Coulda-woulda-shoulda packed that.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself saying something like, “If only I had packed the (blank) we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
I’ve said it time and time again, having the right gear on hand can make a huge difference. It might not make a difference every time or every tenth time, but it only has to save your butt the one time to make it worth having.
So, whether you’re going on a road-trip or an adventure into the back country, here are my top ten essentials nobody should ever leave home without.
10: A Jack
A good jack can make a big difference. I recommend a 6-ton bottle jack over conventional scissor jacks, they are smaller, safer and more stable.
Not the crappy one that comes with your car. The scissor jack found in the trunk of most automobiles these days is junk. Just good enough to swap a tire, but nothing else.
What you want is a cheap bottle jack, rated to lift, at a minimum, the curb weight of your car. I’ve got a 6-ton bottle jack in the back of my Jeep for this reason.
Most scissor jacks that come with people’s cars these days are designed to lift a fraction of the vehicles curb weight because they are only intended to lift one corner in an emergency.
A bottle jack is also less likely to catastrophically fail than a scissor jack and doesn’t take up anymore space in your trunk.
Just because bottle jacks are better than scissor jacks, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems on their own.
Bottle jacks have small bases and small lift points making them far from the most stable way to lift a vehicle.
For added safety, I recommend throwing a couple jack stands in your kit if you find yourself using the jack for more than emergency maintenance.
What ever jack you decide on, make sure you know how to use it before you need to. Consult your manual for where your vehicle’s lift points are located and always remember to set the parking break and chock the wheels.
Remember, you can always keep the scissor jack in your trunk as a back-up.
Everyone’s favorite lubricant that isn’t a lubricant. WD-40 is great at breaking down rust and loosening stuck bolts, nuts and anything else.
WD-40 is a must, but before we get started on why you should have it, lets establish what everyone’s favorite lubricant isn’t. It is not a lubricant.
That’s not to say it doesn’t function as a perfectly good lubricant, and that’s how a lot of people use it, but its true purpose is a rust remover and water-displacer.
The base of WD-40 is a light-weight oil, which functions as a lubricant. The problem is, WD-40 also contains petroleum distillates, which are likely to cause more damage than good on most things that go squeak.
What WD-40 does, and why I’m sure plenty of people still think it’s a lubricant, is work as a penetrating fluid. It’s great at getting stuck bolts loose in a pinch.
So when you’re trying to get a stuck bolt or nut loose, reach for the WD-40, but if you’ve got a squeaky door, find a good silicon or Teflon lubricant.
8: Tow Strap
I never kept a tow strap in the back of my car, until I started driving my dads old truck.
He’d always taught me to be prepared for the worse and hope for the best. So, when I borrowed his truck last winter, he made sure it had everything I might need.
When I bought my Jeep this past spring one of the first things to go in the trunk was a tow strap.
Thankfully, I’ve only ever had to use it once and it was to help someone else get their truck out of a mud pit. Ultimately, my vehicle wasn’t able to get them out, but my tow strap and someone else’s Jeep was.
Before you go out and pick up a tow strap, it’s important to know where your tow points are.
You don’t ever want to wrap a tow strap around tires or an axle. It will cause more damage than waiting for a tow truck to arrive.
Most vehicles these days have a tow point hidden somewhere on the front behind a plastic cover..
Getting to it typically requires removing a plastic insert and screwing in a long hook.
Most trucks and many SUVs have tow hooks readily available, but not always where you need them. Many SUVs for example have tow points on the front but not in the back.
7: Essential fluids
Sometimes a quart of oil is all you need.
Cars need more than gas in the tank to run. Oil, anti-freeze, power-steering fluid, etc.… There’s a lot that goes into keeping an engine running.
So, what should you keep in your vehicle? That really depends on a couple of factors. How old your vehicle is would be a big one. Newer vehicles aren’t as likely to have problems, but as they get older and start to develop them, that’s when you should take note of what fluids it might need.
If you’ve got an older vehicle that has a habit of overheating, a bottle of 50-50 mix anti-freeze rated for your vehicle might not be a bad idea. Just make sure you consult your manual before you go out and buy a bottle.
At a minimum, I keep a quart of motor-oil in my trunk, just in case. Synthetic or conventional oil doesn’t really matter. Long road trips can do a number on your engine, especially if you haven’t had the oil changed in a few thousand miles. Having something to add to your engine when it’s running low on oil is better than nothing.
I remember coming home after my first year in college and having to pull over every 50 miles to let Niecie’s car cool down. Her little red Pontiac Sunfire couldn’t make it 50 miles without overheating. A quart of oil and topping off the coolant reservoir was all it took to get her rolling again. For whatever reason, the oil seemed to make the biggest difference.
6: Full Tool Kit
The right tools for the job don’t have to take up a lot of space in your trunk. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been glad to have a socket wrench handy to tighten or loosen up a bolt.
I won’t leave home without a full tool kit equipped with torx bits, sockets, hex keys, vice grips and adjustable wrenches. You name it, I have it in my tool kit or soon will.
I’ve had my share of trouble where having the right tools saved the day.
On one occasion, having a fully stocked tool kit allowed me to remove my spare tire and tire carrier so we could fit a bike rack on my Jeep.
It wasn’t mission critical, but it meant getting my mom’s new bike back from the store and making her day. It was a real win-win for everyone.
If you’re not sure what should go into your kit, Craftsman has an automotive tool set available on Amazon.com with just about everything you could possibly need. For about $110 for the kit, it’s not a bad value either.
5: Duct Tape
You will seldom find a faster fix than a wad of duct tape. Whether its sealing a leaky radiator hose or keeping a loose body panel in place, duct tape is one thing I’ll never be without.
Everyone knows duct tape is magic, what else do I need to say. If you’ve got the room, throw some electrical tape in your pack too! That stuff solves all kinds of problems that duct tape can’t.
Seriously, if you don’t have a roll of duct tape, or better yet Gorilla Tape in your car, go get some and toss it in your trunk. You won’t be sorry.
4: Tire Repair kit
Tires are important, really, really important. Tires are important because, without them, your car isn’t going anywhere.
That’s why being able to repair your tires are a must. Sure, everyone’s got a spare tire hiding in their trunk or hanging off or under the back end of their vehicle, but the problem with spare tires is sometimes it’s not safe or convenient to change a tire.
Sometimes your only option is to make a quick repair and get moving again.
Eventually, everyone gets a flat tire and, thankfully, there are lots of ways to go about fixing one.
Fix-a-Flat is a quick, easy way to get moving again after a flat. It may seem too good to be true, but it’s not.
For small leaks, a can of compressed tire sealant, like Fix-a-Flat, is hard to beat.
These cans connect to the tire stem and pump compressed air and a sealing gel into the tire. This gel works to fill in puncture and increase the tire pressure high enough to allow you to drive on it safely again.
Cheap and easy to use, I keep a big can of the stuff in my trunk. No one wants to change a tire on the side of the interstate.
It’s a temporary solution that works well enough to get you moving again after a flat. Just make sure you get the right sized can for your size vehicle. As a general rule, the bigger the tire, the bigger the can you’ll need.
Tire puncture repair kit
Sometimes the only thing that’s going to get you rolling again is a good old-fashioned tire repair kit, like this one from Slime.
Sometimes, a can of Fix-a-Flat isn’t going to cut it. Maybe the puncture is just a little bit too big for the gel to do its magic. Whatever the case may be, you need to get moving again.
This is where a cheap tire repair kit can come in handy. These typically consist of a reamer, plugger and a few lengths of repair ropes.
A simple puncture repair kit can mean the difference between getting moving again and being stranded.
The kit works by filling the puncture with a tightly packed wad of tar soaked cord. The end result is a tire that holds air, and will continue to hold air indefinitely in some cases.
The best part is these kits are cheap, simple to use and can work even if the tire has gone completely flat. Just make sure you have a portable air pump on hand to so your tire doesn’t come off the wheel.
3: Jumper Cables or Jump Box
Processed with Snapseed.Sooner or later, you’re going to leave your lights on or forget to turn the map lights off, and before long your car’s battery will be flat and you’ll going nowhere fast.
There might be plenty of people around who could help you, but unless you have jumper cables they might not be able to.
So don’t risk it. A good set of cables can be had for less than $15.
A jump kit is perfect for when you’re on an adventure that takes you far from the nearest good samaritan.
A great alternative to jumper cables, though you should still have them, is a portable jump pack.
These jump packs can provide enough juice to start your car. These jump kits are basically big car batteries with a handle and built in jumper cables.
I keep one of these in my Jeep in case of emergencies. No one wants to be 100 miles from civilization just to have the battery go flat.
A good jump pack can be had for less than $50 and only needs to be charged about once a month.
If you’re headed out on solo adventures, I’d highly recommend picking one of these up before you go.
2: First Aid Kit
Why vehicles don’t come with one under your seat or in the spare tire compartment, I will never know. A first aid kit is one of the first items to make it into any car I drive.
I seriously don’t understand why vehicle manufacturers don’t just throw in a first aid kit with the spare tire. They’re just as important and can save a life.
A first aid kit is a must, and don’t skimp out on a cheap bare bones one. Start with a good one and add to it.
First aid kits often come with individually wrapped packs of pain killers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These are great, but they won’t last very long. Fill a lunch or snack bag with ibuprofen or acetaminophen and throw it in there. It costs basically nothing to do and you just extended the life of the first aid kit by months, if not years.
If you have a medical condition or allergy it might be a good idea to keep a few days’ worth, or even a week’s worth, of medication in your first aid kit just in case.
No one wants to be 500 miles into a road trip to discover they forgot their meds.
It might not be a bad idea to learn basic first aid either. A first aid kit is only as good as the person using it.
1: Food and water
If there is anything worth keeping in your trunk for an emergency it’s food and water.
Food and water are the two most important things you can keep in your vehicle.
You never know when you’re going to be stuck on the side of the road or find yourself in the ditch during a blizzard. You might just be miles from civilization and a little hungry or thirsty.
I like to keep a few high calorie snacks, like Cliff Bars or Salted Nut Roles, in my trunk. These foods have lots of calories and plenty of sugar, which makes them ideal survival food.
The other reason I like Cliff Bars is they keep well. They don’t melt in extreme temperatures and stay good for long periods of time. You can set it and forget it, until you really need it.
Water is the more important of the two. Human beings can go without food for weeks, but can only make it days without water.
It doesn’t matter how you carry the water.
I like to fill a 2-gallon freezer bag with four or five 500ml water bottles. The sealed containers keep the water fresh tasting and, because they are individually wrapped, I can pass them out quickly to anybody who needs them.
Did you like the list?
Did I miss something? Tell me what your top ten essentials are. Maybe you’ll have me smacking my forehead and replacing a bullet point.
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