Here at ISG, one of our goals is to promote the idea that we shouldn't take our vehicles or mobility for granted. Most of us really don't pay much attention to our vehicles until something is wrong, and Murphy being the joker he is, often makes sure our vehicles break down when more extreme or severe conditions set on. The truth is, like us, vehicles are subject to thermal tolerances and the cycle of hot and cold will wear on them over time. Good preventative maintenance can go a long way towards ensuring you don't have major failures, but they're often costly and feel optional.
So, the very first thing to say is this: listen to your vehicle. If something changes, feels, or sounds different, it probably is. Don't ignore it.
One of the most common questions that we've been asked over the years is "What do you keep in your car?", and the internet is awash in some pretty generic advice that anyone should know if they've gone through driver's education, and it's usually in the form of a simple list... Usually we aren't too fond of them. Kind of like the concept of "bugging out", it's a shortcut way around doing the work.
However, we've compiled a few lists of gear to run in your rig to get you out of a tight spot.
You'll need vehicle kit, which stays in your vehicle 100% of the time, a bin that can be quickly thrown in the vehicle for extended trips or emergencies, and garage kit, which you can rely upon to make repairs once you're home safely. This keeps things logically consistent with our types of emergencies and the level of intensity, and we can really start thinking of them as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line for our vehicles.
Let's dig in to what each of these should contain, but keep in mind that it's on you to know the specifics of your vehicle, such as whether or not it's SAE or Metric, uses any Torx or hexes to remove tires or the like, and to know the specific weights and grades of your fluids. These lists will be generic, but you can easily get the information for your specific vehicle, print it onto a large index card, laminate it, and keep it in your vehicle for reference.
VEDC: Vehicle Everyday Carry
There are some common items that can be safely left in a vehicle that will help you across a wide variety of situations. This list is well within anyone's means and will help cover the broadest range of situations that we commonly think of as emergencies that happen in and around vehicles. Like our first line equipment, our VEDC kit should be geared towards getting us directly out of hazardous situations that directly threaten our health and safety. Looking back on "Understanding Emergencies", environmental exposure is a very serious and common consequence of a remote breakdown, and our second priority behind "Oxygenated blood". Don't overlook the dangers that could occur if you're stranded after an accident, collision, or breakdown. So here are our "Top 10" items that should always be in your vehicle with a brief description of why.
This way, you can skip the ISG deep dive and just buy stuff, or read why we think each item is necessary.
A fire extinguisher is the firearm of the automotive world. When a situation breaks out in which you need one, nothing else will do. Car fires happen and can stem from a variety of sources, but most commonly, you'll start smelling burning oil in the cabin, which can be associated with a sharp headache from the inhalation of Carbon Monoxide. Car fires tend to stay somewhat contained, and present as smoke until you open the hood... but the rush of Oxygen tends to cause them to torch off instantly. When it does, you'll want a fire extinguisher accessible and in good condition. Consider that you could be in an emergency, or directing others to recover gear from your vehicle for you. It can be wise to have a sticker over the window closest to the fire extinguisher, and we've had some made up for this purpose. Don't be the guy with a half-dozen guns in a burning vehicle.
Trauma and death related to automotive accidents has been decreasing steadily for decades due to better medical treatment, excellent EMS systems, and Emergency Medicine, but they still remain a serious threat to they young and healthy. A basic kit to address the MARCH/ABCs of trauma and the skill to use it can save lives. We're often called upon as "responder zero" to make a decision if we're going to help or stay out of it. Get the skills and have the right equipment so you at least have the option. As with our fire extinguisher, it's wise to a sticker that can direct someone to your medical kit if you're unconscious or directing assistance.
Fuses and Butt Connectors
Fuses generally don't cause major issues, but more often that not, we only think in terms of blade fuses that control things like our windshield wipers and fog lights. Failures in fuel pump relays or EFI relays can leave you stranded. Get a look at the fuse box under the hood, and buy a couple spares to keep, just in case. Along with fuses is butt connectors. When a wire is severed, you typically have to reconnect it. It pays to have some handy in case a fire or collision damages the electrical system of the vehicle. Just remember to disconnect the battery before you start splicing.
Dead batteries are a notorious part of life when cold weather hits. Most of the time, it is just an inconvenience, but being left stranded in the cold can be serious. A jump box, or jumper cables can mean the difference between getting yourself to a place where you can properly diagnose your vehicle without risking thermal injury, or having to increase your risk by making repairs in the same spot in which the weather killed your ride. If you've got a manual transmission, don't forget the dying art of the push start.
In a future article, we'll discuss how jumper cables can actually be combined with a couple car batteries, some heavy gauge copper wire, and welding sticks to create a field expedient welder as a last ditch effort. Long story short - have some jumper cables.
Emergency Blanket/Spare clothes
Directly behind the threat of a dead battery is the knowledge that we get stranded, cold and wet, in a hostile environment. Winter in many places is punctuated by dry, clear days, snow, and clear, very cold nights. It might not seem pressing to get wet while on a hike, but if you end up holed up in your car after the sun goes down, being wet can be a serious threat. Have a good emergency bivy and some dry socks and underwear at a minimum. They don't take up much space, and you can leave them packed in a plastic bag pretty much indefinitely. Remember kids grow, though.
Most of my clothing and shelter items I keep in my backpack, but the brown bins in the image below have some extras. The clothes you keep don't have to be for braving the weather, they just need to keep you dry, and as close to isothermal as possible. Don't forget your car can be shelter, at least in most cases, and at least to some degree.
Basic Tool Kit
As often as not, the problems we face either give us advance warning, or have reasonably simple fixes... if we've got the right tools. Battery terminals working loose, bad spark plugs, busted belts, cracked hoses, or things like fusible links can kill a vehicle, but are all pretty simple fixes with the right tools. The most commonly needed tools are wrenches and ratchets, screwdrivers, and pliers. Vehicles will differ depending on if they're Western (SAE, or Society of Automotive Engineers) or Metric. We've found for the Land Cruisers, the most common tools are 10mm*, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm and 54mm (for axle nut, these are different on different vehicles). If you've got an American vehicle, 7/16", 17/32", 19/32", and 3/4" will get most of the work done. A simple tool kit doesn't take up much space, and can be a lifesaver if you find yourself stranded. Spark plugs typically have a standard tool that works on a ratchet with an extension, so figure those in as well.
Fluids - Over time, vehicles either consume or leak fluids, making it necessary to replace them. While this isn't true with brand new vehicles, anything over 10 years of age or so should be watched for leaks. Knowing your required fluids and having some handy is a simple method that could keep you from a catastrophic failure. Not too different than the human body, the fluids that circulate through your vehicle keep it running and pressurized. Running your vehicle out of them could cause catastrophic overheating, a seized engine, or problems with the braking and steering systems. If you don't have a place to keep fluids that's outside your cab, consider getting large, sealable bags and keeping them in a bin or compartment in the rear of the vehicle. Spillage of spare fluids is almost inevitable if you don't store them properly.
Along with fluids, your vehicle has many consumable parts that can go without a lot of notice. Of them, the ones of greatest concern for the Vehicle Everyday Carry kit are the light bulbs, fan and drive belts, spark plugs, and hoses. These take up a bit more space, and require some careful handling, but can be the difference between being stranded or blind. Most of the time, they're reasonably easy fixes that build on the other things we've mentioned; have some dry clothes that are appropriate for the environment and
Tire Change and Repair Kit
Tires are one of the most commonly damaged links in your mobility chain. From sharps on the road, to rocks or debris gouging your sidewall off-road, there's just no excuse not to ensure you've got a spare tire, and a patch kit or "fix-a-flat" in your vehicle. Increasingly, it's common to see people just waiting on the road for AAA or a tow, but a tire change is the kind of minor, everyday emergency that should keep your habits honest. Know the difference between a tire that's losing air and a blowout - for a loss of air, you can use a little more discretion when finding a spot to pul off, but with a blowout (which will sound like a friggin' gunshot), stay cool and don't mash the brakes. You don't want the sudden jerk and loss of structural integrity to smash the rim of the tire that blew out. Ease off the accelerator, hit the hazards and coast to the side of the road if you can. Keep in mind that in addition to being startling, the handling of your vehicle will change and it can be really loud if the wheels start scraping asphalt.
Layer your plan so you've got a spare tire, methods of fixing one that's sustained minor damage, and if possible, a way to re-inflate them (which we'll discuss more in articles geared more towards longer term emergencies).
Last but not least - have some tow straps. They aren't expensive (+/- $30), and can really make the difference if you're stuck in the back country. Not only for getting recovered from deep snow or mud, but also for breakdowns that require a tow back to infrastructure. Remember that the car being towed will require a very alert driver, and the towed vehicle is generally responsible for braking for both. Tow straps require a tremendous amount of strength, and aren't something that can be easily improvised, which is really similar to the criteria we use for any of our 'on-body' equipment. It fills a gap that we can't through skill or improvisation, and therefore requires purpose built solutions.
Our EDC/Sustainment kit
Last, but not least, is the stuff we should have on us anyway.
Our personal EDC, for handling Type I Situations in transit, and our Sustainment kit, which not only acts as a supplement to what we have available in the vehicle, but gives us resources if we do have to ditch our wheels. Especially when coupled with passengers doing the same, we can have a solid, layered approach to managing most any situation that comes up.
General thoughts on Guns in Vehicles
With all this stuff listed, you might be saying "Yes, ISG, but what about my guns? I'm statistically certain to have to shoot my window out during an ambush, so, why aren't there guns on the list?"
As we go on about at length in "Immobilized vehicles", the chances of you encountering an ambush on the roads and shooting your way out of it are almost 0. If you *do* find yourself in an ambush, the only priority is get out of the bullet magnet so you can reassess without eating lead.
On top of that, leaving a gun in your vehicle is far more likely to result in you losing it to car prowl/theft than a chance to be a hero during the next active shooter. Some guys like keeping a rifle in their car, and honestly our advice won't stop them. They'll either learn a hard lesson, or they won't.
If you've got a reason to believe that the threat level is such that you need a rifle, you should probably have friends with rifles and someone dedicated to staying with/securing your vehicle. If you can't justify that, you probably don't need a rifle. Short of that, your handgun should be in the car when it's strapped to your body, and it should leave with you when you get out.
Taking some steps to make sure you can bridge the gap between a sudden onset situation and rescue can really reduce the risk that your problem turns into a bigger problem. Statistically, you're more likely to have a problem around your vehicle than just about anywhere else, and we spend about 1/12th of our lives in some stage of transit. Being ready with some basic knowledge and equipment that's ever-ready in your vehicle is not only smart, but it's reasonably easy and inexpensive. Done right, it'll ensure that you're able to limp your vehicle back to home base for more elaborate repairs, or arrangements to make them.
Keep in mind that our focus here isn't on emergencies, bugging out, or customizing our rigs for adventure, it's for the run-of-the-mill, common occurrence problems that have high likelihood and high impact. Just like the way we prioritize our EDC based on this relationship, we should apply that knowledge to our vehicles.