Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Modern society depends largely upon transportation. We don’t live, work, shop, and send our kids to school all within walking distance of each other. For that matter, if we all had horses, we would probably find that those places aren’t within horse riding distance… at least not in a reasonable amount of time.
A lot of people talk about how we’ll be living in the 1800s should a major disaster happen, especially in the case of an EMP. But the reality is that we’re not prepared to survive in the 1800s. Not only do we not have the tools they used, but we don’t have the knowledge they possessed.
If we’re going to survive after a TEOTWAWKI event, it’ll be because we figure out how to adapt to the changed world or figure out how to adapt the things we have to working in that world.
An important part of that is how we might be able to use our cars and trucks in that post-disaster world. Gasoline will be a problem; but I’m sure that there will be people hoarding gasoline. The big thing is going to be finding those people and then bartering with them for the gas we need.
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One thing we can be sure of is that the quality of that gasoline will diminish with time as hydrocarbons burn off and water seeps in. That’s going to have a negative impact on how our vehicles run, as the extra junk in our gasoline will tend to gunk up our engines. On top of that, the hard use—especially off-road—will cause greater wear-and-tear on normal parts.
One thing to keep in mind is that the gasoline we use today is 10% ethanol, made from corn. That tells us we can modify gasoline to some extent, extending it, while still being able to burn it in our cars and trucks. I would imagine that in a post-disaster world, people will be doing everything they can to extend gasoline, either for their own use or to use as barter goods.
The other thing to keep in mind is that we’re going to have to keep our vehicles running. No matter how good you are as a mechanic or how good your mechanic is, they’re not going to be able to do anything without the right parts.
So, it would be a good idea to have some essential car parts on-hand that fit your vehicle, so that at least common repairs can be accomplished without a problem.
Allow me to note here that older vehicles are going to be much better in this sort of scenario. Preppers talk about those older vehicles from an EMP point of view, but they’re also much easier to work on.
The more complex the electronic controls on an engine, the harder it is for you to work on yourself and the harder it is to troubleshoot it, without the necessary computerized test equipment.
Some of the high-maintenance parts you should be stocking include:
- Bulbs – Headlights and other bulbs can go bad at any time. It can help to replace them with LED bulbs; but even then, you’ll want to have spares.
- Belts – Older vehicles used multiple V-belts to power the engine accessories; but newer ones use a single serpentine belt. Either way, belts can go bad at any time, sometimes going from perfectly good to broken in mere days. One complete set of spare belts is a good thing to have.
- Idler Pulley – Any of the pulleys that those belts go over can go bad or more correctly the bearings that the pulleys ride on can. Of them all, the idler pulley is the one which is most likely to go bad, resulting in a broken belt. Always check the pulleys before replacing the belt.
- Hoses – All of the rubber hoses in the engine are subject to slow deterioration. This includes the radiator hoses, heater hoses, gas lines, vacuum lines and any that might be carrying oils, like those in the steering system. Make sure that you have spare hose clamps as well, especially if the engine still has the factory hose clamps, which are hard to work with.
- Fuel Injectors – If you have a fuel-injected engine, then it would be a good idea to have a spare set of injectors on hand. Those impurities I mentioned a moment ago are more likely to get stuck in the injectors than anywhere else.
- Fuel Filter – It’s the job of he fuel filter to protect the injectors from those impurities; but in the process, the fuel filter can get clogged. If it does, then your engine will be fuel starved, shutting down when you try to accelerate.
- Fluids – All engine fluids are subject to leaking at times, making it a good idea to keep spares on-hand. Even more important than that though, is being able to change the oil. If you want an engine to last, regular oil changes are the most important thing you can do.
- Oil Filter – For the oil changes that I just mentioned.
- Fuses – All electrical systems on a car are fused. That’s to protect things from being damaged if there’s a short. You can go your whole life without a fuse blowing; but when they do, you’ve got to replace it with the right size. Using aluminum foil or a nail just helps ensure that whatever that fuse was there to protect will end up destroyed.
- Tires – You might be able to scavenge tiers from an inoperable vehicle, but don’t count on it. Unless you’ve got some really good tiers on the vehicle you’re planning on driving, it would probably be a good idea to have some spares.
- Spark Plugs – While modern engines often manage to go longer on a set of spark plugs, old spark plugs don’t give you as hot a spark, reducing the engine’s efficiency. If your plugs start going bad, it will affect the engine’s power, as well as gas mileage.
- Brakes – Normally, when we think about keeping a car running, we think about the things that make it go. But being able to stop that car or truck is just as important as being able to make it go. A full set of brake pads doesn’t have to be very expensive and it will allow you to keep that car safely on the road.
- Windshield Wiper Blades – While not necessary to keep the vehicle running, you need to have wiper blades to keep the vehicle drivable. Trying to drive a car in a storm, without working wipers, is basically driving blind… not something you want to do.
- Distributor Cap & Rotor – If your vehicle is old enough to have a distributor, then you should definitely have a cap and rotor in the spares box, as those were considered regular maintenance items. For newer vehicles, you want to find out how the electronic spark module works and make sure that if it is considered a maintenance item that you have a spare.
- Air Filter – Easily forgotten, a clogged air filter can reduce an engine’s efficiency considerably.
- Starter – A common repair item, when the starter motor goes out, the vehicle can’t be started.
- Alternator – Used to generate electricity to keep the engine running. Theoretically the vehicle can be driven a short distance without it; but that will drain the battery quickly, especially if the lights are on.
- Battery – It’s a good idea to make sure that at least one battery in your battery backup system will fit your vehicle, in case you need to use it as a spare.
In Case of an EMP
Taking the next step on this, we need to look at the types of parts that could be damaged by an EMP. By and large, preppers think that their cars will be unusable after an EMP, because the EMP will fry the car’s electronics. If that’s the case, then it only makes sense that replacing those electronics would make the car drivable again.
Car engine electronics can vary considerably, depending especially on the year of the car. While engine computers started coming out in the 1970s, those early computers were very simple devices compared to what’s coming out in cars today. There were also many fewer sensors connected to the computer, providing it with information, in addition to fewer actuators that the computer controlled.
In order to ensure that your car will be drivable after an EMP, you’ll need to develop a stock of all the sensors, actuators and the computer itself. These should be kept in a Faraday Cage, preferably in the original packaging.
Make sure to mark what each of those sensors and actuators are and print out information showing where they are installed on the vehicle.
What About Tools?
Probably the most important tool to have, in order to keep your car running after a TEOTWAWKI event, is a service manual for the vehicle. Both Chilton and Haynes produce manuals for a wide range of cars and trucks, providing pretty good information about how to repair just about anything.
Of course, that manual isn’t going to turn any wrenches for you or even work as a wrench. You’re going to need those too. Be sure to buy tools that fit your vehicle.
In other words, if your vehicle uses metric hardware, then you want to be sure to have metric tools; but if it has SAE hardware (fraction) then you need to have SAE tools. Unfortunately, there are also vehicles which use both, one for the engine and one for the body, so be sure to check carefully before buying tools.
We’re going to stick to a more basic tool set, one that the average do-it-yourselfer can use to do basic repairs. A quick look at any professional mechanic’s tool box will show just how many tools can be needed to do all the possible repair jobs on a car.
If you already know how to do those, you probably have that big a tool box already. Be sure to buy quality so they don’t break at a crucial moment.
So, just what tools should you have in your kit?
- Jack – Something more than the scissors jack that comes with the vehicle, preferably a hydraulic floor jack.
- Tire Iron – The tire wrench that comes with your vehicle isn’t all that good. Buy an extended tire iron or a star wrench, so that you can break those stubborn lug nuts loose.
- Jack Stands – A jack shouldn’t be used to support a vehicle, once you’ve got it raised up. Vehicles have been known to fall off of jacks. Better to support it with stands. Large wood blocks will work for this, as long as they are large enough to be stable, but aren’t adjustable in height.
- Combination Wrenches – These have a box end on one end and an open end of the same size on the opposite end.
- Socket Set – While it is theoretically possible to fix everything with just combination wrenches, it’s much easier to use sockets in most cases. A socket set should come with extensions; but if it doesn’t buy a few.
- Socket Set U-joint – Modern vehicles have very crowded engine compartments, sometimes making it hard to get a socket onto a nut or bolt head. Being able to come at the fastener from an angle is sometimes essential to getting it off.
- Breaker Bar – An extended handle for sockets, allowing more leverage for removing stubborn nuts and bolts.
- Large C-clamp – Necessary for compressing the brake actuator cylinder when doing brake changes.
- Pliers – Standard and needle-nose pliers are useful for a variety of things.
- Screwdrivers – Both Phillips and straight-blade. Many newer cars use star bits, so you might want to have some of those as well.
- Jumper Cables – While you may not need this for repairs, you are likely to need it to get one of your vehicles running.
- Tow Strap – If you end up with one of your vehicles stranded somewhere, it would be good to have a tow strap to bring it back home.
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