3 handy electronic tools to keep in your modern classic

Brandan Gillogly

Not everyone wants or needs to carry a tool kit in each vehicle they drive. Your late-model daily-driver that’s proved totally reliable shouldn’t need more than a spare tire and a jack, if that. Each tool kit should be balanced for the vehicle and its intended purpose. Even if you could carry a Snap-On truck’s worth of tools, many mechanical issues aren’t practical to fix on the side of the road. For labor-intensive problems, it’s best to have your phone with you to call roadside assistance for a tow—whether to your own garage or to a trusted repair shop. In the spirit of this list, perhaps a phone is truly the #1 piece of electronics that can rescue you from a spot of bother.

However, if you venture off-road in your Jeep or pickup, or if you find yourself in more remote locations searching for fun backroads, you likely want to be much more self-sufficient. You’ll want to carry a well-stocked tool bag, plus spares for the parts most likely to leave you crippled in the event of failure.

Last year, our own Kyle Smith gave some tips on how to properly select the tools to bring with you in your vehicle. His advice led me to practice some of my most probable road-side repairs. In the process, I realized that 2 additional feet of extensions made a disabling sensor failure a 10-minute fix rather than an obscenity-laced knuckle-buster.

For my Jeep Cherokee, I keep a basic socket set—in standard and in metric, because Jeep hadn’t yet made up its mind in 1998—with lots of extensions, wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers (including Torx drivers). There are some spare nuts and bolts, fuses and relays, and wiring terminals in there as well. I also keep some spare fluids (ATF and engine oil at least, along with a funnel) and the most common parts that could fail and leave the 4.0-liter stranded: the MAP sensor, the crankshaft position sensor, and the coil.

Following the lessons from Smith’s previous article, I decided to add three electronic doodads to my on-board tool kit.

Jumper box

Power Pack Jump Start
Brandan Gillogly

Battery jumpstarters are smaller and lighter than ever. I’ve used this little one a few times, and it’s even managed to crank a totally dead, supercharged V-8 engine. They can be topped off using a 12V port, but the good ones seem to hold a charge quite well over time. This compact jumpstarter can also serve as a battery bank to charge a dead phone. Consider one in addition to or in lieu of a set of jumper cables so that you can get out of a jam on your own—just be sure to check from time to time to make sure it’s topped off.


Brandan Gillogly

You don’t have to be an electrician to use a multimeter to diagnose a bad relay, a break in continuity, or a faulty switch. A simple electrical issue can be fixed with just a few parts and, unlike a major mechanical issue (a water pump failure, for example), doesn’t typically require you to swap out a big, bulky part. While plenty of people have multimeters in their toolbox, a basic, affordable version might be a good addition to your onboard tool kit.

Diagnostic scanner

OBD-II Scan Tool
Brandan Gillogly

For vehicles made in the last 25 years, a scanner can help you quickly pinpoint a bad sensor, leading you to a much speedier repair. They’re light, compact, and inexpensive. Some even use Bluetooth to connect with your phone; these are even easier to stash in a glove box or center console, because they get rid of the screen and cable. Determining the problem helps you decide whether your issue can be fixed quickly or if you’ve got to call up the ol’ flatbed. I’ve used this scan tool to quickly locate a bad connection in a MAP sensor that was causing poor drivability.

If you’ve know some uncommon, must-have items in your vehicle tool kit, please share them in the comments.

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