Would you spend $55 to make your time on the road safer?

For little more than the cost of a fill-up at the gas station, you could increase your ability to deal with most road or safety hazards. Yet few cars carry such essential items, which could prove more valuable than a $2,000 satellite navigation system.

Here’s my list of essential safety items (and their cost) that should be in every car. They are available at most auto parts stores and some department stores.

  1. Can of flat-repair sealant and compressed air ($5.99 or less)
    This simple-to-use item — attach the can’s tubing to your tire’s valve stem and press the button on top of the can — seals most tread leaks and pumps up the tire so you can safety drive to a service station.
  2. Spare Tank emergency fuel ($24.99 for a gallon)
    This product reacts with even the tiniest amount of gasoline in your tank and will provide a gallon of fuel to get you to a gas station. It’s safe and nonexplosive and stores in a gallon carton that can be kept in your trunk.
  3. Road flares ($6.95 for a three-pack)
    The most dangerous situation for a stranded motorist is to be stalled at night on a dark highway. Sure, your car has emergency flashers. But today, many drivers employ their flashers simply to warn others that they are driving slowly. Throwing a few roadside flares around your disabled vehicle clearly tells approaching cars that you’re stalled.
  4. Tire pressure gauge ($3)
    Underinflated tires that blow out at highway speeds or under heavy loads are among the biggest causes of accidents. Even the most basic tire gauge — the metal kind with the bar that pops out when you put it on the tire’s valve stem — can help you detect when a tire is more than 3 pounds under the recommended pressure.
  5. Window breaker and seat-belt cutter ($13.95)
    It is unlikely that you will ever find yourself in a car that has crashed into a canal or lake and is sinking. However, it can and does happen. To escape, you may need to shatter the side window.

In a more typical crash, you may need to cut your seat belt to get free of the car. Several manufacturers offer devices that combine a window punch with a retractable blade for cutting the belts. Every car should have one within easy reach of the driver or passenger.

Refinance budget-busting car payment

Dear Terry,
I have a car loan that is financed at 20 percent. The payments are killing me! Because the interest rate is so high, I still owe $17,000 on an $18,000 loan after almost two years of payments. What is the best way to get out of this?


Dear Grace,
If you have adequate credit and a spotless payment record on this loan, your best bet is to refinance and keep paying on the loan until you can get the balance down to where the car is worth more than what is owed.

File lemon-law car complaint quickly

Dear Terry,
I purchased a 2004 Lincoln LS in November 2004. I have not had a chance to enjoy the car because it has stayed in the shop more than on the road. I believe the car is a lemon. It has been in the shop a total of 35 days.

Now it is back in the shop for a new transmission. The car is under warranty. I told the dealership I want another car because it has been in the shop for two weeks. The dealership told me that I have to keep the car until March before I can get rid of it.

Is this true? And what can I do? I do not want to keep paying for a lemon.


Dear Kim,
I’m sorry to tell you that you likely don’t qualify to file a lemon-law complaint. The laws in most states require an owner to file for such a claim within the first year or so of ownership. You’re well past that time.

I have no idea what the dealership is talking about when they say you can’t get rid of the car until March. You can sell or trade a car at any time, even while it’s in the shop. But you may not be able to get enough to cover the loan balance, provided you financed it.

Car owner owes cash despite repossession

Dear Terry,
I am thinking of doing a voluntary repo on a leased vehicle. Payments and the fuel cost are just killing me. The company I leased the vehicle from is bankrupt and a bailiff company has taken over.

If I do voluntary repo, can the bailiff company come after me for the difference in the sale? If I have no assets, what can they do? Can they garnish my wages, etc.?


Dear Parm,
The bailiff company that has taken over the leasing company’s assets can and likely will try to collect any unpaid balance after it sells your vehicle at auction. If you have no assets, the company could possibly try to garnish your wages, but it may be satisfied with simply putting a black mark on your credit.

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