Nobody likes being stuck on the side of the road. Sometimes it’s the result of a catastrophic breakdown. Other times, it’s because of something relatively simple. It would be nice to avoid that situation. With this simple and handy list, you might be able to get yourself moving again. For a complete basics kit, you need to think in four categories: parts, tools, materials, and chemicals.
In terms of parts, there isn’t too much you can carry preemptively, but there are a few to keep in mind. I like to travel with a few spare belts and hoses when possible. I don’t carry a spare timing belt, for obvious reasons, but I do travel with at least a spare alternator belt. Whenever I do a belt replacement, if the old one still seems a bit serviceable, I toss it in the trunk, as a just-in-case item. The same goes for radiator hoses. If it’s too good to throw away, it becomes a temporary spare. I also like to travel with a couple of essential light bulbs, especially for the headlights.
In terms of tools, you don’t need much – the basics will go a long way. A portable DC air compressor and a set of tire plugs have gotten me away from a few roadside flats. Often it only takes a moment longer to fix a basic puncture than it would take to simply throw the spare on. A basic flathead and Philips screwdriver, a simple assortment of sockets and ratchet, and an adjustable wrench will handle most roadside repairs. Don’t forget to toss in a few pairs of disposable rubber gloves to keep your hands clean.
There are a few essential materials I swear by. I bring along a roll of stretch-and-seal silicone tape. You can find this at your local hardware store or auto parts store, sometimes labeled as a hose bandage. Although this isn’t a permanent fix, it can sometimes patch up a hose enough to get you off the road. Similarly, I like to keep a tube of plastic epoxy putty handy. It mixes with minimal mess and sets up quickly. I patched a cracked expansion tank with this once and was able to complete my trip without incident. Later, I fixed it with a proper replacement tank. A roll of electrical tape can also help with unexpected frayed wire connections.
Last, you’ll want to keep a few basic chemicals on hand. I like to keep a quart or two of oil handy, a bottle of pre-mixed coolant, and a bottle of brake fluid. Sometimes, a little is all you need just to get you to the nearest gas station or parts store.
While this list won’t help with more complex breakdowns, it can get you moving again after a simple malfunction. However, it’s always a good idea to have a charged cell phone handy and the phone number for your roadside assistance company, if you subscribe to one.