As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, it's time to check your vehicle's emergency kit and make sure it has all the tools you need to get out of a winter roadside jam.
If you're starting from scratch, you can put together a complete kit for about $60. Here are 10 basic items you should include:
1. Duct tape. It's a running joke that duct tape can fix just about anything. Well, there's some truth to that. Duct tape can be a lifesaver on the road; you can use it to fix a dangling side mirror or dragging bumper, or to patch a broken hose. It can even keep the doors closed if the locking mechanism stops working in a wreck. And it's only about $3. Bungee cords are also handy for quick repairs.
2. Flashlight. This is critical in a nighttime breakdown. Consider one with a base that will stand upright and leave your hands free if you're trying to make a repair. Amazon.com sells a flexible flashlight with a magnetic base for $10. Be sure to throw in a couple of extra batteries.
The easy route
- A variety of prepackaged safety kits are available. On the high end, there's a $90 kit at Batterysavers.com, a safety-supply company. It comes with a battery-powered air compressor to pump your tire, a folding shovel, a 50-piece first-aid kit with instruction cards and a safety vest. Eddie Bauer makes a similar kit for $69 (shown above), with extras such as a poncho and a safety whistle. For $60, Goodyear sells a kit that includes a one-year membership in a roadside-assistance program.
3. Reflective triangle, flares or glow sticks. They warn other motorists if you're on the side of the road, and they don't use batteries so they won't wear down. Redflarekits.com has a reflective triangle and stand for less than $5 and glow sticks for 99 cents each.
4. Tool set. Most vehicles come with a jack and lug wrench for changing the tires. For other jobs, such as tightening battery cables, include a small set of tools. Even if you don't know how to use them, the Good Samaritan who stops to help you will need something to work with. Consumer Reports suggests that motorists carry socket and open-end wrenches, a multitip screwdriver and pliers. This isn't a big investment -- Sears sells a household tool set for about $17.
5. Tire inflator. Auto-information site Edmunds.com recommends carrying a can of Fix-a-Flat, which inflates and seals a tire temporarily. It costs about $6.
6. Jumper cables. Jumper cables can restart your battery if there's a second car to give you a boost. O'Reilly Auto Parts sells a set for $11. Your owner's manual will have instructions on how to use them.
7. First-aid kit. Choose a kit that helps you care for minor cuts or burns and has plenty of bandages. Target sells a Johnson & Johnson-brand kit for less than $10.
8. Gloves and rags. Car repair is dirty work. Throw in a pair of work gloves, which can be found for less than $3, and a few rags.
9. Pen and paper. You might need to leave a note on your car if you leave to find help.
10. Water and nonperishable snacks. You may be stranded for a several hours, so snacks can keep you going. And in a pinch, water can help cool down an overheating engine.