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Driving an Old Car to Protect Yourself from EMP

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If you're concerned about an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), driving an old car is a really good idea. How old? Most cars started to get "electronic" ignition systems in the early 1970s. Here the term "electronic" refers to a means of generating the spark that's more than just a simple set of breaker points like old cars had. Or anything that's got transistors or integrated circuits (a.k.a. silicon "chip" based electronics).

I think a few of the futuristic ones may have had them in the late 1960s, I'll check that later. Diesel engines, not having spark plugs, are simpler electronically and generally speaking, later models are still electronics free, sometimes well into the 1980s. Also anything with electronic fuel injection (EFI) should be regarded as potentially EMP-fragile.

Are Modern Cars Sensitive to EMP?

I don't think that anyone really knows the true answer to this. And it's likely that no-one will know until it's too late. Unless perhaps an unbiased official study on modern cars is performed, if that ever happens. Ordinary people don't have access to the technology to create an EMP in a laboratory to do any testing on cars, even if they had access to vehicles they didn't mind sacrificing in the name of science.

With old cars you can choose from a broad spectrum of fashionable, restored, and expensive, to cars that are none of these.

In the absence of hard data, I'm inclined to take the view that most modern cars are likely to be damaged by an EMP. And that the more modern the car is, basically, the more likely it is to be damaged. This is because the level of sensitive electronic component use and computerisation in motor vehicles has gradually increased over the years. This began with the first simple electronic assisted ignition systems (generally in the 1970s), which used large power transistors. Transistors are a semiconductor device and thus potentially sensitive to EMP. However in this era the transistors were quite large and could carry higher voltages and currents before being fried than more modern electronics.

There was one large study done a number of years ago by the U.S. Government, which is often quoted as an example that modern computerised cars are safe from EMP. However the study was dodgey for a number of reasons. The cars were borrowed, and had to be given back. The EMP field was gradually increased, until any unusual effects were noticed (e.g. the car stereo rebooting itself), and then that car was deemed to be safe from EMP and was not tested at any higher electromagnetic field strength. Obviously this was a lot cheaper in terms of cost than to go further and risk actual damage to the vehicles. The study was done on 37 different cars ranging in age from 1986 through 2002. It's not 2018, 16 years after the most modern of those cars was built and 32 years after the oldest. That's like millenia in terms of the advancement of computerised technology. Modern cars now are vastly more computerised than cars from 1986 and even from 2002.

1970 and 1974 Volkswagen Kombi (T2) vans. These vehicles are both old and able to carry a lot of gear and/or people inside them.

Even if you have an old car, it's important to remember that it will be very hard (like almost impossible) to get petrol or diesel from the usual sources after an EMP event. Though of course you may store up some yourself. There are laws on how much you can store, and on distances the storage tanks need to be away from buildings. If you live on a rural property there will be a lot more options open to you - though if you're living in a city when an EMP goes off there will be more things than just petrol (e.g. food) that you'll need and will find it very hard or impossible to acquire. If you live in an urban or suburban location it would not be hard to keep a few metal 20 litre jerry cans of fuel in the garage. Considering that the fuel tank on most cars is in the 40-60 litre range, that's enough to double (or more) the distance you could go before running out of fuel, assuming there's nothing else to supply you from.

It will also be possible to siphon fuel from the tanks of newer, abandoned cars which don't run anymore. If it does turn out that the vast majority of cars are destroyed by the EMP, there should be plenty of those around, at least for a while.

If you have an older car at least you'll be able to drive home, and perhaps also drive to your bugout location.

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