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Wrenching Tips: Road Trip Tool Kit

Scott Ith July 17, 2012 Hooniverse 101, Wrenching Tips 61 Comments

Tim agreed to let me have a crack at his excellent Wrenching Tips series.  Today, I’ll address those tools I always hope to not use – the road trip tool kit.  I don’t have enough tools or money to have a complete road trip tool kit assembled and at the ready, so I assemble and disassemble it each time I head out.  For that, I usually use these basic guidelines.

You can accomplish some impressive stuff on the side of the road if need be.  In this case, the pair of locking pliers held my thermostat housing together for about 700 miles after I broke off one of the bolts. The wire tie was there to catch them if they decided to fall off during the drive. 

There are those tools that, even though you only use them once in a blue moon, happen to perfectly work for some oddball squeeze or difficult to reach job. Don’t try to take all of those with you.  No, you need to assemble the basics here.  Those tools that are most likely to help get you out of a bind. 

There is a list at the bottom of this post, but I will point out a couple of these items here: 

1, The Harbor Freight extendable 1/2″ ratchet is a favorite tool of mine.  Extended, it is plenty long to act as a breaker bar for lug nuts and the like.  Collapsed, it fits in the portable tool box. All for only $15.
2, A small bottle jack is so much easier to use than most jacks vehicles are equipped with these days. Some new cars don’t have a jack at all.
3, Needlenose pliers.  It seems that every job in the history of mankind includes a use for needlenose. 

4, Another extendable ratchet from Harbor Freight ($13).  This one has both 3/8″ and 1/4″ drive.  I am not getting paid by HF, but I will say that these ratchets are among the most frequently used tools I own.
5, Always bring a long and a short extension.  I usually take a universal joint as well. 
6, Most cars are either standard or metric, so I usually go with one or the other according to what I am driving on that trip.  

  I have checked this tool box for two separate insane fly-and-drives – The TSA loves me.

7, Bailing wire is useful for many things.  (I once used it to jimmy open the door of a ’57 Nomad the guy had locked his keys in.  Got a big kiss on the cheek from that guy – not that I wanted it, but I’ll never forget it.)

On to the list:

  • Hammer
  • Drift
  • Pry bar
  • Locking pliers (large and small)
  • Channellock pliers
  • Diagonal pliers (dykes)
  • Needlenose pliers
  • 1/2″ (extendable) ratchet
  • 1/2″ drive sockets 9/16″ to 7/8″ (or 13-21 mm)
  • 1/2″ drive extension
  • Bottle jack
  • Allen wrench set (metric or standard)
  • Knife
  • Screwdrivers: Flat and Phillips, long and short
  • Ratcheting screwdriver (optional)
  • 3/8″ (extendable) ratchet
  • 3/8″ deep sockets 3/8″ to 13/16″ (or 10-21 mm)
  • 3/8″ shallow sockets3/8″ to 13/16″ (or 10-21 mm)
  • 3/8″ short extension
  • 3/8″ long extension
  • 3/8″ universal drive
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Box/open end combo wrench set 3/8″ to 13/16″ (or 10-21 mm)
  • Flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • Duct tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Rag
  • Bailing wire
  • Latex or Nitrile gloves
  • Hose pick (not pictured)
  • (Added from comments) Zip ties
  • (Added from comments) $.99 disposable poncho
  • (Added from comments) Spool of automotive wire, alligator clips
  • (Added from comments) Test light
  • (Added from comments) Volt-Ohm Meter

Additionally, I always like to throw in a fire extinguisher.  They are cheap insurance against potential catastrophic failure. 

This is the list I use when I head out.  I am sure there are other tools that would be useful.  If you see anything I have left out, drop them in the comments and I’ll add them for future reference. 


Scott Ith is an Associate Editor with Hooniverse.com, but he also contributes to his own site NeedThatCar.com.  Head over there for more automotive shenanigans.

  • I also love the HF extendable ratchets.

    I bought one of HF's $30 tool sets that comes in a carrying case with drawers as my road trip tool kit. Yeah, the tools are cheap, and I wouldn't rely on them for regular duty, but they're great to throw in the car for a junkyard run. I wouldn't feel bad at all if I lost any of them.

    • I might pick one up myself

      • Yeah, it's a good value, especially because it comes in a self contained carrying case with drawers.

    • Stanley and Husky tools have a similar ratchet of slightly better quality.

      • Stanley and Husky tools have *.* of slightly better quality.

        • +1 for " *.* " reference.

        • M44Power

          Won't disagree with that at all. However, at any given point in time, I am either broke or cheap or both. So my normal wrenching tools are quality brands, but the stuff in the tool bag in my trunk mainly came from Harbor Freight.

          • Oh I'm with ya, see above. It helps that HF is smack dab between my work and home so it's the easiest place to buy tools.

            • M44Power

              I might have mentioned this in a previous wrenching tip, but Garage Journal's forum has a huge HF pass/fail thread. Worth checking out.

  • Plecostomus

    now if we could just update this with a version for motorcycles for 2-Wheel Tuesday

    • send in your thoughts and we just might dothat

      • Plecostomus

        If you own a metric motorcycle, the following are ideal to carry with you:

        A 10mm, 11mm, 12mm, 13mm and 14mm (in whatever form you want/can fit)
        A Torx T-20, T-25, T-27, T-30 and T-40 (Use in a combo bit driver set for space savings
        Flat Head Screwdriver
        Phillips Head Screwdriver
        Needle Nose Pliers
        Vice Grips
        Hose Clamps
        Spare Fuses
        Spare Bulbs
        Electrical Tape, A bit of wire
        Spare Oil
        ZIP TIES

        And if you regularly see your lady and like keeping clean en route to wherever, a cardless package of gloves.

        All of this can easily fit into a backpack, and with some creativity, you can even fit it into that space under the seat.

        I keep most of this list on my person when I'm riding either in a backpack, the saddlebags, or in that barely-large-enough-for-tools space under the seat.

        Jumper cables are a terrible idea because it's too easy to fry a bike's electrical system with a car battery… if jumping a bike from a car, the car should never be running during. and even then…

        Any other 2-wheelers want to chime in with your toolkits?

        • tiberiusẅisë

          A good place to start is to take the tool kit that came with the bike and replace all the wrenches and screwdriver sizes with quality pieces.

        • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

          LD rider toolkit:

          compact, inexpensive, lighter socket-driven tire pump
          a tire plug gun (I'm serious, never used mine, but I had it on board)
          whatever it had on board, originally…likely a cheap flat/Phillips, and a small selection of stamped metal 'wrenches', but only used as backup; add a second copy of everything in there, but quality items
          a wiring diagram for whatever you've added
          a small multi-meter and electrical tape
          a basic first-aid kit which you've relocated to larger, better container, along with significant additions…don't overlook the usefulness of 'sanitary napkins' and tape
          yeah, Zip-Ties
          a Leatherman, or similar, high-quality device

          "Oil"? What, Harley owner?


        • sporty88au

          Sounds like a good start. You can probably just add to this to take care of any idiosyncrasies for your make/model; eg. add an 8mm and a 12mm allen key for most 90's Kawasakis (for the eccentric chain adjusters – IIRC, some Hinckley Triumphs have the same type of adjusters too, but I'm not sure of the sizes on them).

  • Jeff, you better be taking notes.

    Jumper cables have seen more use in the past month than the previous 15 years of my driving life. Solar storms or something played havoc with every car battery in the family.

  • My Alfa's trunk kit is very similar to this, but not in a box. I wrap them in a blanket, with an old towel thrown in for good measure, and close everything up with a bungee. Then I have a ground cloth and something to wipe off with or grab a hot rad cap/hose with.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      I have some in a box as well. The cardboard is useful, rip the box up, as a place to put parts, tools, and (I learned this from here!) skooch around on on the ground.

  • This is oddly applicable to Jeff's upcoming insano-roadie isn't it. I hadn't even thought of that.

    • jeepjeff

      I thought they were related.

  • Sky_Render

    Interior trim removal tools are ridiculously handy. They're like mini prybars, and I've used mine all the time.

    <img src="http://htsmall.rickscamaros.com/assets/rfg/images/size/265×265/sku/HW-1.jpg"/&gt;

  • topdeadcentre

    OMG, duh, all you need is a working cellphone and daddy's credit card!

    • JayP2112

      I was going to say that in my non-hoon voice.

      But dang, there are times where I can't fix what's broken and random charity in today's society is lacking. I've been surprised but you gotta be careful esp with a pretty mouth like mine.

      • cheapthrills

        It's true. Since the advent of cell phones, no one stops to help out people broken down on the side of the road.

        • Deartháir

          Except me. I probably stop once a week if I see someone who looks unequipped to handle the dilemma they've found themselves in.

          • JayP2112

            Good for you.
            Most people are hung up on getting to where they're going. Me included.

            You've inspired me. I'm going to start looking if I can help folks. Except if their mini spare is in shreds. They shoulda had that real tire fixed by now.

        • Van_Sarockin

          I had car trouble a months ago, just a few miles from home. I was shocked at all the folks who stopped and asked if I needed help or a push or whatever. I'd already called AAA, but was really touched. Turned out to be a failed crank position sensor, so I doubt anyone would have been able to pull of that fix on the fly.

          And I'll offer folks a jump start or help them change a tire or something, if the trouble is pretty obvious.

          What really steams my goat, is when state police roll right past someone who clearly needs help with a flat or overheated radiator or something, on their way to write that easy speeding ticket, or more likely, hustling down to the donut shop.

          • Unfortunately many departments have mandates to not help motorists in those situations. Not sure why though.

      • topdeadcentre

        That *was* in my non-hoon voice.. 🙂

  • You forgot zip ties!!! These are the modern replacement for bailing wire for all but high heat applications.

    As for the jumper cables, get the biggest thickest ones you can find. The little thin ones are about useless if you have a totally dead V-8.

    -A 40mm ammo can makes a great tool box.

    -Might also add a can of WD-40 it works as a starting fluid, penetrating oil, and cleaner all in one (not really good at any of those, but better than nothing).
    -I've also added a bottle of the green slime tire repair to most of my cars.
    -A cheap 12V compressor is good too.
    – A 99 cent disposable poncho is great if you break down when it is raining or just need something to keep a little bit of the grease off.
    -If your car uses Torx screws a Torx driver.

    • OA5599

      Probably leave out the WD-40 on the airline portion of a fly-and-drive, unless you don't care if the TSA holds your toolbox hostage.

      • A little WD-40 may make the cavity search a bit less stressful.

    • njhoon

      2nd the poncho, been there and it helps. Other uses; good for laying on the ground for sliding under the car, a lot are bright yellow(ish) which improve your visibility to other motorists.

    • For the high heat items, stainless steel zip ties are great, and they can also cut cheese.

  • If you're Harrell, you might add a spare box of food pellets. Sometimes the gerbils do manage to make it to the top of the wheel and grab the treat.

    • He probably also has to carry Whitworth and fractional metric wrenches too.
      The Gerbil Wheel is held on by a 10 and 11/32 mm 7-sided nut.

      • Plecostomus

        what asshole came up with fractional METRIC wrenches?

        I specifically use the metric system so I don't have to sit down and do math to figure out whether the size is larger or smaller using a notepad like I do with "standard" sizes… ugh. Fractions are evil.

        • I doubt such a thing really exists, but if it did it would be used on small French cars with the styling of a utility shed and a stone friction drive.

      • Just remember – the passenger side is left-hand threaded.

        • I'm beginning to think you all may know a little too much about my vehicles.

        • Its French, the front wheels are left-hand threaded, the back ones right hand threaded.

  • sudden1

    Scott, Excellent! And using a zip tie to save your vise grips was classic. You've got the electrical tape, but I add a spool of automotive wiring and small alligator clips. That way you can power up anything directly from the battery. i.e. coil , lights, wipers, fuel pumps etc..

  • OA5599

    Ha. It looks like I called it. http://hooniverse.com/2012/07/17/datsun-drive-mee

    I disagree about sticking to either standard or metric sizes. There are a number of cars that were built with both types of fasteners (a couple of which are in my driveway), and even something made in the 50's might have had a few parts "upgraded" to whatever a previous owner found convenient.

    Add to the list: Test light, spare fuses, magnetic bit screwdriver with common non-Philips, non-slotted bits (Torx, clutch head, etc.), hand cleaner (I know you said gloves, but sometimes we tend to jump in to solve the problem first, then worry about staying clean).

    • Pretty much any American car from about 1975 to present will have some bastardized mix of metric and standard parts. I haven't wrenched on it yet, but I would be really surprised if some of the parts on the 4.3L V-6 in my 2011 Silverado weren't standard/non-metric.

      • Frickin' Chryslers are the masters of this bastardization of all that is pure and holy.

      • OA5599

        The 4.3L 90 degree Chevy V-6 architecture dates back to Malaise era V-6 engines, which, in turn are based on 50's era mouse motors minus a pair of cylinders. If you ever need to open that engine up, have some SAE tools ready.

        • That's one of the few reasons I don't regret getting the 4.3L. I figure that in 60 years or so they have gotten the bugs worked out of it. That and after a cracked head on a BMW S52 I find the all iron motor comforting.

    • Van_Sarockin

      That's why I always pack both the English and the metric Crescent Wrenches.

      • I have a couple of older ones that are also perfectly matched to rounded nuts.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Really good list that's really pared back to the essentials. I favor traveling with a couple of hundred pounds of extra steel – that is usually sufficient to intimidate the car into behaving until we get to our destination. I've had brake pads wear to the backing plates, and a shift linkage disintegrate just as I've pulled in the driveway. But once I forgot to pack baling wire or some coat hangers, and had to sacrifice an electric charging cord to wire up my collapsed exhaust pipe on the last half of a trip home.

    I'd also recommend some electrical devices – at least a continuity tester – and better a VOM meter, and perhaps a small selection of essential spares, like light bulbs, fuses, rubber hose, radiator hose, stop leak, flat flate, gas can, water bottle, oil, permatex, loctite, grease… Of course, much of your kit ought to depend on where you're going and what your vehicle is like, YMMV.

  • CherokeeOwner

    Regarding jacks: what about a scissor jack? I imagine it'd weigh less than a bottle jack and you wouldn't have to worry about leaks or the freak puncture. Or are those more trouble than they're worth?

    • I just don't like scissor jacks personally. They are lighter, but not much. Of course, it's all preference, that's why I go with the tried and true bottle jack – because I trust it.

      • I've got room for a small floor jack in my truck. A few pieces of scrap lumber 4×4 2×4 etc for bracing the jack are helpful as well.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I had a basement storage bay in our 40' motorcoach dedicated to only tools/parts when we traveled every summer, sometimes well into the autumn, for four years.

    Besides two decent-size tool boxes, I also carried both a bottle jack, for the coach (10 ton capacity), and a small floor jack, for the toad.

    Toad = towed car

    Plus, a creeper. Yeah, it was like cheating, but all this stuff saw much more use than it should have, almost exclusively repairing the towed car. Changed grenaded rear diff three times, a seized LR drum brake, in an Alaska campground, once, and countless other 'little things. I remember having to use solder and the propane torch I carried to repair the soldering gun, so I could repair the hydraulic jack connectors. Granted, the soldering gun was likely older than I, but still..

    A surprisingly useful item…a sealed package of handi-wipes, or whatever they're called, so you can get at least some of the grease/dirt off you before touching the interior.

  • 76Mini

    Having a mini equals a mini sized toolkit/box, one that big would take up half my trunk.
    I bought an ex Canadian Military (we have one, who knew?) ammo box for 12 bucks, it fits into one of the rear passenger storage wells.
    (don't know how to post a picture on this comment system; http://jeepdraw.com/images/jeepdraw/GPW_in_Detail… to show what I mean.)

    It contains a very sturdy 60's era multi attachment screwdriver (again, I would post a photo, but I know not how.) cheap box spanners, a spare coil, points, and condenser (for if my pertronix fails) bulbs, all the sockets I have extra ones of and an appropriate wrench, a big 60's era flathead that is perfect for prising things apart, and other odds and ends.

    I do need a bottle jack, although I'm not sure it would fit under my front subframe, my floor jack certainly doesn't.

    • In that case, add a small chunk of 4×4 to roll the offending wheel up onto to create clearance for the bottle jack. Ask me how I know.

  • aciddiver

    Wire coat hanger. i can't begin to list all the things I've used a wire coat hanger for.

  • Froggmann_

    This gets me through every roadside and junkyard wrench fest with ease:

    <img src="http://i133.photobucket.com/albums/q53/Froggmann/Misc/Tools/IMG_20110921_214940.jpg&quot; /img>

  • Jay

    Leatherman/multi-tool, distributor wrench

  • Jay

    Spare fuses, assortment of hose clamps..at least one big enough for the radiator hose and one small enough for the fuel line

  • In that case, add a small chunk of 4×4 to roll the offending wheel up onto to create clearance for the bottle jack