Summer’s here and that can mean only one thing: Road Trip! Got the suitcases packed and repacked and loaded in the car? Check. Itinerary planned out with the proper reservations where needed? Check. Games, toys, and books to keep the kids occupied between stops? Check. Toolkit? Uh, not check. You can’t bring all your tools, but what should you bring on a summer road trip? RacingJunk’s got your back. Here’s what you should include in your Summer Road Trip toolkit.
Floor Jack and Stand(s)
Sure, you can make use of AAA or the like in case of a flat tire, but they can often take a couple of hours to show up, especially if you’re off the beaten path. They also won’t come out to help if you need to change a U-joint or do something else under the vehicle. It’s also not allowed if you’re taking part in something like Drag Week.
Multipurpose Air Compressor
I’m talking about the compressor that has a weather/AM/FM radio and flashlight/floodlight/emergency flasher built-in. You can use it to air up that tire that’s developed a slow leak or for filling air mattresses once you reach camp. The flasher and lights are there in case you’re stuck on the side of the road at night. The good ones can also jump start your car if the battery dies.
Basic Hand Tools
Belts, hoses, lamps/bulbs, and brake issues are the most likely sources of problems you’re likely to encounter on a Summer Road Trip. If space for your toolkit is limited, see what tools are needed to address these issues. A Phillips and a flat screwdriver are absolute minimums. Check light bulbs and lamps as many of these use Torx (T-10 or T-15 usually) screws instead of Phillips. Don’t forget a small-ish ball peen hammer.
Look at the clamps on heater and radiator hoses; are they worm drive or spring-type? A screwdriver will work for worm drive clamps, but you’ll need pliers for the spring-type clamps. Are you going to need sockets to change a drive belt or do you need a ratchet to loosen a tensioner? If you have V-belts you’ll need a couple/few wrenches or sockets (usually ½, 9/16, and/or 5/8 inch) and something to pry with (like the handle from your floor jack) if you need to replace them. Check what type of fasteners are on your brake calipers-hex bolts, Allen bolts, Torx bolts- and pack the appropriate tools.
Basic Maintenance Tools
Even if you go through maintenance items with a fine tooth comb before your road trip, things still happen. Plugs can break or foul, wires can get too hot, fuel filters can develop leaks or you can get a bad tank of gas. Pack a spark plug socket and the needed extensions. If you need a special fuel filter/fuel line tool/wrench, include it. Don’t forget basic electrical tools-at least a test light, if not a multimeter and a test light.
Consider a “Parts Store” Toolkit for the Car
This is the automotive toolkit that would/could live forever in your car, not just for road trips. They’re fairly small and self-contained and many have most hand tools you might run into a need for on the road. There’s no torque wrench or hammer, but those can be added separately. You don’t need something with a “Forever Warranty.” You just need something for those “Just in case.” moments.
Pack one or two stop/tail/turn signal bulbs; be sure to grab one for the front markers if they’re different. Don’t forget a small assortment of fuses. If you have the room to pack them, include a length of heater hose, both radiator hoses, and the drive (V- or serpentine) belt so you can change those on the side of the road if they fail. Sometimes these things happen where the closest parts store is dozens of miles (or more) away. At a minimum you should also carry at least one two liter bottle of tap water, if not a gallon of coolant. A roll of good duct tape can be worth its weight in gold on a Summer Road Trip.
The “What If’s”
What if you need to change the oil or filter while you’re away and the stores don’t have your preferred brands? Plan ahead and bring along enough for an oil change. If you have a special or preferred brand of antifreeze/coolant, bring a gallon of it along as well. Also, if you’ve done any customizing and you know something like a U-joint, set of brake pads, whatever might be difficult to get while on the road, pack those as well.
Doing Drag Week?
If your Summer Road Trip plans include taking part in Drag Week in September, you’re going to need a trailer. You have to bring along most of your own spares. You can’t call AAA if you get a flat driving between tracks. Other participants can help you fix breakdowns and loan you tools, but you can’t take it to the local shop, so you need tools to fix most anything that can happen on the road to a race car that’s being driven on city streets and highways.
What this means is that the fairly basic tool and supply kit outlined above may not be enough for you. You may need to swap heads on the side of the road or at the track if you’re lucky. That means new head gaskets and a torque wrench will be needed as well as maybe intake gaskets.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. The amount/volume of tools you bring is only limited to how much space you can reserve for them and how likely you think a major breakdown in the middle of nowhere is. If you plan on heading off-road and doing some rock crawling, you’re more likely to experience driveline or suspension issues than if your road trip is just a four day drive to grandma and grandpa’s house. If your route is going to take you through the desert or mountains, cooling system issues are more likely to occur so your tool kit should address that fact.
P.S.: What about radiator stop leak, you ask? Nah. Just toss a couple of small packets of pepper in the glovebox. It’s cheaper and the guy that has to clean it prior to repairing your radiator will thank you for it.