No one knows when the next market crash is coming. But pretty much everyone knows that another crash is bound to happen at some point.

While we can't know the timing of a major market downturn, we can know the kinds of stocks that are best to own when one comes. Three great stocks to buy ahead of the next market crash are Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), and Dollar General (NYSE:DG). Here's what makes these stocks more crash-proof than most.

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1. Abbott Labs

Abbott Labs handled the big market crash of 2008 quite well with shares falling only a fraction of the overall market decline before quickly bouncing back. There's a good reason why that was the case: It's a blue-chip stock that doesn't have to worry about demand falling off for its products during rough patches. Investors also had confidence that Abbott would continue paying its attractive dividend just as it had done since 1924. 

It's been over 10 years since then, but while Abbott has changed during that time it's still in a great position to weather any storms that might come. The company has several strong businesses that sell products that are in demand regardless of what happens with the market or the overall economy.

Abbott's biggest moneymaker is its medical devices segment. Sales are rising steadily for the business thanks in part to increased market adoption of its HeartMate 3 left ventricular assist device and MitraClip device for treating mitral regurgitation. The company's established pharmaceuticals and diagnostics business segments also continue to deliver solid growth. 

But Abbott's growth should soon kick into an even higher gear. The company awaits U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance of a new version of the Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system. Longtime CEO Miles White, who plans to transition into the executive chairman role in March 2020, said in July that he thinks sales of $5 billion or more should be achievable with the new version of the company's popular CGM system.

2. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) is another healthcare stock that navigated the last big market crash relatively well. Patients need prescription drugs whether the stock market is rising or falling.

The company doesn't just have run-of-the-mill prescription drugs, though. Market researcher EvaluatePharma projects that two of Bristol-Myers Squibb's products, Eliquis and Opdivo, will rank No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, among the world's best-selling drugs by 2024

BMS now claims additional blockbuster drugs thanks to its acquisition of Celgene. The deal also provides BMS a pipeline that's full of potential winners, including multiple sclerosis drug ozanimod and cell therapies liso-cel and ide-cel. Ozanimod is expected to win FDA approval early next year with approvals for liso-cel and ide-cel not too far behind.

While the Celgene acquisition should boost Bristol-Myers Squibb's growth prospects, its dividend program shouldn't be impacted by the deal. BMS' dividend currently yields a little under 3% and provides a bit of a cushion even if the stock should slip a little in the wake of a massive market downturn.

3. Dollar General

Discount retail stocks also tend to perform well during a major market decline caused by an economic recession. Dollar General wasn't publicly traded during the big market crash of 2008, but it definitely appears to be a top stock to ride out a recession relatively unscathed.

There are two big advantages for discount retailers during tough economic times. First, the companies market consumer staples that customers need in good times and bad times. Second, because of their bargain prices, customers are more likely to shop at discount retailers during economic downturns than they are during periods when the economy is strong.

Dollar General ranks among the strongest discount retailers in the U.S. While many retailers have been shutting down stores, Dollar General continues to add new stores. It's also remodeling many of its existing stores in an effort to boost sales.

The company has several key initiatives underway that could put it in an even stronger position. Dollar General is transitioning to an internal distribution of frozen and refrigerated goods, a move that will improve its profit margin. It has also launched customer self-checkout as well as improved the stocking process in its stores. I expect Dollar General to be a winner even if the stock market tanks.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.