No post-apocalyptic movie is complete without the stripped hulks of a few cars lying around. They’re the perfect disaster scene dressing, because, of course, when society collapses vehicles will get abandoned. People run out of gas, have a mechanical failure or meet a roadblock, so they ditch their car and walk away. And, obviously, the cars get stripped because switched-on preppers aren’t going to leave all that useful stuff lying around.
We take cars for granted, but they’re complex machines stuffed with a lot of material and technology. A typical modern car is more than a ton of metal, plastic and electrics – and even if it’s been disabled by an accident or an EMP there’s a lot of stuff in there you can salvage and put to use. If the SHTF and you find an abandoned vehicle, don’t think “Junk”. It’s really a treasure stash of materials .
Just for safety’s sake, make very sure a vehicle is abandoned before you get your pliers out and start ripping bits off. If the owner has just parked up and gone behind a bush to do his business, he isn’t going to be very happy when he comes back and finds you happily stripping his car down to a skeleton. Once you’re certain nobody’s coming back for it, though, start scavenging. Here are some suggestions:
1. Cabin clutter
Check the glove box, door pockets, console and under the seats. People keep all sorts of things in their cars, and if they abandon the vehicle in a hurry they might leave some useful stuff behind. Flashlights, maps – very useful if GPS is down – and food are all likely items.
Always check the trunk. Some people always keep emergency gear in their car and, depending on why they abandoned it, they might have left the gear behind. Others might have been trying to escape whatever disaster has happened, and loaded the car with possessions before they left. Trunks are a potential source of spare clothes, food, blankets, even camping gear.
Many cars come with tool-kits, so check the trunk. Pliers, screwdrivers and wrenches are always good to have. Even if you already have tools there’s no harm in picking up some spares. For example, here’s a list of tools that you will need when SHTF.
In a disaster scenario a lot of the cars you find will be abandoned because they ran out of fuel – but others will still have some in the tank. With a length of hose and a pry bar you can get the filler caps off and siphon the remaining fuel out into a container. Just feed one end of the hose into the tank, suck on the other end until the fuel almost reaches your mouth – the almost is important – then quickly lower that end until it’s below the other one and let the fuel flow out into your canister. Even if you already have a fuel reserve for your own vehicle and generator, a bit more won’t hurt.
Never try to drain a gas tank by punching a hole in it. Real gas tanks aren’t as explosive as the Hollywood kind, but there’s still a risk of a spark setting off the vapor inside. If you’re nearby when that happens it’s going to ruin your day.
If you carry a survival kit you should keep some potassium permanganate crystalsin it. This has a lot of uses, including water purification and as a disinfectant, but if you can drain some antifreeze from a vehicle you can also use it to start a fire. Mix the two 50:50 and in a few seconds it will ignite.
Oil, brake fluid and screen wash can also be drained from vehicles and used to top up your own. Screen wash also makes a useful disinfectant – it’s a mix of water and alcohol.
If you have solar panels or a wind turbine at home, and you know some basic electrics, you can rig a bank of car batteries to store excess power and use it when it’s dark or the wind isn’t blowing. The more batteries, the more power you can store; never pass up the chance to collect another one and wire it into your system.
Copper wire has a lot of uses, and vehicles contain yards of it. An hour’s work with some basic tools will get you a collection of cables in various sizes. These can be used for electrical projects or stripped to get at the wire. Copper wire is a great material for making snares.
7. Hub caps
A lot of snow vehicle have alloy wheels, and the ones that do have hub caps often have plastic ones, but if you do find some old-fashioned metal hub caps they can be useful – for example, scrub one clean and use it as an improvised skillet.
A mirror is a good way to send distress signals, but the steel ones found in survival kits aren’t great. A salvaged rearview mirror will do a much better job. Wing mirrors are hard to get off the car, but the actual mirror can be pried out with a knife.
There’s a lot of fabric in a car, some of it very hard wearing. If you’re sleeping rough, seat covers will make a good waterproof groundsheet to keep the damp away from you. The headliner will make a light blanket – it’s not that warm, but a lot better than nothing.
10. Seat belts
Need straps? Lengths of seat belt are extremely strong. Pull them out to full extension then slice them off at the reel. Lengths of seat belt make ideal straps for an improvised rucksack, or for lashing loads on a wagon or sled. Multiple lengths fastened between two poles give you an effective stretcher. You can cut the belts lengthwise into narrower strips if you need more length and less strength, but check every so often to make sure it’s not starting to fray. If you have the time you can unravel the fabric to get tough fibers that work for fishing line, sewing thread or – after boiling – sutures.
If you can haul large chunks of steel around, you’ll find uses for them. Doors, trunk lids and hoods can be used to build lean-to(s) or animal enclosures. A hood will make a strong, weatherproof roof for a small shed.
12. Spare parts
Finally, and most obviously, look out for abandoned vehicles the same make and model as your own – and when you find one, strip out everything you can. If you can tow it home, or get a truck and chain-fall to it, that even includes the engine. The more parts you have, the lower the chance of your own one being terminally immobilized by a breakdown.
Look for generic parts as well. Air and oil filters, wiper blades, bulbs and fuses – anything that will fit yours and can be scrounged.
Abandoned vehicles can be a nuisance. They block roads, generally clutter the place up and can even be a fire hazard. They’re also a valuable resource, though. In an emergency situation you should never walk past an abandoned car without searching it for anything useful, and in the long term you should locate every hulk within range of your home and strip it bare. You might never need the materials you recover, but who knows? If you ever do need a dozen hubcaps in a hurry, it’s easier to get them from a stack in your yard than to try and remember where you’ve seen some.
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