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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

March 22, 1996

A family friend once told me that to her, the car she drove was really a mobile extension of her purse. "I keep all kinds of stuff in the car," she said. "But sometimes I forget what's there, or I can't find something I need when I need it." Being an organized type of person, I suggested that she make an inventory and keep it in the glovebox for future reference. She said that my idea was good and she'd get around to it one day. That was several years ago and she tells me that she's planning to do fairly soon.

Keeping this "can't find it" automotive scenario in mind, my wife Carole and I decided to put together an ancillary "purse" full of emergency equipment for her to carry in her minivan. Rather than buying a ready-made packet of flares and jumper cables, we rummaged around the house and came up with what we feel are the slightly-more-than bare necessities for getting out of trouble on the road. Her kit includes the following:

BAG - The container Carole uses for her emergency equipment "purse" is really an overnight bag with one big compartment and five smaller ones around the edges. This is preferable to a tote bag with one large compartment because she needn't empty the whole thing to retrieve the item she wants. To make things even more simple, she's labeled the contents of each pocket beneath its zipper with a felt-tip pen.

JUMPER CABLES - Carole keeps a pair of color-coded (red for positive/black for negative) jumper cables in the main pocket. This can save a call to the auto club (sometimes followed by a long wait) in case she leaves her lights on and has a friend handy with another vehicle.

SHOP RAGS - I have to be honest and say that the two "genuine" shop rags that Carole keeps with her jumper cables came from my shop but a couple of old hand towels would do the job of getting dirt and grease off of her hands if the need arose. They're also handy to kneel on.

ICE SCRAPER - Understand that here in California, it rarely gets really cold. But on those rare occasions when she has to leave for an early shift at the hospital and the temperature has frozen the dew on the windshield, she has a plastic ice scraper to hasten her departure before the defroster can do its job. If she had to use it very often, she'd keep it up front with her windshield squeegee.

FLASHING LAMP - Below the jumper cables in the main pocket, Carole keeps a second flashlight but one that is square, sits upright and can be set to flash. It has a red lens cover in case her flares give out.

FLARES - In a long side pocket, she keeps three flares and nothing else. Her rationale is that if she needs them, she'll need them in a hurry and doesn't want anything else getting in the way.

TIRE INFLATOR - If Carole gets a flat tire, she may or may not have the time or the inclination to drag the spare out from under her van and wrestle with the lug wrench and jack. The pressurized can of "stuff" is good in a pinch but it may put the tire out of balance.

BUNGEE CORDS - Not the kind used for jumping off bridges, of course, but nevertheless handy to do things like hold the trunk down when something is inside that's too long to fit. They stretch out to double their lengths and have hooks on each end. But be careful about letting them snap back. The non-sharpened ends can still poke a nasty hole in your hand. She has a small ball of twine there too.

FIRST AID KIT - Carole won't be able to perform emergency surgery at the scene of an accident with the contents of her minuscule first aid kit but it can make scrapes and minor abrasions less painful. It contains some burn cream, a compression bandage, Band-Aids and a roll of tape. You can make your own, but the ready-mades come in a neat package.

NOTE PAD AND PENCIL - In one of the side pockets, Carole has a pencil and a small note pad carefully tucked away. Their only purpose is to provide a note to be put on the windshield of another vehicle that Carole might prang in a parking lot. To the best of my recollection, she has only bumped a parked car once in the 40 some-odd years she has been driving but I guess that the experienced impressed her with the need to leave a note.

TOOL KIT - The last pocket in Carole's automotive bag is, in reality, a tool kit, albeit a very rudimentary one. It contains a pair of pliers, two screw drivers (large and small bladed and capable of being converted into Phillips drive) and a tire pressure gauge. She considered and rejected a hammer (too big and of dubious use), a couple of adjustable wrenches (no need for roadside overhauls) and a foot operated tire pump (couldn't repair a hole in the tire anyway).

When you build your own emergency kit, you'll probably come up with several items Carole hasn't thought of. Just don't make it too bulky, or you may find it necessary to buy a larger vehicle.