Aside from the beans, bullets, bandages and so forth that are the essential elements that form the bedrock of emergency preparedness, a vehicle is a key component to success in the prepping game. It doesn’t matter if it is getting someone the emergency medical treatment they desperately need, obtaining supplies or getting the heck out of town, your vehicle can be vital for navigating an emergency.
Because of the importance of a functional vehicle, all measures should be taken to keep it running and in tip-top shape. It is also widely accepted that prevention is often easier and less costly than making repairs. Taking the approach of preventive maintenance along with regular inspection and having the tools/supplies on hand to address any issue that might come up is the recipe for success to having an emergency ready vehicle.
Part of maintaining a vehicle is doing routine checks to prevent any incidents from happening. These are usually simple tasks that don’t take much time but can be extremely helpful in avoiding a situation that could be much worse if it is not caught early.
Things to consider for regular inspection include:
- Check tires to see if they are in good shape and properly inflated. Look specifically for any nails or punctures, uneven wear, bulges, etc.
- Listen for any odd sounds coming from the engine or vehicle components.
- Look for evidence of leaks underneath the vehicle. Keep in mind that it is common for condensation to drip from the air conditioning; this does not mean there is a problem. You want to look for oil, transmission fluid, coolant, etc. that might be leaking.
- Check windshield wipers to ensure that they are in good shape. Also check to see that there is adequate windshield washer fluid.
- Visually inspect all vehicle lights to ensure they are functioning properly. This should include headlights (high and low beams), brake lights, turn signals and fog lights if your vehicle is equipped with them.
- Step on the brakes to ensure that they hold firmly and that there is not excessive travel in the brake pedal.
- Look at the battery to see if there is corrosion building up around the terminals. (Pouring regular Coca-Cola on the terminals and letting it sit for several minutes will help clear up corrosion on the terminals.)
- Examine the hoses and belts around the engine to ensure that they are in good shape and are not cracking or damaged in any way.
- Check your dashboard for any check engine or warning lights.
- Take out the spare tire and examine for proper inflation as well as any defects.
The frequency of these checks is up to you but consider the age of the vehicle and how it usually runs in making this determination. Weekly checks are a good idea, but this may be extended if the circumstances dictate.
Vehicle maintenance intervals
Following the practice of regular vehicle inspections, proactive maintenance should be the next area of concern to ensure that your vehicle is prepared for an emergency. The single best source for the maintenance intervals for your particular vehicle is the owner’s manual. If you do not have the owner’s manual, an internet search should be able to provide the same information.
A few of the maintenance services that should be completed routinely on all vehicles and a general idea of when they are recommended to be done are:
- Oil Change: Every three months or 3,000 to 5,000 miles (most newer vehicles can go much higher, up to 10,000 miles)
- Tire Rotation: Every 5,000 miles
- Air Filter: Every six months
- Windshield Wipers: Every six months
- Cabin Air Filter: Every 12 months
- Coolant Flush: Every 40,000 miles
- Transmission Flush: Every 50,000 miles
- Brakes: As needed, listen for squeaking that indicates severe brake wear and feel for brakes that do not work as good as you think they should.
- Timing Belt: Every 60,000 miles
- Serpentine Belt: Every 40,000 miles
- Spark Plugs: Every 30,000 miles
One thing to think about when having maintenance done on your vehicle is to keep track of what was done and when it was done. This can be a written log or even an envelope with all the receipts from maintenance work.
In the midst of a disaster we know that there will not always be the reliable help of roadside assistance or the ability to phone a friend to come to the rescue. This means that self-recovery will be the primary solution available to fix a problem. If that doesn’t do the trick, abandoning your means of transportation just means additional hardship for you and potentially the loss of your vehicle.
Items to keep in vehicle
- First-aid Kit: While a first-aid kit has numerous applications, having one in your vehicle is a necessity when it comes to vehicle maintenance because of the potential to obtain an injury when working with tools, moving parts and tight spaces.
- Jumper Cables: Consider the type of vehicle that you have and choose the proper size.
- 10 Gauge = Compact Car
- 8 Gauge = Mid-Size Vehicle
- 6 Gauge = Full-Size Vehicle
- 4 Gauge = Trucks and SUV’s
- Zip Ties: Various sizes for different applications
- Flares or Warning Triangles
- Extra Quart of Engine Oil: Proper type for your vehicle
- Extra Coolant: Proper type for your vehicle
- Mechanic Gloves
- Tool Kit: Basic mechanical tools with a minimum of crescent wrenches, vise grips, screwdrivers and a multi-tool
- Portable Air Compressor: The type that is small and plugs into power adapter
- Flashlight or Headlamp with Extra Batteries
- Duct Tape
- Fix-A-Flat: Canned tire sealant
- Spare Tire
- Tire Jack: Ensure that it is adequate for the vehicle and easy to operate. Don’t trust that the factory tire jack is the best tool for the job.
- Tire Iron
- Extra Fuses: There are multiple ratings of fuses that are in each vehicle. A best practice is to have a variety pack to ensure that you have what you need. It is also helpful to have a fuse removal tool for easy changes.
- Replacement Light Bulbs
- Multiple Sizes of Hose Clamps
- Radiator Hose: This is especially important if you have an older vehicle or one with more than 100,000 miles on it.
- Fire Extinguisher
- Emergency Fuel: There are stable fuel substitutes that are safe to keep in the trunk of a vehicle. A single bottle will get you down the road an additional 10-20 miles typically.
- Empty Gas Can w/ Siphon & Funnel: To get fuel if needed and have the ability to siphon fuel in an extreme emergency.
- Spare Fan Belt: This is another item that is important for older and high mileage vehicles.
During the winter months, additional items that should be included are:
- Cat Litter: This can be placed under the tires and is helpful for obtaining traction during wet, snowy and icy conditions.
- Collapsible/Small Shovel: While not fun, a small shovel can help you dig your tires out if you were to get stuck.
- Ice Scraper
- Tire Chains: You’ll have to check local laws to see if they are legal, but these will help keep your vehicle on the road on snow and ice.
With all of that said, every vehicle is different and the type of driving that you do the most will also dictate how often maintenance has to be done and what should be done. The bottom line is that taking the time to ensure that maintenance is done will not only be easier than repairs, it can be cheaper, you can determine when it is done, and most importantly… you will be in the best position to deal with an emergency from a transportation standpoint. Good luck!