The wonderful thing about having a car is that you don’t have to worry about the issue of weight, so you should always be able to carry a few extra water bottles. A few adjustments to your vehicle’s emergency kit can become life-saving in a time of need, or at the very least, handy.
One of the best places to store water is in a dry cooler in the trunk of your 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.
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 car for long periods of time.
A few years ago, I was on my way home to Big Bear, CA from Tijuana, Mexico. A trip that usually takes a little over three hours, took me about eight hours. 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 anyone 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.
I took backroads to avoid standstill traffic and even then, I finally reached the city in three hours. In the heat of the day, having water and a few snacks is extremely important, especially if you are traveling with children. That’s just one example.
Other scenarios include getting stranded in your car during a snowstorm or having car trouble in a remote location.
Regardless of the situation, it’s always important to have enough water in your car. Make sure the water is potable so you can use it for drinking, rehydrating a meal, washing your hands, cleaning wounds, or cooling your car engine.
The type of water you purchase can make a big difference in your storage options.
What difference does packaging have on water storage?
Plastic Bottled Water
There is a huge discussion about plastic water 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 on a sunny day. Not only does it leave a bad taste in the water, but like any industrial chemical you ingest, is it harmful for your body in the long run. While I do not recommend drinking this kind of water too often, in an emergency situation it might save your life. It’s up to you to weigh the cost of ingesting a little BPA in a survival situation, in exchange for ingesting chemicals.
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 a similar effect in the long run.
If BPA, BPS, or BPF are a concern to you, I recommend looking into the following options.
Apart from the environmental benefits, boxed water is a great alternative because it doesn’t contain BPA chemicals. The only problem to boxed water in storage is that it can crush easily if it’s not properly protected. If you keep your water in a cooler, you shouldn’t have any problems. But if you choose to store your water under the seat or elsewhere, you risk it crushing and leaking. AquaBlox provides a 5 year shelf-life for their water so it could be a good option for vehicle storage.
Glass Bottled Water
Glass is a great option for environmental reasons and probably one of the best options for the summer. 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 underneath the seat, they will roll around and can potentially break.
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 Bottle
Stainless steel bottles are another wonderful storage option. Insulated stainless steel bottles are perfect for summer because they will keep your water cold during warm weather. They are also lightweight and more durable than glass.
For the same reasons as glass bottles, you’ll want to fill them only three quarters of the way during winter months. This way you can prevent hazardous explosions. Water filled in stainless steel bottles will burst if filled to the top.
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 doesn’t change the quality, so it will be okay in for your car storage where temperature fluctuations are common and expected. The main drawback, other than being pricey, is that once opened they have to be finished completely. For most people, however, that shouldn’t become a huge problem because each pouch is only 4.2 ounces.
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.
Expiration dates on bottled water
Water doesn’t necessarily expire. Bottling companies are required to put a "sell by" or "expiration date" on their products to protect themselves from lawsuits. If you have water past it’s expiration date and you’re worried that it’s no longer safe to drink, your best option is to treat it with water purification tablets or boil it for about five minutes.
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How long does tap water last?
If you choose to fill your bottles with tap water, they will stay good for approximately 6 months, assuming that the containers are clean and purified themselves. 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 you keep tap water longer 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 any sunlight. This is also good general practice because clear bottles that are full can act like magnifying glasses when sunlight is hitting them directly. If this occurs for a long period of time, it can cause a fire inside your car. While this situation is uncommon, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
To keep your water within reach, it’s best to put it under the seat. The best location, however, is in the trunk of your car, and if possible inside a dry cooler to give it that extra layer of insulation.
How to store water in the car during the winter
To prevent water containers from exploding in freezing temperatures, plastic water bottles or aluminum cans are your best options.
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 SOL. One of the most clever ways of defrosting your water is by placing a hand warmer against it and then wrapping it in a towel or emergency blanket. You can also put your water near the vents and crank the heat to high. A little patience and you will have water ready to drink in no time!
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Purifying and enhancing water on the go
It is wise to keep supplies to disinfect water in serious emergencies. You can keep water purification tablets for the times you might need cold water. It would be wise to keep a small pot and matches during the winter months when you might prefer to boil the water.
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.
Based on the choice you make from the options above, you may need to rotate your water 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 a manual notification.
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