Breaking down a block from your house is annoying. You go home, get the tools you need and fix the problem, but breaking down while on a road trip – hundreds of miles away from your garage or workshop – is a whole different kettle of fish.
Calling AAA is an option, and in many cases the best one, but for those minor, nagging issues like a flat tire, dead battery or loose belt, a better way to handle it is to carry tools that you need and fix it yourself. This article won’t make you a mechanic and if you can’t tell a fan belt from a spark plug, by all means, call AAA. For those of you who like to keep their insurance for emergencies, though, this list will give you the tools you need to fix most minor issues.
There are tools and then there are tools
A basic tool kit for your car should include a couple of standard items. A socket set for either metric or standard bolts which depends on who made your car, a set of standard and Phillips head screwdrivers, a combination wrench, a flashlight and a pair of locking pliers. This is the bare minimum that your tool box should have. To that, you want to add:
- LifeHammer escape device. Although there are other versions, the LifeHammer escape tool can be picked up anywhere and its less than $20 price tag makes it an essential piece of gear. Don’t keep it in your tool box, however, mount it on your dash or somewhere easy to reach in case of an accident.
- Duct tape. Laugh all you want, but there is a reason the U.S. Air Force calls this “1,000 mile per hour tape.” For temporary repairs that just cannot wait, a duct tape can be an absolute life saver.
- Knife. For sheer versatility, you can’t beat the humble knife. Aside from its obvious uses a knife can also be used to scrape battery contacts to get you started again, cut debris loose after an accident or as an emergency pry bar. Make sure you get a folding knife with a good locking mechanism for your own safety.
- Tire pressure gauge. The cheap stick type ones are nearly useless, so spring for a good one with a dial face to make it easy to read. Then use it. You should check your tire pressure on a weekly basis as well as before you go on longer trips. Good tire pressure helps keep your gas mileage up as well as reducing wear on those expensive tires.
- Tire sealant. Speaking of tires, checking the pressure on your spare tire should be part of your weekly tire maintenance routine. The industry move to cheap, disposable spares has made it difficult to trust them. A can of tire sealant – fix-a-flat or other brands – should be part of your tool kit. Although not a permanent solution, it can get you out of a predicament and far enough down the road to find a tire shop.
- Jumper cables/jump starter. A decent set of jumper cables has been a necessity for years, but the advent of jump starters – like the schumacher jump starter from Tool Nerds – have made it easier and more convenient to jump a dead battery without having to ask for anyone’s assistance.
Being able to assist yourself in an emergency or roadside incident is just plain common sense. Having the tools you need to do so marks the difference between someone who takes personal responsibility and someone who just goes through life expecting others to help them when necessary.