Authored by Adam Davis
Are you the kind of individual who prefers to drive to wherever you are going? With well over a million miles behind the wheel, you can put me in this category.
And I am not an over-the-road trucker. Driving puts you in control of your itinerary while providing the benefits of flexibility and getting to see some amazing countryside.
As you might expect, mechanical issues have come up in these many miles I’ve driven. And let me assure you, traveling is easier when you are prepared for an emergency.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five tools you should seriously consider having in the car for your next roadtrip.
5 Tools You Should Always Have With You on a Road Trip
At the top of the list is an air compressor. No, not the tow-behind behemoths construction crews use for powering jackhammers. This tool is the svelte and transportable 12V compressor.
Your tires are (hopefully) in constant contact with the road and receive the most exposure to hazards. Having a compressor for tire-related issues is very comforting, especially when driving in remote areas.
These little gems are available in a range of quality and capability. When you are on the road, it doesn’t pay to skimp on quality so look for reliable brand names like Makita and Kobalt.
Not only will they compensate for a slow leak until you can get it fixed, they may also fix a flat that doesn’t involve serious damage. Last but not least, they can save you many light-headed moments when used to inflate water toys.
Image credit: State Farm
Cordless Impact Wrench
Speaking of flats, a cordless impact wrench is a treat compared to the standard equipment lug wrench.
For those who have experienced the joy of changing a flat during inclement weather, anything that shortens the task is worth considering. And lug nuts can be notoriously difficult to break loose.
Cordless impact wrenches sometimes are sold with cordless drills and share a common battery. Consider this if you are in the market for a cordless drill. Or pick it up solo. Be sure you buy the proper size socket for your car at the same time.
A Compact Jump Pack
There are any number of things that will prevent your vehicle from going. There are also many things that can keep it from starting. The usually suspects here are alternators and batteries.
There isn’t a lot you can carry to address an alternator issue but handling a bad battery is a different beast. You can go with jumper cables, but that is very 20th century and not the least bit tool-sexy. Instead, look into a compact jump pack from companies like Cobra.
These are compact batteries that you connect to your unresponsive vehicle battery and use them to start your vehicle. You’ll not regret having one on a “dark and stormy night” on the road.
Image credit: Moyan Brenn
Men are rumored to never ask for directions. Balderdash. Okay, it’s kind of sort of true. Maybe. Fortunately, technology has made asking for directions a thing of the past.
Smartphone apps and dedicated GPS units are tremendous travel tools, each with their pros and cons. But a GPS can function when your smartphone cannot find a signal. Plus, some smartphone apps use data and can drain your monthly data allotment, so it does pay to go with a GPS.
A nice compromise is a smartphone app that lets you download the maps you need. You may have to pay for them but the cost is generally minimal, and apps that charge for their features are not nearly as likely to siphon off and sell your personal information to fund their operations.
Plus, if you choose wisely, you can find apps that give you a heads up display, or HUD. Not only is asking for directions a thing of the past, you can play jet pilot the entire trip! Go to your smartphone’s app emporium and search for HUD.
There may come a situation where getting back on the road means opening the hood or crawling under the vehicle and pulling some MacGyver magic out of your bag of tricks.
You can carry a complete tool kit, but that adds weight and noise. Instead, carry a multi-tool, some odd bits of wire, and self-fusing silicone tape.
No self-respecting DIY person or intrepid road traveler should be without one of these marvels. Leatherman launched the category in the second half of the last century, and today, the choices are mindboggling.
They are akin to Swiss Army Knives but are much more robust. Regarding features, look for pliers, cutting blades, a file, maybe a saw, and both flat and Phillips screw drivers. You’ll spend more, but a Leatherman, Gerber, CRKT, or other brand name is worth the extra dough.
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A cordless impact wrench? Never knew there was such a creature. Cool!
Same! I learned quite a bit from Adam’s guest post. Glad you enjoyed it :)
I don’t drive ANYWHERE without my GPS. Granted, it’s old, and needs updating, because new roads often aren’t in there and it takes us weird and wonderful ways, but there’s no way I could get by without it. Oh to think back to the days of driving with an Atlas in the car dash.
Definitely an essential! I think it’s pretty cheap to update maps as opposed to buying a new GPS :)
Great tips. If we know we’re traveling remotely we also travel with jerry cans full of gas. Even if you don’t use it, if you add a fuel stabilizer it’ll last 6-8 months. Make sure it’s tied to the roof rack, and not in the car or trunk. You will be exposed to the fumes and it is a potential fire hazard.
Glad you enjoyed the post Rorick – thanks for sharing your insight on jerry cans. Definitely important to have it strapped to the roof rack :)
I don’t even know how to change a flat tyre. I should probably learn that.
Always a good skill to have in your back pocket :) Maybe when you have free time next you could see if there’s anyone around to show you how :)
Hi Adam, these are great tips. Cheers mate.
Glad the post was helpful Tim – happy travels!
How did I not know that a compact jump pack was a thing??! I literally just went out and bought jumper cables because I ran the car battery flat and had to rely on god Samaritan neighbors to loan theirs. Looks like I’m spending more money … I probably still have the receipt though might try and exchange. Wicked tip.
They’re such a great investment :) Glad you got you car sorted though!
Can I use a bicycle pump to inflate a car tire?
Hi Gina, it can be done if you find yourself in a bind without anything else :)
A tire-pressure gauge should be in your kit as well, especially if you’re driving through different weather. Underinflated tires are dangerous, and especially if you’re renting a car and don’t know its recent history, its something you risk more on roadtrips.
You’ll find the recommended tire pressure for your car on a sticker in the door jam, or in your owner’s manual. Most gas stations will loan you an air gauge to check the tire pressure but it’s always best to have your own.
Great advice Dominick, tire pressure is so important. We have a digital gauge on our dashboard behind the steering wheel which is great, and do make a habit of checking the tire pressure is all good before heading off on a big trip. Definitely something worth having if it’s not inbuilt into the car.
Thankyou for this advice. Though our roadtrips are usually international and we get a car rental, so I don’t think the luggage space would be practical to fly with air compressors and wrenches etc – I do always download country maps for my nav man though because it’s small to carry and cheaper than paying daily extra fees on the addition to the rental. Good advice for domestic trips though, we have a little kit that stays in a black bag in the back of the trunk.
You’re welcome Lee, glad the post was helpful for you :) If you do decide to travel with equipment internationally, like a multi tool or the like, jut remember to pack it in your checked luggage :)
Glad to hear you’re well prepared for domestic road trips – happy travels!
This is nice, but is there any tips on what to do to my car before a road trip? Would appreciate your advices.
Hi Malcolm, we have a post on pre trip vehicle checks here: https://www.mappingmegan.com/road-trip-ready-5-most-important-vehicle-checks-before-driving-off/
Hope it’s helpful :)
Thanks for your useful post on the road trip regarding what tools we need to pack while we are on the road. But I am not seeing a car jack on the list? I think it is another useful tool that car drivers must keep in their vehicles. Here, I would like to suggest people keep a useful tool in their home which is a wood planner. This tool will let them recycle discarded woods.
Thanks for the tips Ben, I hadn’t heard of a wood planner, so will have to read up on that. A car jack for sure!
Thanks for reading :)