Thump, Whump, Thump, Whump, Thump, Whump...WHATS THAT?!?
That's the sound of your car having a breakdown. No matter how much we take care of our vehicles, the unexpected happens to us all at one time or another. It's like dealing with Thanksgiving & Christmas Dinner both at once...all you can do is prepare.
Just like you would prepare for a house fire or hurricane, your first order of business is a to prepare an emergency Go Bag. Just this one is for your vehicle. Most rarely, if ever, experience a house fire or hurricane. But you drive every day, multiple times a day.
It is more important to be prepared for roadside emergencies just because the odds are greater that you will experience one sooner rather than later. Take it from me, a breakdown never comes at a convenient time or place.
Just when you think a roadside emergency could not get any worse, here comes winter. Oftentimes it takes 6 hours or more to get roadside assistance. That's bad enough but to do it in freezing temperatures it can get dangerous, fast.
The first thing you should have in your car no matter what is a multi-use battery charger/ tire air pump/jump box. No one should go anywhere without one, ever. If you love someone, get them one of these battery boxes that comes with everything from a light to a radio on it. Your best bet is to find a small, portable, lithium-ion battery with jumper cables. Get one with multiple USB outlets to also recharge computers and cell phones. This is important because you do not want to drain your vehicle battery while you are waiting for roadside rescue. No one thinks that they need to conserve the car battery for the flashers. A typical auto battery will support flashers for approximately 2-4 hours. But if you listen to the radio, turn on the overhead light, or worse plug in your phone the car battery will not last long at all. One of these battery boxes can hold you over a lot longer than your car battery will while not draining juice from the important safety feature you really need like the flashers. Note: No one uses jumper cables anymore. Newer vehicles are not designed for them like the older vehicles. They can cause a feedback loop that can fry electronics in both vehicles. A quality battery box is smart enough to not allow a jump unless it is properly attached. You literally can't mess it up. And you don't need to ask a stranger or wait for a willing victim to come along to angle their car close enough to reach with cables. Prices for these batteries range from $60-$120. The only thing about these is that you have to make sure to keep it charged. Even if you don't use it, charge it every couple months.
Next, you need a basic roadside emergency kit which should include some of the following items:
No need to spend much, it does not need to be fancy.
1. Once you have assembled your roadside emergency kit, you will need a good way to keep these items together in your trunk so they don't roll around. A simple cardboard box works well for the larger items. A backpack is a great option for the rest. Hit the thrift store or grab any old bag that you can tie or zip up.
2. A gallon of water for the vehicle. This is in addition to your drinking water.
3. LED strobe “flares” and triangle reflectors. LEDs have come so far that they are now low cost and extremely effective. We love them down south but up north usually, traditional flares tend to work best. Just keep them stored properly, wrapping each one separately then sealed in a ziplock bag. Get at least 6 warning devices and starting from the traffic side of your bumper then angle towards the passenger side spacing them out about 5 feet apart.
4. A quart or more of motor oil. Check with your vehicle owners manual or favorite machinic if you are not sure what kind to get. Do not mix synthetic with regular oil.
5. Tow strap or tow rope.
6. A gallon of coolant. If you deal with cold weather add antifreeze, too.
7. At least 2 cans of tire inflator and sealant. Get the kind with the hose nozzle. They are easier to use. Follow the instructions on the can, never forgetting to shake well first.
8. Duct tape. Do not get this at the dollar store. You get what you pay for. Duct tape has saved more than one life.
9. Fire extinguisher, usually about $20
10. Rain poncho for each person normally in the car.
11. Extra car charger.
12. Petroleum jelly
13. 6x6 tarp
14. Small funnel
15. 2-4 bungee cords
16. Box cutter
17. Assorted Zip Ties
18. Roll of fishing line filament
19. Roll of toilet paper and some ziplock bags in various sizes. The little things you need to keep your dignity.
20. Air Horn and backup blow whistle. Use 3 short bursts to get attention.
21. Tire pressure gauge. Simple traditional stick or fancy digital, pick your favorite. Keep this very accessible since you should use this often.
22. Toolkit with screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, pocket knife. Don't go too cheap on this one. You're screwed if the screwdriver breaks.
23. Basic First-aid kit (or buy a quality premade one) Don't skimp, you get what you pay for.
small, medium and large sterile gauze dressings
at least 2 sterile eye dressings
Assorted size band-aids
crêpe rolled bandages
disposable sterile gloves
alcohol-free cleansing wipes
thermometer (preferably digital)
skin rash creams, such as hydrocortisone or calendula
cream or spray to relieve insect bites and stings
painkillers such as paracetamol (or infant paracetamol for children), aspirin (not
to be given to children under 16), or ibuprofen
antihistamine cream and tablets
distilled water for cleaning wounds
eyewash and eye bath
It may also be useful to keep a basic first aid manual or instruction booklet with your first aid kit.
Medicines should be checked regularly to make sure they're within their use-by dates.
24. Blanket and a space blanket for each person normally in the vehicle.
25. Flashlight and extra batteries. Not just any old flashlight, now. Cheaper is not better.
26. Paper towels, 2 rolls if you have room for it. Trust me, when you need paper towels in a vehicle you never need just a few.
27. Spray bottle (with washer fluid) CLEARLY MARK this bottle with a permanent marker.
28. Ice scraper (if you live in an area with snow) Many southerners don't know what this is but you northerners know the best kinds.
29. Pencil and pen (yes, both) and a small to med size notebook
30. Sealed baby wipes. Get the refill pack that has the strong outer plastic. If you get a box with that flimsy plastic wrap the wipes will be dry when you need them.
31. Well sealed nonperishable snacks like granola, nuts, jerky, canned meat, and/or energy bars (replace every year) Look into getting a case of MRE Ready To Eat Meals to distribute between your home and car Go Bags.
32. Bottled drinking water, at least one gallon and at least 2 single serve size bottles too. (replace every year) You will need all three. It is easier to cool or warm a single serve bottle than the whole gallon at once. Also, if you need to share you have the option to give away the extra one. Add an additional single-serve bottle for each additional person normally in the vehicle, including babies.
33. Kid/Baby Stuff, this may require another bag depending on how much of a prepper you are. Coloring books with markers, not crayons. The crayons will melt in most climates. A couple of new $1 toys. Nothing like a new toy to take their mind off of being bored stuck in a car for 6 hours. Sealed baby formula(check dates often), an extra handful of diapers, extra wipes, new binky(pacifier), blanket, etc.
34. Extra shoes.
I know this list seems daunting now, but these simple things can save your life. You can break up the costs over a few months, just buying a few things at a time. That way it won't hurt your wallet all at once. With these supplies and resourceful thinking, you will be able to deal with most roadside emergencies. Make sure the kit is quickly accessible because you might need it in a hurry.
So, we got the basics done. That's great for regular weather, but that's not going to be good enough for being stuck in the extreme cold weather that we seem to be experiencing more and more these days. Even down in Florida, it's getting colder and colder, well at least for Floridians. It may not snow everywhere, but preparing for being stuck in the cold weather is so important due to just how fast you can succumb to the elements. You will need a few more supplies to deal with all that cold.
In cold weather, you will not catch me without heated seats. Since you can't use the heated seats while waiting for roadside assistance, I rely on a 12-volt Electric Car Blanket. It runs off of the battery box so I don't feel so guilty about using it for shorter delays.
Everyone should keep extra socks & sweaters in the car during cold weather in case they get wet or just need another layer. I added a full face stocking cap, too. I love those awesome little self-heating packets. These can keep your body temp up an additional 8-10 degrees for 2-8 hours depending on how cold it is. Each person needs 4, one for each limb.
Ice & snow is the utmost bane of everyone's existence. It doesn't take much to get stuck. I learned the hard way to carry some cat litter or sand to provide traction. Wet dirt is just not a good alternative. When stuck in the boondocks you get resourceful real fast. Using a stick to shovel was the epiphany I needed to remember to add a little foldable multi-use shovel to my trunk, too.
I know all this seems like a lot, but you only have to do the initial set up once. Then its only a matter of maintaining it once a year or replenishing what you used out of it. When, not if, but when you do need it, you will be grateful and proud of yourself for thinking ahead.
Stay Mobile, My Friend!
Written by Heather Hess
A Dispatcher for Hessco Roadside Assistance & Towing Innovations
I make sure that the tow truck can find you when you have a roadside emergency.