This might sound very old school but I think carrying a basic tool kit can be one of the most sensible things a driver does. I’m not suggesting here that you go out and buy a full socket set. And I’m not advocating dismantling a conked out car at the roadside. But a simple tool kit might make the difference between a car being repaired roadside and it being recovered to a garage.
Of course, all cars come with a rudimentary tool kit. But buying and checking a used car can be stressful enough. We often don’t have time to find out what tools it does and doesn’t have. Frequently handy tools get lost during a car’s life time and you only find out they’re not there when you need them. Here’s what I suggest you have in your tool kit.
Jack and wheel brace
I know it’s a trend for modern cars not to carry a spare wheel but I like my cars to have one. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t yet completely trust the inflation kits that are supposed to replace the spare. I’d never advise anyone to change a wheel at the side of the road. But there are occasions when it might be quicker and easier to replace a flat tyre yourself. And if you’re going to do that, you’ll need a functioning jack and wheel brace.
Locking wheel nut key
Even if your car has an inflation kit rather than a spare wheel, you’ll need the locking wheel nut key. These are the unions between the wheel brace and the locking wheel nut on each alloy wheel. They aren’t particularly big but they’re vital if you have a puncture or when tyres are replaced. That means they can either go AWOL altogether or end up somewhere unexpected such as in the glovebox.
I’ve said this before, but I really do believe a high visibility reflective jacket is one of the most important things a driver can carry. Our breakdown professionals know only too well that the side of the road can be a very dangerous place. If you have to get out of your car at the roadside – and we all might have to at some point – it makes sense to be as visible as possible. And the best way to do that is to have a reflective vest.
Spare bulbs and fuses
It’s impossible for non-technicians to change light bulbs in most modern cars. But in many foreign countries it’s still the law to carry spare bulbs. It’s always struck me as strange that if you can change a blown bulb in your car, why not do it? After all, it’s much more likely that a bulb will blow on Saturday’s shopping spree to Sainsbury’s than in the two weeks you’re on holiday. Therefore you should have replacement bulbs with you at all times.
Fuses can also make the difference between one of your car’s features working or not. And they can be almost childishly simple to replace. That said, I’d advise anyone thinking of doing it to study their car’s user manual carefully before doing anything.
We would never advise towing if you’re not a professional. But there are occasions when you may have to tow your car. And for that you’ll need a towing eye. For the most part, the days have gone where these are welded to the car. Nowadays, they’re a heavy duty hook that screws into a hole behind a removable plate in the front and rear bumpers. And you just know that the moment you discover your car doesn’t have one will be the moment you really need it.
But always carry your phone…
Whether your car has a tool kit or not is secondary to having a mobile phone. Make sure you charge yours fully and that you have a charging cable. Even better, if you have one, is a portable power module. If you’re unlucky enough to break down, your phone is your life line, but only if it’s got enough juice in it.
Nick Reid is head of automotive technology at Direct Line Group and a fellow of the Institute of the Automotive Industry