When you're planning to hit the open road, it helps to have a cell phone, GPS and a roadside assistance plan—but those are just the start. Before you embark on that road trip, have a safety kit ready, too.
Charger and an old cell phone
Flashlight with back-up batteries
Bottled water and energy bars
Electrical tape and rags
Spare tire, tire inflator and pressure gauge
Wondering what to do with that old cell phone that’s just not cool anymore? By law, all cell phones, with plans or without, must be able to call 911. Put the phone in your glove box and ensure it’s charged. A power converter that turns your car’s cigarette lighter into a household electrical or USB outlet can help.
We sometimes forget car batteries still conk out from time to time, usually from old age, or benign neglect, or from leaving the radio or lights on. When help finally arrives, it’s jumper cables to the rescue. Peace of mind demands you buy the best you can afford: bargain bin jumper cables seldom last long and can crack or break.
Batteries in the flashlight and batteries outside it ensure you’ve got light at night when you need it, but only if they’re fresh. Like other items in the kit, batteries will be exposed to extremes of heat and cold, so they should be changed once – preferably twice – a year. Cold temperatures can cut a battery’s power by nearly two-thirds, depending on the type.
You’ll more likely need a roadside safety kit for an accident than a breakdown. With the right tools, there’s plenty you can do to ease the pain of cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries. Ensure your first-aid kit contains basic health care items including an assortment of bandages; instant ice and heat packs; scissors; aspirin; gauze; adhesive tape; antiseptic cream; and first-aid instructions.
While melting snow and drinking it is an option in winter, it ain’t on a summer road trip. Modern bottled water packaging keeps water fresh and drinkable for months (reusable water containers are great, too). Energy bars tend to pack a lot of body fuel into small packages that also withstand temperature extremes — for a time. If you keep your safety kit in your car year-round, replace these items once or twice a year, in the spring and fall.
Tool-wise, it doesn’t get much better than these handy little units, with several tools that fold out from either end of a common handle. Typically they include one or two screwdriver heads, tiny scissors, pliers, a knife blade or two, mini file and/or metal pick. It doesn’t hurt to also pack the following: a flat head screwdriver, pliers, vise grips, an adjustable wrench, and a lug-nut wrench or tire iron.
How many times have you needed a working jack and not had one handy? Jacks can sit in the trunk, forgotten, underneath the (hopefully inflated) spare tire for years before being called on for duty. This makes them prone to rust, their screws prone to clogging with grime, so be sure to clean and inspect them periodically.
After duct tape and dogs, electrical tape is perhaps a man’s best friend. Should you need to splice wires for any reason, electrical tape’s your ticket.
Rag towels cost practically nothing, but can be useful in sopping up spilled fluids or wiping fogged windows.
The problem with spare tires is not that most vehicles don’t have one; indeed, the vast majority do. The problem is neglect and age. It’s a good idea to check the air pressure in your car’s spare at least twice a year. Unless you have a space-saving donut, make sure your spare tire exactly matches the make and specifications of the set you’re currently running. Remember: a tire’s effective life cycle is only about six or seven years.
Speaking of spare tires, an inflator kit not only allow you to pump air into a tire that doesn’t have any, or that’s low on pressure, but to do so with pinpoint accuracy, which is important to balance, handling and safety.
“See and be seen” is good advice whether you’re stopped by the road or driving. If you’re stopped and visibility is poor, as in thick fog, flares can go a long way to warning other motorists of your predicament. Use caution in setting them up, however, to ensure other traffic doesn’t come into contact with you as you position and light them. Reflective emergency triangles can also be used.