Even with today’s modern cars, you never know when you could find yourself stranded on the side of the road. Here are some of the essentials you should always keep in your vehicle to be prepared for a roadside emergency.
1. Extra Coolant
Make sure you research the proper type of coolant for your car. Your manual, your mechanic or the internets can tell you what your car needs. Note that most coolant needs to be diluted with water (1 part coolant, 1 part water). Mechanics often recommend using distilled water to avoid mineral buildup in the coolant system. Keeping a jug of pre-mixed coolant in your car will save you loads of time and stress.
2. Extra oil
Keeping oil and a funnel (disposable paper filters from the gas station are fine) in your car can also be handy. As with coolant, make sure you consult your manual, the interweb or your mechanic to find out the right type.
3. Wheel lock key
This is super important. To avoid stolen wheels, many cars require a special key to take off the wheels. And if you don’t you don’t have it handy when you need to change your tire, you’re going to be SOL. A mechanic will be able to “surgically” remove the wheel lock, but your pocketbook might take a hit. Usually the wheel lock key is an place that makes sense, like nested with your jack and spare tire. It’s pretty easy to see whether your car has wheel locks: take off the wheel cover/hub cap and look at the lug nuts. They’ll usually just look like big bolts. But if one of them looks different, like it requires a special tool, you probably have wheel locks.
4. Flashlight with fresh batteries
Hopefully this one is obvious: sometimes it’s dark when your car stops on the side of the road. Unless you’re Macgyver or one of the guys from Car Talk, you probably can’t change a flat when it’s pitch black.
You never know when you might be stuck in a cold weather for an extended period of time. Or when you might need to help out a crash victim on the side of the road who’s in shock. Or when you might have to deliver a baby on the side of the road…If nothing else, a ratty blanket is great to put down on the ground to save your knees when you’re changing a tire.
6. Jug of water
Obviously, this is great for a number of things: topping off your coolant tank if you’re in a pinch and you don’t have the actual coolant or distilled water. (caution: this should only be done in a pinch and is really best for warmer environments). You can drink it. And you can also use it to wash your hands after you’ve gotten grimy under the hood trying to figure out why your car won’t start.
7. A working spare tire
It’s critical to make sure your spare EXISTS, first and foremost. For most cars, it’s hidden in a compartment under your trunk, so you may not realize if it’s gone missing. There’s a scene in Harold & Kumar Go to Whitecastle where they’re broken down on the side of road and can’t find the spare tire. Then Kumar remembers that the last time he borrowed Harold’s car, he and some friends got really high and starting throwing stuff from the car–including the spare–off a bridge. No es bueno.
You also want to make sure the spare is in good condition with no obvious defect. And you especially want to make sure it’s not the flat tire that you threw in the trunk after the last roadside mishap. Show your spare some TLC, because the one time you need it, you’re really going to need it.
8. A working jack and lug wrench
As with the spare, make sure these items haven’t wandered off and are still in working condition.
9. First aid supplies
Keeping a basic first aid kit on hand is super important. It may come in handy if you find yourself as a first responder at a small fender bender. It can also be handy in everyday life for when you find yourself with a annoying little scratch and don’t want to get blood on your white leather seats.
10. Latex gloves
These are handy for roadside first aid, or for the aforementioned highway baby delivery scenario. But really, these are just great to keep your hands clean when you need to change a tire or mess around under the hood.
11. Jumper cables
Even if your battery stays in great shape, you may find yourself in a situation where another car needs a jump. If you’ve got jumper cables handy, you’ll be their hero.
12. Extra jug of “exotic” fluids
If your car requires some rare fluid, you may need to keep some on hand. Back in the day, I had a crappy old ‘86 Audi 5000 that leaked power steering fluid constantly. Of course, since it was an Audi, normal power steering fluid wouldn’t do. It required a special mineral oil that could only be purchased at the dealership for $35 for a small bottle. Needless to say I learned quickly that I had to keep a bottle handy in order to keep the beast running smoothly.
So, what other essential items are missing from this list? Add a comment below with your suggestions.
Big thanks goes out to Tom Cebollero, owner of Metric Motors, for his help on this post.