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What do techs recommend for a “car crate?”

by | Jul 26, 2022

Many drivers on the road have what I call “car crates” or “car boxes”: the milk crate or cardboard box you keep in your car for auto needs. As a rather non-mechanically inclined individual, I have one in my car, which is primarily made up of things I use fairly regularly, things I may need and things that have just found their way in there over the years. Since EDC (or everyday carry) is all the rage lately, think of it as your car’s EDC. So, this led me to the question: what do mechanics recommend that drivers have in their car crates and are there common items that all mechanics would recommend? How does my car crate stack up to that list? And how did I acquire some of this stuff?

First off, let’s look at the contents of my car crate. I took inventory and this is what I found:

  • Window washer fluid
  • Power steering fluid
  • Auto air conditioner refrigerant/leak sealer
  • Deicer
  • Jumper cables
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer (to bang on the starter in my old ’83 Chevy Cavalier when it began to go bad)
  • Funnel
  • Rags
  • Old throw rug (to put under a tire to get traction in the snow)
  • Ice scraper
  • One dirty vinyl glove
  • Rope (not sure why this is there)
  • 5W-30 oil (for my last car, an ’08 Subaru Outback, and I never got rid of it)

As I mentioned, this is a combination of things I use fairly regularly (window washer fluid, funnel), things I may need (jumper cables, deicer), and things that have found their way in there over the years (rope, dirty vinyl glove).

Photo of contents of car crate

The contents of my car crate. Photo by Jonathan Roth.

So, what do mechanics recommend? Well, I asked Nick D’Alessio, manager of the Dorman garage, and although he personally doesn’t have one, he suggested the following:

  • Jumper cables
  • Wiper fluid
  • Quart of oil
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Small tool kit
  • Tire inflator (maybe)

I also asked Luke Danner, auto technician at the Dorman garage, and his suggestions were the following:

  • Safety triangle/flashing marker light
  • Flares
  • Jack
  • Tire jack and lug wrench

Since this is a small sample size (and very Dorman employee-centric), I put the same question to the Dorman Technician Advisory Council, a network of techs who share ideas and feedback with Dorman. I’ve divided their responses up into three categories: crate-worthy, important (but not kept in the crate) and not necessary/optional.

Crate-worthy

  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • WD-40 (or some lubricant)
  • Duct tape
  • Flashlight (strobing)
  • Multi-tool
  • Wiper fluid
  • Tire jack and lug wrench
  • Ice scraper and snow brush (More on this in just a moment…)

Important (but not kept in the crate)

  • Umbrella
  • Owner’s manual
  • Insurance and registration

Not necessary/optional

  • Detailing Items (window cleaner, interior cleaner, soap, rags, wax, etc.)
  • Paper towels
  • Water bottles
  • Blankets
  • Toilet paper
  • Trash bags
  • Small shovel

Of those lists, I’m doing better with Nick’s list, as I have three of the items he mentions (OK, fine, only two because the oil I have isn’t the right grade for my current vehicle). I’m zero for four with Luke’s list, though. Interestingly, those two lists are completely different. Nick’s list is made up of fluids, gauges, and tools you need to work on your car, whereas Luke’s list is heavy on items that alert other drivers when you break down. As far as the list from the Technician Advisory Council, I’m doing not so hot, as I have only three of the nine items they listed that I would consider crate-worthy.

The differences in the lists raises the question of what the car crate is for. Is it for things a motorist needs to work on his or her car? Is it for items that alert other drivers when the motorist breaks down? Or both? Is it for every possible item a customer may need to have in his or her car (umbrella, owner’s manual, insurance, registration)? My personal opinion is that it should be items the motorist needs to work on his or her car and items that can alert other drivers when he or she breaks down, which is why I broke up the Technician Advisory Council’s list the way I did. Obviously, other drivers may have different definitions of what the car crate is for.

The other issue that arises is that necessary items may differ depending on where you live. Living in the lower part of the Northeast, I consider an ice scraper and snow brush essential, although someone living in Florida probably wouldn’t. Similarly, I see a blanket as optional, although someone living in a rural part of Canada who is facing the possibility of breaking down in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm may see that as very necessary.

Another aspect of the car crate is that the contents of every individual driver’s crate will depend on what issues they have dealt with in the past or are currently dealing with. As I mentioned, I had to bang on the starter in my old ’83 Chevy Cavalier when it began to go bad (and it wasn’t worth replacing the starter, as the catalytic converter fell off the car not long after), so I’ve carried a hammer in my car ever since. When I was dealing with Subaru’s infamous head gasket issue, I started carrying 5W-30 oil in my Outback (and I still have it in my CR-V). If you have a headlight that keeps blowing, you likely have a few backup bulbs in your car.

In addition, when we were discussing this list with the Shop Press brain trust, Lemmy mentioned the necessity of carrying a fuel container, since the most expensive fuel container is always the one at the gas station you have to walk to when your car runs out of gas. A very valuable item, I think, and one that is interestingly absent from the other lists.

So, combining the responses from Nick, Luke, the Technician Advisory Council, and Lemmy, removing duplicates, and using my own personal definition of what belongs in a car crate, I’ve come up with this complete, if very unscientific list of what drivers should have in their car crate. In addition, I’ve added a separate list for region-specific items. Keep in mind, your mileage may vary (pun intended).

  • Wiper fluid
  • Quart of oil
  • Lubricant
  • Jumper cables
  • Small tool kit or multi-tool
  • Duct tape
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Tire jack and lug wrench
  • Tire inflator
  • Fuel container
  • Safety triangle/flashing marker light and flashlight (strobing)
  • Flares

Region-specific items

  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • Deicer
  • Water
  • Blanket

Personally, I would make an argument for the value of including a funnel and rags, but that’s just me.

Whatever your thoughts on my particular list, I believe it’s valuable to have one. I realize that there have been a lot of articles lately advising drivers to remove all the unnecessary junk from their car to improve mileage and save on gas, but I consider a car crate and its contents a necessary item.

So what’s the value to you? Well, if you’re a tech, you will likely have customers ask at one point or another what they should be carrying in their car, if you haven’t already, so it’s good to have a list on hand. In fact, we made one in PDF form that you can download and print to hand to your customers! Additionally, a lot of the items on this list are things that people may not buy for themselves but would appreciate if they received as a gift. So, if you’re a counterperson, you might want to put together these items in a collection that people (most likely parents) can buy as a gift for someone to carry in their car.

Image of car crate checklist

Click on the image for the car crate checklist PDF

What do you think of this list? And what do you think drivers should keep in their car crate? Tell us in the comments!

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