Driving around in your car can be a lot of fun, especially in some of the more scenic areas. Unfortunately, not every trip in the car is perfect. These machines are pushed to their limits even during the daily commute, and sometimes things happen that even the most experienced mechanic might not be able to predict.
For these events, it’s always a good idea to have supplies at the ready. You never know when you might be trapped between cities, miles away from the nearest gas station or phone.
This happened to me a few years ago. I was driving in a 15-mile stretch between Luling and Lockhart, TX. It was almost pitch black outside and I hit a deer while going 65 MPH. The car was in pretty bad shape, and I didn’t have a flashlight or anything to help me find that out. Luckily, I had my mobile phone with me and could call the police for assistance.
From that point on, I started carrying some items in my car to help me be better prepared for the unpredictable. You never know when a tire might blow out or your engine just suddenly decides to go on vacation while you’re driving down the road.
Here are 10 items you should always have in your car.
Jumper cables aren’t just handy for you to have in the event that your battery should die, but also handy should you have a friend or find someone in the same predicament. I was surprised to find out just how few people keep jumper cables in their cars these days. In fact, in an office of over twenty, I was the only one with a set in his car when a coworker broke down.
Jumper cables are literally a lifeline for your car. They can mean the difference between being stranded for hours, paying a huge fee to have a professional come out, or being able to get on your way in an expedient manner.
When you need a flashlight and you don’t have it, things get a lot more difficult. When I hit a deer in the middle of the night, I couldn’t tell if the deer was still in the road, my car was drivable, or if there could have been a dangerous fluid leak. Changing a tire also requires some light should you be doing it on a country road.
Battery-powered flashlights are instantly useful, though the batteries themselves may leak if you leave them in the flashlight without being used for too long. For this purpose, I recommend either keeping a flashlight on your person at all times or investing in one that can be manually charged by way of a crank.
Having a smartphone or GPS on you is great, but you should never under any circumstances depend on any electronic equipment to get you to safety. Having a folded map in your glove box is a great thing, and could very well be your saving grace should you find yourself lost and unable to get a good signal.
Pick up detailed state and local maps at a gas station and keep them in the car. They take almost no space and are incredibly useful. When you’re traveling out of your normal state and/or region, pick up a new map while you’re in civilization just in case.
Car fires are very dangerous, though some of them start very small and can be quickly extinguished before they become large issues. An electrical fire starting in an exposed area can quickly lead to your entire vehicle going up in flames if you don’t have a proper class B and C fire extinguisher handy.
A five-pound extinguisher is enough, and you may want to mount it either under the driver’s seat (if you can) or in the trunk. Chances are, if you are unable to get to your trunk, the fire is already at a point where your efforts won’t do much good.
Call the fire department as soon as possible and get away from the car if you can’t physically see or fight the flames. A burning car can be very dangerous.
First Aid Kit
You should never expect help to arrive in a timely manner. If you’re involved in a collision and either yourself or someone else involved is bleeding, a first aid kit can save more than a few blood stains in the interior. A serious laceration can cause real damage very quickly, and having a good first aid kit at the ready will make a world of difference on the situation.
In addition to bandages, your kit should include burn ointment, gauze, and a pair of rubber gloves.
A tire gauge is quite useful, even during day-to-day use of your vehicle. Every month or so, you should take a moment to check your tire pressure. Having your tires properly inflated can increase fuel efficiency, extend the life of your tires, and improve handling.
You never know when you might need a change of clothing. Whether you’re out and about and something spills on you or you end up changing a tire in the rain, having a set of dry clothes at the ready is always a good thing.
It’s probably a good idea to keep a set of clothes for any weather condition. During the Winter, keeping a jacket in your car is advisable while having cool, loose-fitting clothing at the ready during the summer is equally helpful.
Screwdrivers, a ratchet, wire brush, long-nose pliers, wrenches, and allen and socket wrenches are part of a useful automotive toolkit. You may have a spare tire and a tire iron in the back, but what if a hose comes loose during a trip? You could pay an arm and a leg and lose hours (or more) in repairs or you could grab a screwdriver from a tool box and tighten the hose yourself.
Even if you don’t know how to fix the simplest issues, having the tools available to you can help someone that does know how to fix your problem.
Blankets are useful for a variety of purposes. Not only can you use them to wrap and protect fragile cargo in your trunk during transport, but they can keep you warm should you be stuck in the middle of nowhere for a while during the winter. I’ve even found use for them to protect your car from heavy cargo such as Ikea boxes and other bulky items.
Ideally, you want a cotton blanket over any other material. The heat of summer can cause some materials to stink, but a good cotton blanket is usually good year-round. My personal favorites are Mexican blankets, which are both comfortable and durable.
If you have dogs traveling with you, throwing one of these down on the seat can protect it from hair and other debris your dog might leave behind.
Pencil and Paper
When you get into a collision with another driver, it’s important that you exchange insurance information with that other driver. I’ve had a few accidents in my life, and it seems that every time neither party has something to write with or on at the ready. Yes, you could tick away on your smartphone or take a photo of their insurance card, but what will you hand them?
A pencil and pad can come in handy when receiving directions or other information from someone while traveling. Who knows, that foxy lady you met at the park might offer you her number. You should have something to write it down with.
Keep a small pad and a pencil in your glove box. You never know when you’ll need it.
Bonus Tip: Self-Contained Jump Starter and Air Compressor
A self-contained jump starter and air compressor is a brilliant thing to keep in your vehicle. Many of these all-in-one units contain a flashlight, emergency signal, power outlets, jumper cables, and an air compressor that allows you to put air in your tires and start your car without the need of another person to rescue you.
These units range from small and compact to large and full-featured, depending on your needs. For about $100, you can save that much in roadside assistance in just one instance. Having your own personal air compressor is also useful to save you quarters at the gas station or help you pump up your bike tires before a ride.