Hope for the best and plan for the worst. The simple saying with complex details is so often thought of relative to your career or finances, and rightly so, though it shouldn’t be overlooked in regard to your car. Even if you keep some travel-size supplies aboard for emergency grooming purposes, don’t overlook things for the car itself. Your cell phone is a must, but alone it can’t bail you out of every sticky situation. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to stash a few hundred pounds of provisions for everyday driving or even road trips. Strike a sensible balance with our top 10 things to keep in your car.
No.10 Tire gauge
A minute of your time every week can save hours if ever stranded, and it’s as easy as keeping a tire gauge in your car. It’s fundamentally simple and obvious that a small patch of tire at each corner is your only connection to the road. What’s less realized is how critical proper inflation is to car safety and tire wear. Take a huge step toward preventing nastiness by using a tire gauge (digital is best and still reasonably priced) when tires are cold -- before you drive. The ideal pressure will be indicated not on the tire itself but the driver’s doorjamb and in your owner’s manual.
Even if your car runs perfectly fine, doesn’t smoke , and you don’t have to top off the oil every time you gas up, keep a quart or two of oil ready. You won’t be able to forgo checking the dipstick often, the way you normally should. Instead, this emergency supply can be added roadside and allow you to limp your car to a safer place should the unforeseen happen. It‘s even more critical if yours is one of the many new cars requiring a specific kind of oil.
No.8 Cell-phone charger
Some newer cars have phone docking and charging capability as standard features, which we hope to see more manufacturers offer. If this isn’t built in on your car, have a basic charger on hand, and use it often. If your car quits and you have to deal with a dead car battery, you might not have the ability to charge a drained phone.
Yes, there is an iPhone app for a flashlight, and it can be extremely handy to have when the situation is inconvenient but not necessarily dire. It still doesn’t hold a candle to a proper flashlight, since it’s another big battery drain that was never really intended for use around a hot engine or poking around under a vehicle. Drop it once, game over. A good flashlight can withstand that and more while letting off more light.
No.6 Flat tire fixer
To save on expenses, space or weight, several new cars don’t have spare tires. They rely on either run-flats or sealant in a can. The latter isn’t bad to have regardless of how your car’s equipped, since even spares lose air when they’re left unchecked or can fail once in use. The products can be found with various brand names, but they more or less have the same functions of sealing and inflating. Certainly a convenience and potentially a must-have when the surface isn’t stable enough for a car jack or there isn’t the time and space to safely change your tire with traffic whizzing by just inches away. Just be sure the one you're buying is compatible with your tire type and won’t damage your tire pressure monitoring system once equipped.
No.5 Booster cables
Here’s another no-brainer for readers in cold climates who winterize their cars annually, but even desert dwellers need a boost now and then. As with some other things to keep in your car, check your owner’s manual to confirm the type of cables or booster system you can safely use. The traditional four-clamp setup may not be an option, or there may be specific points in your engine bay to serve as connectors, as opposed to the battery posts themselves. Just understand that a jump start is rarely the end of your problems; if you need it once, you’ll probably need it again unless other issues are addressed.
No.4 GPS and map
If your car doesn’t have a built-in navigation system, keep a portable GPS with you. Just don’t rule out having a map onboard. As good as factory and portable GPS units are, they still sometimes flake out or can’t grab a signal. Besides, if your car’s out of power, you’re out of luck. Even if your phone has the capability, signal strength could again pose an issue. With a map, your biggest problem is folding the thing properly, which really is just another lost art anyway.
No.3 Basic first-aid kit
With roadside surgeries at an all-time low, you don’t have to keep an elaborate arsenal of medical gear in your trunk, but, until help arrives, a small kit of the essentials can make a big difference. Things like bandages, burn cream, antibacterial ointment, and pain reliever aren't just things you will need for a family vacation. A poncho’s helpful too, functional as a makeshift blanket or to keep you dry when you’re stuck in the rain. Finally, a small extinguisher designed for automotive use keeps minor electrical and engine fires from getting out of hand.
No.2 Food and water
This isn’t just for Snowbelt readers. Food and water are things to keep in your car wherever you live or travel. Nothing elaborate here -- you’re not hauling around four-course meals for five. The idea is that you’ll have the bare minimum to keep you going when help could be many hours away or the weather extreme. Compact, healthy foods with long shelf lives, like energy or protein bars, are great choices. Have a few bottles of water, and replace them all from time to time.
No.1 Insurance information and vehicle registration
Any meeting of metal is never good, but being able to contact your insurance carrier and exchange information helps. As for registration, it seems fundamental to have proof that you, your car and its license plates all belong together. Some guys get lazy and fail to put their registration in the glove box, while others have purposely taken it out to minimize the threat of identify theft. The latter could be a legit concern, but chances are your state laws require it.