TEOTWAWKI: Small Emergency Kit for Your Car/Truck
Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
When people are thinking about “Survivalists” they usually think of a gun toting guy in a bunker with a ham radio. But my concept of the “Christian Survivalist” is more about being prepared for whatever comes your way so that you can survive and minister the gospel in whatever situation in which the Lord allows you to dwell. This can be a flat tire, an ice storm, or a nuclear war.
There are statistically more small disasters than large. You are more likely to have a flat tire, car wreck, or get stuck on an icy day than you are to experience an all out nuclear war. It makes sense to prepare for both the large and small disasters, but let’s start with the small since they happen to most of us somewhat often.
Today I want to discuss the small emergency kit for your car or truck that will enable you to be prepared for those annoying emergencies like flat tires and icy days. Keep in mind that this kit is not just for you, it is to be in your car so that you can help out your brother or sister in Christ who is in trouble and not prepared or for you to minister to a total stranger who may be lost.
1. Dead Battery– it has always seemed to me that new car batteries last about 2 years, then one day, you go to start your car and it just barely turns over, but not enough to start. It had been fine just earlier, you did not leave your lights on, it just dies and leaves you stranded. Personally, I believe that the automobile is objective proof of the biblical doctrine that there is a Devil, but that’s just me. But if there is an inconvenient time for a car battery to die, it will die then.
What to do? (a) If you have the money for a roadside assistance plan you can call and a service man will come to your rescue. Growing up, my dad was a member of AAA, a fine company. I was a member for a while too, back when I had money. Some dealerships have a roadside assistance program for free or at a small cost; there is usually a limited range from the dealership where it is applicable, however.
(b) Calling for roadside assistance implies that you have a cell phone and that it is fully charged. Communications is a force multiplier. In the old days it was “Always carry some quarters to make a call” but these days there are fewer phone booths, if any, so you need a cell phone (I still carry some change though). The cell phone is part of your personal survival kit that you wear on your person- more about that later. The idea is that if you have commo, you can call for roadside assistance from a company, friend or family member; and, you can call for someone else that needs help but does not have a phone. A word of caution however, I would suggest that in most instances you would need to place the call for the person instead of loaning out your cell phone. Be cautious there. Have a car charger for your cell phone although if the battery is dead you may not be able to charge your phone! But never leave home without the car cell phone charger!
(c) Jumper Cables- You can get a set of jumper cables for around $20 or a bit more for some of better quality. I paid extra for the heavier duty and longer cables, short cables can be frustrating if you are parked in such a way that you cannot reach the other vehicle. I have carried cables for years and have assisted about 20-30 motorists over the last 15 years or so. My own car battery has died 3-4 times over the years as well, so they have helped me too. Be sure to hook up the cables positive to positive and negative to negative using the color codes of red and black or the + and – signs. If you have never jumped a car before I would recommend that you get with somebody who is experienced and practice this so that in the clutch you make no mistakes.
(d) Common Battery Problems- Not all failures to start are due to a weak battery. Sometimes the battery has corrosion built up around the terminals. This white-green-yellow crusty stuff will sometimes prevent your car from starting, but it is fairly easy to clean. You can scrape away some of the corrosion with a pocket knife, screwdriver or a stick. Bi-carbonate of soda poured on the acidic corrosion will cause a nice little chemical reaction that will self clean the battery terminals. I have used a can of soda pop on numerous occasions to clean a battery. Another common problem is loose cables to the terminal. If by tugging on the cables they turn easily, they are too loose and must be tightened in order for there to be a strong enough connection to start the car. This will require some tools like a screw driver and pliars or small wrench. Some batteries are constructed so that you can add water to them. Sometimes a battery cell goes dry and if you add water you can boost the battery power enough to get you home. This obviously requires you to have access to water. Every car emergency kit ought to include a canteen, or a couple of water bottles. Be sure to remove these from the car if the temp is going down below freezing!
2. Flat Tire-The next most common car mini-disaster seems to be the flat tire. In the last 15 years or so I have probably helped 8-10 folks with flats as well as two for my own cars. Most cars are equipped with either a spare tire or, these days, a miniature tire called a doughnut, and a jack along with a tire tool for removing the lug nuts. It would be a good idea to check your car’s spare and jack once in a while to make sure they are in working order. Every car ought to have a tire gauge as well. Wal Mart sells a very small air pump that works off of your battery with a plug in to the cigarette lighter. These nifty devices are small, lightweight and under $20.
Fix-a-Flat- You can purchase a couple of cans of fix-a-flat at Wal-Mart and carry these in your car. This stuff is cheap, just a few dollars, and will easily inflate your tire and seal the puncture, enabling you to get to where you are going without changing the tire. Keep in mind this is for small punctures, like with a nail or screw, not for blowouts. Also, when you take the tire to the shop be sure to tell them you used fix-a-flat. If you have one of the new, fancy tires that has a tire pressure management system then fix-a-flat may cause a problem. I would suggest that you keep 2 cans in your car, 1 for you and 1 for someone in need.
3. Out of Gas- I know that actual mechanical breakdowns probably occur more often than running out of gas, or did, but with gas prices soaring a lot of people are beginning to really cut it close with the gas gauge because payday is still a couple of days away. Carrying an empty plastic gas can of about 2 gallons is a very useful practice. There are a couple of difficulties with this, however. One, they are somewhat bulky and will take up quite a bit of room in the trunk. None of my vehicles even have trunks (station wagon-yeah I am old school- a minivan and a pick up). So if I ever actually put gas in my spare gas can, then put it inside my car, though emptied, it will still reek of gas. Plastic gas cans are cheap though, just a couple of bucks, and can come in really useful if you are evacuating from a coastal city due to a hurricane.
4. Stuck in the mud/ice- while this describes some Christians I know, and a church or two, I am really referring to that embarrassing situation where you get your vehicle stuck and need to be towed out. You can get some inexpensive tow ropes or straps for about $10 at Wal Mart. You have to be careful where you hook that thing up to, else you may rip off your bumper!
5. Weather and Car Disasters-a) iced up or foggy windows- Ice scraper- this is such a small item that is surprisingly overlooked by many folks here in Texas. Every winter here in the DFW area we get at least one ice or sleet storm and several days of frost. It never ceases to amaze me how many people do not carry ice scrapers. I couldn’t begin to count the number of cars I have scraped ice and sleet off of because the driver did not have a scraper. For under a buck you can really help yourself out when the weather gets bad, and it is a great opportunity to serve your neighbor as well. b) Along with the scraper you need to have some kind of a rag or towel to clean those windows off when the dew is heavy- it is a safety concern that a lot of folks ignore. c) A sun screen for your windshield is essential should you break down in the heat of summer.
6.Mechanical Breakdown- My father always carried a small tool kit in the car that included a socket wrench set, pliers, needle nose pliers, crescent wrench, some screw drivers and electrical tape. Unfortunately I did not pick up on my father’s ability to fix things, I am pretty good and breaking things however. But even for the mechanically disinclined a tool kit can be a blessing because someone who can fix your car may stop and not have the tools, but you have your tool kit, and- the problem may be solved. I would add duct tape to that tool kit besides the electrical tape.
Some people carry automotive fluids in their car. By this I mean they have a bottle or two of oil, a can of brake fluid/power steering fluid, maybe a gallon of anti-freeze. This can be a good policy if your car has certain known leaks that you constantly have to check for and add fluid to. Carrying fluids works best if you have a trunk. My son, Jeremy, has some brake fluid, oil, and anti-freeze in his trunk.
7. Getting lost while driving- Have you ever gotten lost in a strange city, taken a wrong turn or two and ended up totally confused? I never travel without maps or an atlas, but that is so old school now. There are lots of navigation aids you can buy these days from handheld GPSs to the vehicle mounted variety like TomTom:
I will likely never be able to afford TomTom, and I am so old fashioned that I prefer maps. I might eventually get a handheld GPS, we’ll see.
8. Crime Prevention Devices-Crimes can certainly be classified as an emergency. How safe is your vehicle? How safe are the personal items that are in your vehicle? How can you protect your vehicle from theft or break in? The first thing you need to do is examine where you park. Avoid parking in dark, secluded areas and try to park near secure areas. But a lot of times you simply have to park where there is a place and even nice parking garages have crime. A lot of people get car alarms. This provides the owner with a false sense of security. I have worked in security for 23 years and have had hundreds of car alarms, not one was for real. I have a dim view of car alarms, but if it makes you feel better fine. The way to go is with Lojack or Onstar. Those systems absolutely work, but are quite expensive. I drive a 1996 Mercury Sable station wagon. No self respecting car thief would ever steal a station wagon.
Do not leave a lot of stuff out in the open in your car as that can tempt someone of a criminal inclination to break in and steal. Since my station wagon has a very minimal trunk, most of my emergency equipment and survival gear is stored somewhat visibly. Same with Dawn’s mini-van.
9. Documentation- One emergency situation you need to prepare for is being stopped by the police. In my job I have walked through a parking garage and about half the vehicles had out of date safety inspections or registrations or both. Police will stop you for that and write you a ticket. Therefore, it is best to keep those things current and always have your insurance card in the glove box or handy. This comes in handy for accidents and exchanging information too.
10. Fire Safety- Cars use a flammable liquid for fuel and have extremely hot body parts. Things can go wrong with an engine and a fire can start or if you are parked off road, your exhaust system can start a grass fire underneath your vehicle. It is a good practice to always have a fire extinguisher in your car close at hand. My hunting buddy had an extinguisher in his Dodge truck and had to use it as some wiring in the back started a fire underneath the camper shell. If he hadn’t had that extinguisher he would have lost his truck and everything in the back. You can get a small extinguisher for under $25 at Wal Mart.
11. Darkness/Lights- Many emergencies occur at night so you need to have some kind of a light. Obviously you can use your vehicle lights but not if the battery is dead. Every car emergency kit needs a flashlight, some chemlights (lightsticks) and perhaps even flares. I always have a flashlight in my car and I also carry a chemlight or two. I do not currently own any flares, but I am considering obtaining some. Keep in mind that your cell phone and even wristwatch have some lighting capability, and if your car actually has a cigarette lighter, you can conceivably light a torch if truly desperate. Be sure to rotate the batteries in the flashlight once a year or so. A flashlight or flare can be a good tool to use to signal for help but the chemlights are way to weak for that.
<A Church Moment> The men of the church could hold a brief class for the young men and ladies/widows/girls about how to jump start a car or care for the other battery issues discussed, change a tire or air it up, etc. for all these little emergencies.
Summary:When you are in your vehicle you need to take practical steps to prepare to survive life’s little emergencies that are related to driving; you need an auto-emergency kit. Here is the quick list of what you need:
Spare Tire/Doughnut with jack and lug wrench
2 cans of Fix-a-Flat
Small air compressor
Ice Scraper, rag or towel, sunshade
Small tool kit
Maps or a navigation aid like TomTom or a handheld GPS
Car alarm, On Star or LoJack
Vehicle registration, safety inspection and proof of insurance
Next time I will discuss a small survival kit to carry in your car for other types of emergencies that are not directly related to the vehicle itself.