Bearing this in mind -- and forgive me, because I am about to go full Eagle Scout right now -- it is my very strong suggestion that you consider dedicating half of your trunk space to emergency preparedness. Read on, if you dare.
Car Maintenance Essentials.
- Join AAA: Our American Automobile Association membership has saved us more than once. On our last driving trip, the family van's transmission completely blew apart-- which is something that even a handy guy like me can't fix at the side of the road, and in the mountains no less. Calling AAA got us a free tow to a nearby Ford dealer, where we were able to rent a vehicle for the remainder of our trip while our own van was repaired. It's also worth mentioning that your AAA membership can often get you deals on hotels and more across the country -- though unfortunately Disney's affiliation with AAA is no more. And remember, there's a Canadian version (CAA) and the benefits reciprocate across the shared border!
- Extra Fuel: a few notes on the specifics;
- Bring at least 2 gallons of extra fuel, or enough to get your car another 40 miles. Store your fuel in a lightweight fuel-safe container. Remember that a full container weighs significantly more than an empty one! Consider bringing multiple smaller containers if a big one is too heavy for you.
- Make it premium octane, because it is cleaner and may even get you a few extra miles in a pinch.
- Use your reserves as soon as you think you may run out of gas. If you wait until you do run out of gas your car will slurp up any sediment in the bottom of the tank, leaving you with additional problems.
- If you do run out of fuel before using your reserved fuel, combine the gas with your fuel system cleaner. This can help reduce the sediment build up in your fuel injector.
- Invest in a decent and reliable can. I like the steel "Jerry Cans," because they have a nice slim shape and I can handle their weight. And their useful life is probably well beyond my own!
- Tire Kit: You must have the tools and the know-how to change a tire at the side of the road. Practice with the tools you are bringing multiple times in your driveway if you're a rookie -- it's nothing to be embarrassed about, because we all started in the same place. You need: a tire iron (ideally cross-handled for better leverage), a portable car jack, an tire inflator pump, and some extra lug nuts (remember, these are specific to your car, and remember if you buy a locking set your standard ones become the extras!).
- Battery Jump Starter: This is actually my favorite item on this list, and mine has saved me at least once on each of my last three road trips. The ability to jump your own dead battery is amazing, because it prevents you from being at the mercy of passersby. Plus, they are essentially idiot-proof. Buy one for yourself today, and keep it in your car forever (but don't forget to recharge them periodically!). Also, they make amazing gifts for friends and family. The one featured in the picture above serves multiple functions and is really reasonably priced -- I'll be going with one like it when I buy my next one!
- Toolbox: This one requires that you know a little bit about your car. At minimum, I'd recommend bringing a ratcheting screwdriver (ideally angle-adjustable) with a variety of bits and sockets, a multi-drive wrench (like the one by Kobalt), a few sets of pliers (at least one channel-lock or slip-joint, and one needle nosed), duct tape (it's pretty great stuff), and a roll of heavy duty contractor garbage bags (they multifunction for waste disposal, emergency rain gear, and even emergency window repair).
- Other Recommendations: Keep Multiples of the following;
- Reflective Hazard Sign (there's LED enhanced versions of these too!)
- High Powered Flashlights (consider having one that is magnetic or which can be hooked to the underside of your hood, or even a headlamp while you work)
- LifeHammers (or other similar products) to keep in the car in multiple locations (glove box, seat pockets, etc.). They can work as window breakers and seat-belt cutters and will help you escape a car in the event of a crash. Tell anyone who rides with you where they are, what they are, and how to use them.
Safety and Survival Essentials.
- Water: Bring at least a half gallon per person in your party. And keep some powdered sports drink mixes on hand, as they can provide lifesaving electrolytes and calories in dire situations.
- Zero Prep, Non-Perishable Food: Cans of beans (don't forget a can opener), Protein Bars, etc. Stick to things that can be eaten cold and as-is. In an emergency, you won't have a microwave.
- A large waterproof tarp: This can be draped over you while you work on your car in the rain, or in a worse situation it can provide shelter for you and your party outside of your car.
- A sturdy backpack: Just in case you need to hike to safety, and consider that you can fit many of these other trunk items INTO this bag! I like my old-school army duffel/pack, or sometimes my waterproof hiking bag, but any hiking backpack or other heavy-duty bag works too.
- Extra clothes and shoes: Better yet, boots to hike/work in, and some rain gear.
- Self-defense: Should the need arise, you need to be able to protect yourself. Keep a taser, some pepper spray, and maybe even a firearm on hand if that's right for you and your family. Know how and when to use these. Know the laws of your home state and the state you're traveling through. And make sure every responsible adult in your party knows where they are, and how to access and use them in an emergency.