Back in the day, if you were anything like me, you might have used a pair of tights to replace a fan belt or an egg to plug a leaking radiator but there are far more practical and reliable items you should always carry in your classic car so that you can administer a roadside repair. Here are 10 things I’d politely suggest you should keep in your car in case it ends up on the hard shoulder.
1. Portable jump starter
Designed to boost a vehicle’s discharged battery without the help of another car or power source, one of these won’t bring your car’s battery back to life if it’s been left standing for months, but it will get you out of trouble if you’ve gone somewhere and left your lights on causing the battery to drain. Go for a lithium one because they tend to be smaller but still pack a punch, and space is always at a premium in a classic car.
2. Jump leads
An alternative to a portable jump starter, or useful to have as well. Make your own using 1000 amp welding cable (great because it’s flexible), or buy a set from the likes of GYS. Be careful to avoid the cheap fake thick leads that are mostly insulation, more copper means more power, which makes for a proper boost.
Also, it might sound silly, but make sure you know where your battery is so if it comes to it then you can get someone to pull up at the right end of the car straight away.
3. Flatpack fuel bladder
When I was younger the fuel gauges in my cars never used to work so I always carried a jerry can full of fuel so I could get a bit further if I ran out. Having spare fuel sloshing about in your vehicle is probably not to be recommended and although nowadays most petrol stations sell jerry cans, having your own foldaway container on standby eliminates any uncertainty. The stuff bikers use, such as Desert Fox, is often worth a look.
My Outspan Orange car ran out of fuel the other day and I didn’t follow my own advice so had to roll the whole thing to the nearest petrol station, which was a bit of a hassle and not at all embarrassing, to say the least.
4. Trolley jack
The scissor jacks that come with cars are never very good so I have a lightweight trolley jack in most of my vehicles, bottle jacks also do the job but won’t lift a car off the ground as high.
Depending on how old your car is, a breaker bar is a really useful tool to have in the boot in case you need to change a wheel because the stubby wheel nut wrenches that come with a car are quite hopeless at removing stubborn wheel nuts in the rain; there is no substitute for full-size leverage. You can always use that lever for other things too, such as a handle to pump a jack up and down.
5. Five tonne ratchet strap
In the worst-case scenario one of these will allow you to pull your vehicle out of a ditch but you could also use it as a tow rope in an emergency or to tie stuff down. Carry two for good measure.
6. Portable air compressor
My Milwaukee compressor is epic. It’ll inflate tyres up to your specified pressure in no time at all, and the battery pack means not needing to run it off a cigarette lighter, or the mains.
7. Bulb kit
If you’re going to Europe you have to have a bulb kit that’s specific to your car rather than just one off the shelf. To that end, it doesn’t hurt to have a look and see how you change your bulbs before you head off on an adventure; it’s bad enough not seeing where you’re going and if people can’t see you that’s even more dangerous.
8. Gaffer tape and cable ties
If you have to re-attach something temporarily in order to get home, gaffer tape, cable ties or high tensile gardening wire could get you out of trouble. A loose exhaust is the classic example where wire could be fashioned into a bracket so that you’ll travel with a rattle rather than a drag (and sparks).
9. Emergency breakdown kit
Carrying one of these packs is a legal requirement when driving in Europe and I think a sensible precaution where ever you are, and they’re readily available to buy. Each one should include a hi-vis jacket, first aid kit, hazard warning triangle (which should be placed some distance from the rear of your car to warn other road users of your breakdown), a waterproof torch and a pair of flame retardant gloves.
This sounds obvious, but having a selection of general, all-purpose tools stashed away somewhere in your classic can be the difference between getting going again in minutes or having to call in your roadside assistance company of choice.
I’m a real fan of having tools that do more than one thing so I always have a standard multitool in my glovebox; the knife is useful for cutting rubber and stripping back wires, while the pliers are great for pinching things back together again. More substantial multitools often feature a spanner but I think at this stage a rudimentary toolkit including a multi-bit screwdriver, simple socket set, a plug spanner and a few spanners is a far better use of storage space. The specifics of what you’ll need will depend on what car you’ve got – for example, the VW Beetle is brilliant because you can pretty much disassemble the car (apart from the two big bolts that hold the engine in) using 8mm, 10mm, 13mm and 17mm spanners.
I had a van with a parasitic electric fault which meant I had to disconnect the battery when I wasn’t using it, so in the end I had a tiny 10mm spanner attached to its keys which meant I could disconnect and reconnect it again really easily.
Mechanics rescue more modern cars than classics so having the right tools with you also means that if you do need extra assistance they will have the right tools if they have the know-how. I’ve been in the situation many times where a roadside rescue mechanic can’t fix my car because they haven’t got the relevant bits and pieces. I put new wheels on the Outspan Orange for its starring role in the Platinum Jubilee Pageant and took a torque wrench as part of my tool kit so I could do up the wheel nuts just in case the fresh powder coating loosened up.
A not so oily rag should also be part of this bundle so you can check levels and mop things up. XCP One Multipurpose spray is great for cleaning, lubricating and getting rid of annoying squeaks. In addition to that, I always have a few pairs of disposable nitrile rubber gloves in the car so that if I’ve got to do an unpleasant and messy job to get stuck into, my hands are protected from the ickiness. The orange ones you’ll find on my online shop have extra long cuffs which means you can delve deeper into the grease and grime and the textured fingertips make them really good on fiddly jobs.
When it comes to your classic adventure, hope for the best, having prepared for the worst!