As a parent, you are required to be focused on “the now”. Sometimes that means that everything except “the now” gets pushed until later. When you are dealing with a temper-tantrum in the middle of Walmart, you aren’t thinking of when the last time was that you changed your car’s oil.
When you are stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, you might find yourself wishing that you had found a few more minutes to prepare for preventative maintenance. During peak traffic, it can take hours for a tow truck to reach you. Preventative maintenance is one piece of preventing emergencies from occurring.
Despite your best preparation, emergencies still occur. A proper tool kit can give you the ability to fix your car well enough to limp it off of the road and to a safer spot. Also, you may have a friend or family member you can call to help. Even if you don’t know how to use the tools, the person you call might be able to use those tools to help. Even a passerby can prove useful if they have the proper tools.
Before you need to run off to soccer practice or deal with the next tantrum, here are 5 tools you can quickly order online to improve your safety the next time an emergency occurs.
Preparedness can make the difference between you next roadside emergency taking 2 hours to resolve, or solving it in 10 minutes.
The first thing you need to do is to enhance your visibility. In this age of distracted driving, you can’t be too visible. There are a lot of options. Some folks like to buy a battery operated flashing light. If you aren’t scared of fire, Flares can provide added visibility. Flares aren’t my first choice since I don’t want the kids getting into them.
At a bare minimum the DOT triangles that truck drivers use seem to work extremely well. They come in a small box that does not take up too much room. There are different variations of these, but the best ones have a weighted base. They are easy to deploy. You set the first one 4 paces from the back of your car, the second one 30 paces after the first one, and the last one is 33 paces from the first one. This provides nearly 200 feet of warning to traffic.
Go ahead an pick up a reflective vest so drivers can see you as you are setting out your triangles and working on your car. If you have the kids along, it makes sense to get the car as far off of the road as possible and to get you and the children a safe distance from the highway.
Batteries seem to fail without notice. A good oil shop will check the battery every time you come in, but even then, things can happen.
Perhaps a child left a light or a weather change disrupted the battery’s chemical balance and has ruined its ability to hold a charge.
It is amazing how many people don’t have even a cheap set of jumper cables in their car. With jumper cables, you don’t have to wait on the wrecker truck. Anyone with a car can help you get your vehicle running again.
These new cars with their fancy computers are a little more sensitive to power spikes that be caused by improper jumper cable etiquette. Back in the day, you would hook up the two cars and then keep trying to start the dead car every 5 minutes.
The new protocol is to hook up the two cars, wait 5 minutes, and then turn off the “jumping” car or disconnect the power cables before trying to start the “dead” car. That way, when the dead car starts, there isn’t an external power surge that \might fry the car’s computer.
If all of that sounds too scary, look into a one of the “in-car” jump starters that uses cigarette lighters to move power from one battery to another. This device is a long cord that plugs from one cigarette lighter to the other. Since this is a slow charge, you need to allow 15 minutes for it to work.
Another idea is to get one of those jumper packs that can just stay in the car. As long as you charge the jumper pack up once a month, it will always have enough power to jumpstart a dead battery.
There are some arguments on this. I like to keep a can of inflatable air with tire sealant in the back of the car. The tire shop will hate you, but it is the fastest way to get a tire back into driveable condition.
If the tire doesn’t air up sufficiently from that, then a portable air compressor can also help. I like to go with a cordless portable air compressor as that makes it much easier to move it around the car without fighting wires. However, there are a lot of 12-volt compressors that are designed to be powered by a car. There are a lot of options in this category, so you might check the comparison guide like this one: https://www.tooltally.com/best-12v-air-compressors/
Granted, you can always change the tire. But with a can of air and an air compressor, there is a pretty good chance that within 3 minutes you’ll have enough air in it to limp to the next parking lot or all the way to the tire shop.
And anything to keep from having to work on your car on the side of the road is highly recommended.
Basic Tool Kit
With a basic socket set, a few pliers and screwdrivers, you can change your car’s alternator.
Granted, not many people will want to take on a job that big. However, it is nice to have those tools along because sometimes it makes the difference between being stranded for days or being stranded for an hour.
You aren’t likely to replace an alternator, but you might need to tighten a loose battery cable. And that is just as important.
Duck tape is the friend of many a stranded person. Never attach it to the finish of your car as it can destroy a car’s finish in one application. One of the most common uses for duct tape is taping a broken window. Another emergency that I have seen it used for is when the heater on a car won’t shut off. With a pair of vice grips and Duck tape, it is possible to manually turn off the heater in these scenarios and prevent the family from getting heat stroke on a long road trip home.
A good corollary to this is some picture frame wire. Hit something and knock your muffler loose? Some wire will let you tie it to the car until you can make it home.
A good flashlight is good for more than just emergencies!
While most of us use the flashlight on our cell phones, it is limited in its use and longevity. Buying a headlamp to keep in your car in case of emergencies is an excellent choice. This gives you the ability to have hands-free light, even when you are changing a car tire by yourself.
Many headlamps come with a strobe option. If you aren’t using the flashlight, you can hang it on your car to provide added visibility to your position and to keep cars from getting too close to you.
Even with the best preparations, you will likely need a tow truck from time to time. A prepaid roadside assistance plan on your phone or car’s insurance will likely only cost about $9 a month.
The ability to pick up your phone and get immediate assistance is extremely handy. Personally, I’ve found the roadside service plans that my phone sells to be better than the service plan from the insurance company.
You’ll hopefully be able to get one with low hold times and good online reviews. The last thing you want is to be stranded on the side of the road for an hour only to find out that your roadside service company failed to call in your need. I’ve been there, and it wasn’t fun.
If you don’t mind spending a little more money, having the phone number of a private tow truck driver is one of the best tips I can pass along. Search Google for a tow truck company that looks like it is owner operated. Call and talk to them. If they are, add their number to your phone.
My experience has been that often these small companies are less busy and can respond in ½ of the time that it takes a roadside assistance company to do the same task.