Maintenance and gear

6 essentials for your travel toolkit

by Kyle Smith
6 October 2022 3 min read
6 essentials for your travel toolkit
Photos: Kyle Smith

Don’t let the autumn colours scare you into pickling your car for winter just yet. Until the weather gets really grim, this is one of the best times to be out on the road. Cooler temperatures are easier on engines, and the salt spreaders aren’t out yet – but you still don’t want to be caught out on the roadside unprepared. Set yourself up for success and pack a toolkit to at least handle the basics.

Of course, for bigger trips or questionable cars, it makes sense to pack a big kit that could cover just about everything, but that is not right for every person or situation. As the old saying goes, the best time to build a toolkit for your vintage ride was yesterday and the second best time is right now. Even if you aren’t handy or do your own maintenance it is never known who might stop and offer help and without tools that good Samaritan is reduced to good thoughts. Here are six basic essentials for your travel toolkit.

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Much of any car is assembled with slotted and Phillips-head screws, and even a precursory inspection often requires removing an access panel or cover. Sometimes a noise or vibration does not indicate immediate death for your car or engine, and after inspection you can determine if it is safe to carry on your way despite some part or piece misbehaving. A screwdriver can also act as a stethoscope in a pinch too, allowing you to track down a goofy noise for better diagnostics with less disassembly.


Whether you need to deal with a stubborn spring hose clamp or moving a piece that got a little hot, pliers are the tool for the job. At bare minimum you should carry needle nose and slip joint pliers, as these will cover the vast majority of tasks on the roadside. Bonus points if your needle nose pliers have a cutting edge, as this will work for wiring repairs or stripping.



We can’t live without water, and your engine can’t live without oil and coolant. They’re the fluids you’re most likely to lose and can still safely refill and continue your drive. Some folks will tell you to carry brake fluid, but if you’re losing brake fluid, that’s not something to top off and continue. Your brakes are a critical safety system that should be repaired properly by a pro, and your Hagerty roadside assistance card is going to be the best tool to use if the brake reservoir runs out while on the road.



Most vintage engines run simple V-belt setups, but that system has been usurped by the serpentine belt. Relying on a chain parts store to have a variety of V-belts can be a big ask since they likely don’t sell many and thus only stock the most popular sizes. Belts are light and pack down small, so having the proper belts for your car is a no-brainer.

Jump pack

Jump lead kit

Batteries go flat. It just happens sometimes, especially on vintage electrical systems in which small draws can go unnoticed until it’s too late. A jump pack can provide the juice to get your engine running again or keep it running in a real pinch. Also, most jump packs these days are small and light, while also packing more punch than ever. A bonus is it allows you to charge your phone or other critical accessories if you find yourself stranded and waiting for a tow.

Sockets and ratchets


Yeah, duh. It’s hard to take anything apart or service pieces without the ability to remove nuts and bolts. If you are handy and want to carry the bare minimum, start by looking under the bonnet and picking just the ratchets and sockets for jobs you are willing to do on the roadside. If in doubt, grab a full set of shallow and deep sockets for both SAE and metric, because you never know what hack might be hiding under the hood where someone previously mixed hardware. This also gives you the chance to be the hero in someone else’s story when you have the socket they need in order to leave the car show.

Bonus: Tool roll

Tool roll

Personally, I hate random things rolling around my car, doubly so if they make noise. A simple tool roll is cheap and allows you to keep all your trip-saving bits and pieces together. Tuck it all under a seat or in back with the spare tyre, and rest easy each time you take the car out knowing that you’ve got at least the bare minimum needed to keep your trip on the road rather than the verge.

Is there something you’d add to a super basic travel toolkit? Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

This article was originally published on Hagerty US.

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  • Ivan M Rogers says:

    Leccy tape, a few bits of wire and some fuses, plus some cable ties! Much can be done with these simple items!

  • Julian+Smith says:

    Most breakdowns are electrical or electronic. So a small multimeter, jumper wires and connectors, USB or battery powered soldering iron, OBD dongle and linked smartphone app (for more recent cars). Wiring diagrams and manuals can be stored in the phone too. I also carry duct tape, superglue, epoxy glue and lockwire.

  • Ivan says:

    James – absolutely right, sir! In the early days of my self-built kit car, one or two of my journeys benefitted from some ‘in-journey fettling’.. thankfully 20 years later (early problems ironed out now!) she’s going strong and is very reliable indeed. As an aside, my second ever car was an Escort estate – I used to keep a supply of points on board, as she inexplicably ate them; on many a long journey I would be found changing them at the roadside. Thank goodness for the modern dizzy replacement kits which have relegated that problem to the past..! 😀

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