What Tire Tools Should I Have with Me?

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Flat tires can happen at any time, so it pays to make like a Boy Scout and be prepared. A small box in the cargo area of your car that’s loaded with useful stuff can be as valuable as free roadside assistance — and available much sooner when an emergency arises.

Subaru recently ran a commercial showing a teenager struggling to change a tire in a training exercise. It’s a good idea to make sure the drivers in your family can either change a flat tire themselves or know where everything is so someone else can do it for them. Not having the right tools — or even a clue — could mean you’ll be not only on the side of the road, but up a creek as well.

Here’s what you should have with you to replace or fix a flat tire:

Inflated spare tire, jack, wrench and related tools: Duh, right? Still, spare tires, jacks and other necessities have a bad habit of disappearing. A used car you bought might not have a complete set, or it may have a spare or jack designed for a different car. That’s why it pays to check at least once a year to see if everything you need is present and the spare is inflated to the recommended level. Tires lose air over time, so your spare won’t have as much today as it did a year ago.

Tire inflator kit: Even if you have a fully inflated spare tire, an inflator kit that injects foamy goo into a flat tire could be a faster way to get back on the road, and your hands won’t get as dirty. Tire inflators won’t fix a big puncture, but they can do the trick on some smaller ones.

Tire pressure gauge: Now that you have the spare tire on (or fixed the damaged one) you can find out how much air is in it. (It’s very hard to tell just by looking.) While you’re at it, check the other tires, too, because they also could be low on air.

Portable DC air compressor: If you never got around to checking the air pressure in the spare (see above) and it’s nearly flat, this is your fallback. A compressor that plugs into a vehicle’s power outlet can save the day. So can a manual bicycle pump, but you’ll have to supply the power.

Emergency warning light and/or roadside warning triangles: For your safety and theirs, you need to alert other motorists that you’re working on the roadside or nearby. These are must-haves at night.

Flashlight: When you’re forced to work in the dark, even a small flashlight or an app on a smartphone will help you find things, such as the lug nuts you have to remove to change the flat tire — or the ones that rolled under the vehicle.

Flathead screwdriver: If you have plastic wheel covers, a flathead screwdriver may make it easier to pry it off than it would be using your hands or a tire iron. Check your owner’s manual to be sure you’re doing it right.

Gloves, rags or towels, and something to kneel on: Changing a tire is dirty work, so gloves (work or latex), towels and rags, and an old floormat or small rug are good to have.

First-aid kit: It’s easy to get cuts and scratches when working on cars, especially in the dark, so have antibiotic ointment and bandages on hand. First-aid kits usually have cleaning pads that will get some of the grime off your hands before you get behind the wheel.

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