I love road trips. There is just something refreshing about getting into you car and just driving, being in control over where you stop and when. It’s travel with a high degree of flexibility and freedom. But as fun as it is, there are a lot of things that can go wrong on a road trip. I work as an automotive engineer and I’ve had vehicles in all stages of development break for a wide variety of reasons in every environment imaginable, this has taught me the important of proper preparation of vehicles, and just how important it is to have the proper kit with you. So as you are preparing for your next trip here are a few essentials I’d suggest bringing with you, and a few things to check before you leave.

Stuff to Check

  1. Tire wear and tire pressures (and don’t forget to check the spare tire as well)
    • Not only will having properly inflated tires help improve your fuel/energy efficiency during the trip but identifying damage prior to departing can save you from waiting on the side of the road for a tow. Look for obvious signs of damage on both the treads of the tire and on the sidewall as well as bulges.
  2. Check your fluids: Oil, Washer, Coolant, Brake Fluid.
    • It’s so important to do this. Most cars nowadays have a menu in the cluster that will show oil life, but they won’t indicate oil level until something is wrong. Pull the dipstick and make sure it the oil is at the appropriate level and that it looks clean – if you see dirty oil or if your car’s oil life gauge indicates that you are nearing the time for a change then it’s probably best to do that before the trip. Trust me – nobody wants to go on a road trip just to sit in a Jiffy Lube.
    • A note about coolant: Some electrified vehicles have multiple coolant loops – engine, power electronics, and for the high voltage battery. Check all of them.
  3. If you have an older vehicle it’s worth making sure all your lights are working – a lot of newer vehicles will have messaging in the cluster notifying you when you have a burned out bulb.
  4. Malfunction Indicator Light – Kinda obvious, but if you have a check engine light on then check your engine.
  5. Check your battery for signs of corrosion on the terminals or any other obvious damage.
  6. Also obvious, but make sure the basic stuff works – brakes, steering, no cracks in the windshield (you don’t want a ticket)… If you can’t drive you car to the grocery store then it’s not ready for a road trip.

Stuff to Bring

  1. Jumper Cables or a Battery Booster – Can help you or a fellow traveler out.
    • Remember the proper order for jump starting a car:
      • Red on the dead car’s battery
      • Red on donor car’s battery
      • Black on donor car’s battery
      • Black on dead car’s ground stud
  2. First Aid Kit – Even a prepackaged one can be a life saver. If you can’t bring one then throw a bandana in your bag.
  3. Blanket – Great for keeping warm, using as a seat protector, or just throwing over luggage in the cargo area.
  4. Umbrella – Use it when it rains or as a portable source of shade.
  5. Flashlight or Glow Sticks – I keep both in my car, just make sure to save some for emergencies and not use them all for light painting!
  6. Knife, Hatchet, Folding Saw – I keep all three in my car, each serves a different purpose. If you want to just go with one of these then a good knife would be the one to go with.
  7. Multitool – So many uses for these. A swiss army knife is good, but a leathermen or SOG tool is better.
  8. Fuses – Just keeping a pack of some basic fuses in the trunk is a great practice to have.
  9. Recovery strap – I do a lot of off-roading, and this is a must have for that. For people that don’t off-road, it’s probably not that important. as an alternative to a traditional recovery strap, check out this kinetic rope and this soft shackle.
    • One tip for using recovery equipment – if you are using a shackle as part of your recovery don’t seat the pin fully, back it out a quarter turn so that it does not rotate during the recovery event and become difficult to remove after the vehicle is unstuck.
  10. Water filter – Grab one of these lifestraws, they are easy to use, have a great shelf life, and do a fantastic job filtering water.
  11. A backpack – Always good to have something to throw a few things into.
  12. Jacket, Hat, Change of Clothes, Work Gloves – Just good things to have in general.
  13. Infiltrator Kit – Can patch up a tire long enough to get you to limping, or can reinflate your tires after a day of driving through sand dunes.
  14. Snacks – Grab stuff that does not melt, even sitting in the shade on a mild day the temps inside your car can rise to melting levels quickly.
  15. Rope – Far too many applications to list.
  16. Shovel – Great for getting your car out of the snow, filling in a pothole, fixing up a trail…

One other note: When choosing colors for your emergency equipment – go with bright colors (Orange, Red, Yellow…) it’s much easier to find stuff that’s brightly colored then stuff that’s camouflage colored and you don’t want to risk dropping and losing an essential piece of equipment.

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