Assembling a Travel Tool Kit for Your Classic Car

Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious

"Beautiful car. Where are you from?" asked the attendant as I got out of my car. Oregon is still a full-serve state, and I knew I was going to have to show him where the filler is on my vintage Porsche. “LA,” I replied. "That's a long way in an old car! Aren't you worried about breaking down?" “Not really,” I could say, reasonably sure that karma wasn't going to smite me for hubris upon start up.

The truth is that I had thought quite a bit about what might fail on this trip and had a well sorted tool kit, a few spare parts, and this is a car I've had a "relationship" with. Like a good majority of vintage car owners I do a lot of my own work so I have a pretty good idea of what might give me trouble.

Sure you have that near perfect set of factory tools in a reproduction pouch acquired gradually by perusing swap meets and eBay. And they are cool trunk candy at your local concourse or cars & coffee meet up. But one of the reasons you own a vintage car is to drive it, not just to park it alongside others and ogle.

However, you probably don’t commute in your classic or use it to run errands. You take it to club meets a couple hundred miles away. You find the nearest section of twisties and play a bit. Or maybe, like me, you think that touring up Highway 1 from Los Angeles, California to Portland, Oregon (about 1000 mi/1600km), staying as close to the coast as possible, is a great way to spend a week in your car. There is a pure joy in long trips with your vintage beauty. The journey happens at a more visceral level than it does in the family cruiser, with the windows up, AC on, stereo blasting and everyone distracted by media of one sort or another, roaring up the interstate at a judicious nine miles an hour over the limit.

So leave that factory kit on a shelf in the garage and think about what you are taking with you. Some of this may be painfully obvious and some a little less so. Let’s put together a tool kit that works for travel without adding too much weight or eating all of the available trunk space.

First off, think about the journey ahead: are you just going on a weekend trip a couple hours from home and maybe only a couple hundred miles total or are you going on a longer trip and covering a several thousand miles?

Screwdrivers, yeah I know, “Duh!” But a couple of decent size flat and phillips are just the thing for tightening that loose fuel line hose clamp. I also like to carry a small screwdriver set, one where three or four different bits fit in the handle (sometimes you need to fix your glasses).

1/4-inch drive sockets, this may seem counterintuitive but a set of sockets in ¼ “ drive will cover most simple things you are apt to have to deal with, battery terminals and so on. They pack well, but make sure you have several lengths of extensions. I also carry a flexible extension and a screwdriver style handle, (the flexible extension does well for reaching that bottom hose clamp). You may want to include some ¼ drive bits in several types of drives like Torx.

3/8-inch drive sockets, and a ratchet, that fit specific things on your car. Try to keep these as specific as possible: always a sparkplug-sized socket and maybe a deep socket the size of your lug nuts and a 3/8 to ¼ adapter plus an extension or two. Check access to the most difficult sparkplug to reach to see if you need a universal joint to for removal. If so, pack one.

Allen wrenches, a nice folding set will cover most of your needs here.

Ignition wire pliers, allows you to grab the plug end and not the wire when pulling a spark-plug wire. You don't want to ruin a wire by pulling the wire out of the connector.

Breaker bar, a 24-inch breaker bar and a socket that fits your lug nuts will make changing a tire much easier. Plus, it's a heavy 24-inch bar, not a bad self defense item!

Tire gauge, yeah I know, another no-brainer. Might as well have a can of Fix-a-Flat or slime too and I frequently carry small 12v compressor.

Water-pump pliers, I really like the 10-inch Knipex pliers (they’re also good for pulling the shower head at your hotel and clearing grit blocking its flow).

Needle nose pliers, these can also be the electricians style that have crimping capability. If like me, you don't go anywhere without your Leatherman tool, you’re already covered here!

Pliers or Vice Grips, or both. I do like to have a set of vice grips in my kit.

Wrenches, a few open/box combo wrenches in very specific sizes. For instance, if you have a German car the majority will be the odd sizes plus 10mm. On a Japanese car do not forget to pack a 12mm and you probably won’t need a whole set but again if there is something very specific on your car make sure its in your kit. I will take a three inch 1/4-20 bolt, a couple of fender washers and a wing nut and stack my box end wrenches on it washer on each end and spin the wing nut on. Keeps them neatly in one place.

Wiring, always pack a sharp set of diagonal cutters and a small crimper/stripper, along with a handful of crimp connectors and a roll of good electrical tape. I also pack one of those inexpensive test lights that has a sharply pointed probe on one end and a wire with an alligator clip on the other, invaluable for chasing power problems!

Utility knife, all the hardware stores now have those cool folding utility knives. They are supremely useful when dealing with fuel lines or snack food packaging. You can use it to make a plastic bottle into a funnel if you need to top oil or water and want to keep spills minimized and you can avoid carrying a funnel that way.

Jumper cables, even though your battery is less than a year old take a set with you. It’s much easier to get a jump if you have cables and who knows you might make a new friend if you can jump-start their car!

Gloves, a pair of mechanics type and a pair of leather truckers style from the hardware store. You can always throw in a few sets of nitrile gloves too.

Tool bag, find a nice small bag for your tool kit the idea is to keep it compact and concise to your car. Use your imagination here: I use a bag from an army-navy surplus store but have a friend that found an old Louis Vuitton bag at a yard sale and used it until he found out it how much it was worth!

While it's nearly impossible to cover everything, this should be a good starting point for your travel tool kit. Keep in mind any special tool that your car requires. As for spare parts we will discuss that in a future article.