The MGA With An Attitude
WHAT TO CARRY for a Long Road Trip - CF-103

At 10:21 PM 3/24/05 -0500, David Macedonia wrote:
>"I'm looking for recommendations for the perfect emergency parts/tool kit to keep in my trunk. Any suggestions? Should I keep a spare set of plugs? points? a clutch? AAA card? cab fare?"

Most of this is covered in the Travel Preparation section for both parts and tools, but I will post a few general comments here. You may from time to time get both ends of the spectrum. On one end some people only say to carry a cell phone, an auto club card, and a credit card. On the other end some people will recommend carrying a spare part for everything in the car. I haven't figured out yet if I fit somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, or entirely in a different universe. I never carry a cell phone or an auto club card. Partly because it isn't necessary. Partly because it isn't "sporting" to lean on modern conveniences when tooling around in a vintage car. But it's mostly a matter of convenience for myself, by way of avoiding inconvenience. The real reason is because if my MG gives trouble on the road, I don't want to wait around for help to arrive, or to have the car towed, or to wait for servicing or for parts to arrive. I will simply fix it and drive on with the most minimal delay. Most of my roadside service stops are to fix someone else's car.

To that end you need to first be sure the car is in good mechanical condition so as to minimize the probability of anything happening that could leave you stranded on the roadside. One of the best ways to achieve that condition is to drive the car, and drive it a lot. The more you drive it the more reliable it gets. If anything is prone to failure it is likely to happen fairly early on. When you fix it you pay attention to the reason why it failed, and fix it so it doesn't happen again. After enough driving time and enough miles down the road there will be very little left that would be prone to failure.

Also keep in mind that the earlier the vintage of the car the less complex it is, and fewer parts to go wrong. In most cases the closer you keep the car to original stock configuration the more reliable it will be. Adding gadgets increases the opportunity for failure. Even some "upgrades" intended to improve reliability (like electronic ignition for instance) might make it more likely for you to be stranded on the roadside. When you think about the contents of a traveling tool kit and what parts to carry, think primarily about the things that make the car go down the road. Don't worry too much about accessories and creature comforts, as those things can be fixed after you get home. My primary measure of reliability of a car is how likely it is that it will always get home under it's own power, even if it might need a little roadside service occasionally, and even if it might need a little more preventative service time when it's at home. I don't have much respect for a car which requires a cell phone, an auto club card, a tow truck, or a dealer computer to fix it after it leaves you stranded on the side of the road. Form follows function, and simplicity is king with a vintage MG.

The first and most important thing you need to take with you is some knowledge about how the car works, so when it stops working you can immediately figure out what's wrong with it, and you will also have the best chance of figuring out how to fix it. The simple fact that you are asking about what to carry along indicates that you already have some of this knowledge and a willingness to fix it yourself if possible. The first things to put in the tool kit are diagnostic tools, like a pocket volt meter, a test light, a jumper wire, and maybe even a compression tester. Before you can fix it, you have to be able to diagnose what might be wrong.

The second thing you want is to have a good assortment of tools in the boot at all times, so when something needs to be fixed you can do it, on the spot. This is of paramount importance. If you don't have the right tools, you're back to the inconvenience of calling for help. You can leave the cell phone and auto club card at home, or you can leave the tools at home, but not both. I choose to carry the tools which can handle nearly any situation, and the call for help is almost never required. If you are moderately intelligent (no offense intended) and just a little crafty your skills and tools will be able to fix about 99% of anything that will likely go wrong with your MG, and parts are only a minor consideration by comparison.

Most parts which people sometimes think about carrying are not necessary at all. A fan belt is not a carry part, as it will almost never fail if you simply replace it occasionally when it becomes noticeably worn. A water pump will generally give some long term warning before failure, such as wiggle in the shaft, noisy bearings, or a slow leak for quite some time before it turns into a gusher. I might carry a spare water pump on a very long road trip (in remote areas), but only because they might be hard to buy at a local auto parts store. You don't need to carry a spare starter motor, because these cars are small enough to push start (once you fix anything which would keep it from running). You don't need to carry a spare generator if you carry a set of carbon brushes, as those will fix about 99% of all generator failures (which should have been fixed at home if you inspect it occasionally). Similarly you don't need to carry a spare distributor if you carry points and condenser and rotor. You don't need to carry a spare fuel pump if you carry the points and service tools (although there are some aftermarket fuel pumps that are small enough to carry for a long trip as a matter of convenience). A throttle cable is generally not required if you carry a small locking pliers which you can clip on one end if a cable breaks. These cars were built in a time when it was customary to be self sufficient and fix things yourself, so most of the critical parts which keep them running are field serviceable.

That said, there are a few minor parts that are worthwhile to carry, and most of those will fit in your pockets or in the tool kit. Please refer to the Travel Preparation section for the contents of my Traveling Survival Kit. I have managed to accumulate over 200,000 miles in my MGAs, and I have only carried larger spare parts on two of the longest trips. Once in 1989 for a 13,000 mile 6 week trip around the country, and again in 1997 for a 19,000 mile 8 week trip to Alaska, each time including some very remote places. A drive in the MG does not even qualify as a "road trip" unless it's more than 1000 miles. Even then carrying larger spare parts is not particularly important. I have made numerous longer trips without larger spares, including a few weekend trips from Chicago to New York, and one 3800 mile 10 day sprint to the Florida Keys. Weekend trips into surrounding states hardly qualify as road trips, especially when traveling in highly populated areas with service facilities and parts stores generally handy. I have even run the Missouri Endurance Rally on three occasions without carrying anything large for spare parts. That involves 2000+ miles in a few of days and one continuous overnight drive (which is not at all uncommon for me). When it comes to roadside servicing, tools are imperative, and spare parts are sort of incidental.

If you were about to head out on a 4000+ mile trip we could talk about a few things to take along that might not fit in the tool kit. During the Alaska trip I did 4 oil changes and 2 lube jobs in transit, as well as repacking the wheel bearings once in mid trip and replacing dual points in the Mallory once. For the ultimate preparation for a really long trip you take along one each of every gasket and seal and lock tab for the entire car, so you can disassemble and reassemble anything without waiting to order parts. Also take along the workshop manual and a parts catalog, just in case something really disastrous might happen.

During my 1989 trip around the country my MGA broke a crankshaft in southern Alabama, which I ultimately changed out in a Motel 6 parking lot in Pensacola, Florida (after getting a spare from a friend). That's when I had to buy a 12 inch crescent wrench to work the oil cooler lines and the crank nut. After that experience I bought a tool box an inch longer, and I have since carried along the 12 inch wrench in the tool kit. I have of course never needed it again on the road, but it makes a nice conversation piece, sort of part of the legend. The engine hoist came from a tool rental shop across the street from the motel, and the engine parts (bearings and gaskets) came from a local BAP import auto parts store in Pensacola. For the Alaska trip I took along 2 spare tires for the car, and never needed either one in 19,000 miles (including 5,000 miles of gravel road), but we did manage to go through 4 pairs of trailer tires.

Carry tools and your wits, and you can forget the cell phone.

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