If you're new to automotive DIYing, you'll likely convince yourself anything can be fixed anywhere and load your trunk up with all the tools you could ever need. You'll drive around like that for months on end, paying no mind to how much extra gas you're burning to haul those tools around. Only then to call the tow truck anyway when things go wrong. I speak from foolhardy experience.
The side of the road or a dark parking lot is no place to perform extensive repairs, and there's no shame in putting your roadside assistance membership to work. However, you should have a few tools stashed in the trunk to get yourself back up and running in case hauling it home isn't an option or a simple repair presents itself.
But what do you actually need? The Drive's crack team of roadside warriors is on the job to help you determine what tools you should carry in your car for emergencies alongside the tire iron, spare tire, and jack it came with. Keep in mind that the list below serves as a general guideline, and you can tweak things as you see fit. For example, I carry a timing light and dwell meter in place of an OBDII scanner in my 1969 Dodge Charger project car. That said, if any of you pros reading along have suggestions on what tools to carry, drop them in the comments section. We're all here to learn.
Again, this is an overview of tools intended for emergency repairs, not in a crisis situation. Think “get off the side of the road” not “get out of this thing.” Let's get after it.
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I'm taking it on faith that your jack and tire iron haven't been removed from your trunk, storage area, or inside the rear hatch as of this writing. As well as that your car didn't come with run-flat tires from the factory, which is something you’ll need to make sure of. But if you're working with what the manufacturer gave you, that scissor jack is a rickety thing just barely good enough to meet safety standards. I've seen them fail, and the results can be ugly. Do yourself a favor and keep a jack stand in your trunk as to ensure you don't get smushed. Make throwing on the spare less likely to get nasty.
- Big Red Torin 3-Ton Steel Jack Stands
- Big Red Torin 6-Ton Steel Jack Stands
- Performance 3-Ton Tool Ratchet Style Jack Stand Set
- Daytona 3-Ton Heavy Duty Ratcheting Jack Stands
- Torin 3-Ton Capacity Double Locking Steel Jack Stands
Screwdrivers are necessary to get a variety of jobs done. But not every fastener calls for the same size or type. Instead of cramping twenty screwdrivers into your tool bag, set yourself up with a bit driver with various bits to work with. Get a good one, though, as there are many that'll leave you looking for loose bits in the engine bay.
- Klein Tools 14-in-1 Multi-Bit Screwdriver
- Klein Tools 27-in-1 Multi-Bit Screwdriver
- DeWalt Screwdriver Bit Set
- Sata 60-Piece Ratcheting Bit Driver Set
- Wera Kraftform Kompakt Slotted Ratcheting Screwdriver
Small Ratchet and Socket Set
It's wise to carry a mechanic's tool set with multiple rachets whenever you head out for a road trip, but that's not necessary for routine commuting. You'll likely only need to deal with medium to small fasteners, if any at all, in an emergency. And a small ratchet and socket set is all you'll need for that. I say go with a 3/8-inch drive set, as it covers most common fastener sizes, and you can always add onto the set with adapters and additional sockets if need be.
- Crescent 20-Piece X10 3/8-Inch Drive Mechanics Tool Set
- WorkPro 39-Piece Drive Socket Wrench Set
- EPAuto 40-Piece 1/4-Inch and 3/8-Inch Drive Socket Set
- DeWalt 23-Piece Impact Socket Set
- Craftsman 24-Piece Socket Set
Combination wrenches are great to keep on hand if you have room for them. However, careful selection of an effective ratchet and socket set allows it to handle the majority of fasteners. You never know if you'll come up against a pass-through fastener or other tasks a single ratchet simply won't handle. Therefore, it's worth keeping an adjustable wrench on hand. I personally prefer something with a short handle as it's easier to use in tight spaces.
- Titan Tools 8-Inch Stubby Adjustable Wrench
- Duratech Wide-Jaw 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench
- Channellock 8-Inch WideAzz Adjustable Wrench
- Channellock 6-Inch WideAzz Adjustable Wrench
- Maxcraft Stubby Adjustable Wrench
As long as your vehicle throws a code (the dreaded check engine light on your dash), you can plug in and give yourself a good idea as to what's going on. It can also help you decide whether or not you should even attempt to handle the problem where you're at. You don't need to buy a premium unit to keep in your trunk. You just need to make sure it'll work for your vehicle.
- Foxwell NT301 OBD2 Scanner
- Motopower OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
- Autel MS309 OBD2 Scanner
- Ancel Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner
- Autophix OBD2 Scanner
Your phone's built-in flashlight is handy, but it's not ideal when you're bent up like a pretzel trying to fix something deep in the car's bowels. Your phone will also probably be mostly dead when you do break down because that's just the way things work. So, do yourself a favor and throw a good flashlight or headlamp in your bag, if not both.
- MagLite SP2P11H LED 2 Cell AA PRO Flashlight
- Energizer LED Headlamp
- EverBrite 5-Pack LED Headlamp Set
- GearLight TAC LED Flashlight Pack
- GearLight S2500 LED Flashlight
Tire Pressure Gauge
A tire pressure gauge might be given a run for its money by modern TPMS interfaces, but it’s still worth keeping one in the glove box or tool bag of every vehicle. At the very least, it’ll serve as a reminder that you need to keep tire pressure in check as temperatures fluctuate. It also allows you to work with dated tire filling stations that don’t have a built-in gauge. Heck, you should be checking readings against a consistent baseline anyway.
- Valve-Loc Pencil Tire Pressure Gauge
- Jaco ElitePro Tire Pressure Gauge
- Milton S-920 Pencil Tire Gauge
- Godeson Heavy-Duty Tire Pressure Gauge
- Shrader Tire Gauge
Zip ties are the perfect solution for so many problems. They're a permanent solution...unless they are, but maybe you hit road debris and it pulled part of your skid plate down. Are you going to drag it all the way home because the clips are long gone? Nope. Just zip tie it back up, and move along. This is just one example of how these infinitely useful buggers are, and you absolutely need to keep a few in your car.
Everyone's got a favorite plier flavor. I personally prefer to keep a set of needle-nose pliers with me, but diagonal cutters and linesman pliers often make their way into my trunk kit. They're not the kind of tool you absolutely need to get off the side of the road, but plenty of opportunities for them to make your life less miserable will present themselves.
- Irwin Vise Grip Linesman Pliers
- Irwin Vise Grip Needle Nose Pliers
- Irwin Vise Grip Long Reach Needle Nose Pliers
- Irwin Vise Grip Groove Lock
The one tool that will get you out of trouble more than anything else is a jump starter. Dead batteries seem to take everyone by surprise, especially as temperatures drop. Being able to quickly jump your car and get yourself to a parts store or the home shop to handle the situation is invaluable. A portable jump starter might not fit in your tool box or bag with everything else, but it's worth packing along anyway. Going with a unit that has a built-in compressor can also save you from serious drama when paired with a tire repair kit.
- Noco Boost Plus GB40 1000 Amp 12-Volt UltraSafe Lithium Jump Starter
- Noco Boost Plus GB75 2500 Amp 12-Volt UltraSafe Lithium Jump Starter
- Schumacher SL1562 Lithium Portable Power Station
- Stanley Portable Power Station Jump Starter
- DeWalt DXAEJ14 Digital Portable Power Station Jump Starter
By mentioning test lights, I'm not suggesting that you should be attempting big wiring jobs on the side of the road. However, if you're more familiar with electrical systems than the average bear, it's a quick way to troubleshoot when a situation arises.
It might not be a bad idea to carry wire strippers, a crimping tool, and some butt connectors for minor repairs if you’re daily driving a project car. Again, I don’t encourage performing wiring repairs in dangerous settings, but small wiring issues come with the territory.
- Jastind Heavy-Duty Test Light
- TuNan 6V-12V-24V DC Car Circuit Tester Light
- AWBLIN Upgraded Automotive Buzzer Test Light
- OTC Heavy-Duty Coil Cord Circuit Tester
- Winamoo Premium Digital LED Automotive Circuit Tester
A multimeter is another critical troubleshooting tool that can help you quickly pinpoint issues on the side of the road. It takes things further than a test light by not only telling you if power is present in a circuit, as well as how much. This data can be extremely useful when trying to find a problem. If you need to save space, you can buy a test light that provides a voltage reading as well.
- Harbor Freight 7-Function Digital Multimeter
- Cen-Tech 11-Function Digital Multimeter
- AstroAI Multimeter
- Fluke 106 Multimeter
- Fluke 101 Multimeter
The list above is meant to serve as a general guideline. As time passes and you face different situations, you might add to the list or even eliminate some things. As you should, your emergency tool kit should be personalized to match your vehicle. To better illustrate how much things can vary, the video below showcases another person's selection of tools they keep in their vehicle in case of an emergency.
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