Keeping Your Vehicle Running When SHTF

Personal vehicles are an integral part of most prepper’s plans. A personal vehicle, be they a car, truck, van or something else, factor heavily in most prepper’s survival plans.

The mobility, speed and carrying capacity of an automobile are undeniable advantages, not to mention the additional work capacity they convey. The ability to push, pull, tow and lift great weights could be just the thing to get you out of a jam!

In a post-SHTF world, the reliable operation of your vehicle is going to be more important than ever. In this article we will discuss some tips and procedures for keeping your car or truck running in the aftermath of a society-toppling event.

A reliable vehicle can be your lifeline.  Without it, you are very limited in how far you can travel. The following are some basic tips to help keep your vehicle running.

I’ve read plenty of posts about bug out vehicles… but not many on keeping your bug out vehicle running for extended amounts of time.

Personally, I don’t have a garage with enough space to store an entire set of parts, including engine, for my vehicle. Some people don’t even have garages.

I do however have tools to remove or replace just about any part on my vehicle.  I’ve also performed many part replacements myself.  I have the know-how, but don’t have the funding or space to store an entire set of parts.

In fact, I have a rather large collection of automotive tools. Every time I buy parts online, I normally add on an extra tool which I don’t have, such as a socket set or a spark plug gap tool, and use a coupon code which ends up discounting enough that the tool is free, and I even get some money off the cost of the parts.

One of the things I’ve found is that many people who don’t have the space to store a set of parts for their car or truck, DO have the space to store a toolkit.

Vehicle Toolkit Essentials

A good rule of thumb is to have a toolkit which will allow you to work on most aspects of your vehicle.
The basics of a good vehicle toolkit are as follows:

Socket wrench setAdjustable wrench
ScrewdriversNeedle nose pliers
Wire cuttersCrescent Wrench
Allen wrenches (or hex keys)Ratchet and socket set
Spark plug socketTorque wrench
Universal jointGear puller
ClampVice grip pliers
Feeler gaugesPiston ring compressor
10 Things To Carry In Your Vehicle | Essential Emergency Items For Your Car Truck or Motorcycle

That should give you a good start. If you’re missing any of these tools, or if you want to expand your toolkit, you can find most of them at an auto parts store, or online.

I highly recommend if you do your own automotive work, look into what coupon codes are available to you on the web, and use those codes to help grow your collection of tools.  It will take time, but you’ll be surprised how quickly your tool collection will grow.

While you’re at it, try to pick up a repair manual for your vehicle.  Normally these manuals can be found on Amazon, or you can buy them from the auto parts store.

So with that said, what should you stock up on to keep your vehicle running, if you have limited space?

My recommendations: oil filters, motor oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and if you can, gasoline (make sure you use stabilizer, and even then try to use your stores and refill what you have stocked up).

Next on my list would be wiper blades, brake pads and shoes, rotors, and headlights.  All other parts have much longer life on vehicles, and could most likely be used after a disaster with long-term effects.

You Can’t Take it All With You

You ever stopped to notice the mammoth tool chest that an individual mechanic uses in a professional auto garage?

The massive, tall stacks of drawers and cabinets holding every possible tool he might need to work on a vehicle?

While it sure is nice to have access to the one, right tool when required, this is a problem for us: there is simply no way to carry all these tools with us on the road while leaving room for other vital supplies!

The solution is to prioritize the tools you choose to carry with you. The most important tools are those that will allow you to work on the widest range of problems.

The socket wrench set, ratchet and socket set, pliers, hammer, screwdrivers, crescent wrench and Allen wrenches should all be high on your list.

One of the problems that is often encountered when prepping a vehicle for a long-term emergency is storage. Where do you put all those spare parts and tools?

There are a few solutions to this problem. One is to get a tool box or chest which can be mounted in the trunk or cargo area of your vehicle. This will help keep everything organized and together.

Another solution is to get a carrying case or bag which will allow you to take your tools with you when you leave your vehicle.

A classic mechanic’s tool roll is a popular option but might not have enough room for everything you’d like to bring.

This is still a good option if you need to leave your vehicle for an extended period of time, such as in the event of a long-term power outage.

The most important thing is to make sure that you have everything you need to do the job, and that it is organized in a way that makes sense to you.

Also, it must be immediately accessible in case of a breakdown during a time-is-life situation. More on that in a bit.

Focus on the Most Likely Breakdowns

There are some things that are more likely to go wrong with your vehicle in a post-SHTF world than others, and it is wise to focus on those instances accordingly when prepping.

It does not mean that they will happen, or that you won’t have some other problem you’ll need to handle, but the odds are you’ll be dealing with one of the following at some point.

By far one of the most common problems is a dead battery. This can be caused by a number of things, such as leaving headlights or interior lights on, using the vehicle for heavy-duty tasks such as towing or pushing a stuck vehicle, or simply age.

Batteries don’t last forever! When a battery fails, you’ll struggle to start the vehicle if you can start it at all.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent a dead battery is to keep your vehicle well-maintained. This includes checking the battery periodically with a tester, keeping the battery terminals clean and making sure that the battery is properly charged when needed.

As always, replace it if it shows signs of serous degradation.

Dealing with a dead battery on the side of the road can usually be accomplished by use of jumper cables (if you have a following vehicle), a jump box (if you are alone or in a hurry) or by swapping the battery with a more capable spare.

Another all-too-common problem is a lack of fuel. AKA running out of gas!

This can be ultimately caused by a number of things, including the inability to find a working gas station, lack of funds to purchase fuel, or simply running out of fuel from use or a leaky fuel system.

There are a few things you can do to combat this problem. For any prepper, the very best thing you can do is treat 3/4 of a tank as “empty”; when your fuel gauge reaches this level, fill up!

Another is to have a contingency option in case you run out of fuel. This could include having a jerry can of fuel stored on or in your vehicle or using a siphon to extract fuel from a disabled or dead vehicle.

Another highly common, everyday problem is a flat tire. This can be caused by a number of things, including running over a sharp object (leak), a blowout from damage or defect (catastrophic failure), or simply wearing out the tire from overuse.

Any of them will see your vehicle essentially become immobilized.

Be warned that the incidence of flats and blowouts will be increased by an order of magnitude after any disaster or SHTF event worth the name; there will be tons of debris all over that is hell on tires!

There are a few things you can do to prevent a flat tire, such as keeping your tires properly inflated and inspected, checking them for wear and tear.

Another is to have a spare tire and the tools necessary to change it. A flat-tire repair kit should be a mandatory component of every on-the-road repair kit.

These are just a few of the most common problems that can occur with your vehicle in a post-SHTF world. By focusing on these areas, you can ensure that you are prepared for the most likely scenarios.

Skill Up

If you don’t know how to work on your own vehicle, now would be a good time to start learning. There are many wonderful how-to guides and videos for everything from changing your oil to restoring an engine block. If you have a mechanic friend, see if they’ll help you.

Chances are if you offer some cash or a nice home cooked meal for their troubles, they’ll help teach you how to do basic stuff.

One way to further reduce the chances of vehicle trouble during a SHTF scenario is to learn how to fix cars yourself. This is not an easy task and it does require some prior training and experience.

But, if you can become proficient in this skill, you will be able to handle most basic repairs on the go.

The Basic Parts of a Car -EricTheCarGuy

There are many ways to learn how to fix cars. You can find information in books, on the internet, or even from experienced mechanics. The important thing is to start now, so that you will have the knowledge and skill set when you need it.

Remember, your vehicle might be your only means of transportation in a post-SHTF world. By being prepared and taking the necessary precautions, you can keep the tires turning when you need them the most!

Dealing with Trouble on the Road

Now that we’ve talked about some of the most common issues, let’s talk about what to do when you experience one of them while on the road during a SHTF scenario.

If you have a problem with your vehicle, the first step is to stop and assess the situation. This includes determining the extent of the problem and whether you can safely continue driving or not.

If it is something that can be fixed relatively easily and quickly, such as a flat tire, then go ahead and do so. Just be sure to take all necessary precautions while working on or near traffic.

If it is something that requires more extensive work or if you are unsure how to fix it, then you will need to pull well off the road. This could include: fixing a broken engine, locating a mysterious noise, or doing something as simple as waiting for a radiator to cool before adding water to it.

When pulling over, be sure to do so in a safe place. This means off of the roadway and well away from traffic. It also means in a place that can afford you some concealment from other people, if possible or at least allow your lookout to spot people approaching while you work.

As always, ensure that your vehicle is stable and will not roll over or slip off the jack. If you are in a hostile area, it might be best to find cover (such as behind a building or a trail) and wait for nightfall before attempting any repairs.

If you look like you are “hurting” you’ll attract the wrong kind of attention from the desperate and criminal.

Once you have stopped, the next step is to access the tools and materials you will need to fix the problem. This is why packing your parts and tools so that they are always ready to grab is essential.

You don’t want to be digging out your spare tire, jack and lug wrench from beneath all your other survival supplies when you are broken down in a bad part of town!

Maintaining Situation Awareness during Repairs

It is also important to remember that, while you are stopped and working on your vehicle, you are a sitting duck. You need to maintain situational awareness at all times and be prepared for someone to take advantage of your situation.

This means keeping an eye on all approaching traffic, foot or motor, as well as keeping your firearm or pepper spray within easy reach just in case.

If you are traveling with someone else, it is a good idea to have them keep an eye out as well. This will allow you to focus on the repair at hand. Diagnosing and repairing a vehicle is an intricate task that requires, necessarily, total attention.

This is why having a trusty teammate who can pull security while you work is so important. Just be sure to communicate what you are doing and what they should be watching for, so there is no confusion.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only experience minor problems with your vehicle during a SHTF scenario. By being prepared and knowing what to do, you can minimize the amount of time your vehicle is down, stay safe while tending to it and keep moving towards your destination.

Sourcing Needed Parts after the End of the World

One of the biggest challenges you will face when trying to keep your vehicle running during a SHTF scenario is sourcing needed parts.

This might be especially true if the event results in a breakdown of society and infrastructure. In a worst case scenario, you might not be able to find the parts you need at all. Or, you might find that the price for those parts has skyrocketed out of reach.

There are a few things you can do to help mitigate this problem: Stockpile the spare parts now, before the event happens; use alternative or less common parts that might still be available (such as from other vehicles or even appliances); make or adapt your own parts, if necessary.

So, how do I plan to keep my vehicles running? Since ordering parts from the auto parts store will be out of the question, I’ll have to find (or barter for) interchangeable parts from compatible vehicles.

Fortunately for us, auto manufacturers will use specific parts in multiple vehicles. This reduces costs by being able to mass-produce fewer types of the same part.

For some people, it’s easy. For example, my Jeep Comanche is 100% compatible in the engine compartment with Jeep Cherokees from similar years. For others, it might not be so easy.

For example, what’s compatible with a Ford Escape? Or a DATSUN? That’s where the Hollander Interchange Manual comes into play. This wonderful guide is commonly used by junk yard or used auto parts dealers to identify compatible parts.

While the new guide is rather pricey, you can find used copies on Amazon or eBay for relatively cheap.

You could possibly also find one at your local library, so that you can write down the information relevant to your vehicle.  Keep in mind, this is for the person with limited space like myself. If you have the space, storing brand new parts is much more ideal.

The Road is Your Workshop

Prepping your vehicle for an extended emergency can be a daunting task. But if you take it one step at a time, and use some common sense, you can get the job done.

Learning to work on your own vehicle can not only help you in the future, but it will save you money today.  Take that extra money and use it wisely…buy other supplies, such as food or ammo.

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2 thoughts on “Keeping Your Vehicle Running When SHTF”

  1. My father went through the depression and WW II and both times tires were hard to get. I am guessing both (depression and WW) are likely again. Oil is another critical item both engine and transmission oil. Anti-freeze if you live up north. A good bicycle would be useful but don’t forget a couple of spare tires and the no-flat inserts to replace tubes. A good garden cart would be good. They have plans on the internet to make them from a single sheet of plywood. Don’t forget a wheelbarrow. A flatbed trailer can come in handy.

  2. This is an excellent post and something that I think we all need to get a whole lot more knowledge in. Like you said a running vehicle is going to be a very important part of prepping. If you have all this gear and food and really need to bug out then it is going to be a vital piece of equipment to get you there. I have plenty of tools and the repair manuals for all my vehicles. I also think that having all the parts for a vehicle is nearly impossible. Having vital reapir parts is going to be the key to keeping the vehicle running. Food for thought thanks for bring it up.


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