I’ve owned and driven cars for over 40 years now, even since I was old enough to get a driver’s license.
I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over the roads; driven though all kinds of weather and survived just about any kind of problem you can imagine. I’ve been stuck in floods, blizzards and sand. I’ve spent more than one night trapped in my car and had more than one die on me; some of nothing more than old-age and exhaustion, others from engines blowing or the wiring catch fire.
By and large, I’ve driven older vehicles, as I could never see sticking myself with the huge payments associated with most cars. But just because they were older cars, doesn’t mean that they weren’t good cars. I’ve always tried to keep my cars in good mechanical shape and made sure they were ready to get me through those everyday problems.
But being ready to get through these problems entailed much more than just having a sound engine; it meant having the right things in the car to deal with a wide variety of different situations. We are a highly mobile society today, taking our cars everywhere. So preparing your car to deal with a range of potential problems also means that you’re ready to deal with those problems as well.
This has been how I’ve operated for over four decades now. In doing so, I’ve not only been prepared to help myself through a wide range of problems, but have also been able to help many others who have found themselves in trouble. Whether it was in being the first to arrive at the scene of an accident or finding someone whose car ran off the road in an ice storm, I’ve helped enough people out of trouble, that I’ve often wondered why I didn’t get preprinted invoices to use.
The Vehicle Itself
I always start with the vehicle itself. As I already mentioned, it’s important to have your vehicle mechanically sound. You’re not going to be ready to help yourself out, let alone anyone else, if your vehicle is broken-down beside the road. Granted, there are things which can happen that can’t be foreseen; but if it can be foreseen and you didn’t see it, you’re not helping yourself.
What does this mean in practical terms?
- Change your oil regularly – that does more to maintain your engine’s health than anything
- Check fluids regularly
- Check belts and hoses regularly – there are a lot of breakdowns due to belts and hoses wearing out
- Check tires regularly and fill as necessary – tire air pressure changes with the season, so never assume that it’s okay. Don’t forget the spare either
- All lights are working
- Wiper blades aren’t worn out
- Any red warning lights on the dash have been checked out and necessary repairs made
That’s really not a long list, so it’s not all that hard to keep up with, even on an older vehicle. If you can, you will eliminate a lot of the problems that people end up stuck on the side of the road for; not all of them, but a lot of them.
You may want to make some slight modifications to your vehicle as well, such as adding lights, so that you can see better in an emergency situation. I’ve used a variety of lights at different times; but always make sure that I have at least one powerful spotlight I can use.
Another modification to consider is making sure that you have a good connection point for jumper cables. Some newer cars have the battery hidden. In those cases there are normally contacts you can use, but not all models have them. Make sure you have readily accessible points for jump-starting your car or for jump starting other people’s cars. I’ve even gone as far as running permanent cable to the other end of the car for this purpose.
It’s a good idea to check your vehicle for towing points as well, both in the front and rear. Some cars are not easy to connect to for towing, while others have actual towing points installed. I’m not talking about the towing points used by a tow truck here, but used by a friendly passer-by to get you off the road and out of traffic, or that you would use to do that for someone else.
If your car doesn’t have good towing points, you can easily rectify that problem by attaching some U-bolts to the structure. Just drill holes though and bolt them on. That makes it much faster and easier to hook a tow strap or chain to your vehicle. Of course, if you have a trailer hitch, that can be used as well.
Emergency Vehicle Equipment
The next category of equipment to consider is emergency equipment for your vehicle itself. This is the equipment you need to have, in case of car trouble. Hopefully you’ll never have to use this for your own vehicle, if you are properly maintaining it. But you might end up using these items on other people’s vehicles as well, saving them from a catastrophic problem.
- Basic tool set for repairs – metric socket set, metric wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers
- Jack – I wouldn’t count on the scissors jack that comes with the vehicle, as they are hard to use and not very stable; rather, I carry a hydraulic one
- Lug wrench – again, I don’t count on the one that comes with the vehicle, as it is hard to use, but rather a star wrench
- Water – for an overheated engine
- Hose repair – Duct tape and hose clamps works well for this
- Jumper cables – good quality ones, the cheap ones aren’t good enough
- Towing strap or chain – I prefer a nylon strap, but some people like chains better
- Heavy-duty paper towels – to clean your hands
In addition to these items, it’s a good idea to keep some spare oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid in your car. A lot of minor emergencies are nothing more than someone forgetting to check their fluids. Along with the battery, those should be the first thing to check.
Taking care of your vehicle is merely the starting point. If you take care of it, there’s much that your vehicle can do to take care of you. Today’s cars and trucks are designed with a lot of safety features installed, so that they can protect you in the case of an accident. But they can do more than that; they can act as an emergency shelter, should you need. People live in their cars all the time; and while it may not be a comfortable place to live, it can protect you from the elements in a pinch.
But you’ll want to have some personal equipment and supplies in the car, so that you can be at least somewhat comfortable, in the case of an emergency. If you end up in one of those situations I mentioned in the introduction to this article, you want to have the things you need to have, in order to take care of yourself.
To start with, make sure you have a good EDC bag with you. By “good,” I’m referring to one that is heavy on survival gear. My personal EDC bag is a combination EDC, survival kit and get home bag. Other than transportation, water and my pistol, it has everything I need, so that I can survive several days.
In addition to that EDC, your car should also have:
- Blanket and pillow (lots of people forget the pillow)
- A seasonally appropriate coat and hat
- Good work gloves – by “good,” I mean durable. They can double to keep your hands warm
- Potable water (drinkable)
- Snacks – things that will last well, like granola bars, nuts and jerky
- Head lamp with extra batteries
- Bungee cords – useful for more than just tying down loads
- First-aid kit – this needs to be a good trauma kit, with enough supplies to take care of major injuries and splint broken bones. Make sure you learn how to do things like a preliminary evaluation of a patient, how to stop bleeding, treat shock, properly use a tourniquet, and how to treat a sucking chest wound
- Toilet paper – get stranded once, and you’ll be glad you have it
Don’t take this list as being totally complete. There may be things that you need to have, which I don’t mention, such as prescription drugs that you need for a chronic condition. We are each different, with different needs, so you have to make sure that you have what you might need, in the case of emergency, not just what I think I need.
It’s not hard to keep all of this, and even more, in the trunk of your car. I’ve kept all of this in my cars for decades and never had a problem being able to haul the groceries home from the store or go on a trip. It’s all a matter of packing it away well, so that space isn’t wasted.