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Cars are everywhere. If you’re anywhere near a city when the SHTF, you’ll come across thousands of them. And if the disaster is severe enough, many of these vehicles will be abandoned. Why does this matter? Because there are many survival items you can scavenge from abandoned vehicles.
Some people will object to this article, saying it’s wrong to take what isn’t yours. Normally I’d agree, but I believe morality varies depending on the circumstances. If you’re in a situation where an apparently abandoned vehicle has items in it that you need to survive, then I would argue that you’re morally obligated to take them. If not for yourself, then for your family.
Besides, you could find yourself in a scenario where your own car breaks down or is totaled, in which case you might want to make use of its parts. In case either of these things ever happens to you, here are 13 things you can scavenge from vehicles.
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1. Whatever is in the Trunk
The first thing you should check is the trunk. Many people keep tools, flashlights, jumper cables, blankets, and even extra clothing in the trunk. Most people who abandon their vehicles would probably try to take some of those things with them, but not necessarily. If you check a hundred vehicles, you’re bound to come across some goodies.
2. Whatever is in the Glove Box or Center Console
Here you might find food, lighters, first aid supplies, papers you can use to help start fires, etc. Again, you never know, so if you’re walking down a highway full of abandoned cars, check as many glove boxes and center consoles as you can.
Now that the obvious stuff is out of the way, the first thing you should consider taking is the rearview mirror. If it’s stuck on the glass with adhesive, you might be able to remove it with a razor blade. Otherwise, you could just break it off. To get the side mirrors out, you’ll need a knife or similar object. Mirrors can be used for many things including signaling for help and starting fires.
The fabric in seats can make excellent insulation material in cold environments, and the seat covers can be used as ground covers. If the seats are leather, you can even turn them into useful items such as shoes, leggings, or a carrying pack.
5. Seat Belts
If you don’t have any cordage, use the seat belts. Just extend them as far as they will go and cut them out. If you need a cord that’s not as thick, just cut up the seat belt into smaller strands. If you unravel them enough, you could even use them as fishing line.
6. Lid, Hood, and Doors
I grouped these together because they can all be used for the same thing: building a shelter. These things will be difficult to remove without the proper tools, but they can be very useful. For example, it’s very easy to set up a lean-to with the hood of a car. And in the winter, the doors could be used as sleds.
The top part of the glass on car doors can be used to sharpen knives. Break off this part and wrap duct tape around the jagged edges and you’ll have a portable knife sharpener. You could also try using some of the broken glass as a cutting tool, but this might be difficult since car glass tends to fall apart into little pieces when broken.
You can use a car battery to keep your devices charged during an emergency. But to do this, you’ll also need some 12v receptacles and a power inverter. Watch this video to learn how.
The wires in the engine could be used as cordage for any number of things such as constructing shelters, making snares, bundling things together so they’re easier to carry, etc.
The glass from a headlight can be used as a cutting tool if the piece is long and sharp enough and the rest is wrapped in duct tape to make a handle. And the lamp and case from a headlight can be used to make a fire if the lens reflector has been well polished.
To do so, put some tinder in the reflector that holds the bulb and put it under the sun. Both sides, being highly reflective, will magnify the sunlight and direct heat to the tinder. Hopefully, an ember will be created in the tinder that you can blow on to start a fire. (Something similar can be done with a flashlight.)
Modern tires, unfortunately, don’t have as many uses as older tires due to the steel cable running through them. Nonetheless, you can still burn tires for signaling purposes since the black smoke can be seen for miles on a clear day. But be warned: tire burning is illegal in most areas, so proceed with caution. Tire smoke is also toxic so keep your distance.
The inner tubes can be cut up into rubber bands which have all sorts of uses: tourniquets, shelter making, strapping items to your clothes or pack, and so forth.
As long as you have a siphon of some kind, you could use leftover gasoline for your own vehicle. Gas could also be used to get a fire going, as long as you’re very careful. Don’t puncture a fuel tank for gas as even a small spark is enough to make a gas tank explode, even if very little fuel is present.
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keep in mind also… if you are a city dweller with very little space in your yard… or maybe no yard just a balcony or patio, that those tires can be stacked up and put dirt in and you can grow a lot of potatoes in a small space of a stack of 4 tires vs… having hills of potatoes growing individually
There is a principle in common law called the reasonable man standard. In simple terms, it is what would most people think in the situation presented. If the highway is littered with hundreds or thousands of motor vehicles and almost all of them are empty of people, a reasonable man might consider that the property has been abandoned. Abandoned property can be claimed by someone in possession. Just look at the TV programs about storage shed auctions. The owner of the storage facility has a legal procedure he must go through and then the property therein is his to dispose of. If you come upon a house and no one answers a knock on the door and to all intents and purposes it appears empty to you and you forcibly enter it and once inside, you notice that the contents of the refrigerator and perhaps the freezer has spoiled and is in final stages of decay, you notice dust on the floor and cobwebs in the corners, the dirty cloths in the clothes hamper are really ripe, then if the reasonable man would think that the house has been abandoned, you may move in. If later law and order is restored and the heirs can prove their ownership under the law you may be required to move out but you have broken no law. If you have acted in a manner that you can convince a jury was reasonable under the circumstances.
That is not legal advice because every state has a different set of rules regarding abandonment of property. It is just a general statement about how the laws of abandonment usually work.
Let’s see now. In a SHTF situation if YOU are unlucky enough to be away from your home when “the” event occurs, then someone in need of a place to live could come into your home and decide it’s abandoned because nobody’s around, and make it their home like you would make someone’s vehicle your own for scavenging needed parts. And if anyone can scavenge whatever items they need, why worry about breaking a law to burn tires to keep warm! Just sayin’.
Stukahna Sandbahr says
LOL! That’s what I thought… worried about a FINE?! And then that salvaging auto parts for shelter- JUST USE THE DAMN CAR!!!
2A expertshot says
Good way to be shot for looting and stealing? or jumped by some desperate mob who want what you have just stolen? Not a very good way to keep a low profile IMO. If all civilization is destroyed and everyone is like the rioting anarchists of Antifa in Portland, Oregon for the past year, who would want to go to the desperate lengths suggested in this article? What would be the point since eventually everything you have stored or stolen is used up, how will you and the other desperate survivors do at that point?
You are suggesting reverting back to prehistoric times rather than surviving to help build back some type of civilization among the “survivors of the fittest”. IMO this would be the same type of “survival” humans would be reduced to in case of total all-out nuclear war and would you really just be postponing the inevitable with futile results and becoming as bad as the others trying to do the same thing with no quality of life left as the outcome for surviving? or merely postponing the inevitable if humans are all reduced to this level of “survival”? (It seems no one else is commenting as I have, but after training to manage fallout shelters in case of nuclear war, I decided living wouldn’t be worth the trouble of attempting to survive all out devastation of the world.)
In Venezuela when the entire population was starving, pets, fish and all game were killed in the environment, all farm and zoo animals were killed and eaten, people ate insects, worms, grass, leaves—civilization completely broke down in this formerly affluent country. People and governments of other countries helped the people of Venezuela at least survive to the point of not having to become cannibals–but if the whole world was destroyed, what then? My comments may be in the minority as a reaction to your “suggestions” in this article.
IMO there are more constructive ways to become self-sufficient and survive without loss of all humanity in the process—at least I hope so anyway.
Steve and 2A: See my comment below about abandoned property. It is impossible to make a blanket statement that will cover all situations. You have to use good judgment. Unfortunately, that seems to have died out with the Greatest Generation. If you are on the 101 in the San Fernando Valley and as far as you can see cars are not moving neither in front nor in back of your location and there appears to be nobody milling about. Do you think a reasonable conclusion is that the cars have been abandoned? Are thousands of owners going to come back in the next 96 hours to claim the things they left in their cars when they set out on foot? If the event has happened some hours ago and the cars are still empty, it doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to kind of pick up on the idea that the cars are abandoned.
If the highway is jammed with dead cars from shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the highway, what are the chances that the individual of the car where you just popped the trunk is going to come back in the foreseeable future to pick up the stuff he left behind in his dead automobile?
While there is differing opinion about whether an X-category CME will kill automobile engines, there is no question at least in my mind that an effective EMP detonated by a hostile country will kill most engines that are unprotected. No, civilian engines are not protected against a military grade EMP. They are protected from guy next to you running his electric razor as he speeds to work in the morning.
Every weekday on HWY 10 looks like 10 million cars are abandoned! If I didn’t hear the damn bass thumping from someone’s barbaric rap, I would think the apocalypse just happened.
Don’t forget to grab the mylar insulated windshield sun screen. It makes a bed to insulate you from the ground, you can wrap it around you to keep warm, or use it to reflect the heat of your fire back onto you. Or you can sit on it when you stop to eat or rest. And it weighs nothing.
Alan Urban says
Good tip, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!
Bob Aisbett says
Hi, an interesting article. I’m a bit confused it would be a major SHTF scenario ( the apocalypse ) to a have a lot of abandoned vehicles around possibly blocking the roads.Where are all the owners or are you/we one of the “lucky” ones that have survived. How do you carry all the gear that you have scrounged and where do you take to?. While the idea has merit, if you are only moving from point A to point B then using other vehicles for shelter maybe along a freeway is a good idea. I can’t understand why you would be scrounging from vehicles in a suburban area unless you were after parts to repair your vehicle.As I said it’s an interesting article with some good ideas.
After spending overnight in their car wearing their office attire they work in, they have set off on foot to try to find a working vehicle, find emergency services, start their long hike home or have been killed by the scum of the earth that take advantage of every emergency event to steal and commit other atrocious crimes. This is especially true if, after a CME or EMP there is no working electricity and few if any working motor vehicles. People point to New York City back in the 50s or 60s when the electricity went out and everybody had a party They overlook the same situation a couple decades later when NYC went to hell with looting, rapes, murders — name the crime and it was committed. Folks are different today than they were when I was growing up in the 40s and 50s. In the 50s criminals did not dare to attack a cop. It was only organized crime and a few notorious bandits that actually fired on law enforcement. The ordinary criminal knew if he killed a cop life would be extremely difficult for him if he were apprehended. There were so many stairs in the precinct house that were dangerous for a criminal to travers. It was not uncommon for a criminal who killed a cop to have a lot of difficulty negotiating stairs. They fell down them so often. It must have been the knowledge of guilt over killing a cop. Or maybe, just maybe, it was that they got shoved down the stairs by a vengeful cop and all the witnesses swore under oath that somehow the cop killer tripped on his shoes without shoe laces to keep him from committing suicide. Can’t have him killing himself in remorse before trial.
I don’t say that was a good judicial situation but it did make a criminal hesitate when cornered by the beat cop and not shoot when he could because he didn’t look forward to being in the precinct house afterwards.
Some folks can practice this a little. Go to a junkyard one morning when the weather permits. See what you could scrounge even without breaking anything or removing anything with tools. I’ve found change, lighters, music and DVDs, hand tools (lots of sockets), good spare tires, clothes, and more. Happy hunting.
I’d point out that there is one item (or the hoses that attach to it) that the temptation to put to use may have deadly consequences. That part is the radiator, and its supporting hoses. Not on this site, but another, this was brought up as a ready made component for making a still. That’s a big NoNo due to the fact that the coolant leaves a residue that’s nearly impossible to get rid of. As the vapor from your stillpot runs through and condenses in the coil, the residue leaches into your distillate. The health affects are numerous but run the gamut from blindness to irreversable liver and kidney damage/failure (neither a pleasant death). This problem came to light during the prohibition era, but it wasn’t commonly known. There were a significant number of deaths from the contaminated moonshine that radiators caused according to my Grandfather and Great Grandfather, who were both bootleggers during the Prohibition years.
This is actually an excellent idea! You can make ethanol to run in any car if you have fuel injectors and a flex fuel vehicle. Any plant material has carbohydrate. This can be converted to alcohol. You might not be able to drink it but you can use it to run generators, vehicles, any combustion engine. I grew 1/4 acre of sorghum one year and got 2,000 gallons of ethanol. It’s the only sustainable fuel I know about that you can make yourself. It’s been done for almost 200 years. I ran an old tractor on it as well. Works great and gives more power than gas. My dad and uncles drove modified trucks in the ‘50’s on alcohol to run moonshine in the Deep South! Yep, they were the forerunners of nascar. Crazy stories, man! But do check out making your own fuel. No matter what you hear you can do it and it works great. Don’t know why we don’t do it now!
Please explain to me how you’d go about starting a fire with a mirror.
Mensa Graham says
Starting a fire with a mirror is truly child’s play. Not something I should have been doing when I was child but unfortunately did.
Take a mirror and reflect the sunlight on to try tinder. Any kind will do, paper, dry grass, twigs, etc. hold the mirror so that the point of light is tight where it hits the tinder. You will quickly get some smoke and then fire. Cool for a kid to do but not very safe!
It will work a whole lot better with a concave mirror which I don’t believe is on an ordinary automobile. The concave mirror will work like a magnifying glass and create a point of light to ignite the tinder.
Well folks, think about this…depending on how SHTF, there are bound to be hundreds if not thousands of intact automobiles around. Think about it…Why add the stress of “walking” down a road, trying to salvage stuff??? Go to where the cars are (dealerships, rental agencies etc) and “procure” a serviceable auto, preferably a SUV with a trailer hitch. Next, make your way to your local trailer rental or sales location. “Procure” a tandem axle, fully enclosed trailer if possible. Cannibalize a couple of other trailers on the lot for spare tires for the trailer you procure. Now you are set. As quickly as possible, load your pre packaged SHTF stuff and get the heck away from the epicenter of where SHTF. Shelter in place ONLY if you are 100% sure things are no better or are much worse elsewhere. If possible, go for a diesel when you are “procuring” wheels. You can let a diesel engine run all night and sleep in the cab to stay warm or cool. “Procuring” diesel fuel from large trucks, buses or construction vehicles is pretty easy due to the size and accessibility of the fuel tank…puncture the tank, capture the draining fuel and use a wedge of a scrap of wood to plug the hole when you are done. One major caution…if civil authority has not completely broken down, law enforcement may not be too tolerant of these extreme actions. Maintain situational awareness and act accordingly. If civil authority has broken down, don’t travel alone on your procurement outing. Have an armed family member or friend roll with you.
If there are abandoned cars because of an EMP or less likely, a CME, that would mean they have stopped working. If cars in general have stopped working, cars at a dealership will not work either unless it is a dealership that specializes in antique cars and collectibles.
Try these additional tips that are probably better than this entire thread
..in my opinion anyways.
Inverter combined with the altanator tied into the fan clutch and some batteries and you got yourself a windmill.
You could fix an entire a battery Bank and the rear portion of your vehicle with this windmill setup attached to the top of your vehicle you can make several even.
That way when you’re driving your mobile power station is recharging and when you’re not driving try to park facing the wind the best you can.
Firestarter or ignitor:
Also you can break open the glass from the head light to expose the filiment and wire the end to the battery and put some tender on it. Will light up quick.
Could also find older car with cigarette lighter.
Fordge or metal foundry:
Could use Rims to build a forge to melt down metals for blades or ammunition.
Might be able to use the diode out of a blueray player to signal or start a fire.
Could use the car horn/battery, and rig perimeter traps to notify you of enemy location.
Check semi trucks and all redneck looking trucks.
Check all trucks with rifle racks, balls hanging under the tail hitch, or a tribal deer sticker, or any redneck paraphernalia stickers. Your sure to find something useful like tools or an actual gun.
Check for trash, there’s a story of a man that survived in a wrecked car eating ketchup packets.
You should get these for obvious reasons you can reuse them if you don’t let them burn down all the way.
Electric radiator fan w/ battery for a hot day when not traveling and Umbrellas to block the Sun when on the move.
In my opinion the best vehicle to have would be a City Recycling or dump truck that has hydraulic Forks at the front normally used for lifting large commercial dumpsters could possibly be used to move cars out of your path. Or you could use them to make Road Blocks with cars by lifting them up and stacking them on top of each other.
You could use the airbags as traps for hunting bye rigging the impact sensor to the airbag and then the impact sensor two make contact when something steps on it or walks by you would have to position the airbag in such a way it would throw the animal towards something solid or you could create something with spikes you could also bring this up to the car horn to notify you when you have caught something. You may be able to use this as perimeter defense as well bye rigging projectiles in front of the airbag they would have to be very small like bearings crushed glass or small rocks. Ideally you would want to position the airbag higher if it’s for humans to potentially hit them in the eyes.
You could use gasoline combined with a tripwire and a flare. The flare would ignite the gasoline or fuse leading to Hidden canisters or gas tanks full of gas.
Pretty self-explanatory keep your eyes open for glass bottles and rags.
Ice is it going to be a rare commodity. you could find a semi truck and adapt the refrigerator to your own vehicle.
Most semi trucks will have a refrigerator in there you could even take a actual Frozen semi truck that transports cold food, but they can’t be left off for more than a couple days. They need to be running so have plenty of gas stored.
If you wanted to get really creative you could reroute the windshield wiper sprayers to the front and rear of the car. Fill the Reservoir with gasoline. Affix an ignitor of some kind (like a grill lighter) to the door actuator. (have to remove the actuator for this) to the end where the gasoline will come out. You will probably only get to use this a couple times before the rubber hoses catches on fire so I recommend finding some aluminum tubing from another vehicle usually by the front end around the radiator or break coolant. Now you have a ridiculous flame-throwing device that you will probably never use.
Look for lowriders or any lowered vehicles with stupid rims I believe they are called 22’s. Check the ashtray for seeds and stims. It’s likely if the car is dirty that there could be some in the floorboards. Might take a while but you can find some napkins soak the napkins and water and store in a warm place keep adding water don’t let the napkin dry out. This process is called germination you can then find you something to fill with dirt after one to two weeks the seeds should be about 2 inches long with a baby stem coming out. After about 6 months if it’s a female it should Sprout buds that you can pick and smoke if it’s male does not have any buds, throw it out.
If you can somehow find a dog along the way try to make friends with it partner with sharp teeth can go a long way when it comes to hunting and personal protection and perimeter defense don’t just walk by a dog. Worst case scenario he could be food. But he could be more useful alive if you work with him.
Dead fall trap:
Look in the trunk find the car jack jack up the car take the tires off prop them up. Reg seat belts to activator underneath car bait and watch. Not going to get into detail how to make a Deadfall trap you can Google that.
occasionally you will see a truck with a gasoline powered generator and welder on the back. It’s commonly used by the Mobile Mechanic or welder. You could use this vehicle to do a lot of stuff.
Please forgive all the typos I have the hiccups and I’m using the mic text feature
James Richard says
As far as a shelter, wouldn’t the car be better left intact? It’s watertight, draft tight, and is furnished. A car makes a beautiful bedroom in a pinch.
Diana Davies says
YES!! Exactly what I was thinking! Why on earth would you break off bits to make a lean to, when you could just get in and be completely sheltered?
I believe the wights they put on tires to balance them are made of lead and could be removed, melted down to make bullets.
Some are lead, but many are zinc now. They may still be useful for other purposes.
You are correct, T. Lead weights for tire balancing are forbidden by the EPA. In addition, since all of our lead is now imported from our BFFs, Mexico and China, it costs too much to use for wheel weights. It is all going to the batteries we are using at a prodigious rate.
Quite assuming a car is just a pile of scrap just because it doesn’t run. It a ready made shelter from weather (yes it can be improved) rain, wind, wild animals. and with draft animals transportation.
James creek says
Location location location if your in a dangerous situation you would be likely to come across by marauding people who would take everything possibly your life if you are in a broken down car on the Road better to keep moving and find an out of the way place to stay longer term but you could sleep in a car for some rest but I wouldn’t get to comfortable in an urban environment because of dangerous people and being robbed of your survival stuff or even killed. Better to find a place to stay longer term like a travel trailer or bus or motor home out in a rural place or something remote away from the city’s. Much safer.
Spot on! There’s such a thing as “stealth” camping, and that’s exactly what one must be prepared to do in a survival situation. It will be every person for themselves shortly after a SHTF event! The old saying is…”Out of sight, Out of mind!”
All outside glass on cars are made out of Safety Glass.
Trying to “break off” and save a piece would be quite the trick as it is designed to shatter into tiny little pieces when broken.
Serpentine belts can be cut off and used for cordage, the same for wiring harnesses.
If a useable battery is found in one, you can also remove the bulbs, wiring and sockets from tail lights to use as lighting at night.
Cutting the headliner out makes a blanket.
The steel from the rear leaf springs on older cars makes excellent knife material.
REALLY??? Whatever is in the trunk or glove box or console??? Who would have ever thought of that?? ROTFLMAO!!
“But be warned: tire burning is illegal in most areas, so proceed with caution. ”
In a SHTF situation, i don’t think very many people will care if you are burning tires. They will be too busy trying to survive to enforce petty, little, BS laws like that.
Burn all the tires you like…if you wish to be found quickly. In a shtf scenario, tires are the last thing I’d burn.
Yes! Tires make decent signal fires. Sometimes signal fires are the WRONG kind of fires.
I agree. All the environmental shibboleths will be gone with the bloated, out of touch government.
Mad Monkey says
Most window washer containers have usable water, or as a container, easy to start fire with vehicle battery, I friend of mine, gun once jammed and he used some oil from dipstick, rubber mats for insulation or shelter, leaf springs make a good machete requires a bit of tools. The vehicle itself makes a good shelter, if you need to signal just put the entire vehicle on fire, good for blockading roads and access restrictions.
Window washer fluid is NOT water and you’d be stupid to put water in there. Water alone has almost zero cleaning power to get dirt off the windshield and it will freeze and split the tank open in the winter.
#13 ESPECIALLY if there is little liquid left in the tank. Always remember, liquid gasoline isn’t flammable, it’s the VAPOR that is extremely flammable AND explosive.
yes, and that is why if you punch a tank with some gasoiine in it at the bottom, it will not light. Same reason you can undo the petcock at the bottom with a regular wrench. It is the fumes you need to worry about, not the fluid.
Also, while inner tubes do have uses, they have not been used in automotive tires for about 60 years or more. If you do find one with tubes, watch out, even in SHTF time, old cars guys are very possesive!!!….lol
David Amberson says
There is so much more you can use!
1. Alternators/Stators can be used to produce electrical energy (add the diode bridge to make it compatible for the battery).
2. Gasoline can be used as a fire starter (just don’t cook over it).
3. Large panels like the trunk and hood can be used as a makeshift roof.
4. Nuts, Bolts, and brackets can be made into all sorts of useful things.
5. Rear axles make great solid steel handles for weapons.
6. Tires can be used as weapons too, you can light them on fire and send them down hill against enemies, they will also provide light to see your enemies by for ranged weapons and tires burn for a long time. Tires can also be used with their axles to make a wagon so you can move around easier.
7. Fluids can be drained for all sorts of uses, especially lubrication.
8. Bearings can be found all sorts of places, and there are multiple types too. Bearings are great for anything that needs to rotate in place. The most common would be for a spit so you can cook game over an open flame. If you are lucky enough to find a bearing set that actually has ball bearings, you have ammo for a wrist rocket style slingshot.
Honestly, what you can get out of any vehicle you come across on the road is as varied as your imagination. I’ve seen pistons welded to a metal rod to become a hammer. I’ve see, the rear axle of a differential removed to become form of mace for bludgeoning opponents. I’ve seen used oil spread out and used as a slipping hazard and later, once their opponents were covered in oil, as an incendiary device. It doesn’t take much to use car parts for survival. The only two things you really need are some tools, and a whole lot of imagination.
Illini Warrior says
I double down on draining the crankcase also – other fluids like transmission fluid as well – if nothing else they can be mixed and thinned with kerosene or diesel for use in tiki type torches ….
Concerning using oils or other liquids from an automobile, they hold contaminates from the parts they are used with. I’d hate to think about breathing in the fumes from any auto fluids used as heat or light during an emergency.
Oil drained from the crankcase is also a useful item for starting fires. It’s dirty and smokey, but in the type of situations that you reference, it could make a difference.
All vehicle seats require no more than 5 minutes to remove . Bench-type seats can be used for a variety of purposes, including beds. All you need is a socket wrench.
Carpet from the rear compartment of SUVs and most vans can be used as an insulator or for padding.
Wheel lug wrenches can be used to force entry into a locked door or as a defensive weapon.
Tires can also be used as a very sturdy shelter, pack dirt in between them and stack away, this shelter is excellent in all weather conditions, especially if you can get it under a lot of earth.