Summer roads carry thousands of families traveling the highways and byways of these United States, searching for fun and togetherness in the sun. Along with that, the roads come with different perils during the summer months. The asphalt is hotter, there is more traffic, and the air is hotter and more dense. While that makes for some good times, it can also bring out the worst in your vehicle. Any summer road trip can turn into a nightmare if you are not prepared. That’s why you need an emergency toolbox.
Every vehicle on the road should have an emergency toolbox in the trunk. It does not matter the age or type of vehicle, breakdowns happen. Often they are small issues that can easily be repaired with the right tools. The common problems that arise are often the easiest to prepare for. To help you make sure your summer road trip plans are successful even in the event of a minor breakdown, we have put together a basic summer road trip tools box, all of which can be found at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Choosing An Emergency Toolbox
The beginnings of an emergency kit start with the toolbox. Choosing the right box won’t necessarily break you, but it can make life easier when you are on the side of the road. You want to look for a box that is big enough to hold the basics while small enough to not get in the way. A removable tray and some compartments help keep the tools and supplies organized, which is more important than you may realize when you are stranded on the side of the road. A canvas or nylon tool bag is a good alternative, but a hard-side box is best. We chose a Homak plastic box for its lightweight and durability. It has all the attributes you need.
Packing Your Emergency Toolbox
What you put in your emergency toolbox is the most important part. You don’t need a set of $300 wrenches for your emergency box, but you also don’t want cheap junk that could break when you need it the most. Go for an entry-level brand such as Evercraft for quality at a good price.
This can vary depending on the type of car you have. If you drive an older American car, then SAE wrenches will cover just about anything. If your car is foreign, Metric will be the ticket. Modern American cars are mostly Metric, but can have SAE as well, so both sets would be a good idea.
A good socket set is a necessity, and the same rules apply to sockets as they do wrenches. While the standard short sockets are good, you might want to consider a set of deep and short sockets.
Long, short, flat and Phillips, you want a minimum of two screwdrivers: 6” long both flat and #2 Phillips. You can add more lengths and sizes, but make sure you have the main two.
There are many types of pliers, but for an emergency toolbox, you need the following- standard slip-jaw, needle nose, and at least one pair of locking pliers. Locking pliers have so many uses in an emergency, having at least one set in your toolbox is critical. You can even use them to hold your car together in a pinch. Having two or three in different sizes is a good idea.
You may not think about it much, but picking up a nail or screw on the road is extremely common. Make sure you have a tire patch kit (cork plug type with cement and install tools) in your emergency toolbox. You may think you have a good spare, but what if you drive over a box of nails on the highway? It does happen.
When you have an electrical problem, you can spend hours trying to figure out the issue. Make sure you have the proper tools to get it done quickly.
Crimpers – For an emergency toolbox, space is at a premium, so this is where an all-in-one crimper & wire stripper tool works well. Just make sure you buy a good quality set with thick handles, sharp cutters and a built-in stripper. If the handles wiggle or bend get something else.
Terminals – You can make your own assortment or buy a pre-sorted kit. You need the main types- male and female spades, ring terminals, and butt connectors in the most common sizes (red, blue, and yellow). This will get you through most wiring issues. You also want a few T-taps to quickly tapping into other wires.
Wire – Make sure you keep a few feet of wire in your box for splices and repairs. Color is not critical, but size is. Most of your common issues use smaller wire, so 14 gauge or 12 gauge wire will cover most issues. If you want to carry some large wires, 8 or 4 gauge for major power/ground issues, just make sure you have the terminals to support the repairs.
Tape – Good quality electrical tape is important for every job, and it is very useful for other issues as well. Make sure you grab a roll of 3M Super 33+ for, it is the best for electrical use. You also need a roll of good quality duct tape. Do not skimp on the quality here, as you want the very best in duct tape. Possible uses for duct tape include securing body panels, sealing broken windows, and repairing split hoses. I have personally used a roll of duct tape to repair a bad radiator hose long enough to get me home.
Fuses – Make sure you have the right type of fuses for your car as there are many different types. Check your fuse box and buy an assortment that matches the most common types for your vehicle.
Test Meter – A digital multi-meter is the best way to diagnose electrical issues, of course you need to know how to use it too. A simple and cheap DMM will get you by. If all else fails, a test light helps.
Tools only go so far if you don’t have any replacement parts to put on. The most common parts are what you should carry. These include hose clamps, nuts/bolts/screws, and few lengths of hose for fuel. When you need it, you will be glad you packed it. I once repaired a 2003 Ford E-450 shuttle bus on a family vacation with 18” of 3/8” fuel line and four hose clamps to fix a split diesel line that stranded 16 people on the side of the road in New Mexico in July.
Outside The Box
You need some stuff that won’t fit in the tools box. These are the basic items you should always have in your car anyway, but in the summer, they are absolute necessities. Make sure you have a minimum of one gallon of clean water (antifreeze is optional), two quarts of oil matching your engine’s type, two quarts of transmission fluid, a can of instant tire repair and/or 12-volt air compressor. You should also keep a can of brake cleaner and spray lube in the trunk, along with a tube of hand cleaner and rags. Never forget the benefits of clean hands and clean parts.
With a properly stocked emergency toolbox in your trunk, you can rest easy knowing that in the event of a breakdown, you have the tools you need to get back on the road and get a permanent repair. The beauty of technology is that you can search for tips on repairing your car from the side of the road.
Unfortunately you can’t download a wrench or tape, so make sure you have the right tools on hand. For more information on putting together an emergency toolbox, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.