A breakdown on the highway is sort of like identity theft; nobody likes to think about it, and it probably won’t happen anyway, right? The truth is, tires go flat and serpentine belts break all the time. Are you prepared?
You can take some of the sting out of an unexpected roadside stop with a well stocked emergency kit. Pre-packaged kits, like the Road Warrior packs from Mayday Industries go for around $60 and contain essential safety equipment—reflector triangle, flashlight, fire extinguisher—plus a number of common-sense items like a pair of leather gloves and the all-healing roll of duct tape.
Of course, you can build your own kit and customize it to your tow vehicle and trailer. It should include, however, the items already mentioned, as well as things like a can of fix-a-flat, emergency light or road flares, jumper cables, spare fuses and at least the basic tools—screwdrivers (Phillips, flat and Torx), an adjustable wrench, locking pliers, utility knife, wire cutters, electrical tape and a set of socket wrenches is sizes most applicable to your rig. Deep sockets are more versatile than standard length.
If your travel takes you through remote areas, consider adding survival gear in case things really go bad. A box of granola bars, space blanket, bottled water, waterproof matches and a signal mirror are the bare essentials.
Fishermen who tow a boat may want to upgrade their gear even more. A portable jump-starter will get you on the road again when, after a sunrise launch, your partner forgets to shut off your headlights when he parks your rig. Regular jumper cables are fine, but with a portable power unit, you don’t have to rely on the mercy of others.
The key is to buy as big a power unit as you can afford, and that you’re willing to carry in your vehicle. Bigger truck and SUV engines require more cold-cranking amps than do automobiles. And, like your deep-cycle boat battery, a portable jump-starter’s lifespan contains a finite number of discharge/recharge cycles. More capacity equals longer life. Some power units, like the Black & Decker Start It also have an air compressor feature, another handy tool to have in emergency situations. This unit sells for around $80, but you can spend well over $100 on larger models.
A heavy-duty tow strap, 12 to 15 feet long, is also an invaluable item when you need it. There are so many uses for it, besides the obvious. One example: Ever had your boat trailer begin to sink into the sand at an unimproved launch site? Unhitch your truck, drive it onto the hard gravel and use the strap to recover your trailer.
Tow a boat long enough and you’re bound to have to deal with a flat trailer tire. The scissors or bottle jack that comes with your vehicle is nearly worthless when lifting a trailer. A small, portable trolley jack, like the one from AC Delco, costs less than $40, and does a much better and safer job of it.
It’s good to be prepared for trouble, but it’s better to avoid it in the first place. Regularly check your rig’s tires, belts, bearings and fluid levels and chances are good you’ll only have to rely on your emergency kit for peace of mind.