post written by: Marc Chernoff

22 Tools You Should Keep in Your Car


Tools to Keep in Your Car

“Always be prepared!”  That’s the Boy Scout motto.  Most people keep their tools at home.  But if you aren’t at home, you probably drove your car to get to wherever you are.

Here are 22 useful tools you should keep in your car.

  1. 2-3 Gallons of Water – You can drink it when you’re thirsty, use it as a cleaning/rinsing agent, pour it into your car’s cooling system if it’s overheating, etc.
  2. Portable GPS – Being lost is not a fun feeling.  A GPS basically eliminates this possibility.  During a recent spring vacation to Costa Rica our Garmin GPS pretty much saved our rear ends on multiple occasions.
  3. Hand Sanitizer – Because there isn’t a sink and a bar of soap conveniently located in your car.  In my mind, hand sanitizer is a tool, a tool that prevents me from infecting my body with germs on a daily basis.  Keep yourself healthy!  Sanitize your hands regularly… especially before you eat.
  4. Multi-head Screwdriver – Take a look around.  I bet most of the manmade objects around you are being held together by screws.  Throughout your lifetime you’re going to need to tighten and loosen a whole lot of them.  And you won’t always be near your tool chest when these occasions arise.  Keep decent multi-head screwdriver with a wide assortment of screwdriver heads in your car and you’ll be prepared.
  5. Adjustable Wrench – If screws aren’t holding it together then nuts and bolts almost certainly are.  You will eventually need to adjust the bolts on office furniture, your vehicle, and other objects when you’re out and about.  A basic 3-piece adjustable wrench set should fit the bill just fine.
  6. Pliers – Your hands are not the most effective tool for gripping and maneuvering small objects.  That’s where pliers come in handy.  One set of pliers will not do the trick either. You’ll likely need a small assortment of pliers in various styles and sizes for different kinds of jobs.  At a minimum, keep a needle-nose, a heavy grooved, and a wire cutting pliers in your trunk.
  7. Hammer – The single greatest tool of all time.  The hammer has an infinite set of practical applications.  A good old 16 oz claw hammer will provide a lifetime of reliable service.
  8. Pen and Notepad – If you don’t write it down, you will forget it.  Regular note-taking is one of the most productive habits a person can practice.  Keep a pen and notepad in your car so you can jot down key ideas and information as they cross your mind.
  9. First Aid Kit – Human beings are not made of titanium.  When you or someone you care about gets injured, a basic first aid kit becomes the single most important thing you own.  And what good is a first aid kit that’s sitting at home when you’re not at home?
  10. Hands Free Set for Your Cell Phone – Why would any sane person drive one-handed while holding an odd shaped phone to their ear when they have the option to use a hands free set?
  11. Multi-Use Car Charger – Some multi-use car chargers (like this one) allow you to charge up to four devices at once.  This unit turns one auto cigarette lighter port into two, has two USB charging ports, and provides a heavy-duty 20 amp capacity.  Now you can charge your iPhone, iPod, and other electronics on the go.
  12. Prepaid Calling Card – A calling card basically allows you to call anyone, anywhere from any telephone.  They are particularly convenient when you misplace your cell phone or when you’re in an area that lacks cell service.
  13. Duct Tape – If it’s moving and it shouldn’t be, duct tape it.  Duct tape may very well be the second greatest invention after the hammer.
  14. Quality Sunglasses – Most people consider sight to be their most important sense.  Quality sunglasses protect the human eyes from being destroyed by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.  This radiation can lead to short-term and long-term ocular problems such as cataracts, blindness and various forms of eye cancer.  So wear sunglasses when you’re out in the sunlight.
  15. Work Gloves – Unfortunately, human hands are covered with fragile skin just like the rest of the body.  Sometimes you need to use your hands to accomplish a task that requires a durability threshold beyond that of your exposed skin.  This is where a rugged set of work gloves saves you from a few days worth of blistering agony.
  16. Wind-up LED Flashlight – What happens if your car stalls at night on a dark road?  What happens if you need to search for something in a dark utility closet at work?  Always keep a wind-up LED flashlight (no batteries required) in your automobile.
  17. Rubber Bands – Rubber bands are simple, functional and versatile.  There is an endless list of practical uses for a rubber band.
  18. USB Flash Drive – One of the most practical accessories for a computer.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve used my 16 gig flash drive to save some data from someone else’s system.  A USB flash drive is an essential tool you always need to have on you.
  19. Small Fire Extinguisher – This one is a no-brainer.  Completely useless until the moment the sh*t hits the fan and the world around you is burning to the ground.  If you don’t keep a fire extinguisher handy, you’re being foolishly optimistic.
  20. Leatherman – This is the all-in-one multi-tool you should never leave home without.  These little tools can handle a plethora of different jobs.  I personally own the Leatherman 830039 and I love it.
  21. Bungee Cords – Tie things down, wrap things together… Bungee cords are like giant rubber bands with hooks.  They’re darn practical to have out on the road when you need them!
  22. Spare Credit Card and Cash – Let’s go back to the Boy Scout motto again: “Always be prepared.”  If you lose your wallet when you’re out and about, it’s always nice to have a back-up plan.

While I’m sure this list could be expanded, these 22 tools are the tools I keep in my car.  And each of them has served me well over the years, saving me lots of frustration in my moments of need.

Photo by: Viernest

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61 Comments

  • Great post, you’d be surprised how many people have none of these things in their car including me. One thing you left out JUMPER CABLES

  • Thanks, I’m missing work gloves, a first aid kit and duct tape right now. Will change that!

  • Hey Faramarz, I was thinking the same thing… jumper cables! When I was in school, sometimes I was stupid and left the lights open or what not. People who had jumpers cables were life-savers.

    Thanks Marc for these tips. These are some very useful items that you mentioned for the car driver, especially if they go camping or traveling somewhere far away.

  • Hi Marc,
    Not necessarily a tool but I keep hand wipes in my car. You know, the type that come in the plastic cylindrical containers where the wipes come out the top. I use them often to clean off my hands and sometimes to clean off the steering wheel if it gets sticky. They fit easily in my door pocket that has the bump out for a water bottle.
    I also make sure I keep plenty of Windex or any type of glass cleaner and some clean cloths for cleaning the windshield. If you have streaks on the inside of your windshield and the sun hits those streaks, it can really be blinding. I am a stickler for clean windows.
    I liked your list. Great info.

    Best,
    Bob

  • This is a really good list. But I have to disagree on the credit card. That’s just one more thing to worry about when your car gets stolen. Cash is fine, just don’t put more in the car than you can stand to lose, but the credit card is a really bad idea.

  • nice post, i just fear to leave a credit card in my car because it can be stolen , btw, where do you park your car :))))

  • great article! if only all the cars were like that!people will have less problems. it’s the dream of any burglar you have there:p

  • […] would you throw into an Ultimate Preparedness Car Kit? Share your packing list in the comments. 22 Tools You Should Keep in Your Car [Marc and Angel Hack […]

  • Good list. I would add a blanket. A thick wool blanket is my choice for being trapped in a snow drift during a blizzard, or beating a fire to death.

  • Hmmm…I need to stock up

  • Some of these make sense, others just seem like a lot of junk to have in the car.
    Water is good, but if you live in a city or decent-sized town, you don’t really need to keep 3 gallons in the trunk.
    And do you need a screwdriver/pliers/hammer/wrench AND a Leatherman? The Leatherman has exchangeable screwdriver heads and pliers built in, and can probably double as a hammer in a pinch (so can a rock - the first hammer!).
    A GPS is a convenience, but certainly not essential.
    The multi-charger adapter is not really necessary. How many gadgets do you need in your car?! You get in, you drive places!
    The hands-free set should be eliminated. If you get a call while you’re driving, pull over and answer or call back when you stop.

    And you missed the jumper cables! Not to mention spare tire/jack/tire wrench.

    My essentials would include some of these things, though. First aid kit, even a very basic one, is good to have. Duct tape fixes everything. Cell phone. Spare oil. Condoms.

  • so, where do you store all of that? In a container in your trunk? Doesn’t it take up a lot of room?

  • Great list. As the commenter above me said, I’d add jumper cables. I’d also add two more things: tire pressure gauge and a good old fashion map (because its batteries won’t die). Depending on where you live (I’m in FL, so not me) you’d probably also want an ice scraper.

  • […] would you throw into an Ultimate Preparedness Car Kit? Share your packing list in the comments. 22 Tools You Should Keep in Your Car [Marc and Angel Hack Life] :Angel, Anyone, area, assortment, Blog, box, calling, car, […]

  • Add:

    Lighter
    Condoms
    Food
    Lotion

  • zip ties > rubber bands

  • Thanks for all the additions, everyone. ;-) Jumper cables… How’d I forget that?

    ;-)

  • I keep my jumper cables wrapped around the spare tire in the trunk, that way I’ve always got them, but they are also out of the way.

  • My additions:

    Coveralls (I wear dress clothes to work that I don’t want to ruin if I have to work on my car.)
    Work shoes/boots (Ditto for my dress shoes.)
    Folding shovel (Got stuck once on a steep, gravel driveway. This got me out.)
    Jumper cables
    Strong rope or cable (Just in case you need to be towed out of a ditch)
    Light sticks (Let’s other know if you are stalled on the side of the road and your battery’s shot.)
    Maps (Just in case your GPS malfunctions.)
    Ice Scraper (If you live where it’s cold enough.)
    Tire pressure gauge

    Deletions:

    Multi-head screwdriver (Already part of my multi-tool)
    Pliers (Also part of my multi-tool)
    USB Flash Drive (Not something I’d need in my idea of an emergency)

    The credit card is “iffy”, but I also carry a handgun in my car (which I am properly licensed to have), so if someone breaks in, losing my credit card may be the least of my worries.

  • This is so dependent on so many factors, that I don’t know if a one size fits all list is a good idea. For example, in the winter in Northern Utah (or other snowy location), you would definitely add tire chains, a shovel, a bag of salt/sand, cables for pulling the car out of that ditch, blanket, water, flares, extra food, ice scraper/brush, gloves, boots, chemical warmers, and possibly even fire starting gear (although if you were resourceful, you can start one with parts salvaged from the car). In the summer in Southern Utah (or other desert locations), you would add extra gas, LOTS more water, food, a tarp or other portable shelter, and again, fire starting gear. This might sound a bit too “Survivorman”, but in reality, people get stranded all the time in the Western US, with no cell phone coverage, no GPS signal (stuck in a canyon), and no materials to survive. Think about James Kim and his family a few winters back in Oregon. If you’ve lived in the East Coast (like I did before I moved out here), you have no idea how remote the West is until you’re in trouble.

    And that’s the other thing missing here: knowledge. What good are tools when most people couldn’t tell the difference between the master brake cylinder and the air conditioning compressor? Or don’t know where to put the oil, or put power steering fluid into the engine oil port? And if you become too reliant on technologies like GPS or cell phones, what happens when you are stuck in a ditch in a remote mountain canyon in the winter, with no GPS or cell signal?

    This wasn’t meant to be a rant, but just a reminder that over reliance on equipment can be deadly without the knowledge to back it up.

    BTW, I only drive stick shifts when I can (which is becoming difficult to do, just because manufacturers don’t offer as many), which alleviates the need for jumper cables and more importantly, another car to hook those jumper cables to.

  • Christian Williams
    September 14th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Instead of Duct tape, use Gaffers tape: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaffer_tape

    It is admittedly a lot more expensive, but it sticks well and looks better, can be removed and re-stuck and usually doesn’t ruin surfaces.

  • Yes to the jumper cables… and… FLARES!!!

    Holy smokes, the times I have come over a hill at night to almost nail a car in front of me that was disabled for some reason. This gets particularly nasty on the freeway, so I usually just jump out, ignite a flare, grab a few spares, and run to wave off oncoming cars. One time I was unable to avoid a railroad tie that had fallen across the road, and my front tires were blown and I had to be towed, three more had this happen to them before I ran out and flared the road before moving it out of the way. Right in the middle of a 4 lane freeway…

  • Great list!

    Only thing I see missing is a gun. It’s not a tool I would *leave* in the car but it’s nice to have while traveling in your vehicle. When you leave the vehicle the firearm should remain on your person.

  • How about matches and a candle? I have heard that a burning candle will not let you freeze. Crack a window however.

    On the lighter side, how about an instant car. You know the kind, you just add water!!!

    Silly Bill

  • I’ve always kept tons of emergency stuff in my car but many you listed I wouldn’t because I wouldn’t use them or they weigh too much. Tools are useless unless you know how to use them so I just have a couple. You shouldn’t weigh down your car with much. Instead I keep things I actually truly can use such as an air compressor, Emergency Window Punch, jumper cables, jacket, extra clothes, mini toiletries (toothbrush, deodorant, etc.), a cooler bag (which I often use), emergency kit, hand sanitizer, scrunchie & other basics. Everything takes up very little room.

  • Oh and flashlight with emergency lights.

  • Quick Clot, Celox, or Combat Gauze.
    Rescue Me Tool.
    Streamlight flashlight.
    Red Bull
    Oatmeal.

  • Well, this was a bit different than your usual but I loved it anyway. All of your articles are so insanely useful! :-)

  • Add:

    Tire sealant/inflator canisters. These have saved me having to change a tire under less than ideal conditions…

  • Good list but good luck on fitting all that in the new downsized “smart cars.”

  • I would add a disposable camera to the list. It is very useful for documenting that fender bender. And on the rare chance you have a bigfoot sighting you can prove it.

  • A tarp of some kind. An old shower curtain. Useful if you have to change a tire and the pavement is wet.

  • Wow this is GREAT. I’m going to print this list out. As I am such an advocate of being prepared when possible. If nothing goes wrong great. It if does, I’m all set. If winter, I would add an old down sleeping bag, waterproof walking shoes/boots, extra gloves, wool hat and warm coat and a survival candle. In winter on candle in a tin with only one window cracked a couple of mils can keep the car warm if you are stranded in a storm. Especially for woman as they often go to functions in heels, dresses and dress coat — not good if stranded in winter. Also some energy bars. And a sheet of plastic to lay on ground if you have get under car.

    Oh this is just a fun post. :))
    Hugs to you both,
    Robin

  • Marc,

    Great tips, I agree with most of them. GPS system and cash/credit cards in car are two things I am not so sure about, why? I have used GPS system in past, and it is not so great with new roads, new development, (even with new software download), GPS system does not do much well in remote area, where signal might be a problem. Good old style map is always handy and more reliable on certain times.

    Cash and creditcards in car, (even in car dashboard with lock) is thief magnet, I probably would carry it in purse/wallet instead.

  • Another essential tool is a 5/16″ nut driver. This is the size that fits the hose clamps that hold on the many hoses under your hood. When a hose blows out, which one eventually will, it’s nice to be able to take it off so you can match it at the parts store. A very easy repair with the nut driver, and almost impossible without.

  • Marc,

    You seem a bit to be on the generalizing side in my way of thinkin’ anyways. Sure having a lot of tools available can make a person feeling safe, very safe in any adversity. But the most important question to ask is: “Is the person with that huge amount of tools and handy equipment KNOWLEDGEABLE and SAVVY enough to be able to use what’s available right now and then?

    I would think and be of the opinion of that it all depends onto when and where one is travelling. Like Andrew said “Depending on where you live’’ and might I add “where one wants to travel and in what season” what’s the use of carrying so many helpful articles that take so much space and add so much weight to rumble around when a little less would do the job perfectly well? And we all know that dead weight cuts down the useful MPG to ANY vehicle’s fuel consumption. So the lighter on the road, the lesser our fuel bill, and the more we will be happy!

    Why would one tote around snow traction equipment in Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico… for a just-in-case situation? Same goes for those living in northern climates in winter time and leaving home for a long distance travel without a shovel. In this case as in many others, one size doesn’t fit all. But I’ll agree with you: there some “few” essentials items (but not 22, never, ever!) that anyone shouldn’t leave home without depending on season, and area(s) to go through.

    To each his own and let experience be the guide of our better actions and judgment when the situation arises. As in baseball, one just can’t stretch his leg/foot long enough to cover first and third bases: it’s all a matter of priority… and it’s up to the individual to decide what’s best to his/her survival !! No one else can decide what’s best for you and impose that choice upon to you. One has to be its own master! Anything else is slavery!

  • I would add a list of a few phone #’s of people who could help out in a jam. If for some reason you forgot your phone or it died, that little piece of paper could come in handy. Great list, guys!

  • Anyone mention a two gallon container of gas/diesel? You know if you are in the middle of nowhere and you run out? I always keep that in my trunk and has saved my butt on long trips a couple of times!

  • Tools mentioned could save your life. Others that stop to help may not have tools. Keep 5- 10 candles and a holder to prevent a fire. Two down bags a must, at least in northern states. Water also a must, dehydration serious matter. Choclate bars several.

  • Duct tape solves everything.

    Everything.

    If duct tape doesn’t solve the problem, you just haven’t used enough. :)

    Per

  • Telephone book.
    I get so many these days, and if I want to order “take out” I have the number, plus any other numbers you may need.

  • Great list. I would add only three things: a portable battery charger thingy (because sometimes there’s no other cars around to give you a jump..) a handful of zip ties (the heavy duty ones) and a couple of those heavy duty contractor trash bags. One of the latter can double as a tarp if you ever need to crawl under the car.

    When my ex and I got divorced, the only thing I wanted that was “his” was his old Leatherman tool. He was nice and gave it to me (after buying himself a new one, of course.) It’s been a lot more useful than he ever was. :-)

  • Id add the following:
    Emergency foil / mylar blankets ( equal to the number of passengers) cost next to nothing and save lives
    Disposable poncho
    electric tyre Pump / emergency combo light
    small socket set (to fit battery terminals etc)
    550 parachute cord
    Zip ties
    Car Fuse set (if your lights go out your screwed at night)
    Condoms (fun and games / water storage in emergency)

  • […] 22 Tools You Should Keep in Your Car […]

  • On the credit card issue I have a simple resolution: Pre-paid Visa. Put enough on it to get you out of a jam, and not so much you would be killing yourself to lose it. It’s great if you forget/lose your wallet and are out of gas, too.

  • I always carry Zip Ties.. Use them all the time!

  • I agree on the credit card not being a good idea. We just had a string of car break-ins and cards were among the missing items. As someone who works on his own vehicle, I carry all fluids (oil, antifreeze and water in my trunk along with all of my tools (sockets, wrenches, etc)). An “all-in-one” household toolkit will give you most of the listed tools in a nice carrying case. The GPS is fine as long as it is removed from the window. I see way too many cars parked overnight with the whole GPS system still attached. I remove my mount and wipe off the “ring” impression. To be honest, the rubber band list didn’t really yield any vehicle-related dilemmas. As for the condoms, some people are allergic to latex and the other types aren’t really flexible/nonporous. Hand sanitizer is okay as long as your hands aren’t visibly soiled and not a substitute for hand washing. I keep both the sanitizer and USB drive on my person rather than in my vehicle. I also carry an empty gas can just in case. The list above is a nice start, although not complete imho…

  • I’d add a 4-way wrench and a portable floor jack. The last thing I want when I have a tire blow out is to have to fidget with a crappy scissor jack and a lug wrench that’s too short to get the needed leverage to loosen the lugnuts.

  • As for water, distilled water is best for any application in your car since it shouldn’t have any minerals in it. Many manuals for modern cooling systems specifically state that you should only add/mix distilled water to the coolant.

  • Road Flares - hard to find, but essential. I have already come across one fresh accident at night where all the affected cars had either lost all their lights or had lost their electrics, so they were totally dark and invisible. I deployed my stock of road flares and saved three people from being killed by traffic that could not see the wreck.

    Reflector safety vest - the kind of vest construction workers wear, except get one with reflective ability. Mine glows like the sun, and saved MY life while I was tending to the above mentioned wreck. Don’t bother with the simple orange vests: get one with reflective tape on it. Walmart now carries some very affordably. Such a vest should be worn any time you are outside your car on the side of a road. Do NOT depend on people to just see you. Make them see you.

    Million candle power spotlight - An LED windup light is great, but get an inexpensive 12v million candle spotlight that either has it’s own battery or plugs in the cigar lighter. Why? You will need that much power to signal for help or to get the attention of oncoming cars. In the wreck mentioned above, I used my light to aim right at the oncoming cars and made damn well sure they could see there was a problem.

    12-volt air pump - Flat or low tires can happen anywhere. Use the fix-a-flat to seal it and an air pump to bring it up to pressure. A basic tire pump costs under $20 and is small enough to fit in the spare tire well of most cars. Don’t count on finding a gas station air pump. Half of them don’t work, and odds are you won’t have quarters anyway, or it will be 4am and the station pump will be off or broken. Carry your own air.

    Fire Extinguisher - mandatory in both of my cars, along with first aid kit, basic tools, jumper cables, gloves, flares, etc.

    I also carry a compass, handheld ham radio and repeater directory, magmount antenna for the radio, usually also carry a full-power mobile radio as well, cellphone plus spare battery (iPhone users, get an external spare battery), and of course the GPS.

    If travel involves any area with bears, a firearm is highly recommended if legally allowed in your area. You’re not trying to hunt it. You are trying to keep it from killing you. Know how to legally and safely use any weapons you carry.

  • Don’t forget jumper cables, a small air pump for the tires - powered through vehicle’s accessory plug-in, a warm blanket if the weather’s cold. A battery booster pack or spare battery might be good too. If going on long car trips, bring ready made food items along, you can even bring a small pan and a compact outdoor gas burner like Coleman makes.

  • Hand Gun

  • Some spare condoms might come in handy.

  • Hi Marc,

    I recently started reading your posts and really find them great! Please do keep the great work rolling! All your articles are very profound in thought and extremely resourceful.

    Regarding this article, I found this really awesome and thoughtful. Don’t you think umbrellas / rain-coats, tissues, towels, empty plastic bags / ziplocs, swiss knives would also fit the bill here?

    Thanks,
    andy sam

  • That’s a lot of things to keep in car, I definitely learned something new today.

  • People keep mentioning jacks and wheel wrenches. Don’t American cars come with these as standard?

  • Ummm, what about jumper cables??? SUPER important so that you can just ask somebody to do a quick jumpstart for you, instead of waiting for someone with jumper cables to show up. :/

  • VagabondCyclist
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:23 am

    As with any list of essentials, you can change it to fit your particular needs. The important thing is that you not leave out something because you think the chances of needing it are slim to nil–which is that one chance that kills you or at least makes you suffer a hell of a lot. Fact is, you could be in the middle of New York City during a major snow storm or on your way to grandma’s house for thanks giving, you’re car could get buried, and the city is simply too busy to get to you until morning. You could literally be camping out in your car, in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, overnight.

    As an avid cyclist and outdoor guy who just bought his first car ever last year, I thought of a few things not mentioned in the article.

    If you’re going on a long road trip or if you live in a rural area, bring some kind of food which can stay in the car a long time without going bad. My favorite is Clif Bars. I always take at least two with me on the bike and keep one or two in the car, as well as of course when I’m hiking or something. Unlike most sports bars, these are real gut filling food and come in real food flavors.

    I also put four emergency mylar sleeping bags in my Honda Element. I’ve got four seats, therefore four emergency blankets.

    Suppose the battery dies or the car just plain wont start for some reason. If you’re really stranded, you need some way to start a fire, so at least bring a box of wooden matches if not a magnesium fire starter.

    And I’m wondering what ever happened to road flares. When I was a little kid, any car I ever got in had road flares in the trunk. Now they sell LED blinkers you can use, but I say stick with the good old fashion, multi-use road flare. After all, a road flare never has a dead battery.

    Glow sticks. Most last 8 to 12 hours–good for all night. Those huge ones they use in the movies only last about 5 minutes by the way.

  • Items I would include:

    Tool wrap. (Holding Most useful wrenches for your car)
    Small socket set with same is alternative also.
    screwdriver flat & Philips
    DuckTape
    small rope
    jumper cables
    Fire extinguisher (especially if you can find 1 that doesn’t need to be replaced yearly)
    led signal flare.
    A compass and a paper map or laminated map.
    AAA Membership isn’t bad either.

    Also some dried meals come in handy if your stranded

  • This was a great article but I agree that jumper cables are essential. Actually, having a credit card is a great idea because you might lose your wallet and need a towing service on the same night. That’s a pretty penny and I’m not sure if people will keep this much cash in their cars. If your car is stolen, one of the first things you need to do is call your credit card company and cancel the card - one of the easier calls you’ll make.

  • I’d say a small shovel should be on your list, especially during the winter months. This might look suspicious if you’re ever pulled over by the cops and you have a hammer, shovel, and duct tape in your trunk, but at least you’ll be prepared for anything. Also, a CB radio, inactive cell phone (which will still dial 911), and road hazard markers are good investments.

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