What Stops Us? Tools and Supplies to Keep Us Going

I’ve been asked many times by forward-thinking owners, “What tools and spare parts should I carry?” So, this morning I pulled all the invoices I could find in the rack that were marked “tow-in”, and here’s what I found.

Modern cars (for my purposes those from the 90’s on), keeping in mind they represent about 1/3 to 1/2 of invoices depending on the season, actually are more likely to be towed in than classics! Why is that? I asked Dory the shop dog, and receiving  no intelligible answer beyond a suggestion that we play a little chase the ball, I read more deeply in the invoices.

What Stops Us - Get On The Road

Starting with the modern cars I have 2 “wash downs” on 98 and 99 Jaguar sedans (this is a common failure on those cars that is easy to prevent, call if you need trick), 1 water in the gas (again a late Jag foible with another super simple prevention), 1 battery in an Aston Vanquish, and a fuel pump on a Jaguar XJ8. Not much of interest to the owners of older cars – the ones who feel the desire to carry tools and spares anyway.

Here’s  what I found for the older cars: the only tow-in that was the same for two cars in the year was due to an ignition rotor. Both were within two weeks of each other and both were Rolls Royces!  Now I seem to remember somebody else needing a rotor, but apparently I didn’t write an invoice. Other than those, there was 1 starter (Austin Healey), 1 radiator leak (Bentley), and 1 fuel pump (Spitfire). Seems a little much to carry a radiator so I won’t suggest that or even a spare starter as you can push start most stick shift cars, if you haven’t imbibed too heavily. (One might run over one’s own foot or perhaps mistakenly allow your mount once started to gallop away on her own.)  I also recall wrapping a swelling radiator hose for a certain XKE a year ago.

So, what should you take? Here’s my suggested “kit” for the wise and well-heeled owner of a thoroughbred (as represents the majority of our jolly gang!) …

Number 1 – A cell phone. (I couldn’t decide if this belonged with spares or tools but it is definitely Number 1!) What could possibly enlist the sympathetic concern of ones cronies and accomplices, and perhaps the aforementioned “tow in”, than that?! And perhaps a caring companion might retrieve you from the roadside for a tipple at the local?

Number 2 – An accomplice. Some like-minded, and previously unsuspecting, cohort to assist in coaxing your now lame steed away from the dangers of traffic!

Number 3 – A rotor. Yes, a rotor! Write it down now before that second glass of happy juice.

Number 4Duct tape. This sounds a bit ridiculous, but had you seen the well-reinforced radiator hose on the XKE done this way, you would not hesitate to invest the five bucks.

Number 5 – Bailing wire. Sometimes called mechanics wire or even just a couple of clothes hangers – marvelous for resuspending that exhaust which you shouldn’t have tried to get over that speed bump. Do you big Healey owners ” feel” a twang or two here?

Number 6 – Spark plugs, points and a condenser. (Electronic ignition owners refer to Number 1!)

Number 7 – Fluids. ALL of them – oil, water, brake fluid, and most importantly, Scotch! This last item will useful for drowning mechanical sorrows, screwing up some courage, or bribing some assistance in this your hour of need. Note: only signal malts are appropriate for the well healed.

And on to the tools …

Number 1 – Multi-tools. Nothing has impressed me more than the amazing multi-tools one can buy that perform so many critical functions. For instance, I have a combination bottle opener / corkscrew that also has a foil knife which can easily open those pesky packages keeping you from your foie gras! Seriously, nothing like a Leatherman in the glove box!

Number 2 – The period original tool kit. Vintage Set of ToolsThis contained the well-calculated collection of wrench types and sizes for any repair other than the one you must undertake. Otherwise, lots of good quality wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers made somewhere other than a country whose metals resemble semi-cold grey butter.

In conclusion, while I have great respect for those who plan, more often than not the problem is not the cars so much as neglect from owners (no of course not you, the guy you bought it from!) they are CARS and they were built to drive. In the event that you are frightened to drive a car somewhere, it needs to be cared for, not derided as “unreliable”. With fewer exceptions than most would imagine, they left the hallowed halls of Coventry, Abingdon, Crewe, and Hethel ready to carry their proud new owners anywhere they might desire … and they did!  If you feel your steed might plow asunder before reaching your destination, this is not the fault of the design or of its manufacture but instead, a lack of maintenance (no, of course not you !)  and one must catch up!!

If your “garage bound baby” was new, would you not pack the boot and strike out for destinations far? The difference between “new” and “now”  might not be as far as you think. Often the only things (as per this whole diatribe ) that separate the proud joy of arriving in that vessel of aesthetic design instead of that shiny box you use for grocery retrieval is a matter of just holding in the fluids and electrons. So change those seals, hoses, belts, batteries, and perhaps even the harness and hit the road!  But don’t forget items 1 and 7.

Without further adieu now, drop that plate of leftovers on the couch (the dog will clean it up) and hit the road like an impromptu Cannonball Run!

Robert Morey
With over 40 years in the business, Robert Morey restores and maintains British cars. His restorations have won many awards and are in collections across the U.S., England, Japan and the Bahamas. Robert is compiling a book on owning British cars as both a business and a hobby. Robert and his wife Michele live in Charleston, South Carolina.


  1. I would also carry extra fan belts, extra for someone who all of sudden needs one on a journey or at a show. This has happened twice, most important is a cell phone to call the person that knows your car more than you ever will. Thanks woody.

  2. My 66′ E-type has been towed three times. The first was a dumb fix done before I owned her and easily fixed when found, next was a blown hose at the bottom of radiator and last was clogged filter in fuel tank while on the freeway. The tool that saved me every time was a cell phone and my AAA card, these tools got me back home where I could work on a cool engine in a safe place with the right tools. I do carry tools and the spare bits as well as jumper wire and electrical tester. I do look forward to your stories and tips, well written and spot on.

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