This article was originally published in the Survival Dispatch Insider Volume 3 Issue 10 by Sean Clay
If you are like me, you likely tote an EDC bag full of the essentials and have a GHB stashed in your vehicle somewhere, along with medical and comms gear. However, I have noticed, among some of those in my circle, there is a lack of tools kept in their vehicle. While most of my friends with trucks have a virtual hardware store in the toolbox in the bed, some of those with cars or SUV’s have little more than a multitool and one of those dollar store 2-in-1 screwdrivers. This article will help you identify the essential tools to keep in your vehicle so that you can maximize your level of preparedness.
Before we get too deep, it’s important to note that you need to really know the vehicle that you are driving daily. While that may sound like common sense, there is an alarming number of people who know very little about their vehicle beyond where to put the gas in. If you are lucky enough to have the owner’s manual still residing in the glove box, take it out and read through it. Know where all the major fluid level checks are. Know where the jack is and the tire tools that go along with it. Know where the tow hooks are if you have to be pulled out of the mud or snow. Whether or not you have an owner’s manual, I would highly recommend one of the Chilton or Haynes manuals for your model vehicle. They are around $25 and are an incredible resource for knowing how to care of and work on your vehicle. I have one for each type of vehicle in my household. While it’s true that cars become more complicated, the newer they are, there is still quite a bit of work that can be done by the average owner, regardless of skill level.
When it comes to the tools to keep in your vehicle, some are probably quite obvious. For instance, a set of quality jumper cables is a given. At some point, you WILL experience the need for them, whether it’s to get your own vehicle going or to help someone else. You may prefer to upgrade to one of the booster units that has jumper cables as well as an air compressor and a multitude of charging points built-in. While expensive, they can be a valuable part of your automotive tool collection. A quality flashlight should be part of your kit, as well as a headlamp. There are few things more frustrating trying to make repairs on the side of the road while attempting to hold a flashlight in your mouth.
Next, it is always a good idea to have an assortment of hand tools in your vehicle as well. I keep a hammer, small pry bar, Phillips and standard screwdrivers, metric and standard socket kits, Allen keys, channel lock pliers, needle nose pliers, metric and standard box end wrenches, a razor knife, a small pair of cutters, and a few bit drivers in standard sizes. I keep all of mine in a tool box that lives under the rear seat of my truck.
There are ADDITIONAL ITEMS that I keep handy in my vehicle as well. In the same box that houses my tools, I keep an assortment of spare fuses, a roll of electrical tape, a roll of duct tape, zip ties in several lengths, tire pressure gauge, clamps of various sizes, and an extra headlight and taillight bulbs. A small, extendable mirror can help you see into those hard to reach places, and a magnetic extension tool can help pick up that screw you just dropped into the engine compartment. These items all add up to a fairly comprehensive tool kit for the road. Add in a can of Fix-a-flat and a tire patch kit, and you will be ready to roll. Naturally, your available storage space and particular vehicle will dictate how and where you carry your tools and gear. For instance, my F-250 has a toolbox across the bed, so I can carry additional gear such as a floor jack, tarp, full-size pry bar, and other larger gear.
Depending on the age and road-worthiness of your vehicle, you may want to consider additional gear. For instance, if your truck smokes and uses oil, you will definitely want to carry a few spare quarts. The same goes for transmission and brake fluid. While we all strive to keep our vehicles in the best running shape that we can, sometimes, we end up with that vehicle that requires relatively constant maintenance. Sometimes a spare radiator hose, serpentine belt, or drive pulley may be a good idea, especially if you are going on a long trip and don’t have the utmost confidence in the reliability of the ones presently installed. If any of these go out while on a backcountry road, you’ll be thankful that you were packing a spare. If you are into off-roading, having spare fluids, filters, and plugs are a great idea. I’ve seen trucks get buried in ponds while mudding or shear off the oil pan drain plug while rock crawling. In both cases, being able to refill and keep fluid levels contained meant the difference between a wrecker being called versus driving home on their own power.
As with all of the gear we carry, it’s imperative to make sure you know how to use it and what tools apply to your vehicle. I had a Chevy Silverado that had a combination of metric and standard hardware, making it a guessing game when trying to take care of seemingly easy jobs like replacing headlight bulbs. Having access to both standard and metric tools make the job a little less irritating, especially if you find yourself working on repairs in a Walmart parking lot at midnight.
ON A FINAL NOTE, putting together your vehicle tool kit doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Most of us have duplicates of the tools we need in our garages, and yard sales are a great source of goods. I lucked out on a set of USA Craftsman boxed end wrenches in both metric and standard sizes for $6 at a local yard sale last year. With a little looking around, you’ll have a bargain vehicle tool kit that is the envy of your unprepared friends!