The Automotive Survival Skills You Need to Get Away

From Car and Driver

From the June 2020 issue of Car and Driver.

Let’s say you need to flee civilization, or maybe just outrun the miasma of cable news and social media. Either way, when it’s time to bug out, a vehicle is your ticket to escape from reality.

It really doesn’t matter what you drive; Car and Driver‘s favorite U.S. roads deliver the same mind-focusing curves and breathtaking panoramas whether you’re at the wheel of a Porsche or a Buick. Find the one nearest to home—or farthest from it—and leave everything else behind.

Going off road? You might be able to go farther than you think in the old family ride, as Ezra Dyer found out when he tailed a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon through a gnarly trail of obstacles in a Toyota RAV4. Turns our crossover can likely carry you farther than you’d normally push it. But if things were normal, you wouldn’t be bugging out.

And of course, once you’re out there, out on the road or in the wild, plenty of things could still go wrong. You’ll need a few skills, just in case.

Survival Skill No. 1

Change a Tire

We’re not talking about bolting on the spare. This is how you replace your worn rubber in a world without Discount Tire. Note: It’s a lot harder if you’re rolling on low-profile tires.

1. Loosen the lugs, jack up the vehicle, and remove the wheel.

2. Bleed the air from the tire. With the tire lying flat, slide it under the car so the sidewall is beneath the sturdiest low point of the underbody. Lower the jack. The car’s weight will push the tire bead off its seat. Raise the car and repeat the process, spinning the wheel each time until the bead is free. Flip the wheel over and repeat on the other bead. Pro tip: Place a wood block or a brick between the vehicle and the tire to focus the weight on the bead.

3. Insert a crowbar and a long-shaft screwdriver between the tire and the rim. Pry the bead to the outside of the wheel with the crowbar and hold it there with the screwdriver as
you work your way around. Make sure that the bead directly opposite from where you’re prying is in the wheel’s drop center (i.e., the small-diameter section of the wheel’s barrel). Kneeling on the tire will help. Repeat the process for the second bead, pulling it over the same side of the wheel.

4. To install the replacement, reverse step three, using the crowbar to force the new tire over the wheel. Lubricate the beads (WD-40 works well) to make it easier.

5. With the tire on the rim, shoot a few squirts of an explosive aerosol into the tire cavity. Ignite this from a safe distance—the flame should be farther from you than just at the end of your fingers. There will be an explosion.

6. You’re still alive? Congrats! Check the tire pressure and adjust if necessary. Refit the wheel to the vehicle and drive.

Survival Skill No. 2

Siphon Fuel

Whatever you do, don’t drink the fuel. That should be easy, because the best way to siphon it involves blowing into the tank, not sucking fuel out.

1. To siphon fuel from a modern vehicle, you’ll need a semirigid tube to make it past the internal valve. PEX or polyethylene tubing works well. Insert a 10-foot-long, quarter- or half-inch-diameter piece into the filler neck until it bottoms out. If it catches as it’s inserted, rotate the tube as you push. Blow into the tube to confirm that the end is submerged. You should feel backpressure in your mouth and hear bubbling from the tank. Place the free end of the tube in a jerrycan that’s positioned lower than the fuel tank you are siphoning from.

2. Insert half of an 18-inch-long tube into the filler neck alongside the other tube.

3. Wrap a rag or plastic bag around the tubes and stuff it into the top of the filler neck to create an airtight seal.

4. Blow into the short tube until fuel comes out the long line. Fuel will continue to flow after you stop blowing.

Survival Skill No. 3

Hot-Wire a Car

If you’re trying to hot-wire something built more than a few years into the 21st century, forget about it. If you’ve got a really old vehicle with coil ignition and without a steering-column lock, all you need to do is run a wire from the positive battery terminal to the positive side of the coil and cross the poles of the starter solenoid with something metal. This step-by-step guide will help you hot-wire any of the tens of millions of vehicles in between.

1. Remove the trim around the ignition switch and loca
te the bundle of wires connected to the switch.

2. Identify the wires that bring power to the switch from the battery. They’ll generally be larger in diameter than the other wires in this bundle. (What? You didn’t do any research on this model to figure out what colors the important wires are?)

3. Identify the wires for the body and electronic control modules. They, too, should be thick wires.

4. Strip the insulation from the two power wires and the two control-module wires, then splice one power to the body control module and the other to the electronic one.

5. Identify the starter wire(s). If there are two, cut them, strip back the insulation, and touch them together just long enough to start the engine. If there’s only one, cut the wire, strip the end, and touch it to one of your two powered circuits. Wrap the end(s) to prevent accidental contact as you drive.

6. If there’s a steering-column lock, you’ll have to break it. Do you have a long pipe to wedge into the spokes and crank on the steering wheel? No? Well, then that’s a whole other process.

The Bug-Out Trunk

You may be familiar with the idea of a bug-out bag: a backpack or duffel filled with essential medications, clothes, firearms (if you are so inclined), food, and other necessities. But if you’re really fleeing a hairy situation, wouldn’t you take your car? So why limit yourself to a backpack? Assemble the following in a corner of your garage so you can toss it all into the trunk at a moment’s notice and ensure that your car continues to serve you long into the apocalypse.

  • A selection of sockets and wrenches
  • Persuasion tools (hammers, Vise-Grips, pliers, pry bars)
  • A voltmeter, wire strippers, and electrical tape
  • Duct tape and WD-40 (these do-alls may become the bullion of apocalyptic currency, so pack multiples)
  • A tire-patch kit and a few cans of Fix-A-Flat
  • A Schrader-valve bike pump, which works on car tires, too, though it takes longer
  • A tire-pressure gauge
  • An atlas and a compass
  • A four-foot piece of pipe to slide over a ratchet handle to act as a breaker bar
  • A spare tire and a jack (if your car doesn’t already have them)
  • A hand-operated pump and tubing to transfer fuel quicker than siphoning
  • An LED flashlight and a headlamp
  • Compatible rechargeable batteries and a solar-powered charger
  • A come-along plus snatch straps
  • A compact shovel
  • 300 feet of paracord
  • Five quarts of engine oil
  • A five-gallon gas can
  • Five-gallon buckets, as many as you need to store everything on this list, plus one that can be filled with drinking water

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