Breaking down sucks. Even if you love tinkering with your deeply troubled, problematic project car in your spare time (looking at you, Hank O’Hop), the median or the hard shoulder is chaotic, dangerous, and doesn’t have the same plethora of tools your home garage has. For most folks, their trunk, frunk, or hatch space comes at a premium. Even if you wanted to bring tools with you, you just don’t have the room. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely do, at least if you build your roadside kit right.
By thinking smart and small, you can have a damn good selection of tools that’ll get you out of most sticky situations and assist in bodging together a repair. You don’t need a lot, and these won't cost you an arm, a leg, or the price of a routine doctor visit.
What I am offering is a paired-down selection of tools and gear that will cover your behind when all hell breaks loose. Now, obviously, you won’t be able to swap an engine east of Omaha, but you will be able to plug a tire, fix a broken bracket, find the source of a leak, and jump-start your car if the battery dies. Some of the selections are from my own kit, some are suggestions that my fellow editors put forth, and all of them will ensure you get back onto the road in short order.
Let’s get at it.
I’ll talk about why you need a knife in your car — and on your person — until I’m blue in the face. It’s important and could damn well save your life. It saved mine. A knife is a multitool in itself, being useful for cutting, breaking, and turning screws. Always keep one with you.
And before anyone tells you, no, you don’t need a Benchmade. (You can absolutely buy a Benchmade, but you don’t have to.) You don’t even need to spend $70 to $90. You can use something like my original EDC, this Smith & Wesson, or this CRKT. They've got everything you need, and the S&W even comes with a seatbelt cutter and glass breaker.
You never know if you’re going to break down during the day or at night or if the culprit of said breakdown is deep within your darkened engine bay. That’s why a high-intensity flashlight, something around the size of a pen, is so important to have with you. You can also use it to flag down helpful motorists, although be wary of those with chainsaws and butcher aprons.
No one wants to carry around a box full of tools. Screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, bottle openers, and more just take up space, which is why a multitool is a brilliant piece of kit. It may not be able to do everything, but something like a Gerber is going to get you a lot further and take up less room, than others. Invest in a good pair, and you’ll be golden.
While I don’t have a race car — just a lowly dad-spec Volvo — I keep zip-ties in my side door pocket at all times. In a pinch, you can use them to create new brackets, cinch bumpers together, or use one to create a temporary hose clamp. They’re multifunctional, small, and easy to use.
Batteries are mysterious objects, and today’s modern vehicles require a lot of voltage. Those power-hungry accouterments have a tendency to drain batteries of electricity on the regular, so having a portable jump-starter is a no-brainer. It also removes the need for a good Samaritan needing to stop and pull out a set of jumper cables.
Flats happen. They’re a certainty. In my life, I’ve had dozens, and all of them sucked. I remember two occurring just after I shod my old Volkswagen Golf R with new Bridgestone rubber. I wanted to scream. Actually, I still do! Thankfully, I was able to get home before my tires went flat, but that might not always be the case. This is why having something such as Fix-a-Flat or a tire puncture kit is pretty important to getting you back on the road.
There are issues with both, however. Fix-a-Flat has the habit of killing a tire, so you will have to replace it once you get somewhere safe. A tire puncture kit recommends you deflate the tire first before installing the patch, although you can skip it if your hands are quick. That said, both will require air, and you’d need an air compressor. Those, however, can be expensive. If you can limp to a gas station, you’ll find an air hose there to help with the repair.
Having one or two adjustable wrenches stored in your car can be a lifesaver. Yes, a multitool can do in a pinch, but a good adjustable wrench can help you when larger bolts or parts fail. Two sizes give you more adaptability than having only a multitool or just one wrench.
This particular one also comes with insertable sockets for added functionality. Neat.
Well, you have to keep it all in one place, don’t you? And why not have something you could also theoretically use as a mat to either kneel or sit on? Win-win.
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