Over the years, I have personally experienced the following car problems: flat tire, dead battery, oil leak, cracked radiator, accidents large and small. It's a wonder I still even drive.
Now here's the thing: I know nothing about cars. I don't really get engines. I've changed my own oil exactly twice because first my father and then a boyfriend demanded that I know how to do myself. I can change a tire...if I have to. I have AAA just so I hopefully never have to. I'd rather wait for an hour than get under my car. Oh, and I know how to use jumper cables.
So if I have a kit like this, you can have a kit like this. If you're better with cars than I am, you doubly have no excuse. It doesn't take up much space. See?
First let's start with a few tips.
1) Keep your car in good repair. Find a mechanic you trust. Get regular oil changes. When it starts making funny noises, take it in and have it looked at. The problem isn't going to go away on its own.
2) Don't do silly things in emergencies. If you can't see, you can't drive. This applies to rain and snow, but also fog and dust depending on where you live. Also, don't drive through big puddles. This is how people die in rain storms.
3) A half full tank of gas is an empty tank of gas. I mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating. This has the added benefit that you can fill up when you have a few extra minutes or some time to kill, not because you-actually-need-gas-right-that-very-minute-or-you'll-be-stranded-but-you're-running-late-omg.
4) You should understand how to use jumper cables, change a tire, fill your radiator, check your oil and check your tire pressure (even in your spare). If you don't, find someone who does and ask them how.
Okay, so now that's out of the way, here's what's in our car emergency kit.
- jumper cables
- small piece of sandpaper (actually missing so there's something I need to rectify, which is why we do inventory on occasion)
- bungee cord (also missing)
- ice scraper
- small towel
- glow sticks
- a gallon of water
- pen and paper
And here's why all these things are here.
The jumper cables and ice scraper are probably self-evident. However, even if you don't know how to use jumper cables, buy some anyway. If your battery dies and someone stops to help you, they might not have jumper cables and you'll still be stuck. I've used mine often, sometimes being helped, sometimes as the helper.
The sandpaper is because sometimes battery terminals get corroded. A little sandpaper will scuff off corrosion so you can get a good connection.
Our bungee cord is most often used when we have mis-measured a box at IKEA and need something to hold the trunk closed. However, if you have an accident, it can be used to hold a bumper on or hold a trunk closed too.
The towel can be used for checking your oil, wiping off a windshield if you're out of washer fluid or just even wiping your hands when you've finished changing a tire or something equally messy in an emergency.
The same rule applies to the tools that apply to the jumper cables. Even if you can't use them, someone who stops to help might be able to. Know whether your car uses English or metric wrench sizes and buy the appropriate set. A flat-head and a Phillips head screwdriver can be handy too. Usually I end up using these to take furniture apart so I can get it in my car, but still handy to have.
The flashlight, batteries and glow sticks all serve the same purpose. If you have to do something in the dark, you'll need some light. Having two sources of light is always a good idea in case one fails, but these are also two kinds of light. Someone can hold a flashlight for you, but they can be difficult to position if you need both your hands free. A glow stick dimly illuminates more of an area so they're handy if you're on your own.
The water is good for several reasons. First, if your radiator busts on the freeway, you may need to refill it. This happened to me. I had water. I was grateful not to have to wait for a tow truck on the shoulder of a sharp curve. Second, if you get stranded somewhere, you'll need water to drink. Also good if you or your windshield or mirrors get so dirty you can't see. We keep a gallon of water in the car for Chester anyway so this gets used up and replaced pretty often.
You may need the pen and paper if you're in an accident, you may need to exchange insurance details. Or you might witness an accident need to take down a license number. It seems like such a simple thing, but you know you never have a pen when you need one, right?
Finally, your car manual. This has all sorts of information in it, from what size battery you need to the pressure your tires should be inflated to and what those little lights mean when they come on. If you keep this in a file drawer at home, best to put it in your car.
Do you have an emergency kit in your car? Did you include anything I left out here?