DETROIT – As you’re loading down your kid’s car with stuff for college, make sure to tuck one extra item in the trunk: an emergency roadside kit.
Sure, your kid has a cell phone, but service can be spotty. You may even belong to a roadside assistance service. AAA, which has a $51 annual fee, will add a son or daughter for $13 through Sept. 30. But a roadside kit can save you hours stranded on the road or stabilize the situation until help arrives.
There are a variety of prepackaged kits on the market. On the high end, there’s a $90 version at Batterysavers.com, a safety supply company. It comes with a battery-powered air compressor to pump your tire, a folding shovel, a 50-piece first-aid kit with instruction cards and a safety vest. Eddie Bauer makes a similar, $69 kit with extras, such as a poncho and a safety whistle. For $59.97, Goodyear sells a kit that includes a one-year membership in a roadside assistance program.
Although not as convenient, you can put together a very complete kit for around $60 and alter it to fit your needs. Traveling in a cold climate? Add a blanket, a small shovel and an ice scraper. Want something fancier? There’s the $67 Solar Jump-N-Carry, a portable jump starter with an attached flashlight; or a large, flashing hazard triangle for $16.
Here are 10 basic items you should put in an emergency kit:
Duct tape. It’s a running joke that duct tape can fix just about anything. Well, there’s some truth in that. Duct tape can be a lifesaver on the road, to fix a dangling side mirror or a dragging bumper or patch up a broken hose. It can even keep the doors closed if the locking mechanism stops working in a wreck. And it’s only around $3. Bungee cords are also handy for quick repairs.
Flashlight. Critical in a nighttime breakdown. Consider one with a base that will stand upright and keep your hands free if you’re trying to make a repair. Amazon.com sells a flexible flashlight with a magnetic base for $9.95. Be sure to throw in a couple of extra batteries.
Reflective triangle, flares or glow sticks. They warn other motorists if you’re on the side of the road, and they don’t need batteries, so they won’t wear down. Redflarekits.com has a reflective triangle and stand for $4.36 and glow sticks for 99 cents each.
Tool set. Most vehicles come with a jack and lug wrench for changing the tires. For other jobs, such as tightening battery cables, include a small set of tools. Even if you don’t know how to use them, the Good Samaritan who stops to help you will need something to work with. Consumer Reports suggests motorists carry socket and open-end wrenches, a multi-tip screwdriver and pliers. This isn’t a big investment – Sears sells a household tool set for $16.75.
Tire inflator. Auto information site Edmunds.com recommends carrying a can of Fix-a-Flat, which inflates and seals a tire temporarily. It costs around $6.
Jumper cables. Jumper cables can restart your battery if there’s a second car to give you a boost. Advance Auto Parts sells a set for $8.99. Your owner’s manual will have instructions on how to use them.
First-aid kit. Choose a kit that helps you care for minor cuts or burns and has plenty of bandages. Target sells a Johnson & Johnson-brand kit for $8.69.
Gloves and rags. Car repair is dirty work. Throw in a pair of work gloves – you can find some online for $2.50 or even less – and a few rags.
Pen and paper. Don’t overlook that you may need to leave a note on your car if you leave to find help.
Water and nonperishable snacks. You may be stranded for a several hours, so snacks can keep you going, and in a pinch water can help cool down an overheating engine.