You never know what mishaps might happen on the road. Be prepared, and never leave home without these tools.
Road trip season is finally here. Many of us are hitting the road for a well-deserved vacation, perhaps our first in a long time. While you’re packing, here are 10 travel tools you should include. All of these have been useful to me in my own travels. Hopefully you won’t need them, but if you do, these tools could save your vacation.
The Leatherman is a modern-day Swiss Army knife, yet even more useful. It contains numerous built-in tools that could be helpful if you find yourself with car trouble: pliers, screwdrivers, a wire cutter and stripper, knife, file… All of these can be handy when it comes to fixing your car. At home it’s no substitute for a set of proper tools, but portability is important in a car, and nothing else packs as many tools into as small a space as a Leatherman. It’s like the sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who, except this tool is real.
2. Adjustable Wrench
Miles and miles on the road can cause nuts and bolts to come loose. A complete set of sockets and wrenches takes up a lot of space. (Trust me, I carry one in my van.) With an adjustable wrench, one size really does fit all. You need to be careful not to strip the nut or the bolt since it’s an imperfect fit, but in a pinch it will do the job without taking up half your trunk like a proper tool set.
3. Tire Repair Kit
A flat tire usually means switching to a spare tire with limited range and speed. However, if the problem is a small puncture in the middle of your tread, which is common, it may be possible to plug the hole in your tire on the side of the road. This kit includes everything you need to plug your tire so it’ll hold air without ruining your trip. You should still get the tire checked to make sure it’s safe for long-term use, but this way you don’t have to cut your plans short.
4. Air Compressor / Booster Pack
The only thing the tire repair kit does not include is a way to inflate your tire after repairing it, so it’s good to combine it with an air compressor. Maintaining proper air pressure in your tires is critical anyway, so it’s good to have a pump on board. You might as well buy one that will double as a booster pack that can jump start a dead battery. We’ve all left our lights on by mistake and drained the battery. This way you won’t have to wait hours for a tow truck to give you a boost.
5. Tow Strap
Off-road enthusiasts carry extensive recovery gear to pull themselves back onto the trail when they get stuck. You probably don’t need anything that serious, but a basic tow strap can be a lifesaver if you get bogged down in sand or mud. It makes it easy for someone with a truck and four-wheel-drive to pull you back to solid ground, or for you to help someone else if you have a suitable vehicle for it. Just be realistic, and don’t try to extract a Ford Raptor with a Mazda Miata.
6. Extra Water
This may not seem like a tool, but it’s always good to have something to drink on board. If you break down on a hot day, you’ll need to stay hydrated while you make repairs or wait for roadside assistance. Dehydration can give you brain fog, making you unable to think clearly while fixing the problem. It can also lead to more serious issues, like heat stroke. This applies to both your human passengers as well as any pets you bring along.
Still think it’s not a tool? Well, if the problem is in your cooling system, you can fill it temporarily with plain water instead of antifreeze to get your car to a repair shop. Just get it drained and changed back to proper coolant as soon as you can.
7. First Aid Kit
Sometimes you have to fix people instead of cars. It’s easy to cut and scrape yourself while trying to fix your car on the side of the road. You also never know when you might be the first on the scene of a crash where someone else needs help. A decent first aid kit will contain everything you need to patch yourself or others up. Taking a first aid / CPR course will teach you how to make better use of what’s in the kit, but anyone can put on a bandaid with no training at all. Plus, someone with advanced training, like a nurse or EMT, can make even better use of what’s in your first aid kit.
8. Fire Extinguisher
Hopefully you never need this, but if you do, you REALLY need it. I’ve rolled up on a car on fire, then emptied my extinguisher into it. It didn’t put out the fire, but it slowed it down until the real firefighters arrived. Having an extinguisher on hand saves valuable seconds and minutes that can prevent a small fire from turning into a big one.
Make sure you get one designed specifically for a car. It will be made to handle the various fluids and materials that cars have and homes do not.
I thought about including a repair manual on this list, but that’s so 20th century. Who reads printed manuals anymore? I used to write them and got tired of nobody reading my work.
Today, you can look up videos and written descriptions of how to repair practically anything on any car instantaneously on the internet. Leave your old Commodore 64 at home and look it up on the phone in your pocket. Android or iPhone doesn’t matter — either will work just fine. Most interstate highways have excellent cellular service so you can call for help, which will also let you surf the internet for repair advice, as well as call for help if you’re in over your head. Your phone will also let you use…
You knew this would be on the list, but it’s not just a shameless plug. I’ve used FIXD to diagnose and repair a check engine light during a road trip before. I was able to read my trouble codes to diagnose a dirty air filter and mass air flow sensor. I replaced the filter and cleaned the MAF sensor in a parking lot, reset my check engine light, and went on my merry way.
That’s just one of countless ways that FIXD can help. I could also have found a recommended repair shop to bring my car to if the problem was severe enough. With FIXD Premium, I could’ve even called the mechanic hotline if I’d been stumped about my problem to get further advice. It’s like having a mechanic friend on your phone that you can always ask “What’s wrong with my car?”
With these 10 tools on board, you’re ready to take off and take a well-earned vacation. Since you are now prepared for whatever might happen on the road, you can relax, enjoy yourself, and not worry about it. That’s what a vacation is all about.
Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.