About the only time preppers talk about their cars is in the context of using them for bug out vehicles. While that is important, our cars play a much more important role in our lives than that. In our modern, highly mobile society, cars are an essential part of our everyday lives. Most of us use them for everything; getting to work, taking our kids to school and activities, shopping and even going to different venues for entertainment. Chances are, when we are away from home, we have our car with us.
Seeing it that way, our car should become an important part of our survival plan. I'm not talking about a TEOTWAWKI situation here, but everyday survival; surviving the problems that we are likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis. What we could call the run of the mill emergencies of life.
Let me throw a few examples of what I'm talking about at you:
- A natural disaster occurs (storm, earthquake, tornado), stranding you at work
- You're driving between cities and run off the road in a snowstorm
- Someone gets injured while playing sports at the local park
- An active shooter situation occurs while you are shopping
- Your car breaks down and you're stranded in the middle of nowhere
That should be enough. The point is, emergencies can happen anywhere and anytime. Considering that, it only makes sense to have the one thing that we are most likely to have with us ready to deal with those emergencies. That way, we are ready and able to confront those emergencies head-on and overcome them; rather than just crying out for help that may not be able to get there.
Granted, in our modern society, help is usually no more than a phone call away. But in the midst of a winter blizzard, that help may not be able to get to you. For that matter, if an enemy were to attack us with an EMP, your call wouldn't be heard. In either case, you'd be on your own.
Start with Your Vehicle
The starting point has to be your vehicle. I've been turning my vehicles into survival tools for 40 years. Yep, my very first car, which I paid $100 for, became my first emergency response vehicle. It wasn't much, but it was what I had.
We tend to think that you have to have a 4x4 truck or SUV to make a survival vehicle out of it, but that's not true. Granted, those vehicles have some distinct advantages in a survival or emergency response situation, but they aren't the only vehicles you can use. Any vehicle can help you survive, even a motorcycle. The point isn't so much the type of vehicle, as how you have the vehicle prepared.
So, you need to start by ensuring that the vehicle itself is prepared. The last thing you need in an emergency situation is an unreliable vehicle. If you can't rely on it on a daily basis, or you have to kick it three times and pray while trying to start it, then you don't have a dependable vehicle. You need to start out by making your vehicle reliable. If you can't, then it's time to replace it anyway.
A reliable vehicle is an asset, regardless of how old and run-down it is. By reliable I mean one that will start when you put the key in the ignition, run without stalling, not overheat, and get you where you're going. Besides that, I'd say that it's important that the car have heat, the passenger compartment is totally closed in (a rag top is okay, if it isn't torn and works), and have a working radio to get the news on. One final requirement is a lockable storage space, such as the trunk.
Okay, so what does it take to make a vehicle meet my requirements of a "reliable" vehicle? Other than running, you need to keep an eye on these things, to help ensure that you don't have a breakdown due to the common, easily repairable problems.
- Gas in the tank - This may seem simplistic, but a lot of people think that filling the bottom half of the tank is enough. I used to work with a guy who only used the bottom quarter. Guess what; it doesn't cost any more to keep the top half filled, than it does to keep the bottom half filled. Let half a tank be your refill point, so that you always have a half a tank of gas minimum.
- Liquids - Check the engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid regularly, topping them off an necessary. Regular oil changes are the single most important part of maintaining a vehicle.
- Hoses - Blowing a hose is one of the most common causes of car's overheating. The combination of heat and chemicals gradually softens the rubber used in the hoses, weakening them. This eventually causes the hose to blow; but before this, it shows up as the hose expanding, usually at one end. Squeeze the hoses, when the engine is cool, looking for soft ones. If you find a soft hose, replace it.
- Belts - The belts in a car's engine, being rubber, suffer the same damage as the hoses. Damaged belts will appear cracked, with pieces of the inner ridges broken out. The sides of the belts might be worn or even missing part of their width. All of this indicates age, as well as problems with the various pulleys. If a pulley is out of alignment or the bearing is worn, the sides of the belts will become worn. Replace worn belts before they break; then keep the old one for an emergency spare.
- Tires - The single most common maintenance problem for cars is tires. Lack of proper inflation and alignment can make tires wear out prematurely, often ending their life at a most inopportune moment. Keeping good tires on a car is important for using it in emergency situations.
- Battery - If a car's battery is going to fail, it will probably be in the wintertime. The cold weather slows the chemical reactions that the battery depends on. If the battery is nearing the end of the manufacturer's stated life, you can be sure that it's not going to last much longer. Better to replace it, before getting stranded someplace.
- Dirty battery posts -This is another way that car batteries can be a problem. The amount of electric power going to and from the battery is enough to cause severe corrosion. This can eliminate the normal contact between the cables and the battery, making it so that the car won't start. Fortunately, all this requires is taking the connection apart and cleaning it, removing the corrosion.
Taking care of these areas will eliminate the vast majority of the potential breakdowns you can have in your car. Of course, tuning it up and general maintenance are important as well. Trying to keep a car limping along, when it has problems, rather than actually fixing it, is a sure way of having it break down at the worst possible moment.
Prepare for Vehicular Emergencies
Now that your car is taken care of and running well, the next step is to make sure that you are ready for any car-related emergencies. Even the best maintained cars can have problems. So, you need to be prepared to deal with them.
That means having the tools and parts in your car's trunk to take care of any emergency repairs that you need to accomplish on the road. While it is possible that you might run into a situation where you have a major repair to do, what you're more likely to encounter is a minor problem that can be easily rectified. However, even minor problems can incapacitate your vehicle, if you don't have what you need to have, in order to work on it.
So, the first part of your emergency kit is the things you will need to have to care for your car. This includes:
- Tools - No, you don't need a major took kit, but you do need a socket set, some combination wrenches, a few screwdrivers and a pair of pliers. Most problems can be taken care of with these few tools.
- Water or anti-freeze - If your car overheats, you're probably going to lose it all. Have at least two gallons with you at all times; one isn't enough.
- Other engine fluids - It's always a good idea to have some extra oil, brake fluid and other fluids with you, just in case.
- Belt - As I mentioned earlier, if you change a belt, keep the old one as a spare. If you don't have that, consider buying a new one to keep in your kit.
- Hoses and clamps - While most hose problems can be detected early, there's always a chance of missing one. Keeping spares on hand mitigates that risk.
- Spare tire - All cars come with spare tires, but most are the space saver type. Those are okay, but don't work too well in the snow. If you can replace the space saver with a regular tire, it's worth doing. If not, make sure it's filled with air. Most people never check their spare.
- Fix-a-Flat - This great product is used to fill a flat tire. It contains a sealant, so if you have a punctured tire, it can make a temporary repair. It also partially inflates the tire.
- Air compressor - A small compressor that runs off the cigarette lighter socket is great for those times when you puncture a tire. Use the Fix-a-flat first, then pump it up.
- Jack - For lifting the car and changing tires, or for doing maintenance work that requires getting under the car. The scissors jacks they sell with cars today are hard to use. You're better off with a small hydraulic jack.
- Lug wrench - Like with the jack, the one that comes with the car is hard to use. One that will give you more leverage is a good investment.
- Plug wire - If you replace your plug wires at any time, keep one of the longer ones as a spare. That way, if one gets damaged, you can use it for a temporary emergency replacement.
One other thing you should consider with your car is anything that regularly goes out. I owned a motorhome once that went through spark plugs and wires quickly, mostly due to engine heat. So, I always kept a spare set on hand. Another vehicle, a full-sized van, tended to go through distributor caps, so I kept one of them. These parts can only be found through experience, unless you know someone who has the same type of vehicle and can point out the problems they've had.
Your car emergency kit should be kept packed away in the trunk of your car at all times. If you have to use anything from it, be sure to replace it at the earliest possible time. That way, your car is always ready for any problem you might encounter.
Everyday Survival Kit
Many people carry an Everyday Carry Bag or EDC. This is a great idea for dealing with emergencies of all kinds. An EDC can also be used as a get home bag in the case of an emergency. But we can go a step better than that. If you drive your car regularly, then your EDC should be part of the emergency equipment you keep in your car.
One nice thing about an EDC that is kept in your car is that you don't have to worry about making it easy to carry around. Of course, if you get too much stuff in your EDC, you're not going to have enough space for anything else in your car's trunk. You also need to think about the possibility of having to carry it.
Nevertheless, you want to carry enough in your car to take care of pretty much any emergency that you're likely to come across. That means having enough to survive several days, if you need to, as well as enough to take care of various emergency situations. That means, as a minimum, having things that will provide you with shelter, warmth, clean water, food and self-defense.
The actual items you carry may vary, depending on where you drive. If pretty much all your driving is in the city or short highway distances between cities, then build your EDC around urban survival. But if you are out in isolated areas a lot, you'll want to focus more on wilderness survival.
Chances are, if you're in an urban area or on a major highway, a police officer will stop to check your car, allowing you to be rescued. But if you are in an isolated area, the police may not be patrolling it regularly. Therefore, you're going to have to depend on getting our yourself, rather than being rescued by the police.
One nice thing about survival with a car is that the car itself can provide you with shelter. While not the world's best shelter, a car is better shelter than most temporary shelters that you can build in the wild. It meets all the requirements of a shelter, protecting you from nature, with the only problem being that it may be a bit uncomfortable to sleep in.
So, what else do you need to keep in your car for survival?
- Water - In addition to the water you keep for the engine, you should have at least a liter or two of drinking water. This needs to be purified water, whereas the water for the engine does not.
- Water filter - When your water supply runs out, you'll need to be able to purify water. The easiest way to do that is with a straw-type water filter, such as the Lifestraw. Please note that you can't refill your water bottles with this sort of filter.
- Food - You should have some sort of food to eat. Since you aren't carrying a full bug out bag, stick to foods that don't require cooking, such as granola bars, beef jerky, nuts and dried fruit.
- Fire starters - If you need heat, you'll probably need to start a fire. Carry along at least two means of fire starting, such as a butane lighter and fireproof matches. Other fire starters, such as a Ferro Rod are not as easy to use. While they work, you're better off having things that will be easy for you to work with.
- Fire accelerant - In addition to the fire starter, carry some sort of accelerant, to be used in getting the fuel burning. While gasoline can be used, it's much easier to use cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or the commercially manufactured WetFire cubes.
- Rescue blankets - Can be used to form a lean-to heat reflector for your fire or to cover the inside of the car's windows, doors and roof, helping it to stay warmer inside. You will need several for this, so carry at least three.
- Duct tape - For use with the rescue blankets, as well as just being useful.
- Rain poncho - For the obvious reason. It also can be used for making an emergency tent or lean-to shelter if needed.
- Blanket - Much better for keeping you warm if you're stuck somewhere in the wintertime.
- Flashlight & extra batteries - For the obvious reason.
- Toilet paper - Also quite obvious.
- Plastic bags - Useful for a wide range of things, such as additional water canteens, storing food and even for going to the bathroom if you are trapped in your car during a blizzard.
- Compass & map - You should always have maps of anywhere you are traveling. Change them as necessary. If you can, have topographical maps as well, when traveling in the wilderness. You'll need those if you have to abandon your vehicle.
- Whistle - For signaling rescuers.
- Signal mirror - Also for signaling rescuers.
- Knife - The most basic of all survival tools.
- Multi-tool - Useful for a broad range of purposes.
- Phone charger - If your cell phone is working and you have signal, you can always call for help. But all too often, people's batteries run out. Keep a charger on hand and an external battery to charge from.
- Crowbar - Could be useful if you damage your car and have to jimmy a door or the trunk open. Don't forget, with most modern cars, you can access the trunk from the passenger compartment, even if the trunk won't open.
- Gun & ammo - Depending on the laws in the state where you live, you should probably have a gun to defend yourself from two-legged and four-legged predators. Not everyone who finds you will be willing to help. Some may want to take advantage of your situation. You need to be able to defend yourself.
- First-aid kit - You want a kit that allows you to treat trauma situations, such as gunshot wounds, broken limbs and serious injuries.
What to Do
If you suddenly find yourself in a crisis situation, away from home and in your car, the first thing to do is stop and analyze what has happened. Gather information and figure out the gravity of the situation. You need to know that, before you can do anything else.
Of course, you should have informed someone where you were going and when you were going to get back, before leaving in your car. That way, if you don't make it in time, they can call the authorities and get people looking for you. This one simple step has probably saved more lives than anything else.
Your number one decision is going to be whether you should stay with your car or abandon it. More than anything, this boils down to whether or not you can realistically expect to be rescued. It will be easier for any rescuers to find you in your car, than it will be if you are on foot. The car makes a bigger target that stands out better and is easier to spot.
Once you've decided on whether you are going to stay with the car or not, it's time to try using your phone. If you are in a remote area, that may not work; but if you aren't you can hopefully get in touch with someone and let them know where you are and what happened to you. Make sure you give them as accurate a fix on your position as possible, so that any rescuers that are sent out to look for you don't have to search extensively. The better that position fix, the faster they can find you.
If you are staying with your vehicle, you need to start preparing your vehicle and your camp. More than anything, you need to concern yourself with keeping warm. Line the inside of the passenger compartment with space blankets, taping them in place. This will help keep the heat from the car and from your body inside the car, where it can help you.
In the case of a vehicle that still runs, you can use the car heater for warmth. However, that will only last as long as the gasoline holds out. So, don't run it full time. If you don't have gas to burn, build a lean-to outside the car's door, on the downwind side, in such a way that it will act as a heat reflector for your fire. Build the fire between the door and the reflector, where it can warm the inside of the car.
With good position information, it's rare that rescuers will need more than 24 hours to find you; usually it happens in much less time. Of course, the weather is a factor as well. If there is a blizzard going on, they may have to wait for the blizzard to end, before they can look for you. In such a case, stay with your car. Don't go outside, as you could easily fall or be blown away from the car. A few feet away, you might not be able to see the car to get back to it.
Then there are the cases where it would be easier for you to walk out. Don't do that, unless there is little chance of being rescued. However, if you must walk out, wait until daybreak to do so. You're better off in your car overnight. This applies if you get stuck in the afternoon as well. Wait until the next morning to leave.
Unless you know the area where you are stuck very well, don't go cross-country; instead, stay with the road that got you to where you are, backtracking. Your chances of finding someone along the road are much greater than they would be cutting cross-country. About the only time you should cut cross-country is when you are doing so to cut a loop our of the road. But be deliberate about it in those cases, intending to save a certain amount of time on the road, by taking a specific shortcut.The problem with walking out is that it takes a lot of time, burning energy that you need. That's why the decision to stay with your car or abandon it is so important. The wrong decision could put you in greater danger, so you don't want to make it without analyzing the whole situation.