A flat tire or a mechanical issue can happen to you at any time, whether you’re on your way to work or on a road trip. Keeping a few inexpensive items stored in your car’s trunk can save you time and inconvenience, or even your life.
For some of these items, you may be thinking, “I’m not a mechanic, why do I need these things?”. There are several reasons:
- You may get stuck far from help if you’re on a road trip.
- It’s easy to search for simple how-to videos on YouTube. You can find instructions on changing a flat tire or on where a few key parts of your car are located.
- A good Samaritan who stops to help may know what to do but not have what’s needed.
It may sound paranoid if you’ve never had car trouble, but all these items will all come in really handy if you get stuck. Don’t forget, you can run into issues of any kind in any kind of weather, so it pays to be prepared.
1. Rubber Gloves
If you get stranded on your way somewhere and have to change a tire or open the hood, gloves are a great way to keep your hands clean while you deal with the issue.
Dish gloves are great because they protect protect your forearms, and they also have textured grips.
2. A Flashlight
Keep a good flashlight handy. Ideally choose one that’s waterproof and has a flashing mode. If you break down at night, you can set the flashlight on top of your car to warn other drivers so they don’t hit you.
Also consider a headlamp, or flashlight that stands on its own so you can keep your hands free.
Every 6 months to a year, change up the batteries. Your flashlight is no use if it doesn’t work.
3. A Real Jack
Sure, your car comes with a cheap crank-type jacks that’s difficult to use and not that safe. Spend the $50 or so and get a solid 4-wheeled jack that stays in place and makes better use of leverage to lift your car so you don’t have to do as much work.
To make absolutely sure your car can’t roll when it’s jacked up, put wooden blocks in front and behind the wheel diagonally opposite the one on the jack.
Naturally you’ll set your parking brake and have the engine off, but if you have to struggle to get the tire off you may create some momentum.
4. Jumper Cables
Our cold winter temperatures can drain car batteries before you know it, especially if you don’t drive for a few days (think February vacation).
Opt for a set with copper clamps (not aluminum) and good thick cables. It’s also handy if you get the kind that have extra long cables (at least 15 feet) in case other cars can’t get close enough to the front of your car (for example if you’re facing a wall in a parking lot). Cheap jumper cables often don’t have these features.
5. A “Cheater Bar”
This is simply an extension bar for your tire iron, and can be handy if you’re not particularly strong.
Loosening lug nuts on a flat tire requires some strength, especially if they’ve gotten corroded from Ottawa’s salty winter roads. Using a cheater bar will allow you to get more leverage so you need less strength. This not only helps you with getting the lug nuts off, but when tightening them securely once you’ve gotten the spare on.
A cheater bar can be as simple as a length of pipe that fits over your tire iron/lug wrench. You can also buy cheater bars with different heads on them, but if you do be sure they either connect to your tire iron or match the lug nuts on your car. The longer it is, the more effective.
6. A Portable Tire Inflator
These handy gadgets plug into your car lighter and take about 5 minutes to re-inflate a flat tire. These can be lifesavers if you notice you’ve developed a slow leak on a long trip, or discover your spare tire is low.
7. A Can of Brake Fluid
If you have a brake fluid leak, topping up the fluid won’t fix the problem but it will enable you to drive a short way to a safer location.
8. Duct Tape
Duct tape helped saved the lives of the Apollo 13 expedition when they were stranded in space, and it can also be your friend too. For example, if a hose develops a hole, you can use it to provide a seal until you can get to a mechanic.
Also known as coolant, antifreeze helps keep prevent both freezing and overheating. A jug of antifreeze can be used to top up levels if your radiator leaks.
10. Emergency Signs
This can be something as simple as a handmade sign you tape up inside your car’s windshield and rear window. If you do a lot of long distance driving consider the triangular ones you can set up on the road. They should be heavy enough so they don’t blow away easily.
For visibility at night, you can’t beat road flares.
11. A Fire Extinguisher
You never know, you may need one, especially if you own an older car. Ensure it’s rated for electrical and liquid fires (think gasoline and oil).
12. Basic Tool Kit
A small tool kit including:
- A wrench
- A screwdriver set
- Wire cutters
- Ratchet and socket set
13. Cell Phone Charger
If you need to call for help, you want to make sure you have enough battery life in your phone. If there’s been an accident you may be on the phone to family, emergency officials, and your insurance company.
14. Personal Care Kit
Even if you’re only stuck for a couple of hours, these items can keep you more comfortable no matter how bad the weather gets.
- Flat shoes. If you’re a woman who normally wears heels, you’ll want to be able to wear something more comfortable, especially if you end up walking to get help.
- Rain poncho. There’s no law saying mechanical failures have to wait for nice weather.
- An old towel. You can fold it to kneel on when changing a tire to keep clean.
- Bottles of water.
- First aid kit. Opt for one that includes gauze, tape, scissors, aspirin, sterile cream at minimum. A tourniquet, large cloth bandages and antiseptic wipes are also a good idea.
- A few power bars or trail mix.
- Baby wipes. They work just as well for dirty hands or sweaty foreheads.
- Tissues or a roll of toilet paper.
- Lip balm (if you don’t normally carry it).
- Plastic bags. These can be handy for storing dirty gloves and tissues.
15. Winter Items
In fall, add these items to your trunk. Remove them in spring so they don’t add unnecessary weight to your car.
- Sand, gravel or kitty litter (non-clumping) to help you get traction on ice.
- Shovel – make sure it’s solid and actually works. If you’re seriously snowed in or are trapped by a plough ridge you don’t have to do more work than necessary.
- Blanket (fleece is good). If you live outside of town think about including a sleeping bag and emergency tent.
- An old pair of really warm winter boots. Thick socks can help too.
- Wool hat, scarf, and extra warm gloves.
- Hand warmer packets
Storing Your Kit
Your tools can go in a tote bin or even a cardboard box – just make sure they don’t slide around in your car. It’s a great idea to keep your personal survival items in a backpack or duffle bag so you can take them with you if you need to leave the car.
Practice for Emergencies – And Keep Our Number Handy
It’s always best to know basic repair skills like changing a flat tire and recharging a dead battery. If you don’t know how to do these things, get a friend or family member to show you how, or as mentioned above look it up on YouTube.
Here’s hoping you never have to face a serious situation on the road. But if you do run into trouble and need mechanical help, just call our towing hotline and say, “Bring it to Bemac!”.