Is it essential for motorists to carry tools?

There was a time when every car had in its boot a little box, above, of spares and essential tools for roadside emergencies.

Those were the days when cars were basic and the average owner knew his way around an engine. But, in the meantime, new generations of cars and owners have appeared.

Does it still make sense to carry tools and spares in the boot? Will modern cars ever need roadside repairs? And if they do, will the owner have the faintest clue where to find the problem?

It depends on the car, where it's used and on the owner. If you drive a car that's less than two years old, use it exclusively on urban roads and have no interest in mechanical things, then don't even bother. Make sure that your AA membership is paid up and your car is regularly serviced by the agents.

But cars don't stay young forever. Some owners actually take an interest in what happens under the bonnet. Some fall on hard times and cannot afford AA membership, let alone dealer services, and some travel to faraway destinations at times.

For those of us in this category, an emergency kit in the boot makes a lot of sense. The kit should include, at the very least, the following:

l A few spare fuses of the type fitted to your vehicle, and covering the range of amperages of the original fuses;

l A selection of spare terminals, covering the various types appearing on the vehicle's wiring;

l A spare headlight globe;

l A set of spark plugs and a plug spanner;

l A pocket knife for stripping wire;

l A roll of insulation tape to keep bare wires from making contact where they should not;

l A piece of medium, say 150 grit, emery paper for cleaning dirty contact areas;

l A medium-sized shifting spanner;

l Long-nosed pliers that can be used for gripping as well as crimping;

l A pair of screwdrivers, one straight-bladed, one phillips;

l A spare fan belt;

l A wheel spanner and a functional jack;

l A small torch, ideally one of the wind-up LED ones with no batteries to go flat;

l A spray can of cleaner or penetrating lubricant or de-watering fluid;

l A length of stout nylon rope for the occasions when all else fails.

The emphasis on electrical spares is a reflection of the fact that the majority of roadside breakdowns are caused by electrical problems. The AA of Britain compiled a list of the top 10 causes of breakdowns, as recorded by their patrols.

Heading the list is a flat or faulty battery, followed by lost keys, flat or damaged tyres, alternator faults, starter motor, distributor cap, fuel problems, clutch cables, spark plugs and high-tension wires.

This shows that six of the top 10 problems are related to the electrical system. A list compiled for South African conditions will probably be very similar, with one exception: overheating is bound to appear on our list.

The AA points out that the majority of problems can be avoided by proper preventative care. Then firmly plonk the toolkit in the boot. It works.