Preparing Your Daily Driver for SHTF

This past weekend, I finally sat down and took care of an item on my wife’s SUV that had been plaguing her for quite some time: A piece of debris (in this case, a nail) had punctured the tread of her tire, creating a slow leak that had her filling her tire with air every couple of days. She’d been bugging me to plug it for a couple months now, and I shudder to think of how much it affected her gas mileage, and how many quarters she pumped into air machines just to keep air in her tire….surely it was more than the cost of the tire plug kit.

But as I was sitting there, ripping out the nail with my Leatherman, and rasping out the hole, it occurred to me that this sort of thing was a standard skill that everyone ought to know how to perform, JUST IN CASE. Then, – of course – when my mind got in THAT mode, it drifted all over the place, finally settling on wondering how many people actually have their daily-driven automobiles stocked with enough repair items and the know-how to fix their car quickly and efficiently to get themselves out of a bind in a worst-case scenario. Up here in the Northeast, many people (Including Jarhead Survivor and I) have 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks or SUVs  that are optimal for navigating trails or through snow. Most pickups and SUVs have higher ground clearance, skid plates, and overall a tougher build that will make them a more natural bugging-out type vehicle. But many, many people have to utilize econo-box cars to get them from A to B reliably while minimizing fuel costs on their daily commutes. These types of cars aren’t quite the tanks that their truck/SUV brethren are, but with a little bit of preparation in the equipment and know-how department, one can at least be prepared to make emergency fixes if, for example, your car’s oil pan catches a rock and cracks during an emergency trail ride.

The Basics

There are a few things EVERYONE should have in their automobiles, whether you are planning on using it for emergency purposes or not.

-Spare full-sized tire on the correct rim, and the means and knowledge to change it. This is a no-brainer. Your tires are the only parts of a car that touch anything 100% of the time, so they can pick up road/trail debris and get punctured easily. If your tire gets punctured through the tread, no biggie; you can usually plug the tire as easily as replacing it. But if you shred a sidewall, you are well and truly screwed without a spare. If you don’t have a spare, (some new cars these days only come with tire patch kits !!!) get in touch with a local junkyard, especially one that crushes cars for scrap. They legally have to remove rims and tires before crushing cars, so chances are they can help you find a good full-sized spare with OK tread for dirt money. STAY AWAY FROM SPACE SAVER/DOUGHNUT TYPE SPARES! Yeah, they make take up half the space, but they are usually limited to 45mph, destroy the car’s handling, and have close to zero traction. For an emergency, you want all the help you can get, and a full-sized spare will do a far better job. Also, make sure you have a jack and a properly-sized lugnut wrench (I prefer a 4-way lugnut wrench.). Having a spare tire will do you zero good if you can’t get the car up and the tire off. The best junkyard jacks ever some from late’70’s – early 90’s full-sized GM passenger cars – they’re like stamped-steel floor jacks. Secret tip: If you see a full-sized GM station wagon at the junk yard (Chevy Caprice, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, Pontiac Safari, Buick Estate Wagon) they’re stowed away behind the panel in the passenger side way-back. Those ones never get nabbed! Stay away from scissor-crank types of jacks – they’re called “Widow Makers” for a reason….they tip over with alarming frequency.

First-Aid Kit: No-brainer. When working on cars, boiling coolant, exhaust burns, slammed and scraped knuckles, and deep cuts are all the norm – and that’s just on a daily basis from restoring old cars…trust me on this one! Have a first aid kit that can account for these types of injuries. Also have clear safety glasses that you can put on for working under the car (dirt or rust falling in your eye is just about the most unpleasant thing ever), and something to remove glass from eyes or cuts in case a windshield/window busts out. Also, something to clean dirt, grease, and oil out of cuts.

Mechanix Gloves: These gloves will save your hands from most quick burns, cuts, scrapes, and grime, and they maintain the hand’s ability to grasp items with precision without being too bulky. I can’t recommend these enough. Get some at your local hardware/auto store or here.

Water: I can’t tell you how many times having a gallon or two of water in my cars has saved my bacon. If you’re dehydrated, drink it. If your car is overheating, you can refill it when it cools down. If you have debris in your eye, wash it out. If you’re dirty, clean your ass up.

Tool Kit. A nice, decent-quality tool kit is a must. A MUST. I know about a hundred people who see the $5 tool kits at the checkout line at the auto parts store or the hardware store, and think, “Oh! I’ll grab this in case of emergency and throw it in my car just in case!” Yeah, don’t be that guy. Those kits WILL break – sockets will split, ratchets will disintegrate, screwdrivers will bend. With no abuse at all. Cowboy up and buy a REAL kit. I bought one of these Husky sets from Home Depot years ago, and I’ve built cars, fixed bikes, generators, and washing machines – pretty much repaired about a million things around the home with this set. And it still works great. I keep it clean and dry, and always make sure the parts go back in their exact spots in the carrying case. It doesn’t take up much room, and I know it has 80% of the stuff I’d need to work on anyone’s car in an emergency. Grab a used ammo can from the Army Surplus store, and put in it a utility razor knife with a couple extra blades, a couple stubby screwdrivers in it (flathead, and #2 and #3 Phillips), a couple full-sized screwdrivers in the same size, a collection of zip-ties, a roll of electrical tape, spare fuses, a roll of GOOD duct tape (not the cheapo $1 a roll junk), a few stainless steel hose clamps of varying sizes, a good flashlight with extra batteries (a small one you can hold with your mouth while under a car – I like the Streamlight MicroStream personally – a tire pressure guage, and a small air compressor that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter/power outlets.

Rags: Cars are wicked dirty. You’ll need old rags to clean yourself, wipe up spills, plug holes, wrap around your hands to grab something a bit too hot. You can never have too many.

Tarp: A tarp is a wonderful thing. Spread it on the ground to work underneath your car if the ground is wet, muddy, or oily. Wrap up things you want to stay dry, or use it as a shelter (Maybe think about a poncho as well).

Extra Fluids: Oil (at least a couple quarts, most cars will hold 4-5 quarts in the oil pan), transmission fluid, coolant. Your car can live without power steering fluid but it won’t last long without the other three. Keep a can or two of spray brake cleaner to degrease things.

Jumper Cables: Jump-start a friend or your friend can jump-start you if you leave the CD player on blasting Barry Manilow too long.

I consider the above items to be absolutely essential (except the Manilow CD)…and with them, you can fix the vast majority of minor to almost-crippling problems you’d run into while evading trouble aggressively with your automobile. There are a few things I keep to really up my game, though:

Tire Plug Kit: I prefer to plug my tires if the hole isn’t too big and it’s in the tread. A good plug kit is always handy.

J-B Weld: This stuff is THE BALLS. I’ve sealed leaking radiators, exhaust pipes, water pumps, and oil pans with J-B Weld. Get J-B Kwik weld for a faster setup time. If the surface it’s sitting on/sealing is absolutely free of grease (see the brake cleaner and rags comments above), this stuff will seal things up long enough to get you a ways down the road. For a leaking/punctured oil pan fix, drain all the oil out using your tool kit, put your tarp over the oily spot on the ground. Once the oil stops dripping out of the hole, degrease it completely, then smear mixed-up J-B weld in and over the hole. Too much is just enough. Wait for it to set, refill the oil (you have your spare oil, right?) and get the hell out of there. It will last for a surprisingly long time.

Jack Stand or big-ass piece of solid wood: This is a luxury item, but there for safety. If you have to jack your car up and you have to work under it (like the punctured oil pan above) you don’t want the jack to slip and leave you pinned or crushed under your own car. Having a jack stand or a large, solid piece of wood (10″ x 10″ x 16″ long or so) will save your bacon in a big way.

Spare Gas Can: I personally don’t like having a bunch of gas sloshing about in my trunk/bed (have you ever seen a gas can that stays sealed/leakproof 100%? I haven’t.) But having an empty gallon-sized gas can in your car can be helpful for obvious reasons.

Shovel/E-tool: With a shovel, you can dig yourself out of snow banks, sand, mud holes that you weren’t planning on.

BOB/GHB/EDC – Don’t forget that!!! Isn’t that what you have it for?

I keep all this stuff in the truck box (pickups are short on spare room) but you can probably keep most of this stuff in the trunk of even a compact car. Read up on how to do certain things (you can’t change a tire?!? No excuse – Shame on you!) and ask mechanics, car people, internet forum people how to do things. Go to prepper meetups in your area. Take a defensive driving course (did you know that hopping a curb my driving at it on an angle is much safer and less likely to blow your tires or bottom out your car that driving at it straight on? Now you do! Think of what else you might learn when trained by professionals!), go out mudding with some off-road people. See how they negotiate obstacles in trails. Witness how they extricate stuck vehicles. This all good stuff to know in case you, God forbid, need to pilot your Accord down a dirt trail at high velocity to evade or go around trouble.

Alright – what did I forget? What don’t I know about that could be useful? Anything you have in your Daily Driver that you think helps you out in case of severe emergency? Sound off below!

As always, stay safe out there!

-Road Warrior

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37 comments… add one
  • Mike May 28, 2014, 7:33 am

    If you really want quality, buy craftsman or snap on tools. I agree on one thing, stay away from harbor freight china made tools.

    Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor May 28, 2014, 7:56 am

    My wife bought me one of those truck tool boxes years ago. Three trucks ago to be exact. It’s been on every truck I’ve owned since then. I’ve got bug-out gear, water, fluids, tools, boots, rope, tow straps, jumper cables, and just about every thing you can imagine in it.

    I keep a banging 1st aid kit in the cab (I have a 4-door now) along with a couple of survival knives and my BOB/hiking bag.

    Just in case.

    Reply
  • Leon May 28, 2014, 10:20 am

    I carry a lot of kits, and here is the winter survival kit that rides in the trunk: http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/winter-survival-kit-for-your-carfeed/

    Reply
  • AuricTech May 28, 2014, 12:15 pm

    I like having a jump start battery pack in my vehicle, instead of (or in addition to) jumper cables. If you go the jump start battery pack route, you do need to make sure to charge it regularly in accordance with the owner’s manual, as batteries will self-discharge over time. Note that some of these battery packs have an integral air compressor and/or other features (12-volt outlet, USB outlet, AC inverter with outlet, work lights, etc.).

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle May 29, 2014, 4:11 am

      yeh, these work much better than crappy, thin, jumper cables.
      “road service” people use them all the time now. I still use jumper cables only because I have thick, heavy duty ones.

      Reply
  • Jason May 28, 2014, 12:20 pm

    One tip if your car is overheating – turn the heater on while you’re driving. The heater sucks the heat off engine & your temperature gage will reflect the drop.

    Reply
  • Steve suffering in nj May 28, 2014, 12:25 pm

    Yes definitely get a good jack. The stock one is often complete junk. You can get a good bottle jack from just about any big hardware store. Be sure you have a quality tire iron. Often the stock ones are cheap crap that bend or snap prior to getting the lug nuts free.

    If your going to get a plug kit get a good compressor too. A 12 volt accessory plug in type will do fine. This way you can top off that plugged tire.

    I’m a fan of a high lift jack personally. They can be used a heavy duty come along with a little bit of preparation. There about 4 feet long so storage in a small car might be an issue. Not to mention there use for a jack is limited unless you have a reinforced bumper or rock sliders. There designed to hook under a bumper. They will destroy the average vehicle bumper of today. But they make a hell of a come along.

    Small car people get the biggest come along you can. There good for getting yourself out of ditches. You can always jack the vehicle with your bottle jack and pull the vehicle with the come along once the tires are off the ground/ out if the mud to help move a stuck vehicle to solid ground.

    Bolt cutters are a good addition. Go forbid you break the come along and now your stuck to the tree your winching from in addition to the original obstacle. Plus there great for cutting fence, chains, locks etc.

    Finally a good tow strap. I was a chain guy for years but a quality strap is much lighter and plenty strong. I like to get the longest one I can. I buy heavy duty chain links that thread open and closed. Like an industrial carabiner. They won’t come off what your anchored to if the strap goes slack like the standard hooks will.

    Reply
  • Steve suffering in nj May 28, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Oh and friction tape. Works well for patching leaking hoses.

    Reply
  • sput May 28, 2014, 2:44 pm

    Fix-a-flat
    quick and easy in a can will get you pumped up and moving quickly

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle May 28, 2014, 3:40 pm

    the car kit should include a thick piece of plywood that fits under the jack, to prevent it from sinking into the mud/sand. 3/4″ thick by a foot square is the minimum needed. never use a scissors jack without wheel chocks. for the lug-nuts, I buy an impact socket (deep, metric or SAE) that fits well, and use a long “breaker-bar” to turn it.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2014, 7:49 pm

      early on, with any new vehicle I check it to see if I need any special tools or funnels etc to service it.
      a “spill saver” funnel for example, so I don’t pour oil onto a hot exhaust manifold…
      gas can spout, transmission fluid funnel, maybe a radiator funnel. I place these in a plastic tote in the trunk, so they stay with the vehicle. (the plastic tote then contains any drips, so the trunk stays clean)

      Reply
  • smeeks18 May 28, 2014, 5:05 pm

    i always have at least two lights, a large mag light that could double as a billy club w/o presenting any legal problems regardless of what state i happen to be in, and i prefer the head lamps over keeping one stuck in my mouth.

    Reply
    • TANK May 28, 2014, 9:43 pm

      I agree about the head lamps. Also no one has mentioned road flares?

      Reply
      • Anonymous May 29, 2014, 1:28 am

        Road flares have all kinds of uses. Starting. A fire in wet or rainy conditions is a great one. Also for signaling if you are trying to get found.

        Reply
      • smeeks18 May 29, 2014, 1:28 am

        Road flares have all kinds of uses. Starting. A fire in wet or rainy conditions is a great one. Also for signaling if you are trying to get found.

        Reply
  • riverrider May 28, 2014, 9:42 pm

    wire, as in old style coat hanger, or electric fence type. exhaust pipe/muffler brackets get knocked off with amazing regularity off road. tape won’t help you then. ….chain, logging type. to tug you out or to re-attach your rear axle to your vehicle/frame. look up “bdar kit” (battle damage assessment and repair)……FIRE EXTINGUISHER/S!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  • Az Dave May 29, 2014, 2:08 am

    Spare fan belts. Not new ones, the good used ones you pulled off the vehicle that you know fit properly. Nothing sucks worse than a belt that doesn’t fit. Stay away from the tow straps with hooks from the china bin at the auto parts store spend the money on a good rigging strap used for lifting large loads with a crane. And throw in a few decent size clevis or shackles not the caribiner type.

    Reply
    • TK May 29, 2014, 7:28 am

      Supposedly, panty hose can make a decent emergency belt replacement and I’ve run into a few folks who keep some in their kit. I’m assuming tie it with a square knot so it lies flat. Never tried it, but might give it a test next time I change a belt just to see what happens.

      If you can shell out the cash there’s that ‘Lego belt’ you assemble so it will fit anything. Looks badass and Ive always wanted to try it out but my money has more important places to go.

      Reply
  • irishdutchuncle May 29, 2014, 3:57 am

    … and skid chains. don’t forget the skid chains, September through May. sand, not cat litter, for traction on ice. a blanket. (all year)
    winter sleeping bags. (September through May) a fishing “kit”.
    (tackle, etc suitable for the local area) a tooth brush and a change of “undies”. (unless you carry these in your BOB) “picnic basket”. (a few paper plates, and plastic utensils)

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle May 29, 2014, 5:36 am

      … and yeh, what Leon said: (see his blog) a car charger that works with your cell phone.

      Reply
    • irishdutchuncle June 1, 2014, 3:44 am

      … and do you mean to tell us that you don’t have your own compressor? no portable air tank? your poor wife had to pay for compressed air at a convenience store or a gas station?

      Reply
  • TK May 29, 2014, 7:17 am

    +1 to JB weld, only problem is it takes 24hrs to fully cure. Not a fast fix but when its 1/2 dried you can mould it into shapes. Genius stuff. JB weld + bailing wire can fix just about anything. When I was a broke kid after high school it kept my junker cars running so I could make it to work.

    I also keep standard sized hoses like rad hoses and 1/4″ air lines. They’re often sold by the foot at NAPA or similar auto stores. Most rad hoses are preformed to fit certain engines but the diameters are usually similar and can be bent to fit in a different engine with a little effort. Not good for long term use, but it’ll get you home. Lightweight and cheap, why not carry?

    Reply
  • ArmyVet May 29, 2014, 8:01 pm

    Great post RW.
    As on over-the-road trucker, I carry a fair amount of most everything everyone here has talked about. There are exceptions, of course. We don’t carry jacks, lug wrenches, spare tires or tire plug kits (not allowed to use them on heavy vehicles). A flat tire road-side means either limping into a repair shop, or a road-call visit from the shop.
    My POV always has a good tool kit, a spare tire that is checked every time I service my vehicle. My jumper cables are heavy enough, and long enough, that they can be used (and have) to jump my big truck. However, I always carry a small floor jack. I like the reliability of them. Sure it rakes up a little more room than even a bottle jack, but I can it in where a bottle jack can’t quite squeeze in.

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle May 30, 2014, 3:41 am

    … and regarding the safety glasses, Wal-Mart optical made me a pair, (single vision lenses, in my reading prescription) for around thirty bucks. some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

    Reply
  • Joel May 30, 2014, 6:00 am

    Great list. If people would just stick to the basics they could handle 95% of road issues.

    Reply
  • Mel May 30, 2014, 2:15 pm

    The only place to buy “Affordable Tire Patches” is From Alburys Supply. Why buy a new tire when you can patch?

    Reply
  • Mel May 30, 2014, 2:17 pm

    Alburys Supply has a wide range of “Affordable Tire Patches” for all your vehicles.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle June 1, 2014, 4:36 am

      thanks Mel.
      if I ever get down to the Bahamas, I’ll stop in.

      Reply
  • John May 30, 2014, 8:14 pm

    An easy and lightweight emergency tool for you vehicle, especially if you have power windows is the, “resqme.” It is a seatbelt cutter and window breaker. If you end up in deep water, chances are your electronic windows won’t open for an escape It can be used as a keychain or just leave it somewhere accessible from your driver seat. They make nice gifts/stocking stuffers for those you care about.

    Reply
  • Al May 30, 2014, 8:27 pm

    Very good suggestions,I would add a towing strap to get towed and clear the road,I carry also an electric strobe light ,they are small and could save your life in poor weather

    Reply
  • Paul May 31, 2014, 7:48 am

    Don’t forget a fire extinguisher !

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle June 1, 2014, 3:55 am

    what other accessories should a proper BOV have?
    towing package? snow plow?
    I vote for Fog Lights, and Air Conditioning at a bare minimum.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle June 1, 2014, 4:02 am

      … plus a heavy duty alternator.

      Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor June 2, 2014, 6:42 am

      That’s my truck!

      Reply
      • irishdutchuncle June 2, 2014, 11:16 pm

        I have the heavy duty alternator and fog lamps on my wife’s SUV, but not on my daily drive jalopy. the cars I remember most fondly were the ones with good defrosters/heaters. now I wouldn’t consider a vehicle without AC, ’cause there are just some neighborhoods I wouldn’t dare drive through with the windows open.
        during the first snowstorm last year, my defroster wouldn’t warm up. (plugged heater core) I might have made it to work if I’d had the fog lamps, but I literally couldn’t see the road. (I waited out the end of the storm at in a Wal-Mart parking lot) low beam headlamps sometimes just can’t do the job by themselves at twilight, in the rain or wet snow.
        auxiliary lights are definitely on my list of ideal BOV equipment. (plus a winch and “deer catcher” for up front)

        Reply
  • Kepy June 5, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Don’t forget vice grips used them once when the gear shift broke once
    And an axe chopped a huge downed tree in half tomake easier to pull off the road

    Reply
  • Jac December 24, 2017, 2:07 am

    Thanks for sharing your expertise. We can use the advanced technology small central pneumatic 3 gallon air compressor to plugs into our car’s cigarette lighter/power outlets. As a small model, the 3 gallons best portable compressor will perfect for it.

    Reply

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