A guide to the tools and spares in your boot

Hundreds of thousands of additional vehicles have been brought into Kenya’s traffic systems over the past decade – an increase of about 300%.

Road space and efficiency have not been increased by anything near that percentage, so previously quiet roads are now busy, and previously busy roads are now frequently “full”.

Full is okay, as long as everything keeps flowing smoothly. If every motorist followed the basic principle of "Keep Left, Keep Going, or Get Off The Road", the average speed of a commuter journey in Nairobi could be as high as 30 kph. Even at peak periods.

Very acceptable.

However, on a good day average speeds are currently half that - and they frequently get even worse.

Not acceptable. And not necessary.

Most of the routine delay is caused by pure thoughtlessness – it is drivers stopping in the road or queue-jumping or lane-weaving who contribute most to turning smooth flow into a clamorous clog-up. The rude gain a few yards or a few seconds, but in the process cause a knock-on effect that delays hundreds of other vehicles.

What the queue bargers and lane weavers or newspaper buyers don't allow for is that although their personal action only takes a few seconds and delays only a few dozen cars, if hundreds of people do the same thing all over the city the effect accumulates into many minutes of delay for many thousands of vehicles (including those behind who are also pushing and barging!).

If drivers blocking or disrupting the flow do have the wit to realise that, and still do it, then they are another kind of sick-in-the-head.

A more obvious cause of even bigger jams is breakdowns. Nairobi's traffic flows are sufficiently stretched, fragile, and unco-operative that the addition of a stationary vehicle causes instant mayhem.

Ironically, the causers of these mega jams often deserve more sympathy than criticism. A breakdown can happen to anyone. Which motorist has not, at some time in his driving career, had that splutter, stall and non-start "oh no, no go!" experience?

By the same token, the chances of a breakdown can be reduced by anyone, as can the effects on other traffic. Properly driven and maintained cars - even very old ones - break down less often or not at all.

When the engine "dies", unless it happens when the car is already standing still in a queue, there is usually enough warning and momentum to freewheel off the side of the road - if not completely, then at least enough to reduce the obstruction the corpse will cause.

You've got lots of time to curse your luck, or your mechanic or your main agent later. In city traffic today, at the first sign of a problem your top priority must be to get out of the way. If you don’t, you won’t just be blocking the cars immediately behind you – you will be blocking an entire capital city!

Then what?

The first thing the embarassed owner of a conked-out car realises is that all those other vehicles, crowds of people and buildings aren't a lot of help.  To the other cars s/he's a nuisance, to the crowds s/he's a source of goodies or income, and to all those buildings s/he's...irrelevant.

In built-up areas, mechanical assistance is always close at hand. While your car is still running.  Once it stops, you suddenly realise that "just around the corner" is a seriously long walk, which apart from lousing up your timetable and heating up your socks, leaves both you and the vehicle conspicuously vulnerable.  You are in fact no nearer to safe and good help than if you'd broken down on some rustic byway or in the middle of the boonies.

While on a long safari most people think of taking some spares and tools, on a regular commuter journey into town...many don't.

Yet the average motorist covers about 10,000 kms a year on that commuter gauntlet, in conditions that are much more likely to cause a breakdown than an open-road cruise. Clutch, gears, brakes, steering, cooling system, electrics, engine, fuel pumps...all work especially hard in heavy traffic.  The fact is that you are more likely to have a problem in town than anywhere else!

A more happy fact is that the problem will - usually - be quite simple to remedy (at least enough to get your vehicle to more expert help under its own power).

Even those with little mechanical knowledge can often find and cure a fault with a little common sense, logical observation...and a few tools.  And even if you have to scout around for someone more practised with mechanical things, he might need some tools in order to help you.

To those whose mechanical knowledge consists of where to put the ignition key in, and when to take the fuel card out, the idea of tools and spares conjures up visions of cost and complexity and boxes that are mystery wide and expeditionary high.

In fact the list of kit you should carry - always - should be long. But can be simple.

The absolute essentials are an inflated spare tyre, a jack that works, and a wheelbrace. When did you last check those?

Next comes a basic tool wrap containing flat and star screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a mole grip, an adjustable spanner, and a few combination spanners (9, 10, 11,12, 13, 14, 17 mm) cover most contingencies. Add a piece of cloth (or loo roll) and a tin of water-repellant spray (eg WD40).  

A ire extinguisher and a first aid kit are a good idea - even if you don't need these yourself, they may help save someone else's life, and as one of society's more affluent and mobile members you should carry them. 

Useful spares include a fanbelt,  some spare fuses, a roll of insulating tape, a length of medium-gauge wire, and a spare headlight and rear light bulb.  There are many more potentially very useful items, but the foregoing are the basics.

Add what you can manage of a safari kit -  a "gallon" of water, a can of oil, a set of points and a condenser, a distributor cap, a footpump, spare radiator and fuel hoses, radiator cap, jubilee clips, a magnet, a torch, some emery paper, a strip of aluminium baking foil, a couple of metres of household lighting flex (or low tension car ignition wire), jump leads, a tow rope, spare tyre valve, spare spark plugs (even the old ones from your last service), a pen-knife, a length of pipe as an extension handle, and some strips of inner tube cut 3 to 5 cms wide.

None of that is "over the top," even for driving into town! And all of it will fit in a single, small canvas bag.

If you haven't got it, get it. And if you can't afford it all at once, start building it up bit by bit. The sooner the better.

If you don't know what most of those things are for, then it is even more important that you carry them. You need all the help you can get.

Contact Us

12, Lang’ata Link,
Lang’ata South Road, Nairobi
Box 15300 Nairobi 00509
Tel: 0720 274365, 0733 692032
Wireless: 020-2679585
coa@churchorr.org