In case you haven’t figured this out by now, I like to be prepared for any eventuality. My back up plans, in fact, have contingency plans, and I still don’t think that I’m prepared enough. As you’d probably guess, I have a checklist of things that I carry in each and every vehicle I own, either in the trunk, under the seats or in some other interior storage compartment. This tends to differ with the amount of storage space available to me, but I always carry some variation of the following items with me. I’ll use my FJ Cruiser as an example here, but you’ll find more of the same (in compact form) in my MX-5.
Since I’m Red Cross certified in a whole bunch of things, this is a no brainer. The kit in my FJ is a military surplus, platoon sized kit, and I’ve got it supplemented with a reflective blanket, latex gloves (lots of latex gloves), a resuscitation mask and hand sanitizer. Make sure your kit has bandages of all shapes and sizes, band-aids (which you’ll use more often than anything else), antiseptic, ibuprofen, tweezers, scissors (paramedic shears are the best) and at least one pair of latex gloves.
Getting stuck with a dead car and a dead cell phone is not good, so buy a cheap car charger for your cell phone and leave it in the glove box. Think of it like an insurance policy; you may never need it, but if you do it’ll be money well spent.
Yes, I actually carry a small compressor in each and every vehicle I own: in fact, I even have one small enough to fit into a motorcycle tank bag. I use them all the time, since it’s generally easier to fire up a small compressor to fill tires than to fire up my garage compressor, fill a portable air tank and then check tire pressure. If you want added safety (and you’ve got the space), buy one with an emergency flasher and a built in light. I also carry a tire gauge in each and every car, because the gauges built into portable compressors tend to be as accurate as kicking the tire and guessing the pressure.
If you know how to use a string plug kit, put one in your car. I prefer the heavy duty T-handle kind, with a separate can of rubber cement (since the tubes in cheap kits always dry out). If you’ve got experience doing plug repairs, chances are good you can plug the tire without pulling it from the car, which saves a whole lot of time and effort.
Remember the old red shop rags? The kind that stood up to everything but battery acid? I keep about a dozen clean ones in each car, because you never know when you’ll need a rag. They’re good for clean up and can double as a bandage in an emergency (though sterile dressings are always preferred).
Another in-car insurance policy. I prefer the kind with pliers, a knife blade, screwdrivers, a bottle opener and a file; if I have these tools, I can solve a lot of potential roadside problems. You don’t need to shell out the kind of cash required to buy a genuine Leatherman, but be sure to buy one that will stand up to use. If you got one free for renewing a magazine subscription, just bin it and go buy a real one.
You’ve got several options here, so let me start with what I DON’T recommend. Many people carry a full size, D cell Maglight in their car to use as a flashlight or as a club. Unless you’re trained in defensive tactics, this is a really, really bad idea. If you have a hostile encounter with someone who knows what they’re doing, that flashlight is only going to get you hurt. If you want a flashlight to use for defense, buy the brightest lithium battery tactical light you can afford. Make sure it has a strobe function, because lighting someone up at night with a bright strobe usually takes the fight right out of them. Even if if doesn’t, you have the advantage of temporarily blinding your opponent.
As for me, I carry Mini Maglights with an LED conversion kit in all my cars. They’re bright enough to be useful, they don’t take up much space and the batteries last a long, long time with LED bulbs. You can also hold one in your teeth if you need to work hands-free, but I doubt your dentist will endorse this practice. I also change out the batteries once a year, just to be on the safe side.
I don’t keep a gun in the car, but there are times when I’m carrying concealed that I need to leave a gun in the car (at the airport, for example). Leaving a gun in the glovebox is a really, really bad idea, as the lock can be sprung with very little effort (assuming you remember to lock it in the first place). Instead, buy yourself a lock box with an aircraft cable leash. The leash gets secured to the seat frame (or sheetmetal in the trunk) and you have reasonably secure storage for anything that you want to keep locked up and out of sight.
Even if you don’t drive a truck or an SUV, you’d be surprised at how often you can use bungee cords. Need to keep that propane tank for rolling around your trunk? A bungee cord or two will do the trick. Want to keep your groceries from sliding all over your trunk? A bungee will take care of that.
Gorilla Tape or Supertape can be used to fix just about anything if you’re creative enough. OK, they won’t help you if you throw a rod or frag a wheel bearing, but they just may hold that leaking radiator hose together long enough to get you home. Need to make an improvised splint? Gorilla Tape will keep things in place. Don’t cheap out and buy duct tape – that’s good enough for around the house, but you want duct tape on steroids in the field. Buck up for the good stuff.
Optional – Warm Clothing, Food and Water
When I lived in Colorado and headed into the mountains during winter, I always carried tire chains, a few gallons of water, a couple boxes of Power Bars, a sleeping bag, a spare parka, fleece pants, overpants and boots. Paranoid? Perhaps, but my wife would be the first to disagree. She once spent 12 hours parked on I-25 between Denver and Boulder, when heavy snow shut the road down. Would you rather be shivering in jeans, running your heater every 10 minutes to save gas, or enjoying the brisk air while dozing comfortably in a sleeping bag? I no longer load up the car for winter in Florida, but when I move back to Colorado you can rest assured that I’ll keep a winter road kit handy.
Things I Should Carry, But Don’t: I don’t carry flares and I don’t carry a warning triangle, but I probably should. I don’t carry quick epoxy (like JB Weld), but I probably should (especially when I head off-road). I don’t carry jumper cables, even though I own a set of commercial duty cables. I don’t carry tools with me, since there isn’t much you can fix on a car by the side of the road these days. I have a folding lug wrench, but it’s too small to fit the lugs on my FJ Cruiser, so it stays in my wife’s car.
So how about you? What things do you never leave home without and why?