There are a few things that you might find useful in case the unexpected strikes. In all likelihood, these items will sit unused until you sell your car or just throw them away when they’re so old and decrepit that you can no longer identify them. But if you need them, you’ll be very sorry not to have them! Every driver should be prepared for an emergency with a vehicle safety kit.
The first item on my list is a fire extinguisher. Many cars have burned to the ground by a fire that could have been easily dealt with when it was just a baby and done limited or negligible damage. This is an item, like many on the list, that you just might use to help someone else in a tough spot. A small 2.5 pound ABC extinguisher should do fine. It’s a great idea to secure your extinguisher in some way. Store it in a container that won’t slide around, or use the bracket that some of them come with. Don’t forget to check the gauge on it occasionally.
Jumper cables can also be a lifesaver for you or others – if you take the time to learn how to use them correctly. Modern cars have computers in them that can be destroyed if you get this wrong. This would ultimately do more harm than good. Another possible outcome is setting fire to something, creating an opportunity to use your new fire extinguisher. I call that killing two birds with one stone!
How to Safely Jump a Car Battery
- Turn both engines off.
- Connect a red clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery.
- Attach the other red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
- Connect a black clamp to the negative terminal of the good battery.
- Attach the other black clamp to a good clean, unpainted metal ground on the dead car – preferably not a fuel line. Try to pick something substantial on the engine, and not something that’s going to be spinning if the engine starts. If you’re attending one of our Ladies Car Care Clinics, we’ll be happy to show you just such a place on your car.
- Start the good car; let it idle for a few minutes.
- Shut the good car off; leave the key in the off position.
- Attempt to start the dead car. If it starts, disconnect the cables in the reverse order. If it doesn’t start, but you feel you’ve made some progress (it seems more willing to start than before), turn the key off, and try running the good car for a few more minutes. Then turn the good car off and try the dead one again. If you don’t feel you’re making progress, disconnect the cables and call the tow company. Sorry.
Buy the Right Jumper Cables
Make sure you get a good set of cables – there’s a ton of cheap crappy cables out there that aren’t worth the gas hauling them around will cost you. Look for a heavy-gauge wire and robust clamps. Lots of the cheap junky cables have thick plastic insulation on the wire that makes them look like they’re made of heavy-gauge wire. Tricky devils. I like at least a 4 gauge wire; I made the ones I have out of 0 gauge welding cable. The lower the number, the heavier the wire, by the way. There’s a slightly safer alternative to cables called a jump box. It has some disadvantages, though, including cost, weight, and the need to keep it charged. Most of them can be charged through the cigarette lighter socket in your car or by plugging them in at home.
A rescue tool can literally be a life-saver. The term covers a range of gadgets, but most of them have a shielded cutting tool for slicing seatbelts and a striking tool for breaking car windows, which can be harder to break than you might think. Some neat ones I’ve seen also give you a snipping tool for cutting battery cables, which can really be a plus in certain situations. Of course, if you’re not going to able to identify such a situation, these can still be useful if someone else at the scene can.
A flashlight is a must, and the new LED technology makes some very bright lights quite convenient to have in the car, and prices have come way down. I saw a three-pack of 150 lumen LED flashlights at Costco for ten bucks. These are very bright and have a low-beam/high-beam/strobe feature that’s kinda cool, and they’re very compact. Not a bad idea to have a spare set of batteries too. Many LED flashlights use three AAA batteries that take up no room at all. Duracell now promises that their batteries will be fresh for seven years!
Cell Phone Charger
How about a cell-phone charger? If you get in trouble somewhere and your cell phone battery’s dead, you’ll be mad at yourself, and we’ll make fun of you. Kind of a no-brainer. By the way, even if your car battery is too weak to start the engine, there’s probably still plenty of juice to make a phone call.
Emergency Flares and Plastic Triangles
Some means of making a disabled car more visible can be a plus too. I’m thinking of those reflective plastic triangles that fold up, or the old-school road flares. The flares are much more visible and have the advantage of making their own light so they don’t rely on reflecting someone else’s light to be seen.
Obviously, the plastic triangles are reusable, while, just as obviously, the flares are not. Frequently, when I see either of these items in use, they’re set up too close to the disabled vehicle. If you have an incident, make sure that you set them up far enough away for oncoming traffic to take appropriate action, and don’t forget how much faster driving is than walking!
Everybody ought to have a tire-pressure gauge and know how to use it. If you’ve attended one of our Ladies’ Car Care Clinics, you have one and you know how to use it. If not, let us know and we’ll give you one, or go get yourself one. Please don’t just get the cheapest one you can find (unless it’s one we give you – they’re free but good!); the good ones aren’t expensive. I read a test a few years ago that found that the most accurate ones were the type with the little plastic piece that shoots out of the body, rather than the needle and dial type. Refer to your door jamb or owner’s manual for the correct tire pressure for your car.