Keep On Keepin’ On: 9 Things for Keeping Your Vehicle on the Road During a Bug Out

Posted on: February 29, 2016

If you had to rank the absolute worst times to suffer a vehicle breakdown, during a bug out might even trump wife in labor. After all, at least you could still call 911 while she’s having contractions and get an ambulance headed your way. On the other hand, calling AAA while the world is falling apart around your ears probably isn’t going to do you much good at all.

While you can’t reasonably carry with you the contents of an entire parts store and a mechanic’s garage, there are a few things that will help in many situations and get you back on the road.

There are a frightening number of vehicles on the road today that don’t have a spare tire. Is yours one of them? If you do have a spare, is it a full size or just one of those little donut spares? I highly suggest investing in a full size spare to keep in the trunk. Those little miniature spares are great for use in a pinch but if you’re bugging out, you don’t want to rely on one for any great length of time. While you’re at it, make sure you have a working jack and a lug nut wrench. Personally, I prefer the old fashioned 4 way lug nut wrenches as I can get more leverage on a stubborn nut with one, as opposed to the little wrench that usually comes with the jack. Be sure, though, that the wrench you purchase has the correct size for your lug nuts. Fix-a-Flat and similar products are great when times are normal and you can likely get to a garage within a few miles. I don’t recommend looking at them as being any sort of permanent fix, though.

Some sort of traction aid, such as cat litter or sand, will be very beneficial should you go off the road in the winter months. Tire chains also work well to keep you on the road in the ice and snow. If it is a true bug out situation, you probably don’t have to worry about being pulled over if chains are forbidden in your area.

Speaking as someone who has had to change a flat tire along the side of an interstate at 4:00AM, I can tell you from experience that a good flashlight is vitally important. Be sure to have extra batteries on hand for it as well, just in case. Alternatively, reverse the batteries in the flashlight when storing so as to prevent accidental draining. The crank powered style flashlights will do in a pinch. A headlamp would be ideal as it will keep your hands free to work.

While making calls with your cell phone during a bug out might not be feasible, there are many features of modern smartphones that might be handy, such as GPS and other mapping apps. That being the case, be sure to have a car charger for your cell phone. Keep in mind, too, that while cell service often becomes overwhelmed during emergencies, text messages can often get through when voice calls cannot.

Speaking of GPS, you should have in your glove box maps of the area. As we have no way to know ahead of time the nature of the emergency that would cause us to bug out, we cannot reliably predict whether GPS systems and satellites will still be up and running. Brush up on your map reading skills, just in case. Be sure other family members know how to read them as well if you’ll be the primary driver during a bug out.

There are several tools you will want to keep in a small tool kit. The kit should include a hammer, pliers, wrenches (both SAE and metric), and a sharp knife. Of course, no tool kit is complete without duct tape and I recommend a roll of electrical tape, too. In my kit, I also keep several nylon zip ties of varying sizes and a spool of strong wire. As someone who has had to wire up a muffler to keep it from dragging on the ground, I can tell you that an old wire hanger wouldn’t be the worst idea to have on hand as well.

I also suggest having a jug of premixed coolant and a few quarts of oil on hand. Of all the different fluids that keep your vehicle on the road, coolant and oil are the two that seem to leak most often. They are also the two that, if they get too low for too long, can cause your trip to come to a sudden stop.

Protective gear is also important. Getting back on the road is one thing, doing so while avoiding injury is even more critical. Safety goggles will help to keep debris and fluids from blinding you. Work gloves not only protect your hands but can provide traction if things are wet and slick. I like to have some sort of cushion for my knees when I’m changing a tire so I’ve added to my trunk a couple of foam pads of the sort marketed to help kids learn how to swim.

With the exception of the spare tire, which usually has an assigned home in most vehicles anyway, I’m able to store all of these items in a clothes basket I picked up at the dollar store. This keeps everything all in one place and is easy to remove from the trunk as needed.

Bear in mind, too, that having all of this stuff is one thing, knowing how to use it is another. Take the time to learn how to change a tire, check your fluids, read a map, and perform basic repairs now, rather than trying to teach yourself a crash course later.

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