Road Trip Essentials

We look at the basic selection of items that can keep you from being stranded.

Photo: Road Trip Essentials 1
April 15, 2021

With the advent of spring and summer driving season and the continual re-opening of the global economy, the enticing possibility of upcoming road trips and rallies is on the minds of many automotive enthusiasts. And despite the meteoric rise in the value of many Porsche models, they were all designed first and foremost as driving machines. They are also among the most reliable of all makes, vintage or new. Nonetheless, the prepared motorist should bring at least a small cache of tools and emergency supplies commensurate with the model and vintage of Porsche and the type of driving expected.

Your author is a veteran of many vintage car rallies and cross-country road trips, including excursions into Mexico and Canada, and is a master Porsche technician. The following contains a few anecdotes of roadside heroics in remote places. However, it must be said that nobody is going to rebuild their engine on the side of the road. The most important part of your road trip tool kit is often a membership to an auto club with roadside assistance, or the same through your auto insurance company, along with a mobile phone and charger! But some of the most worthy Porsche driving roads are often out of the reception range of cell phones. As such, the following will outline three tiers of suggested roadside supplies.

Basic Supplies

Any Porsche owner should carry at least a basic tool kit in the car at all times; in the case of older Porsches (through the 993, and the 986/996 to a certain extent), these needs were covered by the factory tool kit contained in the old-fashioned tool roll. For example, all air-cooled Porsches came with a kit containing basic screwdrivers and open-end wrenches that covered most of the common bolt head sizes, spark plug socket and handle, fan belt tools, and lug nut wrench.

Of course, factory tool kits are not always present in said Porsches, and some are even quite valuable these days, which might prevent their actual use in some cases. Not to fear, because there are many basic, portable tool kits available, including from advertisers listed in this magazine. A relatively slim toolbox containing an array of metric sockets, combination wrenches, screwdrivers, and hex bits can fit in the luggage compartment of practically any Porsche.

The next item on the checklist of the “classic” Porsche owner is the spare wheel/tire and appropriate jack and lug nut wrench. Whether conventional or collapsible, the spare tire in many Porsches is past its prime, so the rule of thumb of 50 miles or less at 55 mph or less on it should be heeded! Modern technology has meant that portable tire inflators using lithium-ion batteries can replace the factory-supplied corded inflator powered by the 12-volt accessory socket.

A common point of consternation among Porsche owners has been the lack of a factory-supplied spare tire in Porsche sports cars since the 987 and 997 cars of 2005. The supplied tire sealant kit included in such cars has a shelf life, and Porsche recommends replacing this every four years. It must be stated that a tire that is temporarily sealed using that sealant kit is only useful for about 50 miles at 55 mph, much like the older temporary spare tires. A temporary tire plug/patch kit is also a good idea for emergency use in spare-less Porsches.

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The cargo area of your author’s 944 Turbo when it’s loaded for a multi-day rally and/or track event—hence the full-sized spare. The lightweight floor jack and jack stands fit in the spare tire well.

A full complement of spare light bulbs and fuses is also a useful part of the supply kit for an older Porsche. One bulb of each type used in the car is sufficient—-ditto for fuses. Newer Porsches saw an increasing use of Xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED headlight bulbs and LED taillight and marker bulbs that are simply not practical to replace on the side of a road.

Modern lithium-ion battery technology has also enabled the availability of a myriad selection of portable booster/ jumper packs that can be used to jump-start a car with a dead battery. Available in numerous brand names and from a wide array of sources, these booster pack kits often contain a selection of adapter cables to charge most common mobile phones, tablets, and laptop computers, in addition to cables to charge said jumper battery via the accessory outlet of the car. Many boosters also have a built-in LED flashlight function.

Finally, an onboard first-aid kit is required in European Union countries, as is a fire extinguisher and a reflective safety triangle for alerting oncoming drivers to a stopped vehicle on the side of the road. While such a kit is not required in the United States, a courteous driver should strongly consider equipping their vehicle with the above items.

“Intermediate” Supplies

The more adventurous driver of a vintage Porsche may wish to participate in a multi-day vintage car rally, which may require a more comprehensive set of tools, assuming the driver is willing and able to wield a wrench on the side of a road. Again, the standard of the air-cooled factory Porsche tool kits is a good rule of thumb to start. Still, the driver of a more modern, water-cooled Porsche might want to (in addition to the appropriate spare belt) bring the necessary sockets and wrenches to change an accessory drive belt if need be.

The “expanded” tool kit should also include an assortment of commonly used items such as sections of fuel hose and clamps, zip ties, etc. If said driver has performed a heroic roadside repair, their hands might be soiled, so a pack of cleaning wipes always come in handy; a good set of gloves is also helpful. An extra quart of oil (or more if your engine is tired and consumes oil) should be on hand, along with a gallon of distilled water for water-cooled engines and hydraulic/power steering fluid if applicable.

Proper planning from the driver and navigator will prevent most low fuel problems. Still, there are situations where rally organizers have overlooked the needs of the more thirsty cars of the requisite event, which means there can be long gaps between fuel stops on remote stages. Therefore, bringing a small jerry can (1.0-2.0 gallons) of fuel is not a bad idea for owners of hot-rod Porsches participating in such events.

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Depending on the time of year and the local climate and altitude, ambient temperature and weather conditions can vary drastically on such rally events, so an appropriate selection of clothing is a good idea. An entire wardrobe is not always needed; a jacket and raincoat often suffice for the colder end of things, while an outfit for warmer weather is always a good idea. A blanket (or two) is also crucial in the case of waiting for a tow in cold weather or something to lie on while repairing your car!

The driver and passenger also need supplies, which should include protein-rich snacks and a supply of bottled drinking water. Sunscreen is also a vital road trip supply, whether traveling via coupe or convertible, along with hats and sunglasses.

Such rallies often take participants to remote locations outside the range of cellular phones, even in 2021. While this can be a liberating sensation for many, it can be frustrating in the event of a breakdown. Therefore, it may be wise to carry a portable GPS device if one is available. However, it must be said that most smartphones have the capability of tracking basic location via GPS, even in the absence of a cellular data network. All of this means that good old-fashioned paper maps are always a great backup plan!

Bonus tip: duct tape. Duct tape is quite useful by its very nature, but a roll of duct tape can also serve as a very effective cup holder while resting on the floor or console of any vehicle.

“Hard-core” Supplies

The ever-expanding amount of road rallies means that there is likely an event available for any level of driver commitment. For some of the more hard-core drivers among us, an extreme adventure or cross-country trip is a way to satisfy the urge to explore new locations and properly exercise their machines.

For those embarking on a cross-country journey and/or a road rally that might take them into extremely remote areas, it might be expected that they possess the capability of performing some advanced roadside repairs and, as such, might bring a more comprehensive tool set than would the casual motorist. A small toolbox with all of the expected sockets and wrenches would be a good idea, depending on the model of Porsche. A hammer and pry bar also come in handy when you really need them!

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This early 912 has a well-equipped and organized “frunk” filled with tools, fuses, a blanket, and even a timing light.

Part of the tool kit should include a selection of basic hardware, sections of hose, and some extra hose clamps. Another very handy item to have is a roll of stainless steel safety wire, along with the proper pliers. Safety wire has come in handy numerous times during my adventures, including temporary exhaust hangers for a BMW system damaged by the poor roads in Baja California, Mexico.

Other spare parts might include a selection of commonly used gaskets and seals. For example, a friend with a 912 was on a road rally that included some quite rough and rutted roads, and his car bottomed out over a crest, which dislodged one of the valve covers and caused a large oil leak. His well-organized rally kit (pictured in this article) contained a set of spare valve cover gaskets and extra oil, so he was able to quickly reinstall the valve cover with a new gasket and top up the engine oil while several of us kept company. Bonus points went to my girlfriend for bringing her portable camping stove and espresso maker on this occasion, so we were able to enjoy a caffeinated beverage while enjoying the scenery!

A cross-country journey or long-distance road rally in a vintage car brings up the possibility of electrical issues, so a quality multimeter is a handy tool to have, along with some sections of spare wire and connectors. For older cars with ignition distributors, a spare parts kit with a distributor cap, rotor, points and condenser (or ignitor) is a good idea, along with a spare electric fuel pump and relay if applicable. At least one person in a group should bring a digital timing light; even if you do not need to set or adjust ignition timing, it is a good way to quickly check for spark in the event of a no-start issue and narrow down secondary ignition-related problems.

The factory jack supplied with any Porsche is adequate for changing a tire on the side of the road but not much more. The seasoned road warrior is better served by a lightweight aluminum floor jack and jack stands. This does take up more cargo space, but if one is traveling with a group, not everyone needs to have their own jack and set of stands.

Not every rally has dirt road sections, but the best ones do, and even if not, a brief off-road excursion is sometimes necessary when driving in the hinterlands. For this reason, a pair of 2×4 wooden boards is always a good idea; these can be wedged under the tire of a car stuck in dirt, gravel, or mud, among many other uses. A related item would be a quality tow rope for either freeing a stuck car or towing a stricken fellow participant a short distance.

A set of ratcheting tie-down straps is another great item to have; once a fellow rally participant had an unfortunate accident that damaged the hood and fender of the car, and my set of tie-down straps were donated to keep his hood closed and allowed him to drive to the next town!

No matter what type of driving you do in your Porsche, being prepared with the relevant supplies provides comfort and peace of mind. The great hope is that you will not actually need any of the supplies, and the car will perform flawlessly. But, it is also gratifying to supply a fellow motorist with a needed tool or supply and allow them to continue the journey!

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