Salvaging Useful Items from Abandoned Cars

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Salvaging Useful Items from Abandoned Cars

In the fallout of a major disaster, one of the most common features of the new landscape is going to be the endless cars lining the sides of highways. Once they run out of gas, or hit an impassable road block, they'll have been abandoned as the inhabitants continue their journey towards shelter and safety. These vehicles present an ample opportunity for a survivalist, as there are a host of items you can salvage from the wreckage. Doing so however, represents a bit of a dilemma. You're essentially taking something that isn't yours, and where do you draw the line between scavenging what you need and becoming one of the looters carrying armfuls of jewelry and electronics back to their homes? Personally, I believe the crux of this issue relies on what you're taking, and the reason for it. In a matter of life and death, what you're able to scavenge could make all the difference to your survival. Take only what you need, any more is going to be impractical to carry anyway. Here's where to get started.

Search the trunk

Always head to the trunk first, it's your best chance to find useful items. Look for tools you can use to remove other items from the car, like a screwdriver or a spanner, and keep an eye out for particularly good items like a pocket knife, multi-tool or a flashlight. Jumper cables are good cordage, a tire iron can be used to defend yourself, and if you're lucky there might even be a bag with spare clothes or a blanked in there. Of course, most people would take these items before abandoning their car, but you might just get lucky.

Center console and the glove box

Just like the bottom of my wife's handbag, you never know what you'll come across when you start searching inside the car. Raid the glove box, center console and the pockets behind each seat. Look underneath seats too, and grab anything useful. Expect to find cigarette lighters, a first aid kit, fire extinguishers, and if you're really lucky a candy bar that was dropped and left behind before the vehicle was abandoned.

Start stripping the car

Now you've pulled out anything you could immediately use, there's still plenty of useful items that are a bit more difficult to get.
  • Mirrors. Use your knife to pry the rear-view mirror from the windshield, unscrew it with your multi-tool, or give it a decent kick and it should snap off at the base. You can use the mirror for a signal or to start a fire.
  • Seat covers. If you're somewhere cold cut the material from the seats to use wrapped around yourself for extra warmth, or as an insulator from the ground. Leather seats are great because you can use the material to waterproof your shelter, or improvise tough pants and shoes.
  • Carpet. Cut all of the carpeting out from the floors, and remove any rubber matting. These make for great ground cover as another insulator from the ground.
  • Seat belts. Extend them out as far as they can go and cut them off, to get a couple of meters of really strong cordage. You can split them down to smaller strands if you don't need a wide belt, giving you plenty of cordage to construct a shelter.
  • Battery. If there's any charge left you can use the jumper cables or rip some wiring from the car to spark a fire, or with a power inverter and a 12V plug you could also charge your devices. I'd not recommend taking the battery from the car (they're rather heavy to carry any distance).
  • Wires. Strip out all the electrical wiring you can, it makes for fantastic snares, cordage to build a shelter, or bundling things together to make it easier for you to carry. You can never have enough cordage!
  • Tires. The black smoke from a burning car tire makes an excellent signal which can be seen for miles, which can be used in a pinch to call for help. The downside is the smoke is very toxic, and in many areas burning car tires is illegal, so be very careful to avoid breathing it in, and only ever do this in an extreme situation.
  • Gasoline. With a siphon you can extract any remaining gasoline from the fuel tank, which can be transferred to your vehicle, used to help start a fire or keep one going. One word of caution here, use a rubber hose to do this. Attempting to puncture the tank from underneath is a dangerous strategy as even a small spark can ignite the fumes and cause a small explosion.
  • Water. Always check it's potable before you start chugging it, but you will usually find a small cache of pure water in the windshield-wiper tank.
  • Bonnet, doors and the boot. If you've got the right tools removing these becomes rather simple, although it's going to be almost impossible without a spanner. The bonnet and boot can be fashioned into a simple lean-to shelter, while the doors curve makes them a great impromptu sled if you've got a whole pile of supplies you need to move (or an injured group member).
Remember though, if you're ever stuck with a broken down vehicle and you think there's a chance you'll be rescued, your best option is to stay with your car. With the windows intact it's already going to shelter you from the elements, and it's a much easier landmark to spot than a lean-to made out of brush. Only ever leave your vehicle if there's no rescue coming, or it's not safe to stay in your car.