There’s never a good time for a car emergency. Something minor can consume an entire day for repairs. This week I picked up a fragment of metal from the highway damaging the sidewall of one of my tires. Of all the mechanical issues, a flat tire is the lesser evil. Fortunately, the tire remained intact until I pulled into my driveway, when it began to shake as if it had been possessed.
After fumbling through my trunk only to find I did not have the tools to change my tire, I struggled to contact Road Side assistance. Thoughts of being stranded on the side of the highway rather than comfortably parked in my driveway were sobering.
As I started to inventory what was in my car, I realized I lacked a bare essentials car-emergency kit. Aside from my beach chairs and umbrella, not much else is kept in my vehicle. While I could comfortably lounge on the side of the road, I’ve taken this gentle nudge from the universe and created an essential list of things to keep in your car in the event of an emergency.
1. Roadside Assistance – Apps Downloaded & Know How To Use Them
If you only take one tip away from this post, please ensure you have roadside assistance or AAA. They can be your saving grace 99% of the time. As long as you have cell service, a tow truck can come to your rescue in a few short hours. Learn from my mistake; simply knowing you have access to these services isn’t enough. Having apps downloaded with your information loaded and understanding the process before being stranded will take your initial panic from a ten to a comfortable four.
2. Jumper Cables or Jump Box
Do I like playing the damsel in distress? No, I’m more of a damsel of delusion for thinking it’s unlikely to happen to me. I should know to have a set of jumper cables in my trunk. If not for myself, for some other unprepared traveler stranded in a parking lot.
I purchased an all-in-one Roadside Kit that includes jumper cables and some items on this list. It will do for now. In the long run, an investment in a Jump Box would be ideal for taking on long road trips. This way, I can start my car without helplessly sauntering over to a stranger in hopes they will give me a jump.
3. Window Hammer with a Seatbelt Ripper
When I first began driving, the only tool my father gave me for my car emergency kit was a window hammer with a seatbelt ripper. In his words, “I would hate for you to drown in one of these lakes.” Never mind that I didn’t know how to change a tire or which battery terminal to connect the end of the jumper cables. No, no. His concern was the most unlikely scenario.
Fast forward to today, I still have this window hammer in my car, and I haven’t driven into any lakes (thankfully). If I find myself in this unlikely position, I’m prepared.
4. Tire Iron and Jack
I recently learned some newer cars aren’t outfitted with spare tires anymore. In this case, a jack and tire iron will be less useful (skip to #5).
My car has a donut in the trunk, and I periodically check on it to make sure it still has air, crossing my fingers it never has to see the light of day. What I’ve failed to check is if I had the tools to remove a flat tire. After watching every YouTube video on how to change a tire, I felt confident I could do this. However, my hopes of trying my hand at this life skill were dashed when I realized my car’s tire iron was missing. The car jack sat alone, almost mockingly, as I hung my head in defeat.
5. First Aid Kit
When I was looking for First Aid Kits, I found they range from basic to extravagant. A few band aids, antiseptic wipes, and some gauze will cover most incidents that could happen in a vehicle in which you’ll be treating yourself or someone else. I don’t need the ability to remove someone’s appendix on the side of the interstate.
6. Headlamp / Flashlight
As I learned on my camping trip to Yellowstone last year, Headlamps are a must if you need to be hands-free in the dark. Tiny crevices can be challenging to see even in the middle of the day. Let’s not even mention the gap between the diver’s seat and the armrest. If you drop your phone down that black hole, you may need a cave spelunker to retrieve it.
7. Duct Tape, Zip Ties, & Bungee Cord
I grouped these because they do the same job; hold the car together for the short term to get you to the nearest repair shop. However, you may get some odd looks if you are shopping in-store for these items. I would certainly question if I was looking into the eyes of a serial killer if I were the person at the check-out counter. Maybe add a pack of gum to remove any suspicion.
8. Multi-Purpose Tool
Tools are another area where you can quickly go overboard, adding a full range of sockets, drills, screwdrivers, pliers, etc. If you don’t know how to use them or a part needs replacing, having a complete Snap-on toolbox isn’t going to do much good. I carry my Leatherman in the vehicle for minor repairs. Its versatility has you covered if you need a small knife, pliers, or a bottle opener.
9. Portable Air Compressor
A portable air compressor is still a wish list item for me. A slow leak from a tire may not be day-to-day, but when seasons change, pressure in the tires may need a bit of a top-off. This portable air compressor would also come in handy for those who bike or enjoy ATVs.
10. Rain Jacket
It’s always raining when the main character’s car breaks down in the movies. There’s nothing worse than the ominous clicking of a dying battery in the middle of a downpour. In Florida, you can set your watch to an afternoon storm; having a raincoat in your car is a must.
Preparedness can look very different from person to person or in other areas of the country. I understand car emergency kits are different if you live in an area where blizzards and icy roads are common. These are the basic things I noticed I was missing from my car if the well-traveled road turned out not to be so smooth.
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