On a recent road trip to Northern Ontario, I was faced with a situation that I had long been worried would happen. With my three children in the back seat of the truck, and the box of the truck completely filled with “travel necessities”, we picked up a sharp piece of metal on the highway in one of the tires.
It was flat faster than you could say “call CAA”. Given the region we were in, my cell phone had given up searching for a signal a kilometer back. I’m a pretty industrious person, so changing the tire is a piece of cake… So I thought. Queue the frustration…
After completely dismantling the back seat, including car seats, toys, and crackers that had fallen on the floor, I managed to get the jack out. The spare tire was surprising simple to get out, but removing the wheel with the flat tire was like trying to pry cake from the hands of a 4 year old. I spent the better part of two hours, hammering, pushing, pulling, and trying to break it free. This prompted me to rethink what types of things I carry with me, particularly when I travel.
Keeping in mind that in most cases, you will have a phone signal, and for many people, roadside assistance, you can just as easily find yourself in a situation like mine, no phone, and left to manage on your own.
Here are a list of items I have already put in my vehicle so that this doesn’t happen again.
Appropriate Clothing – I was lucky to have my outdoor gear readily accessible without digging through bags, and unpacking the vehicle. This made life much easier, as I didn’t have an opportunity to get cold or wet. This includes (in the winter), a good coat, gloves you can work in, boots, and waterproof pants / snowpants. This came in extremely handy as I had to roll around in the snow under the truck when trying to break the wheel free.
Tools – While I would normally say take whatever tools you can get your hands on, sometimes this isn’t practical. However, working on a vehicle on the side of the highway, with all your worldly possessions in it, means you need to have some essentials on board. I would recommend a large crowbar, a small steel mallet, a proper vehicle jack (hydraulic if possible), a ratchet set, a flashlight, and jackstands.
In my case, I had to use the scrawny little scissor jack that comes with the vehicle, which didn’t give me oodles of confidence as I lay underneath, swinging a mallet at the back of the wheel and coming within precious millimeters of hitting the one thing preventing thousands of pounds from dropping on top of me. Seems like an unlikely situation? I thought so too, but I found myself in that exact spot just a few days ago. The most important thing of all of this, is to pack your vehicle so that you can easily access all of this stuff when you need it. In an article on lifehacker, there is a much more comprehensive list of tools that you could consider carrying.
Water / Food – While I was laying on the ground, contemplating my next move, my family was safe inside the vehicle, with lots to eat and drink. This was also a saving grace for me, after two hours in the cold working, to get back in the vehicle to a snack and lots of water.
Fuel – When traveling in the colder climates, I always attempt to keep the fuel tank above the half way mark. This is inconvenient, as it requires you to stop twice as much to fill up, however, if you find yourself stuck, lost, or broken down, you will thank yourself for ensuring there is enough fuel to keep the vehicle warm. This applies in the warmer months as well, as you can quickly dehydrate or overheat without air conditioning. Of course, I don’t need to tell those of you with kids, the importance of keeping them safe from the heat or cold in a stranded vehicle. This article also talks about reduced fuel economy in the cold, so you may not actually have enough fuel to get to that next service station.
In another article, the effect of a low fuel level on your vehicle in the cold is discussed. Low fuel can actually cause frozen fuel lines, not something you want to happen if you are having car troubles.
Mobile Phone Charger – Whether or not you have cell phone service, keeping a charge on your phone is critical. In my case this past week, I was able to eventually flag down a passing truck and ask if he had a phone with service that I could use. Luckily he did, but I needed my phone to get the number of the people we were now late getting to. Your mobile phone can be your lifeline, and should be kept at a full charge at all times when traveling. You never know, you may end up hiking to a high point to make the call that could save your life.
In this short clip of a show we recently watched, called “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”, you will see the agonizing story of a father and daughter who were caught in extreme conditions with a broken down vehicle. Although the father was somewhat prepared, he obviously never thought something like this could happen.
The need to prepare yourself for extreme conditions may seem like a long shot, yet every person who has been stranded would have said the same thing. It will never happen to me. If it does happen, will you be prepared?
Luke Bazely is co-founder of Driverseat Inc., a personal transportation company. www.driverseatcanada.com