plastics. 

It is true that a bottle made with BPA will leach the chemical into your water when the water reaches a high temperature or has been exposed to the sun's rays. Not only does it leave a bad taste in the water, but like any industrial chemical you ingest, is it harmful to your body in the long run.

BPA is an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to many health issues affecting people of all ages, such as increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 

While I do not recommend drinking water from disposable plastic bottles that have been left in a hot car for extended periods of time, in a survival situation, water might be life-saving, in which case my main concern wouldn't be BPA. 

It’s important to keep in mind that some bottles are made with BPA-free plastic. While it sounds good on the packaging, read closer to see what plastic it has been replaced with. If it has been labeled with recycling numbers 3 or 7 or “PC”, chances are it contains BPS (bisphenol-S) or BPF (bisphenol-F), which are alternatives to BPA and have similar negative effects in the long run.

If harmful chemicals are a concern to you, I recommend looking into the other options mentioned in this article.

Boxed Water

Apart from the environmental benefits, boxed water is a great alternative because it doesn’t contain BPA. The only problem with the long-term storage of boxed water is the storage situation itself.

If you keep boxed water in an insulated cooler, you shouldn’t have any problems. But if you choose to store it under the seat or elsewhere, you risk it crushing and leaking.

AquaBlox has a 5-year shelf-life guarantee so it could be a good option for car water storage so long that it's kept in a larger plastic container to protect it. 

Glass Bottled Water

Glass is a great option for environmental reasons and probably one of the best options for storing water in high temperatures. Any glass bottle that is properly washed can be filled with potable water and stored in the car.

Keep in mind, however, where you will be storing glass bottles. If you’re storing them side by side or underneath the seat, they will roll around and can potentially break. I recommend keeping them in a sturdy container and protecting them with a sleeve.

During the winter, depending on where you live, you run the risk that the water will freeze. If the water is filled to the top, the glass will crack as the water expands into ice. Make sure you fill your bottles three-quarters of the way to the top, or a little less.

Stainless Steel Water Bottles

Stainless steel containers are another wonderful storage option. Insulated stainless steel bottles are perfect for summer because they will keep your water cold during warm weather (or lukewarm in hot temperatures). They are also lightweight and more durable than glass.

During extreme cold, you should fill them only three-quarters of the way. Stainless steel bottles can burst if they have been filled to the top with water and then freeze. 

Rather than keeping several small stainless steel water containers, a larger one (like this one) might be more convenient for the car.

Aluminum Canned Water

Aluminum canned water is ideal because it’s BPA-free and temperature will not alter the flavor of the water. Blue Can water has a shelf-life of 50 years, so you can store it in your vehicle pretty much indefinitely. Because of it’s size, it can be stored in multiple places throughout your car. In summer months, the aluminum allows you to cool the water quickly in ice. In winter months, the aluminum allows you to defrost the water quicker than stainless steel or glass bottles.

The only drawback is that it’s a very expensive option. Blue Can water sells for about $1.50 or more per can. If you want a hassle-free solution to your vehicle water storage, this is your best option.

Scepter Water Jugs

The military uses scepter jugs as a reliable and convenient way to carry large quantities of water. You can find BPA-free jugs made of high quality durable plastic. For these kind of jugs leave approximately 1/4 of the container’s volume empty to allow water to expand into ice during winter months.

Bagged Water Pouches

Water pouches built for emergencies and long-term storage, such as the Datrex Water Pouches, are made of durable plastic. They are convenient because they will easily fit into small spaces, and they can freeze without bursting.

Temperature won’t change the quality, so it will be okay for your car storage even if extreme temperatures are common or expected.

The main drawback, other than being pricey, is that each pouch is only 4.2 ounces (that is, half a cup). You would need roughly 30 pouches to make up a gallon of water. I see how it could be beneficial in an emergency situation, but for long-term storage purposes, larger containers are better. 

Freeze-Proof Water Bottles

There is such a thing and it comes in handy when hiking in freezing temperatures, however, this is a relatively inconvenient and expensive option for water storage in your vehicle. I recommend the above options before purchasing a special freeze-proof bottle, but that’s only my opinion.

5-Gallon Water Storage Container

When it comes to emergency preparedness or a crisis scenario, a bit of extra water can prove to be life-saving. If you have plenty of room in your car, these 5-gallon plastic containers are a great option to consider.

They are made with food-grade plastic and are BPA-free. The handle at the top makes it easy to carry, while its rectangular shape allows you to store it right side up and sideways without it rolling around. The spigot provides a mess-free and easy way to pour the water and acts as a faucet if needed for hygiene.

These are a good idea to have if you're going on a road trip or are doing van life.

Shelf life of bottled water

Water doesn’t necessarily expire.

Bottling companies may put a "sell by" or "expiration date" on bottles of water to protect themselves from lawsuits since the quality of the water in the bottle can change over time (with respect to flavor and smell). 

The FDA recommends consuming unopened bottled water within 2 years of its manufactured date. This has more to do with the deterioration of the plastic of the bottle than the water itself.

If you have unopened bottled water that is past its expiration date and you’re worried about the chemicals or flavor, your best option is to filter and purify it. 

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How long does tap water last?

If you choose to fill your storage containers with tap water, the water will stay good for approximately 6 months, assuming that the containers are clean and purified themselves. They should be stored at room temperature (or between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and in a dark place or away from direct sunlight.

It is your responsibility to make sure the bottles or jugs have never been used with dangerous chemicals and are not contaminated. Even though it’s common sense, please ensure that the tap water is safe to drink before storing it in containers.

If your stored water is older than 6 months you can treat it or boil it to re-purify.

How to store water in the car during the summer

To prevent chemicals from leaching into your water, you must store water away from direct sunlight and prevent it from being exposed to extreme heat for an extended period of time.

In hot climates, the best location is in the back of your car.

If the passenger and cargo compartments are combined, the best spot is in the cargo compartment at the far back.

If the passenger and cargo compartments are separated, the back seat will be the best spot because the trunk can get hotter than the main cabin of the car.

If possible, keep your water inside an ice chest to give it an extra layer of insulation. You can cover it with a light-colored blanket to repel the heat (remember that dark colors absorb heat).

If you want to keep your water within reach, it’s best to put it under your seat.

How to store water in the car during the winter

To prevent water containers from bursting in freezing temperatures, plastic water bottles or stainless steel are your best options.

In cold climates, the best location is in the trunk of the car inside a cooler. If you wrap the bottles in a cloth, it helps to keep them from freezing as quickly, plus the insulation of the cooler will create an additional layer of protection.

In case your water does freeze, you’re not completely out of luck. One of the most clever ways of defrosting your water is by placing hand warmers against it and then wrapping the bottle in a towel or emergency blanket. You can also put your water near the car vents and crank the heat to high.

With a little patience, you will have water ready to drink in no time!

Which cooler is best for storing water in the car?

Hard-sided coolers are better than soft coolers for car storage.

Rotomolded coolers (like these ones) are an ideal choice because they offer maximum insulation when compared to other cooler types.

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Purifying and enhancing water on the go

It is wise to keep supplies to disinfect water in the event of an emergency.

You can keep water purification tablets or a little container with bleach for the times you might need cold water.

During the winter months, it might be better to boil it, in which case it would be wise to keep a stove kit and a small pot. 

If you’re concerned about your water tasting like plastic, you could always keep a few drink powders to mix in with the water. For added benefits, purchase electrolyte powder mixes.

In conclusion

Based on the choice you make from the options above, you may need to rotate your water supply twice a year.

A great way to keep track of your water rotation times is to mark the bottles with the date you updated them and the date they should be rotated. Mark your calendar or make a phone appointment six months in advance to receive mobile reminders or push notifications.

This article was originally published on June 6, 2018. It has since been updated and improved.

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Comments 5

  1. Thank you for your information, everyone was telling me I couldn’t keep water in my trunk and I just got a new car and have been traveling a lot, having water in my trunk was part of my emergency kryptonite kit.
    Thank you for letting me know it’s safe for a short duration.

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  2. Thanks for all the info! Is there a cooler you recommend for storing water in your car? I live in WI so we get hot summers and cold winters!

  3. It was very helpful that you explained how tap water can be stored safely for up to 6 months. My husband and I are wanting to prepare an emergency kit in our car and we are wanting to store tap water but we are unsure of how long it lasts. It is nice to know that every 6 months we will need to replace it.

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      I’m happy this helped! What I do is rotate my water and car kits every Fall and Spring, since I live in a place where the climate changes drastically from summer to winter. This way, I’m sure the contents of my kit stay fresh and relevant to the season. 🙂

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