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We've all been there. Stranded at the side of an unfamiliar road, hoping against hope that a passing motorist will render emergency assistance or provide transportation to the nearest service station. Sometimes the problem is a serious mechanical failure, but all too often the situation could have been resolved with a two dollar bottle of motor oil or a nearly-free jug of water. If only we had planned ahead, we would have had that one inexpensive item that would have spared us hours of inconvenience. Here is a list of ten essential items for your car that cost less than $5, but can spell the difference between a happy road trip and a nightmarish vacation story.

1. Spare motor oil Never leave for an extended car trip without a few bottles of motor oil in reserve. If you are trying to economize, there are several budget oil options available at any good auto supply store. If you are driving an older car in high temperatures or across vast distances, chances are you're going to lose some oil along the way. Listen for clicking noises coming from the engine compartment, and keep a close eye on the oil pressure gauge and engine temperature sensor. Low oil pressure, high engine temperature or a noticeable clicking sound are all signs of a potentially disastrous loss of oil. Put a quart or two of oil in the engine any time you sense trouble brewing.

2. Clean water supply Keep several gallon jugs of drinkable water on hand for emergencies. The most obvious situation would be an overheated engine, but you may also be forced to remain with your disabled vehicle for several hours before help arrives. You and your passengers are going to need water to avoid dehydration. Water will also be welcomed as a hand cleanser following a tire repair or serious engine examination.

3. De-icer solution This miraculous substance can be found at any auto supply store or department store. Keep a bottle on hand for any sudden outbursts of freezing rain, which can reduce visibility in a matter of seconds. De-icer solutions can also help defrost a frozen car door handle, preventing the need for excessive force.

4. Powdered graphite A sticky lock can cause keys to break off, creating a windfall for the local locksmith and a serious problem for the driver. Once you notice a sticking problem with your door lock, invest in a tube of powdered graphite. A few squirts fired directly into the lock mechanism should free up the tumblers. An additional coating on the key itself should restore the smooth locking and unlocking action you once had.

5. Waterless hand cleanser Most roadside repairs and inspections are dirty jobs. Spare tires can be dusty and grimy, and the engine block is guaranteed to have plenty of oil and grease build-up. Besides the personal difficulties of having unclean hands and dirty clothing, some chemicals can irritate your skin or become toxic through extended exposure. Have a container of waterless hand cleanser handy for quick cleanup following an emergency repair.

6. "Trouble" signs Passing motorists have other priorities besides rendering aid, sad to say. Even the most courteous passer-by has only a few seconds to evaluate your situation and decide whether or not to get involved. Law enforcement officers are much more likely to come to your assistance, but they may not arrive as soon as you might hope. You need to advertise your plight, and a good sign that reads "Need Help- Call Police", or words to that effect, will increase your chances of getting help.

7. Red cloth Most states require that you place a red cloth at the end of any oversized load you may be carrying. This is to give any vehicle behind you a better idea of where your load ends. You may also need a marker to tie to your radio aerial as an emergency signal.

8. Spare bulbs and fuses Nothing can be more embarrassing than being pulled over by law enforcement for a minor bulb or fuse failure. Blown tail lights are prime targets for such traffic stops, followed closely by burned-out headlights. Keep a supply of bulbs and fuses in your car, just in case you notice a failure yourself.

9. Maps One of the most inexpensive car accessories sold, and perhaps the most overlooked by drivers, is the good old-fashioned map. If you are travelling into unknown territory, buy a map at the nearest service station or tourist stop. You may have survived a 16 hour drive across the Midwest, but many a trip can be ruined by driving around aimlessly within miles of your destination.

10. Health and energy bars Depending on where you have a breakdown, you may be without food for a few hours before help arrives. If you have the worst luck in the known universe, it may be longer than that. Keep a supply of fresh energy foods or breakfast bars handy, especially when traveling with small children.