By the time you read this, a gallon of gas might cost as much as a fifth of good Scotch. But we’re Americans: We love our cars, and we love driving them. A cross-country trip might be out of the question right now, but buzzing the coast or a turn through your nearest lake district is a reasonable pleasure. This little list of a dozen gear and gadgets can significantly up the fun factor and keep the driver happy.
Start with a good driving jacket. It’s the place to stash all the stuff you don’t want to cram into your pants pockets and sit on: house keys, wallet, spare sunglasses, phone and pocket knife. But don’t get outlandish.
“If you actually own a Ferrari, and wear the branded jacket, you’ll look like a tool,” says Dan Neil, the L.A. Times Pulitzer-prize winning automobile columnist. “And if you don’t own the Ferrari but wear the jacket, you’ll look like a tool.”
The Sparco City Tech Driving Jacket does the job perfectly. It works well for cool summer evenings, can be worn easily with layers for fall driving, and goes with about anything else you’ll wear. In black or gray, it’s understated, comfortable and durable.
When it’s hot, toss the Sparco jacket in the back seat along with a weekend duffle bag from Glaser Designs. You need a duffle for two reasons. One: An adult who owns a decent car (one that might get a second glance from an attractive pedestrian) should always have a decent change of clothes on hand. Two: When it comes to style, that old backpack is embarrassing your all-leather interior, six-speed roadster. Did a former Deadhead leave it there?
Speaking of your car's interior, put the XtremeMac Incharge Auto and the Case Logic AX Door Pocket Organizer in their respective places. The XtremeMac Incharge Auto power adaptor will pay for itself when you need the juice to send a critical message or find your way home using your iPhone’s GPS. The AX Organizer brings convenience and style to what would otherwise be a haphazard collection of roadmaps. (Get new maps every year, by the way.) In a pinch, it can serve as a business case for an impromptu interview or when you can’t ignore a client on your way out of town.
“In addition to any maps, always have a decent compass,” Neil says. A compass will keep you going in the main direction you want to go, even if you get messed up with the map, GPS, or detailed directions, and “a compass is great for cities that you’re not familiar with, so you can always know which way is north and orient the map.” A fine compass that fits the bill is the Silva Carabiner 9, which clips to a key ring or jacket loop with its integrated carabiner; it’s small, light, and easy to read. (If you really need a GPS system, Neil recommends the Garmin 600 series.)
If you're fond of driving at night, consider Tag Heuer's Night Vision eyewear. Designed for professional racers at Le Mans (who drive the famous 24-hour course), these yellow-tinted glasses, mounted in light, flexible frames, help correct the poor color contrasts and lack of visual depth that plague drivers in the dark. Similar to the tinting used for skeet shooter’s eyeglasses that emphasize color contrasts for greater perception of moving objects, you should see more detail from a distance with these glasses sooner than you would without them as you, the moving object, close the gap.
“I like the night-vision glasses that are out now—they really do what they're advertised to do,” Neil says. “But I find there’s been a move to light, bendy, flexy eye-wear frames. I need something that can take a licking, at least for my sunglasses. My Wayfarers are bulletproof.”
You will need the darkest shades available to withstand a blast from the Surefire U2 Ultra flashlight. Don’t test this thing on yourself—it’s one of the brightest flashlights around. The $280 price tag may seem exorbitant, but the advanced design is to hand-held illumination what the Ferrari Scuderia is to driving: a machine of incomparable performance. It’ll work for as long as there are lithium batteries, which will probably be your lifetime and beyond.
As for tool kits, listen up. Few people work on their cars anymore—new cars are too complicated and old ones take too much time. (Unless you're Dan Neil, who completely restored his beloved 1960 MGA, which he bought online.) For road trips and afternoon spins, the Leatherman Surge is all handyman power you’ll ever need. More than likely, you won’t use it on your car, but on repairs that you encounter at stops and destinations.
Finally, a few basics: The IntelligentFirstAid’s Talking Kit provides clear, concise audio instructions that you’ll hear clearly even when your heart-rate is elevated. The Accutire Racing Gauge, with an easy-to-read display and highly accurate calibration, is an essential aid to good gas mileage. You’ll use the Mechanix Original Glove mainly for changing tires, which everyone tries to do quickly (with good reason) and in their haste always scuffs or cuts their hands on jacks, the road surface, or shredded tires, all very dirty surfaces.
For driving, always have jumper cables, flares, fire-starting material, duct tape, drinking water, folding triangle reflector and maybe a few extra spark plugs and a quart of oil. And, depending on your ride, a compact fire-extinguisher.
“In the MGA, I always have a fire-extinguisher on board,” Neil says. “I never know when that car is going Johnny Torch on me.”