DIY Vehicle Emergency Kits
By Jim Cobb
Torrential rain, ice storms, engine breakdown, blizzards, flash floods—all of these and more could result in you being stranded on the side of the road for hours on end. Where I live in the upper Midwest, one of the first things someone does upon buying a car is store emergency supplies in the trunk. It really isn’t a matter of if you’ll get stuck somewhere, it is just a matter of when. Taking the time to assemble and store a small vehicle emergency kit could mean the difference between a possible tragedy and nothing more than an inconvenience.
You may have seen pre-assembled vehicle emergency kits for sale in any number of stores. They aren’t too expensive but you get what you pay for when buying them. Often, the contents are poor quality and cheaply made, increasing the chances the items will fail when you need them the most. Personally, I have had wrenches from those kits bend up into pretzels under just moderate use and flashlights that won’t turn on even with fresh batteries. It is a far better idea to assemble your own emergency kit using good quality products.
Now, What Should Be In A Vehicle Emergency Kit?
Let’s start with the tools and gear you’ll need to get back on the road as quickly as possible in the event of a breakdown. A small toolbox can be purchased for just a few dollars. Fill it with:
• Screwdrivers (slotted and Philips) – various sizes
• Combination wrench set (SAE and Metric)
• Socket wrench with sockets
• Pliers – standard and needle-nosed
• Sharp, sturdy knife
• Duct tape
• Safety glasses or goggles
• Work gloves
• Flashlight or headlamp (with extra batteries)
Keeping with the repair theme, you should have a can of spray lubricant, such as WD-40, a bottle of diluted antifreeze, a can of Fix-a-Flat or the equivalent, and at least one or two quarts of oil.
Of course, a spare tire, along with a jack and tire iron, is common sense. Be sure to inspect your spare regularly to ensure it is properly inflated.
Remember, too, that even if you are unable to complete the necessary repairs yourself, someone who stops to assist you might have that knowledge and skill set but may not have tools with them. By having these basic tools on hand, you will be in a better position to help someone help you.
On the market today are several types of collapsible gas cans, made of durable plastic. Because they fold up, they take up very little space. If you run out of gas, grab it before walking to the nearest station. While many gas stations do have small gas cans you can borrow or purchase, Murphy’s Law dictates that won’t be the case at the station you visit. Never store fuel in your trunk long-term! That can lead to very bad things, such as explosions.
Moving on to survival and comfort items, first on the list is a blanket. I suggest using a wool or wool blend, rather than an actual “emergency blanket” like those sold by survival and prepper outlets. While those blankets work very well with trapping body heat, you’ll probably find more comfort in using a soft fabric material to curl up into as you wait for help to arrive. A fabric blanket can also serve as a cushion for your knees should you need to change a flat tire. A bottle or two of water and a few granola bars or other snack type food will keep you from adding hunger and thirst to your list of complaints.
While the odds are pretty good you’ll never need to use them, I always suggest including fire making supplies in each and every survival kit you assemble. These items include one or two butane lighters, some strike anywhere matches, and a few fire starters such as tinder tabs or a pack of InstaFire. If you end up stranded for a substantial length of time, a small campfire can provide both light and warmth, as well as a degree of psychological comfort.
A complete change of clothes can be easily stored in a plastic bag and kept with your other gear. At a minimum, a pair of pants and an extra shirt should be included. If you accidentally spill fuel or other fluids on your clothes, or tear a giant hole in your pants, having extras to change into will be appreciated. Don’t forget a knit hat and warm gloves as well, to help ward off chill.
If you are stranded someplace, it makes sense to have with you items with which you can signal for assistance. A brightly colored cloth or flag can be tied to your antenna, which is a universally recognized symbol indicating help is needed. Road flares are another great addition to the vehicle emergency kit. A DIY approach to flares is to use a snaplight, also called a glow stick, and a length of cord. Activate the glow stick and tie it to one end of the cord. Grasp the cord about two or three feet from the glow stick and spin the cord in front of you. This creates a large glowing circle, visible for quite a distance. Of course, this is only suitable for use after the sun has set.
Last, but by no means least, is a car charger for your cell phone. This might prove to be the single most important component of your vehicle emergency kit. Many people forget to charge their phone regularly and you don’t want to be looking at 5% battery level as you’re desperately trying to get in touch with AAA.
Most of these items, if you don’t already have them at home, can be purchased inexpensively if you shop around. Tools and the like are often found at rummage sales for pennies on the dollar, for example. I cannot stress enough, though, that quality is key. Don’t go on the cheap for tools and such. If you are staking the safety of you and your family on the items in this kit, spend the money to get tools that will last.
With the exception of the spare tire and jack, just about everything could be stored in a plastic tote, keeping it all in one place. Personally, I went to my local dollar store and purchased a laundry basket for this purpose. It works very well at preventing everything from getting scattered all over the trunk.
Taking the time to assemble and store a vehicle emergency kit will serve well to get you back on the road with a minimum of hassle and a maximum of safety. Be sure to inspect your kit on a regular basis, at least a few times a year. Doing so will ensure the emergency items will be there when you need them.