Abandoned Cars: Survival Salvage Ideas

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Last Updated on March 28, 2018

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from David Paul Smith. I believe that in our society there are so many items we take for granted. I would argue that generally we suffer from an extreme abundance of stuff that because of our culture or economics, throw away without much thought. I presume that I look at this like most people and that if we need something else, we can just purchase it. What if the stores weren’t reopening any time soon? How creative could you get with acquiring tools or implements that re purposed, could help you survive?

Assuming a protracted and severe enough crisis, there will be things lying around that don’t get used up. If you keep an eye out, you might be able to find all manner of survival gear that you might not realize now can be beneficial. Survival salvage is the idea that you can find items that can be put to use to help you survive even if the use wasn’t intended in the initial design. What ideas can you think of?

I have known an unusual collection of people who can’t always tell me where they have been or what they have done without them saying, “If I tell ya, I’ll have to kill ya.” My standard line is if you have to even break one of my finger nails it’s too much information.

Most of us have read about EMP and or Grid Down situations which could leave many people not where they want to be when the lights go out. On the road with a car that does not work and may not work again. We’ve all read the stories about walking past another nice useless car that won’t work because either the grid has gone down and gasoline is non-existent or there has been an EMP that has fried the wonderful electronics and rendered the car useless. We’ve read the stories of walking past the car searching for supplies to keep us going. Sometimes authors will talk about taking shelter in the car from a storm and or searching the car for supplies that their owners left behind. I have never seen anyone talk about using the parts of the car for your benefit.

The following are some survival tips that I gleaned from someone who has had to survive in some bad situations. When we first talked about someone taking out the grid which would limit the supply of gasoline, he mentioned to me that he has never seen anyone talking about heading to the airport and using aviation fuel for their car. He mentioned that during the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo he would routinely add a few gallons to his gasoline powered car to get himself home. It’s not great on the engine but it will work. Unlike gasoline, aviation fuel never goes bad. Don’t do this with a diesel engine. It won’t work.

His next piece of advice was to view any vehicle that you find as a possible outfitter shop. Cars and trucks are built with many different things that can be used in other ways that we don’t usually think about. He told me to look at a car and see if I could come up with at least two uses for it, other than driving it, if I was in a SHTF situation and had to get home. I looked and looked and finally said well if nothing else I could grab the lug nut wrench and use it as a crude weapon. He laughed. He then proceeded to tell me a few more uses that he has actually done with broken down cars to get himself to safety in places he would have to kill me if he mentioned.

He informed me that seat covers can be cut off and made into parkas very easily. Of course you may need to find the right size bucket seat. Cut the seat cover near the bottom, peel it off, cut a hole in the top and arm slits in the side. He said while it’s not a perfect Parka it helps a great deal at keeping a person dry and warm as opposed to someone who has nothing.

There are so many useful items on a car if you are using your imagination.

There are so many useful items on a car if you are using your imagination.

He then went to the window washer fluid. He mentioned that one of the larger problems is keeping things clean and sanitary. Most Blue Window Washing Fluids are a mixture of water and alcohol. While it’s far from being perfect the fluid can be used to clean dishes, hands, and even help disinfect a wound. Just never drink it.

Wires and some clamps can be used to build snares and sometimes some early warning systems. He also had me pull the oil stick. He told me he had personally used the oil stick for two different uses. One was to give someone searching for him a decoy situation where he set it up so it would be visible so when he had to ambush several people following him that they would be able to focus on the oil stick thinking it was a gun. It would allow him to get in a couple of extra shots before they would realize that they were had and look for another location. His second function for an oil stick was using it as an early warning system with some wire also from the car. He would set up a quick trap at night where the oil stick was tied to a tree bent back and held in place by some wire. Someone moves his trip line the oil stick is released to swing. He would personally set it up so it would hit most people in the face. He said it would not kill but most people who get hit in the face with anything in the dark usually make even more noise thus alerting him to their presence. BTW, if you’re looking to lease a brand new car check out CVS low credit car leasing deals.

He said if a car still has a telescope antenna to extend it out and break it at its base and take it with you. Again, it can be used to make someone think that you are pointing a gun at them in one place while you are somewhere else. It can also be used to help make a lean-to.

He mentioned that while it’s not as common as it use to be many cars still have hub caps which can easily be pulled off, cleaned out using the window washing fluid, and then used to either collect water in during a storm and or cooking with. He mentioned that if the owners left any kind of pliers in the vehicle to grab them. The pliers can be used to lift the hub caps on and off an open fire.

He also mentioned that if you don’t have a tent or lack a blanket that the cover of a bench seat can provide all kinds of possibilities. Again, cut them at their base and peel them off and take them with you. He also mentioned that they make a great lean-to in an on-the-run situation. He also mentioned that some truck linings also work well in this regard.

The head rests, with a little wire, also from the car, can often be made into a crude bag to carry stuff in and or a cap for your head.

He mentioned that if the car has the old style of light bulbs I should grab those if I can get to them without hurting myself. He has used light bulbs from vehicles as early warning devises to keep people from sneaking up on him, especially at night. They can be deployed and covered with a little dirt or leaves. He told me to step on one so I will know what it sounds like when someone is sneaking up on you and steps on one by accident. He said many bulbs will have a similar sound when they break. It’s not perfect, but in a dark situation without a moon and or night vision it’s better than nothing.

He also told me that if no one was around, and one of the windows were rolled partially down to use the smooth glass of the window to sharpen my knives before I walked away from the car. He said you always need to keep your knives sharp.

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Yes, you can use aviation fuel in a diesel engine, it works better than in a gas engine. You won’t get as much horsepower but it will run fine. I used reclaimed jet fuel from aircraft in rework in my tractor for years


Archie jet fuel and av gas are 2 different things jet fuel is kerosene and av gas is 140 octane gasoline. Put av gas in a diesel and it is ruined.


You’re correct, but he said aviation fuel , not av gas and I said jet fuel. Didn’t want people to not think about the airport for their diesels.


Good article, and I like your sense of humor! Most people don’t start thinking ‘out of the box’ until the situation forces them to. Here are a couple of other ideas for re-purposing an abandoned vehicle: 1) Car batteries can be wired together to provide extended 12 volt DC power. An inverter will enable you to use devices that only run on AC. 2) Abandoned vehicles can be used to create roadblocks and/or zig-zag points on roads where you may want slow down traffic or create a checkpoint. Removing the wheels makes it a permanent obstacle. 3) Tires can be… Read more »


personally It’s NOT mine–I do NOT steal others property. I don’t need the problems with taking something that’s NOT mine. it just might be a set up for getting Killed.


In a CME/EMP event, 70% to 90% of the US population would be dead within one year. That’s somewhere between 225 million and 288 million people. There will be millions of abandoned vehicles that will never be reclaimed because the owners are dead, and there will be no fuel for tow trucks to haul them off to an impound lot. Good luck with your personal survival plans…


So I guess being a auto mechanic would be a bad post-SHTF job huh? However…. you could learn how to melt it all down and sell it for new parts for the rebuilding!


In a SHTF situation, you would rather walk past supplies than help protect you and your family? Crazy town….. it says abandoned, not parked temporarily.


The first things I would go for is a bicycle, generators, 12v light bulbs, batteries and serpentine belts to produce and store power.

Mike Lashewitz

Ideas are ideas and these are great.


Ive always thought a smarter man than me (so everybody, basically) would be able to liberate the car cigarette lighter socket from the dash and be able to connect it directly to any car battery that may still be in place after TSHTF and charge phones etc.


Not as hard to do as you may think – give yourself more credit than that.


Another idea I read elsewhere is to rip out the seats and make some drainage holes in the floor. Then half fill the car body with soil and plant veges. Now you have a greenhouse.

Mjoying AZ

Great Idea!


Err, and the sunlight hits the veggies through the steel roof how?? Through the windows for 2 whole hours a day? Are you thick?


No. Are you well-mannered?


The toughest thing about DIY explosives is acquiring a detonator sufficient to initiate the larger main charge. Electronically fired sodium azide detonators retrieved from vehicle airbags would be useful as re-purposed detonators elsewhere.

C. B.

in the late 60’s & 70’s while in the Army it was common for us to put a gallon or two of 80/87 av gas in our cars. But now the government made it mandatory to have 100LL (low led) for recip aviation engines. Yes Av gas does go bad and it does collect moisture. One of the things I do before every flight is “sump” the wing tanks looking for water and contaminates. As for the rest of the article I read something very similar on another blog.

Mjoying AZ

Another thing you can do if you are in a “lost” situation, told to me by my father when I was 17 and got my first car. If you are ever lost in the wild, or a snow storm, and need to get rescued, take your spare tire, get some of the gas or oil from the car and light it. Make sure you don’t start the forest on fire. It makes a huge black smoke that can easily be seen. Also take the mirrors off and you can use them to signal planes.

Big country

If you have the means to remove the hood, a flat hood is remarkably easy to drag. Would make a decent sled for supplies or a wounded amigo. We’ve used hoods at the farm for years for hauling crippled animals and/or sledding on the snow.

Pat Henry

That is a good idea! I have seen them used before but completely forgot about that possibility. They could also work as a makeshift shelter component.


Excellent article! Well thought out and done well


In a SHTF situation, I am not going near an airport for fuel. WAY too many chances to get involved in some sort of altercation, be seen when you do not want to, etc…..


The safety belts can also be used, excellent for numerous uses… Straps, for First Aid (strapping a broken arm), rope, harnesses, gurney, trolley, bed or cart, makeshift gloves or shoes, etc.

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