This nearly free item is one of the most important things you can keep in your car

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10 Things to Keep in Your Car in Case of Emergency

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.

RagMatthew DeBord/BI

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.

Click below to see some of the smart cars in the market place:

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Mercedes-Benz displays the smart fortwo edition 1 at Tokyo Auto Salon 2016 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba on January 15, 2016. The exhibition, one of the largest annual custom car and car-related product show, is held over the three-day period from January 15 to January 17. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Daimler AG Smart ForTwo Car2Go car-sharing automobile sits parked as as the concrete blocks of Berlin's Holocaust memorial stand beyond in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Daimler will review its management structure next year to respond faster to market shifts as Silicon Valley giants plot inroads into the automotive industry. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Smart car logo sits on the exterior of Daimler AG's Smartville automobile factory in Hambach, France, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Workers at Daimler's Smart car factory in eastern France voted to extend their working week to 39 hours in return for guarantees on jobs until 2020. Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Smart ForTwo automobile sits on the final assembly line at Daimler AG's Smartville factory in Hambach, France, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Workers at Daimler's Smart car factory in eastern France voted to extend their working week to 39 hours in return for guarantees on jobs until 2020. Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Smart ForTwo automobiles sit ahead of shipping from a parking lot outside Daimler AG's Smartville factory in Hambach, France, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Workers at Daimler's Smart car factory in eastern France voted to extend their working week to 39 hours in return for guarantees on jobs until 2020. Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chinese delivery documents sit on the hood of a Smart ForTwo automobile as it sits on the assembly line at Daimler AG's Smartville factory in Hambach, France, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Workers at Daimler's Smart car factory in eastern France voted to extend their working week to 39 hours in return for guarantees on jobs until 2020. Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg via Getty Images
French Secretary of State for Transport, Alain Vidalies (L) tests with European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc (R) a smart car at the World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) at the Convention Center in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on October 5, 2015. The congress takes place until October 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE MULLER (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)
Smart fortwo cabrio car is presented during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Smart cars by Brabus are seen in line during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 14, 2015. Flush with cash and confidence after years of rising sales, German carmakers are used to reaping industry-leading returns. But with Chinese demand abruptly slowing, the profit engine has begun to sputter, overshadowing the glitz of the world's biggest auto show which opens in Frankfurt. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
An attendee checks out the new 2016 Smart ForTwo car after its introduction at the 2015 New York International Auto Show in New York City, April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar
The steering wheel of Smart Fourjoy concept car is pictured during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) September 10, 2013. The world's biggest auto show is open to the public September 14 -22. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT)
Smart cars, Nissan Leafs and other vehicles line in a lot in Hayward, California April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger
People use virtual reality goggles while sitting in a 'smart fortwo cabrio' car prior to the Daimler annual shareholder meeting in Berlin, Germany, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
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