Whether your car is stock or modified, you should never leave home without being prepared for the unexpected. These are the top ten items that I keep in my cars and I encourage others to do the same.
Jumper Cables: There is no such thing as having a car battery die at a convenient time. The real question is how inconvenient can a dead battery become?
Having an emergency jumper pack, or at the very least jumper cables, is one of the most important items to mitigate the hassle of a dead battery. I keep a set up jumper cables in all of my cars for both my own emergency use and to help out others.
While mini generators and jumper packs have drastically reduced in price over recent years, a cheap set of jumper cables is a minimal expense that everyone should invest in.
Fire Extinguisher: Carrying a fire extinguisher is a requirement in many countries and for many track events. In today’s day and age, you are either driving a combustion engine that is literally creating tiny explosions while carrying a tank full of flammable liquid, or you are driving a vehicle with batteries that could result in long-burning chemical fires if ignited. An automotive fire extinguisher should be in every vehicle on the road.
When mounting an extinguisher in the car, be certain to choose a location that is conveniently accessible by the driver. Storing it in the trunk could render it completely useless depending on the location of a fire, plus it will take additional time to retrieve. Fortunately, I have never had to use a fire extinguisher on one of my own cars, but I did need quick access when putting out a roadside brush fire.
There are a lot of different types of fire extinguishers on the market, some for home, some for kitchen, some for chemicals, some for cars. Be mindful of the type of extinguisher that you purchase. While prices can range from $30-$200, that is a small price to pay compared to the expense of a burnt car.
Tire Pressure Gauge Most modern vehicles now have advanced tire pressure monitoring systems that read exact air pressure, but it is still worth carrying a mechanical tire pressure gauge in the glove box.
These are quick-use tools when filling your tires, a good backup for when the battery operated tire pressure sensors fail, and also useful for checking your spare’s pressure, which often goes unmonitored.
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First Aid Kit This should be a no brainer. It is always important to carry a first aid kit, even if it is just a basic kit that fits in your glove box. Along with this, a pen, some napkins, and hand sanitizer are also worth having.
OBDII Scan Tool We all know that the best diagnostic and data logging tools are usually bulky devices or modules connected to a computer. However, universal code readers are compact enough to keep in your car at all times.
Sure, just about any auto part store will have a code reader to lend, but this will not help you in a remote location. When a check engine light illuminates, it is worth having the ability to quickly read this code to determine if the error is a minor inconvenience that can be fixed next weekend or if you should immediately stop driving due to impending engine failure.
I bought a $10 bluetooth OBDII dongle off Amazon that connects to an app on my phone. While it is cheap in quality and does not help much for troubleshooting problems with my cars, the generic code output has been helpful enough when traveling or away from home.
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Spare Tire We live in a day and age where spare tires are going extinct. To improve fuel economy by saving weight, spacesaver tires have been replaced by perishable goop and 12v socket air compressors.
The problems are that this goop goes bad after a few years, it is messy, it requires more road-side work than changing a wheel, it is useless on anything but a small nail puncture in the tread of the tire, and those tiny air compressors can easily blow a fuse in your car or burn out their motors before fully inflating the tire.
If you plan on doing any sort of traveling, a donut spare is worth the investment and will not take up too much room in your trunk. If you have the means, I strongly suggest visiting a local junk yard and finding a full size wheel that will fit your car. A regular wheel is better than a space saver spare because it can be used for more than 50 miles, driven at speeds over 50 miles per hour, and can generally be used on any corner of your car. Donut tires often recommend rotating your wheels to prevent using the spare on a main drive wheel.
Chewing Gum You never know when you may need to combat bad breath.
While it may sound silly, chewing gum can be used for emergency repairs such as patching a pinhole coolant leak or helping hold a broken electrical connector in place. Obviously neither of these are long term solutions, but they can help get you somewhere to complete a proper repair.
Minty fresh breath is also nice.
Emergency Tools If you work on your own car, you likely know what tools you should carry. Obviously, a lug wrench, scissor jack, and your vehicle’s emergency tow hook are important items and likely already in your trunk. But carrying some extra tools is never a bad idea.
After going through my main tool box, any triplicate wrenches, screw drivers, and sockets have been put into a tool bag that I keep in my car. I also purchased a small flash light and a few cheap universal driver tools with bit sets containing a necessary range of torx, allen, and flat head attachments. Weighing less than five pounds, this bag has all the tools I would need to tackle just about any task. While not the optimal tools for the job, they will still suffice.
An old beach towel is another multipurpose item as a mat to lay on and a rag to clean up with.
These emergency tools also serve as my go-to for junkyard visits. Being my spare’s spares, I am not too concerned if I lose anything. Half the time I end up finding old tools in the junkyard that I can add to my bag.
Miscellaneous Parts Again, knowing your car will help you know what you need. Zip ties and duct tape are two obvious parts to have on hand. I also suggest carrying a few feet of heater hose, some 5mm boost line, some T hose connectors, extra fuses, a roll of string, some 3” hose clamps, a few tek screws, some miscellaneous bolts and washers, a few feet of 18 gauge wire, and some spare light bulbs.
These parts do not need to be new. My hose scraps were cutoffs leftover from other projects. I always replace light bulbs in pairs, the burnt out bulb goes in the trash and the remaining good bulb goes into a plastic baggie with these other parts. Water tight baggies are great for both sorting spares and containing drained liquids.
Utilizing these simple parts, I have completed some emergency roadside repairs that have remained on the cars for years.
Canvas grocery bags Great for more than just grocery shopping.
Muddy shoes that you do not want dirtying your floor mats? Throw them in a bag.
Roadside repair that requires removing parts? Put those parts and hardware in a bag so you do not lose them. Car sick passenger? Give them a bag.
Bonus. I also keep a few vehicle specific items in each car as well.
My Subaru Outback would consume up to 1 quart of oil every 5k miles, so carrying extra oil was common practice.
My Volvo V50 had a leaky O ring on the turbo and would burn off coolant. Before I could fix this, I carried a small drinking bottle of distilled water for the occasional top off.
I always carried straps in my Ford F150 for doing truck things.
I have a small 12” long by 2” tall plastic ramp that I keep in my Porsche, as this provides sufficient clearance for getting the emergency jack under the lowered car.
Your mileage may vary and my list of items may differ from what others suggest. If you know your car, then you will know what you need to be well prepared for the unexpected.
What items do you keep in your cars?