The following scene is standard for most disaster movies: crowded highways and honking horns as people try to flee a city. Occupants then abandon their cars and continue to flee on foot as the disaster pursues them.
This could happen in real life. And if it does, there will be a magnitude of abandoned cars just waiting to be looted. In addition, most of those cars are probably packed with supplies.
If the vehicle’s previous occupants were attempting to flee by car, they probably took a few minutes to load it up with supplies. But what fits in a car won’t fit in a backpack – so most of those valuables will have been left behind.
Cities and towns will run out of resources quickly in any long-term disaster as the majority of people – unprepared – loot and ransack stores and hospitals. Many of them won’t think about or will be too scared to check out abandoned cars.
When the dust settles and you start running low on supplies, the supplies, parts, and items in those cars might just save your life. Plus, scavenging for resources in cars is much more likely to produce results than looking in buildings that have already been picked clean.
Before you Start
There are more than 300 million vehicles in the US alone – that leaves a lot of opportunity for the scavenger. In addition to the supplies inside the car, the vehicle itself offers several key items. You don’t need to be a mechanic, but you will need a few basic tools and a sharp eye to locate valuable car parts.
Before you start looking through any vehicle:
• Make sure the car is truly abandoned.
• Have another person stand guard while you search.
• Check for car keys first; it’s easier to take a car with you than to search it now.
• When looking for car parts, target economy cars (they are easier to take apart).
• Look for vans and work trucks. These vehicles have a higher chance of containing valuable items.
• Take the resources you need most first. You never know how much time you will have to search.
• Check the glove box and center console for hidden items.
What to Look for
#1 Gasoline is the most obvious resource to go for and will probably be gone if anyone has made it to the car before you. To remove gas from a fuel tank, you will need a small rubber hose, a piercing instrument, and a container.
The model of the car will play a big role in this task. Newer vehicles have screens or valves that prevent siphoning. If you are dealing with this type of car, look under the car for the fuel tank and use a knife to poke a hole in it. Place a water jug or other container below to catch the fuel as it spills out. If the gas isn’t flowing quickly, poke a second hole in the fuel tank.
If you’re trying to get fuel out of an older vehicle, you just need to pry off the metal flapper near the opening of the tank. Use your mouth and the rubber hose to siphon the gas. Make sure you don’t inhale the fuel into your mouth.
#2 Jacks and tools can be valuable in many situations and can be used as weapons in emergences. You don’t need any advanced car knowledge to get these tools out of a car, but you do need to know where to look. Check beneath the floor panel in the truck and under and behind seats.
Once you’ve found the jack and tools, it’s time to remove the tires (look for the spare tire first). Tires are extremely versatile and can be used for the following:
• Create a rescue signal by burning (make sure to let the air out first)
• Use to build a shelter that absorbs heat
• Fill with dirt and grow plants
• Cut in half and use as an animal feeder
#3 Carpet and upholstery may not be the first things that come to mind, but these soft, thick fabrics make for good insulation materials that you may need in survival situations. You can use carpet and upholstery as bedding, blankets, or shelter against cold and wind.
Note: Do not use these materials for kindling. They contain chemicals that release toxic fumes when burned.
#5 Seatbelts are made of strong nylon and can be used as durable cordage. Cut them from the car with a sharp knife.
#6 Mirrors can be used to make rescue signals, to start fires, and to see your reflection when inspecting an injury or practicing personal hygiene. Use a flat screwdriver or knife to pry out exterior mirrors. Interior mirrors can be unscrewed from the vehicle’s roof.
#7 A car battery is heavy, but has several uses if you can take it with you. Car batteries have the ability to provide long-lasting electrical power. They can be used to start fires, jump-start other vehicles, and when used with power inverters are able to power electronics like radios and phones.
Most batteries are easy to find when you pop the trunk.
#8 Automotive lights, when wired to a 12-volt battery, will instantly produce a bright light that can be used to light up your shelter in a world without basic power. If you have some electrical skill, you can remove the entire headlight assembly. Or, you can remove the bulbs themselves.
You will need a pair of needle-nose pliers and a set of wrenches to remove the lights. With older cars, you can reach behind the headlights and twist or unclip the bulbs to detach them from their housings. Cut two pieces of wire from the car’s engine and connect the negative and positive battery terminals to the matching bulb terminals for a brilliant light.