Breaking down is never convenient. Sometimes it happens at the worst times (when you’re headed to the airport) or in the trickiest places (a busy motorway in rush hour). Even when it happens in your own driveway, it’s still a pain because it takes time out of your day to resolve.
Keeping your vehicle well maintained is the key to avoiding most breakdowns but sometimes, unexpected things happen anyway: a reasonably new battery suddenly dies, your alternator plays up or you get a flat on a country road.
Being fully prepared for breakdowns takes a lot of the stress out of dealing with them – and an important part of preparation is the carrying of an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times.
Although you can buy pre-packaged emergency roadside kits at auto retail stores, it’s a simple matter to gather the necessary items together and make your own. Here are just a few items you may want to include:
First aid kit
The St. John Motoring First Aid Kit comes in a soft nylon bag and is a good choice if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making up your own kit. Store it under the seat, in the glove-box or in the boot so you’re always ready to treat minor road trauma or other first aid situations that crop up during your journey – whether they happen to you or someone else.
Using your phone as a torch isn’t the ideal option in a breakdown situation when you’re anxiously trying to conserve battery power. These days, there are plenty of inexpensive LED torches available that are a big improvement on those big D-battery flashlights of yesteryear.
Sticking with Aussie brands is a good idea (Matson has a good reputation). You’ll find leads available with and without surge protection. Make sure you buy jumper leads suitable for the type of vehicle you own: a lead for a 4-cylinder passenger car is different from one meant for 4WDs, light commercial vehicles and V8s.[i]
Every DIY enthusiast has their own opinions and preferences when it comes to multi-tools, but any multi-tool with a decent range of tools will work for your car kit. Expect to pay between $25 and $180, depending on the quality. Gerber, SOG and Leatherman are popular brands but there are many more.
Have some spares on hand to power any small electronics devices in your vehicle, plus your torch (breakdowns often have an annoying habit of happening at night). Store your extra batteries in a small plastic bag to keep them clean and dry.
Lighter or matches
One of the first rules of survival – in any situation – is to have some method of making fire. Lighters don’t work too well if they get thoroughly soaked in the rain, so do your best to keep them dry. Waterproof matches are a better choice than normal matches because you can use them in any weather.
Disposable rain coat
It’s amazing how many times it’s pouring rain when your car decides to break down. Having a lightweight disposable raincoat or poncho inside the car (as opposed to in the boot) can help keep you dry if you have to change a tyre or check under the bonnet in a downpour.
Portable phone charger
If you have to make a call and your phone is dead, a portable phone charger can make all the difference. There’s nothing worse than being stranded somewhere with no means to communicate or get help.
The in-built GPS on smartphones is a wonderful modern invention – but totally useless if your phone battery dies. Make sure you’ve got some local maps in the glove-box as well to help you find your way.
Plastic rubbish bags
Rubbish bags are great for keeping things dry and make it easier to carry a lot of small items at once. Spoiler alert: they’re also useful for disposing of rubbish.
Sometimes when you break down, you’ll find you need to ring a taxi or pay for overnight accommodation. Have enough cash on hand for these scenarios.
Contact details for getting assistance
Your emergency kit should include contact details for police, ambulance, fire, your insurer and anyone else who can provide help during or after a breakdown.
During a breakdown, the weather can get cold whether it’s day or night. Have a warm blanket available to keep yourself (and others) warm in brisk conditions. Sometimes you have to wait around in the cold a lot longer than anticipated.
If you’re stuck somewhere in a storm and want some local road and traffic updates, a small, battery-operated radio can come in handy.
- A roadside emergency kit for your car will help you be much better prepared for your next car breakdown. It’s easy to compile one yourself.
- Include some spare cash in your emergency kit as well as relevant contact details of those who can assist you.
- Breakdowns often happen in bad weather, so include a fleece blanket and a disposable raincoat.
- A multi-tool can be handy for minor repairs during a breakdown.
- Your phone is only useful if it’s charged; consider investing in a portable phone charger.