Leaf peeping, holiday visits, ski trips — summer may be over, but reasons to take a road trip continue to inspire people to load up the car. When packing, it's easy to focus on what you'll need when you get to your destination. But unexpected adventures can intervene, and packing your car for those unpredictable emergencies makes a world of difference.
Some emergency items are just plain necessary and should be in your car at all times — like a spare tire and a tire jack. "You can't fix a tire without a jack," says Anthony Munes, manager of the NAPA Auto Parts in Central Point.
Another tire repair option comes in a can. "Fix-A-Flat" is an aerosol can that injects a sealant into the tire to repair the hole and inflates the tire enough to get you to a repair station, says Munes. "Make sure to tell them you've used the aerosol," he advises, since it changes the way the tire is treated.
Overheating is another common reason to break down, so keep a gallon of antifreeze, or water in the trunk. If a hole in a hose has caused the problem, a roll of Gorilla Tape in your car repair kit will usually allow you to wrap up the hose long enough to get someplace for a repair, says Munes.
Other car emergency equipment includes one or two quarts of motor oil, a flashlight and spare batteries, a small tool box with both Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, a couple of pliers, including needle-nose pliers for getting in small places and even a small socket set. Len Perkins, manager of Knecht's Auto Supply in Medford, adds a crescent wrench, but says don't worry about special tools. "You're not going to do any large repairs on the road," he says.
Make sure to include at least two 20-minute emergency flares. "Most repairs will take at least 20 minutes," Perkins says. Reflective triangles will also alert other drivers you've pulled over to the side. Another inexpensive but vital item is hand cleaner, he says. "Keep a tube or small tub in the car." Keep a first aid kit, with antibiotic ointment, small bandages and an Ace bandage. "You don't have to overstock," says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon.
With winter coming, you should have chains that fit, sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, an ice scraper and rags, she says. Another item we've come to take for granted is wiper fluid. "Getting stuck on a long trip without it can be very annoying," says Dodds.
Some breakdowns leave you stranded. In those situations, pack emergency supplies for everyone. Food that won't spoil tops the list, says Dodds. "One energy bar per day for each family member" will do in an emergency, she says. Perkins suggests beef jerky or granola bars. "You never know how many people you'll get stuck with," he says. Keep the food fresh by rotating items, bringing in the old supply for snacks. And include drinking water. "You have to keep yourself and your kids or pets hydrated," Perkins says.
Add in one or two blankets or sleeping bags, or if you've got to save space, an emergency "reflective" blanket. Include matches or a lighter to light flares or start a fire.
Before you hit the highway, check the fluid levels in your car: water, oil, and transmission fluid. The car's battery should be fully charged, and don't forget gas — it should be at least half a tank, says Dodds. That way, if you do get stuck, you can run the engine for heat and light.
Let people know where you're going and the route you're taking," she says. "That can be very helpful if you do get lost." And if you have a cell phone, fully charge it before you leave the house. For long trips, car phone kits that allow you to charge your phone in the cigarette lighter are readily available.
"These things are common sense," says Dodds, but if things do go wrong, "a few items, like energy bars, can make a huge difference."