How To Turn A Broken Car Into A Survival Super Market

old car featured

You should be riding around with survival gear in your vehicle. Period.

But just in case you get caught empty-handed, it doesn’t hurt to know about the useful pieces you can scavenge from a vehicle to help you survive.

Now I understand that most people usually don’t feel right about destroying their possessions, especially something as significant as a vehicle.

But if you end up in an emergency situation and need to tear up your ride for the raw materials as a matter of survival, then it’s time to color outside the lines.

How To Turn A Broken Car Into A Survival Super Market

After all, your vehicle (and the pieces therein) can be replaced.

Your life cannot.

Check out this video from Discovery Channel's  Dual Survival and see what they manage to scavenge off of a broken down vehicle:


Here are some of the most useful parts of a vehicle, which would be valuable commodities in a survival scenario:


The rearview mirror is your easiest target, and it can usually be removed from its bracket by sliding it down the windshield. The side mirrors will take more creativity or destruction to remove, depending on the make and model of your vehicle.

The mirrors can make a fine, clear signal mirror to flash sunlight to distant targets. The mirrors can also be handy for first aid, especially if you are by yourself. Without a second set of eyes on the problem, wounds, ticks and other problems on your backside are awfully hard to treat without a mirror.

Fabric and Insulation

No, your insurance won’t cover your wanton destruction. But it could be worth the dissection and removal of upholstery and foam to create warmth in a cold environment.

Anything that would pass for dead air space can be used for insulation. Carpet, mats, and seat covers can all be used for bedding or makeshift blankets.

Plastic and Rubber

The plastic and rubber on most cars and trucks will burn with black smoke, which is great for daytime signaling. Floor mats, dashboards, and any other plastics can be thrown on a big fire to make the desired dark plume.

Tires require more caution. Never roll an entire spare tire onto a fire. The pressure will build and it will explode dangerously. Let the air out of the tire, too, before you start cutting it into pieces to chuck into the bonfire.

Caution: Stabbing a pressurized tire has caused blades to blow back on their wielder and do bodily harm.

The Battery

The vehicle battery and a bit of wire can give you sparks to start a fire. Be extremely careful that the wire doesn’t weld itself into a complete circuit, which could cause the battery to melt down or even explode.

If you’re part electrician or part MacGyver, you can wire up the battery to the vehicle horn and/or a headlight. This rig can be used for a heavy, yet still portable, signal device.

Other Useful Car Parts

Many other useful car parts abound. If the vehicle is old enough to still have a cigarette lighter, you can use this as a safer way to make a fire than previously explained.

Motor oil and other oils will burn with black smoke to create a smoke signal. Wires can be used for snare lines.

Older cars can have some magnesium parts, like distributor caps, which can be shaved and used for fire starting. Newer cars may have even more magnesium under the hood.

Steering column mounts, tranny covers, engine mounts, exterior cowl (Mustangs), dash frames, seat frames, etc. can be scraped or shaved to make dust which will light with a hot spark.

Any other ideas we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 23, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

23 Responses to :
How To Turn A Broken Car Into A Survival Super Market

  1. richard1941 says:

    If civilization collapses, you can use the ignition coil and car radio to create a text messaging system with a range of hundreds of miles. You will need a lot of wire for an antenna, which you can obtain from the starter motor. (You will need the generator to keep the battery charged.) To learn more, see the Radio Amateur’s Handbook, 1918 edition. The usual publications fail to mention that two spark gaps in series are more effective at generating high frequencies than a single spark gap.

    A variation of morse code is required if you are just sending ticks: you must end each character with a final tick so that the listener will be able to distinguish a final dit from a final dah.

    Think about it and go to a really old library to learn more. This is very low tech radio.

  2. Esteban Cafe says:

    Siphon any remaining fuel–fire starting might be a bit more dangerous but it is instantaneous.

    If you have the means (bolt cutter) to cut tires they make good resoles for boots, the more gnarly the tread the better. I’ve seen sandals made out of old tires.

    Cars make good wind/rain shelters.

  3. richard1941 says:

    More on improvised radio

    The best frequency to shoot for is the low end of the AM broadcast band, 540 to 640 kHz. You can use an ordinary AM radio, which far surpasses the sensitivity of the very best radios of 100 years ago. Such a system works best late night and early morning. To get a feel for what is possible, listen where there is no local station late at night and you will hear the far away stations. A tick from a spark gap will momentarily overpower the steady power of a broadcast transmitter and will be clearly audible. Best of all, it can be stealthy: a NWO goon will think it is just interference unless he has been clued in by traitors.

  4. Chuck says:

    The remarks about ticks from a spark gap were a little too technical for me. I will admit, I did not get my radio merit badge. Perhaps a short lesson, “Radio for Dummies” might be in order from Richard1941.

    If you are trashing out your car, don’t siphon out the gas. A mouthful of gas tastes nasty, especially the MTBE stuff they sell in Kalyforya. If you manage to suck in a lungful it results in a long, painful death. Get under the car with a catch pan and something sharp. Punch a hole in the lowest spot of the gas tank, or it it has a drain plug, unscrew the drain plug. Be very very careful not to cause a spark as you are punching. A pointed stick is slower but safer. Lots of gas is being stolen from SUVs out here in the Peepuls Republik by the hole-in-the-tank method.

    1. j-roc says:

      Siphoning gas is done much easier and safer with two hoses and a rag. Insert one full length hose all the way into the tank, insert a much shorter hose just inside the fill tube. Stuff the rag into the area where the gas cap would sit in order to seal the area around the tubes such that it is air tight. All you have to do now is blow into the shorter tube until the gas starts coming back.

      1. Marius says:

        My God, dude! Where you were hiding before this posting?!…You’re a Gennius!Now, I have enough experience to syphon some gasoline from my car’s tank when I need to fill my Primus when I’m camping, without taking a sip of it, but your idea is a game changer! Why to Hell sip from your gas tank, when you can actually blow on it with better results!!!…
        I’ll have the device ready by the end of the week! Thanks!!!

      2. Daystarr says:

        Another method that works without the danger of inhaling gas is to use a hose long enough to go all the way to the back of the tank. Insert hose fully into tank, then cover the end with your thumb. Pull out rapidly until exposed end is lower then the tank, and release. If the tank is more then half full, you should be able to get the gas to flow. It make take a couple of tries, but it does work.
        This method works especially well on larger tanks, such as diesel tanks on Semi-tractors or farm tractors.

    2. PUNISHER says:


      1. Bob G says:

        CAUTION is the watch word: Even an empty tank can still explode because of the fumes left behind when the gas is gone.

  5. Daddoo says:

    Some further ideas: If you survival situation is such that you are with your own car and hoping to be found by rescuers, you may just want to stay with your car as it can provide shelter from the elements and animals. It will likely be easier to spot from the air than hikers, unless your heat signature is being searched for. If you have to hoof it out of there, you can probably backtrack to a road. Leaving behind a message for trackers would be a good idea if you want to be found. Wiring may be useful in the absence of string. Wiring and seat fabric may be used to fashion a rucksack or backpack. A headlight’s parabolic reflector might be useful as a solar fire-starter. A windshield washer fluid reservoir might be convertible into a canteen. Perhaps airbags can be put to some use, if they can be safely extracted. A steel tool from the glove box might be good for making sparks to ignite tinder. Umbrella as a sunscreen.

    1. Frdmftr says:

      Do not use a windshield washer reservoir for a makeshift canteen. Windshield washer fluid often has components of anti-freeze in it, and anti-freeze is deadly poison. Rinsing it out with fresh water is not sufficient.

  6. Ms Zip says:

    If you have a removable console, as in many caravans, SUVs, you can use it to catch rainwater.

  7. Frdmftr says:

    Carry solar-powered driveway lights. Set in the sun during the day and they provide light most of the night. Good for home use when the power fails too; lots safer than candles. Carry chemical lightsticks as another alternative. Carry fleece blankets — easier and less energy-intensive than tearing up your upholstery. Carry a rechargeable spotlight and keep it charged — works in the daytime to signal search aircraft. Carry a battery-powered strobe light available from pilot shops; also good in the daytime. If you carry butane lighters; carry them in a sealed container or the volatiles will boil off over time and they won’t light — a better choice is kitchen matches in a sealed container or ziplock bag. Carry a military poncho to keep from getting soaked — carry two to make a shelter. Carry a quality camp knife and hatchet. (A Ka-Bar is not a camp knife; it is a lightweight fighting knife. You need strength and weight for cutting kindling.) Most important of all: Don’t plan on using all your energy crafting some tool or shelter like Cody Lundin unless you have lots of food available and some way to prepare it. Think ahead of time and take what you might need in the gravest extreme with you.

    1. Marius says:

      You do not cut any firewood with knife, you cut it with a seesaw metal cord. It costs less than 5$ a piece, and on the top of that can be used for other purposes, like fishing line, cord for a selfmade bow, and if you still have a working car, it can replace your broken acceleration cable for a while…That’s why I have tvo or three in my trunk, one in my backpack, and one in my pants’ left pocket…

    2. Bob G says:

      Even a butane lighter that has run out of butane can still cause a spark useful for lighting fires. If you are carrying your cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly in their water tight container, put one or two in with your kindling and let that “worn out” lighter spark set your fire to blazing.

  8. offyman says:

    I’ve worked on race cars and street cars for quite a while and have never seen one with a magnesium distributor cap. Magnesium is a conductor of electricity so is not likely to be used in this situation.

    1. Bill T says:

      Some distributor caps used magnesium contacts inside the distributor cap where the spark is transferred from the rotor to the plug wire.

    2. Lynne says:

      The magnesium is in the tower contacts – where you DO want to conduct electricity. He did not mean the cap itself is made of magnesium.

  9. Victor Barney says:

    Wow! Great information! Thank you very much!

  10. Marius says:

    Gee, I started to get bored on this website,till I got on this article.
    Good topic, good writing and more than that, very good comments. Actually, thanks to j-roc I just learned something new…
    Now,back to the topic. If you are stranded out in the wilderness, and you have the means to hunt ( I always have in my trunk a bow and six arrows, and I know how to use them , but you can improvise a trap anytime), you can take your trunk hood, put it over a wooden fire, and use it as a stove. And guess what, if you’re carefull with it, it may even fit back…

  11. steve belcher says:

    dont forget the welt cord from seats as a wrapping and the headliner for a blanket and if you are siphoning when you fill up one container you can jamb the end of the hose back into the fuel nozzle so that it will stop running just pull it down to get fuel pouring again.

  12. Jaime Cancio says:

    I always get a kick out of watching idiots in the field and their impressed survival skills and often more a joke than any true survival usefulness. Only idiots would get caught in a survival situation and not be prepared. I used to go camping quite a lot and learned a great deal far a field about survival in the field. Sorry I am not only lazy I am also very smart. I determined all that was necessary to keep me alive in any situation and in any weather. I created a 36-48 hours immediate emergency bag, a three day bug out bag and a seven day bag that could be worn on my back, or pulled along by its own wheels and I could also use to transport all my supplies. With all three of those I could stay alive in the field for a minimum 12 days. When camping and hunting the 36/48 hour bag was always with me and so was a 9″x5″x3″ belt pouch that carried enough food to keep me alive for seven full days, and a canteen always full of water. All my needs were met in those preparations that include shelter [tent, tarp, wool blankets], food, water, ways to keep warm and cook my meals, medical supplies, sleeping gear and so much more. And even today, you would be amazed how small those bags were and what they contained could accomplish. When I see idiots like this scavenging when they could of easily prepared – they have nothing of value to teach me as they are idiots. I also kept an additional five-to-twenty gallons of water at all times in my car this to include an additional two weeks of food – this came in handy during the Rodney King riots in L.A., CA. when Highway Patrol stopped and blocked traffic – as was always useful when I went camping. And if you think I don’t know a thing or two or three of how to survive in the field you would be a fool. What I really laugh at with these two idiots where are the tools needed to make small automobile repairs and basic camping tools in the car. One thing for sure I learned better than most was how to keep things compact and light weight and accomplished exactly what I needed it to do. Only good preparation can do this – learning good field practice in all environments is necessary also.

  13. Zach says:

    Most cars will still have the jack in it whether it be in the trunk or behind the passenger set like it is in my Ford Ranger. It could be useful in some situations if you need.

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