8 Most Important Items for a Roadside Emergency
Most people don't think about a roadside emergency until it happens, but by then it is too late. As a mechanic, I see people being towed or stranded, wasting time and incurring fees that could have been avoided by having a few simple items in their vehicle in preparation for the worst.
A GOOD Spare
Most people know they need a spare tire, but what they forget is to check the spare tire monthly when they adjust their air pressure (yes, you need to do that monthly as part of routine maintenance). If you have one of the few vehicles manufactured without one, you should purchase one and put it in the trunk. Some luxury cars come with a spray instead, however this only fixes small punctures, not large holes, cuts or blowouts. Check the spare tire pressure and condition, and remember that just like any other tire it expires if it is over 6 years old. You can determine the age of the tire by the last 4 digits of the DOT Number printed on the side. These represent the week and year of manufacture, so for example if a tire says 1302 it was manufactured in the 13th week of 2002 and needs to be replaced!
A Jack, Tire Tools and a Breaker Bar
Most people remember the jack (a hydraulic one is a good investment if your vehicle doesn't come with one), tire tools, but what if the last time you had a tire rotation the technician impacted the tires on? You'll never break them loose by hand and you're still waiting on a tow. Few people know that you are supposed to use antisieze on your lug studs or bolts and few shops actually do it. Over time, even if you use a torque wrench or stick to get them exactly to 80 lb-ft rust can sieze them on. Instead of worrying about this, you can just put a sturdy metal pipe that fits over your lug wrench in your trunk with the tools. If the lugs are on too tight, slip the pipe over the end of your lug wrench and you'll have the leverage to break them loose and be back on the road.
Flashlight, Preferably a Headlight
If you're going to have to try to service your vehicle on the side of the road, and you're not a mechanic, you probably need to see what you're doing. A flashlight is great, but one with a head strap is indispensible. I use them all the time at work, particularly on large trucks that need to be serviced outside and can't be lifted because I need my hands to work, so I can't aim a flashlight at the same time. A little light can make a job go a lot faster.
Old School Jumper Cables
Portable jumpboxes would be great, but for two issues - people never remember to charge them, and they only work when your battery is a little low, they don't have the amperage to turn a vehicle that is stone dead or the battery life to do a full charge. So if you end up stuck with a dead battery and a dead charger, you're still stuck. If you have old school jumper cables, you can always get a charge. While it may seem inconvenient to rely on the kindness of other motorists, it's certainly better than calling a roadside assistance company and waiting for an hour.
Fire Extinguisher (Preferably mounted near the left front A pillar)
Most people will never use the fire extinguisher in their home or vehicle, but that doesn't mean you don't need one. If you do end up in an emergency situation involving a fire, it could save your life as well as your property. The problem is if you can't get to your extinguisher it won't do you any good, so just like you should mount the ones at home in easily accessible areas, you need to mount the one in your vehicle within your reach while driving. If your car catches fire, you need to put it out quickly, not be reaching behind the seat or running to the truck to get your extinguisher.
A Spare Key
Most people lock themselves out of their vehicle at some point in their lives. Whether it is a lost key or a key that is locked in the car, a spare key IN YOUR POCKET will save the day. This doesn't mean you shouldn't leave a spare at home, so whether you have a cheap old school key or a newer microchipped key that can be pricey, you should have a third one made to keep on your person at all times. Even if your key costs $150 a single after hours road service can cost that in some regions and even if the price is lower, it is worth the investment for your time and safety.
Flares and/or Reflectors
Flares or reflectors wouldn't be necessary if we could choose the location of an emergency, but it generally happens at the worst time and place. Sometimes that includes dark roads, highways with no or narrow shoulders, blind turns, busy city streets or other unsafe locations. Whether you are waiting for a service provider or handling the problem yourself, visibility could prevent an accident and possibly save your life. I prefer reflector triangles because they don't fail, but some flares or even glowsticks can be helpful too.
Glass Breaker/Seatbelt Cutter
This is another item few have and most will never need, but if you end up in a situation where you are trapped in the vehicle with a fire or after an accident, it may save your life. If your seatbelt or door get stuck in an emergency, you need to be able to make a quick exit. I recommend one accessible to each person riding in the vehicle, which may sound excessive, but the alternative could be a trapped loved one so for the small investment it is worth the peace of mind.
How do you choose what is most important for a roadside emergency? Since you don't know the kind of emergency you will encounter, you really can't. Most people prepare, at least somewhat, for common emergencies like a flat tire and a dead battery, but the emergencies that are less common, like fire and serious accidents, are often neglected, but are likely to be tragic. My suggestion is to prepare for all possibilities by keeping a roadside kit and safety equipment close at hand so when you encounter any kind of roadside emergency you are prepared.