Building Tangible Margin—Outfitting Your Car

It’s been awhile since I did a Building Tangible Margin (BTM) post. A couple people have requested info on outfitting their cars, so here is the long overdue response.

We’re going to look today at some basic gear you should keep in your car for emergencies. Before we get into the recommendations, let me first say that there is a good chance you won’t ever need all this gear for yourself. But, if you are attentive to situations around you and keep a servant attitude, you may likely find yourself using it to help others. Don’t let chivalry die on your watch.

The most important keys to traveling safely by car are to keep your car well-maintained and to be a defensive driver. Some problems cannot be avoided, however, and for those, the following gear is recommended. I would also add that an AAA membership or other reliable roadside service is a wise investment, particularly if loved ones are going to be driving your car who may not feel confident handling emergencies themselves.

Must haves:

Spare tire—Full-size is far preferable to the “donut” if you can manage it.
Jack—Most cars come with a scissor jack. If yours doesn’t have one, get a hydraulic jack—generally stronger and faster than the factory-issues jacks.
Tire iron—This usually comes stored with the jack. If yours is missing, replace it with a 4-way tire iron/lug wrench. They are faster and more versatile.
Jumper cables—4 to 8 gauge, 10 to 12 feet. Often “emergency kits” will include cables that are thinner (10 gauge or worse). Avoid those.
Spare fuses—Find your fuse box. It’s usually under the dash. Take a look at the fuses used and pick up a few spares. They’re inexpensive and especially important if your gauges (speedometer, fuel, etc.) are electronic, which many are these days.
Gas can—It doesn’t need to be huge. One to two gallons will suffice.
Tire gauge
Flashlight & spare batteries—A headlamp is preferable for keeping your hands free.

Recommended additions:

Work gloves
--I prefer the calfskin type you can get at most any hardware stores.
Gallon of antifreeze/coolant—This generally requires mixing half and half with water, but you can find pre-mixed ones or simply include a jug of water with which to mix. Double-check your owner’s manual to see if your car requires one of the special, long-life solutions.
Quart of oil—Most varieties will do in a pinch, but many cars, like my Honda, require a particular grade. Double-check your owner’s manual. If you know that your car goes through oil, keep more than a quart on hand.
Fix-a-Flat—Canned tire sealant and inflator. Works well on small punctures.
Bars Leaks or similar—A bottle of this can be extremely handy if you find that you have a small coolant leak. It’s actually been a permanent fix for me in the past and works quite well at fixing small radiator leaks.
Duct tape
Electrical tape
Multi-tool or assortment of screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers.
The latter may be more comfortable to use, though the former can ride with you everywhere and be handy in other situations.
Compact fire extinguisher
Reflector triangles
—Flares are great and can be seen from a great distance, but they only last about 20 minutes and shouldn’t be used anywhere you think you may have a fuel leak.
Crowbar—Preferably within reach of the driver, this is a valuable tool for extricating yourself from a vehicle or getting someone else out of a burning vehicle quickly.
Seatbelt cutter or compact knife—For the same reasons as previous.
Jumpstarter/air compressor—These are extremely handy tools. It is basically a portable battery with jumper cables, so you can jump yourself or others without having to bother with a second vehicle. Mine came with an air compressor, as well, which is extremely handy for topping off soft tires.
Recovery strap—This is a long, slightly elastic strap with loops on the ends. These are helpful for pulling others out of ditches or getting yourself pulled out. Note that these are different from the tow straps with steel hooks on the ends. Recovery straps are safer (no heavy hooks to come flying loose and break a windshield) and actually do some of the work for you.
Contractor bags—These are large, heavy garbage bags with endless uses. Include a few.
Compass & maps
Spare parts—These can be handy IF you know how to install them or run into someone who does. It may be worthwhile to do a little research and see if there are parts on your make/model that are more likely to fail, then carry a spare, say, water pump or whatever the case may be.
Water and the means to collect it—You might simply consider getting a case of 12 or 20 ounce water bottles and keep them in your car. Be sure to check them for leaks, but I’ve found that they stand up quite well to bumps if you leave them in the case and don’t have any problems standing up to freeze/thaw cycles.
Cell phone w/ car charger
First Aid Kit
—Granola bars or something like Mainstay bars that will keep awhile and give you a boost in an emergency.

I’m sure I’m leaving one or five things out, but this is a good start. Always be sure to tailor your gear to the season and your area. Spare hats, blankets and hand warmers are invaluable in the winter and Rain-X or similar is extremely helpful in inclement weather. Let me know if you have additions or end up putting together a kit of your own.


Michael Atto said...

Thank you Nate,

I will use this posting as a reference from time to time.

Michael Atto

Nate C. said...

Great, Mike. I always appreciate your comments and you taking the time to read my ramblings. Let me know if you have questions as you assemble your gear.