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First-aid kit: It's an obvious one, but how many drivers actually carry a first-aid kit? In the critical minutes before emergency care arrives, you could give an accident victim the care they need. Many luxury vehicles come with well-equipped kits, so check before you buy.

Blanket: This one goes hand-in-hand with the first-aid kit. A victim at an accident scene may need to be kept warm to prevent shock. And if you're broken down in unexpected weather, the blanket may keep you warm when your vehicle cannot.

Spare tire and jack: A well-maintained spare tire and jack can mean the difference between a fifteen-minute inconvenience and an hour-long, $75 ordeal. While other drivers are waiting to be towed to the near tire depot, you can change your own and roll for more than fifty miles to the shop of your choice. Make sure to check the condition of your spare each month or so.

Spare wiper blades: Foul weather can wear down wiper blades more quickly than you think -- especially in wintry climates with snowy, salted roads. Keep them on hand and change when the windshield gets bleary. Most blades can be refilled in less than a minute; the replacements are available, usually for less than $5, at local car-parts stores or from your dealer.

Jumper cables: You can always find another driver to give you a jump-start - but can you always find a set of cables? A good set of cables costs less than $20, and offers instructions on how to jump your car if you're not sure. Most major department stores, such as Kmart and Target, stock these in addition to the car-parts stores.

Tire pressure gauge: Your car needs properly inflated tires for better fuel economy, even tire wear, and for ride comfort. How can you keep track of the pressure without one? You can't. A good $10 tire-pressure gauge can be had at any of the car-parts emporiums. Throw it in the glove box and use it every time you fill up.

Pen and paper: How many times have you wanted to jot down a phone number? Sign a credit-card receipt? A handful of disposable pens in the console or glove box will make your day go more smoothly - especially if you consider them gifts for strangers.

Serpentine belt: What the heck is that? That is that long belt that connects to your fan, alternator, air conditioner, water pump, power steering, and maybe more. Without it your car is dead. And if it goes out somewhere on the highway on a holiday or Sunday, a mechanic may have a devil of a time getting one for your car. They are all different. If you feel able to replace one yourself, you will also need to carry a ratchet wrench (a strong one) and the correct size socket. I have replaced, one. You release the pressure on the belt by attaching the ratchet to a nut and applying pressure. There should be a complicated looking diagram under the hood somewhere showing the pattern for replacing the belt. If you think you would tackle it, practice at home first.


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