(Image/Wayne Scraba)

Whether its summer vacation season or not, it’s always a good time to think about a road trip tool kit to keep in your car. That’s especially true if you’ve got a vintage and/or modified vehicle. (Let’s face it, Mr. Murphy and his laws tend to strike when you least expect them.)

So what do you really need to carry in the trunk of your car? While enthusiasts from different parts of the country have a different set of requirements than others, there are certain things we’d consider as universal. These are items that ride around under the seat of our own pickup truck and can just as easily fit into the cargo space in most cars. Check them out. It’s way better to be safe than sorry.

If you want a far more comprehensive list of equipment for something like a camping or off-road adventure, check this out: Overlanding Essentials: Camping & Off-Roading Tool Kit Checklist


1. Quality Aluminum Flashlight

Flashlights are important on a road trip. You might need one in broad daylight. There are all sorts of options, but one of the coolest is this little torch from Shumacher Electric. It’s rechargeable and it includes an LED bulb. (Image/Summit Racing)

Just a casual glance at the Summit Racing website reveals hundreds of different flashlight choices. Some are conventional “D” cell flashlights with standard bulbs while others incorporate more lithium batteries. Some are rechargeable. In either case, always be certain the batteries are fresh (fully charged). If you’ve got an incandescent flashlight, keep a spare bulb handy, as you never know when a bulb will burn out.


2. Emergency Tool Kit

Roadside tools are certainly important. You can make up your kit or you can buy a pre-assembled emergency roadside tool kit right off the shelf. (Image/Summit Racing)

Did you know that you can buy pre-packaged emergency tool kits? They don’t have to be expensive either.

Or you can just make your own. Assembling your own gives you the option of selecting the tools you think you might need. It also allows you to select quality tools we can rely upon if necessary. So what should be included in the mix? Essentially, you don’t need to pack tools to overhaul the car on the side of the road. Instead, think about items like a pair of pliers, flat blade screwdrivers in two different sizes, a Phillips-blade screwdriver, a good quality adjustable wrench, a pair of locking pliers, a set of wire cutters (preferably with a wire stripping option), a pocketknife and perhaps a small ball peen hammer. Add a roll of mechanic’s wire; a small roll of electrical wire, several spare fuses, a roll of electrical tape and you can fix a number of roadside maladies. Wrap everything in a small sports bag and you’re done.


3. First Aid Kit

First aid is something that often fails to cross your mind until you need it and cost certainly isn’t an issue. A good first aid kit is invaluable when you need it. (Image/Summit Racing)

A small first aid kit can not only patch a cut digit, it can help save a life in an emergency. A small eight- to 10-person first aid kit doesn’t cost a whole lot, and will likely include the majority of what you will need in an accident or in a medical emergency. Many companies have handy, compact first aid kits made to fit neatly in a vehicle’s cargo area.


4. Booster (Jumper) Cables

(Image/Wayne Scraba)

You can opt for a fancy jump starter box with a built-in battery, or you can car a good-old-fashioned set of booster/jumper cables. (Oh, and we’ve discussed jumper cables in the past.) For a kit that’s going to stay in your trunk for emergencies only, you won’t need a big set of cables. Instead, consider some smaller, lightweight options. They’ll get the job done, and if you’re careful with length, they won’t take up much space.


5. Tire Pressure Gauge & Tire Inflator

Flat tires suck. You’ll never avoid it entirely, and there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a nail somewhere between Dry Gulch and Nowheresville. One good solution is a simple inexpensive portable air compressor along with a bottle of flat fix. (Image/Summit Racing)

You don’t need a fancy digital tire pressure gauge in order to check tire pressure. What you need is a reasonably accurate tire pressure gauge that provides consistent readings. In our case, we simply have an old pencil gauge we’ve had for years. The readings compare favorably to a large dial gauge we also have (the dial gauge is too bulky and too fragile to carry in the trunk).

Temporary tire repair kits are also a good idea—we’re talking something like “Slime Smart Quick Spare.” You simply remove the valve cap on the flat tire, insert the sealant’s hose on the inflator, fill the tire with the sealant, and re-inflate to temporarily seal the puncture enough to get to a pro tire shop for a full repair.


6. Tow Strap

Tow straps have been around for decades now. They work better than ropes or chains and they’re easy to store in a car or pickup truck. This one is from K-Tool International. (Image/Summit Racing)

A long time ago, we gave up on carrying tow ropes and tow chains. Tow straps are more effective and when rolled up, they take up far less space. Some recovery straps are like giant seat belts; when you hook up to a stuck car (or truck), the strap actually stretches a bit. The stretching helps to physically dislodge an immobilized vehicle.

But use caution! Recovering and towing a vehicle can be dangerous work, so always make sure to use proper recovery tools and techniques.


7. Flares

Roadside flares, safety triangles, and reflectors are pretty common, but here’s something a bit different: an LED safety flare set from Performance Tool. (Image/Summit Racing)

Sure, you can toss some old-school burning flares in the trunk of your car, but ask any old timer and they’ll tell you that lighting flares is usually troublesome (in some cases, the sparks will quickly burn little holes in your clothing as the flare lights).

Another solution is a set of safety triangles. While they might not be quite as visible as burning safety flares, they’re infinitely reusable and present no hazard to you or the surroundings. An ever better option are LED safety flares—they’re incredibly bright and equally important, the electronic “flares” take up little or no space in the trunk of your car.


8. Fire Extinguisher

There are a lot of different opinions when it comes to fire extinguishers. A great option is a high end Halguard charged extinguisher. They’re not inexpensive, but then again, neither is your car. (Image/Summit Racing)

In many cases, you might want to forget those little half pound, disposable fire extinguishers you see advertised. They will not put out a fire that is supported by even a small amount of gasoline. Get a good one to two(+) pound fire extinguisher.

Want a really good look at the types of fire extinguishers available for automobiles? Read this: Fire Safety 101: Choosing the Right Fire Extinguisher for Your Vehicle

While you’re at it, get a high quality fire extinguisher mount for the extinguisher. The last thing you need is a loose 2.5 pound extinguisher bottle rattling around in your car!

Element’s got an alternative to traditional options too, check this out: Small, Durable & Versatile Element Fire Extinguishers Last Longer & Will Never Need a Recharge

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Author: Wayne Scraba

Wayne Scraba is a diehard car guy and regular contributor to OnAllCylinders. He’s owned his own speed shop, built race cars, street rods, and custom motorcycles, and restored muscle cars. He’s authored five how-to books and written over 4,500 tech articles that have appeared in sixty different high performance automotive, motorcycle and aviation magazines worldwide.