You don’t have to turn your classic into an overgrown toolbox to make sure you have everything to hand when there’s a breakdown. Andrew Noakes looks at the A to Z of items to carry – and reveals the things you can do without.
Load up your classic with everything you might need to cater for emergencies and breakdowns on a long trip and there won’t be room left to fit in it yourself. You have to draw the line somewhere, but how do you go about choosing which tools and spares to carry with you and which to leave at home? It can be difficult to decide, but there are some simple rules that can help.
Measure the importance of carrying spares and tools against the inconvenience caused if you need them and don’t have them. If your journey is short and local, it may not matter that you can’t fix any failure on the spot. But if you’re 1000 miles into Europe when your classic breaks down, you’ll need to get it fixed before you can get home. On a long trip like that you’ll want to carry a wider selection of tools and spare parts – particularly hard-to-get items that are specific to your classic.
The key to being prepared without being overloaded is to carry only spares that can get you mobile again, and only tools for repair jobs that you would in practice do yourself. There’s no point carrying wheel bearings and a hub puller, say, if you know deep down that you wouldn’t do the job yourself anyway, you’d find a garage to do it. And in any case, a wheel bearing is unlikely to fail for hundreds of miles after it begins grumbling – it won’t immobilise the car, so it can be ignored until you’re back on home ground.
Our suggestions for what to take and what to leave behind follow, but don’t let cool reasoning make you ignore the psychological aspect. If carrying a few extra tools, and one or two extra spares, stops you fretting about the consequences of a breakdown, that’s as good a reason as any to carry them.
Antifreeze mixture It’s worth carrying water and antifreeze – or a ready-prepared mixture – in case of a hose failure. If you’re forced to top-up with plain water, drain the system and refill with a correct antifreeze mixture at the first opportunity – the antifreeze inhibits internal corrosion.
Brake fluid Unlikely to be needed in a hurry, if you top-up before your journey. Fluid loss indicates a problem you’re not likely to solve by the side of the road.
Bulbs Take one each of the important bulbs. Interior lamps might not seem very important, but they might be if you’ll be map reading by night.
Camera Useful not only to record your journey for posterity, but also in case of an accident: photos of the scene may help an insurance claim. Disposable cameras are a small, cheap solution.
Coil Easy to fit and often prone to failure an inopportune moments. A sensible addition to the spares box.
Condenser Often the most unreliable bit of your ignition system, and condenser failure will bring your journey to a very abrupt halt. Carrying a spare is essential.
Contact breaker set If you’re going on a long journey, fit new points before you leave. Then you’re not likely to experience a failure, but as a belt-and-braces measure carrying a spare set won’t take up much space.
Fan belt Correct maintenance should avoid a failure, but a spare fan belt doesn’t take up much room. Carry spares for any other essential accessory drives on your particular engine, too.
Fire extinguisher Compulsory in some countries and a good idea everywhere else, as a fire can reduce your prized machine to cinders in minutes, and you’d hate to stand there with nothing to do but watch it burn.
First aid kit Hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’s comforting to know that it’s there. Small but comprehensive kits are available at relatively low cost. And if you do use anything from the kit – replace it as quickly as possible.
Fuel/fuel additive Carrying a couple of gallons of fuel in a can might give you some peace of mind if you’re in unknown territory and can’t easily predict the frequency of petrol stations. But to avoid wasting all that space it’s a much better plan to keep those spare two gallons in the car’s fuel tank: in other words, fill up before you really need to. But if you use a lead-replacement additive, carry a good supply in case it proves difficult to find.
Fuses Always carry a handful of fuses, covering all the ratings used on your classic (assuming it has any, of course). Many fuse boxes incorporate space for spare fuses – fill up the spaces. If you’re happy to tackle electrical repairs, it’s worth taking an in-line fuse holder which you can use to protect any lash-up wiring.
Gloves If you end up trying to fix a broken-down classic by the roadside you’re unlikely to be able to wash your hands after you complete the job. Disposable gloves can be useful here – as long as you remember to put them on before you start work.
Hand cleaner As an alternative to disposable gloves, carry one of the no-water hand cleaners. They’re very effective.
Hoses and hose bandages Hose bandages do work, provided the split in the hose is relatively small and the area around the split is clean and dry. Sadly those conditions aren’t always easy to arrange so on long journeys it is worth carrying radiator hoses. Temporary replacements for other water hoses, and fuel lines, can often be cut from a length of generic water (or fuel) pipe.
Insulation tape The automotive equivalent of a plaster, insulation tape is very versatile, with uses far beyond electric repairs. Worth having in your toolkit at all times. If you have space it’s wise to also carry a stronger, reinforced ‘tank tape’ for heavier use.
Jack An essential item, but don’t just carry it – check that it works properly. It’s worth carrying a short plank of wood for the jack to sit on, too, thus avoiding the possibility of it slipping if the ground is wet or uneven.
Jam jar Takes up almost no space, as other items can be packed inside it. And a jam jar is worth having – for tasks as diverse as collecting nuts as you remove them, so they don’t get lost, and catching fuel from a disconnected fuel line when you spin the engine on the starter to check the flow rate. What else could you use?
Jump leads Probably one of the most commonly-used emergency tools, and you can’t always rely on someone else having a set. Worth the space they steal, particularly if you have any concerns about your classic’s charging system.
Locking wheel nut key Vitally important, if you have locking wheel nuts of course.
Mobile phone Can be your best friend in the event of a breakdown. If you’re a member of one of the breakdown services keep the number close by. It’s also worth having the number of your usual garage, and any useful owners’ club contacts.
Multitool If you’re trying to keep the size and weight of your tools and spares to the minimum, a multitool can take the place of pliers, screwdrivers and several other tools. Choose carefully, and test to see how easy it is to use each item on the tool. Only replace dedicated tools with a multitool when you are happy that the multitool functions equally well.
Notebook and pencil Worth carrying in case of an accident. It’s also worth recording use of fuel, oil and water usage as you go – significant changes might give you early warning of a problem, and if nothing else allow you to plan each stage of your journey more effectively.
Nuts Collect a handful of nuts, screws and other fixings of the sizes commonly used on your classic, in case something vibrates loose.
Oil Decide the quantity of oil to carry based on your car’s oil consumption and the ease with which you can find a suitable oil on sale. If you need a specialist lubricant, take it with you.
Overalls Worth thinking about if you’re likely to carry out repairs yourself, rather than simply organise recovery to a local garage.
Pliers A must-have tool, essential in all kinds of running repairs. Can be replaced by a multitool (see above) if space is particularly tight.
Plug spanner You shouldn’t need to change the spark plugs during a journey, but you might want to pull the plugs out to help diagnose faults or to clean them. If you’re already carrying a socket set, the addition of a spark plug socket won’t rob you of much space.
Rags Vital for cleaning components or hands, and useful in many other ways – folded into anti-vibration pads, knotted to make hose clamps and so on. Worth squashing into a spare gap in the boot.
Rotor arm Easy to carry, a doddle to change on the spot and a common breakdown-fixer. Carrying a spare one at all times is no bad idea.
Screwdrivers There’s no need to have a full set, just take along screwdrivers that can cope with the common sizes of fixings and adjusting screws on your classic.
Socket set If you’re likely to tackle roadside repairs yourself rather than calling in a breakdown service then a small socket set will be a great help. It might be worth sorting out which sockets are actually useful for your car and carrying only those – plus T-bars and extensions. The rest of the kit can be left at home.
Spanners Rather than carry a boxful of spanners of appropriate sizes we’d tend to opt for a couple of adjustables. Adjustable spanners have had a lot of bad press over the years, but for use in emergencies they are perfectly adequate – particularly if used correctly. Always hold an adjustable so the greatest loads are applied to the fixed, not the moving jaw and keep a thumb on the adjusting screw to ensure the jaws don’t open up in use.
Spark plugs Unless your classic is prone to oiling plugs in traffic, say, or the plugs it uses are rare, it’s probably not worth carrying a set. But consider carrying one – in case the plugs have to be removed for cleaning, say, and one gets dropped or cracked.
Torch or work lamp An emergency essential. A good pocket torch like this one is the most versatile, but ensure you have spare batteries available. If space is not a concern then supplement the pocket torch with a work lamp powered from the car battery.
Towrope Not important if you are likely to call in professional help if you hit a problem, but invaluable if you expect to rely on passers-by. But before you use it, make sure you have a fool-proof signalling system that is understood by the drivers of both vehicles.
Warning triangle A wise addition to your kit, as it provides early warning to on-coming motorists that there’s a static classic in the road ahead. Also compulsory in some countries, and Cyprus apparently requires that you carry two. Check before you go.
Water dispersant A must-have item, for chasing water out of the ignition system and for general light lubricating duties.
Water leak additive Can be effective for small but persistent leaks, though finding the source of the leak and fixing it is a much better long-term strategy.
Wheelbrace Part of your wheel-changing kit, which should be reasonably accessible. A fancy four-armed ‘spider’ might be useful at home, but it takes up a lot of space. If you’re also carrying a socket set, consider taking the appropriate socket and a breaker bar rather than carry a dedicated wheelbrace.
Compulsory items: Don’t leave home without them
If you’re planning to take your classic overseas, find out the rules on what you need to carry. Britain has some of the most relaxed rules – in other countries you may well find that you’re contravening the local regulations if you’re not correctly kitted out.
Many countries, for instance, insist that you carry a warning triangle, while in the UK it is merely ‘recommended’. Some countries also insist on spare bulbs, or a fire extinguisher, or a first aid kit.
You’ll need to carry your driving licence and, for some countries, an International Driving Permit. You can also be asked to produce your vehicle registration document, insurance certificate and passport – but make sure these are kept with you rather than left in the car, as they make it easier for a car thief to dispose of the vehicle.
The motoring organisations can provide more detailed information: one good source is the ‘Travel and Leisure’ section of the AA’s website at www.theaa.com.
Temporary Repairs: The Art of Bodging
When you’re miles from anywhere with a dead car, elegant engineering and neat repair work go out of the window. What you need instead is a temporary repair to get you back to civilisation. In short, a bodge.
Being prepared is one of the secrets. Make sure your toolkit contains such invaluable and versatile items as string, electrical wire and crimp terminals, rubber bands and paper clips. Insulation tape is rightly frowned upon for its regular appearance in gruesome ‘repairs’ but as a short-term get-you-home aid it can be vital. Likewise, stronger tank tape can play a part in everything from replacing broken exhaust rubbers to holding together bits of broken lamps until they can be replaced.
None of these repairs will win any prizes for beauty, but that’s not the point. The point is to get you to a garage or back home, where a proper, long-term repair can then be made. Ingenuity, lateral thinking – and being prepared by carrying a few resources – are the secrets.
Published by Classics Magazine 2003