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Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/10/2006 2:48:31 PM ET 2006-07-10T18:48:31

When you stop and think about the times your vehicle has left you stranded, you’ll find that most roadside breakdowns are caused by a relatively minor problem such as being out of fuel, a leaking radiator hose, flat tire, dead battery or blown fuse. Why sit on the side of the highway waiting for an expensive tow when you could spend a few minutes and fix the problem well enough to drive to the garage?

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Simply by storing a few inexpensive tools and other items in the luggage compartment of your vehicle, you can get going again. The items listed below are basic and many of them may already be in your house or garage and take up little space in the vehicle. However, you’ll be glad for every one of them if you break down.  Here’s what every driver should have on hand:

Glove box – Apart from storing the car registration, insurance papers and owner’s manual, every glove box should contain the following: a state and local road map, penlight flashlight with new batteries, box of spare fuses and a few hand wipes. I also keep a copy of my driver’s license and AAA membership card.  Additionally, a pre-paid telephone calling card is a great idea; cell phones don’t work well everywhere.

Spare tire and jack – The number one thing to make sure you have is a properly inflated spare tire, tire jack and wrench. The location of these items will depend upon the type of vehicle you own. On trucks and SUVs for example, the spare is located under the vehicle and in some cars it is located under the hood along with the jack. Consult the owner’s manual for location and then make sure the tire is properly inflated and in good condition and that the jack works. Also, make sure you know how to use them. Practice changing a tire at home so that when it happens on the freeway, you’ll know what you are doing.

Luggage compartment – A pair of coveralls and work gloves stored in a small bag will allow you to tackle any roadside problem and keep your street clothes clean. A jar of hand cleaner and a small towel is also a good idea. Vital items for the trunk include a first-aid kit, roll of vinyl tape for emergency radiator hose and wiring repairs, spare fan belt, jumper cables or battery jumper pack for dead batteries, large flashlight with extra batteries, small hand tool kit (pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench, etc.), safety reflector, emergency road flares, gallon of coolant in case you burst a hose and an empty fuel can. (Never carry a can of fuel in the vehicle; in a collision, this could be dangerous.) A couple of bungee cords are also a good idea in case you have to fasten anything down.

Nice to have along – In addition to the basics, I also like to keep a car blanket, spare jacket, folding umbrella and hat on hand for comfort.  Additionally, a liter bottle of water can be used for drinking or to supplement the coolant in case of overheating and a few energy bars are handy just in case you are stuck for a while.

Inclement-weather box – For inclement-weather driving, I usually add a small box of extra stuff that includes a 5-lb. bag of cat litter to aid traction on slick surfaces, spare pair of warm gloves, plastic rain poncho, rubber slipovers to keep shoes dry and a ground cloth for laying over cold, wet ground.

Peter duPre has been writing about cars and car care for over 30 years. He has authored automotive technical manuals and been published in numerous automotive magazines.

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