Today’s cars and trucks are electronic marvels. Computers control everything from when the transmission shifts to turning on the windshield wipers for you. Ever since computers were first introduced into cars in the 1970s, manufacturers have found more and more functions for those computers to do; some to help the engine run more efficiently and some to make driving easier.
But there’s a problem with that. An endless series of science fiction stories have shown what happens when computers run amok and take over the world. Ever since 2001 a Space Odyssey, out of control computers have been killing people. But what about when the opposite happens and computers just stop working?
That’s what would happen if one of our country’s enemies decided to attack us with an EMP. Rather than killing us by computers going haywire, it would be killing us by our computers breaking. Nothing would work, including our cars.
However, it is possible to have your car work after the EMP is gone. With a few simple preparations, you could be the only one on your block who is still driving, when everyone else is walking. For, as one engineer put it, “What one man can break, another can remake.” All it takes is having the right parts.
Basically, making a car work again, after an EMP requires replacing the damaged electronics. The mechanical parts won’t be damaged at all. So, here’s my list of what you have to have, in order to keep your car running after an EMP:
Computer (or brain)
Cars today have one primary computer which controls everything. This is normally a “black box” hidden under the hood, in the engine compartment. Your biggest problem might be in identifying it. These computers don’t look anything like the one sitting on your desk, nor do they look like what we imagine a black box to look like. They are odd-shaped plastic packages, with connectors somewhere on the side.
Of course, once you buy a replacement computer for your car, you’ll know what it looks like. That will make it much easier to replace. In most cases, the computer is fairly accessible, so you shouldn’t have much trouble replacing it.
Always check any of these parts that you buy. It is not uncommon for auto manufacturers to make mid-year changes to such systems, for a variety of reasons. The one you buy has to match what is already under the hood. So be sure to verify that it is the same. If you can, install it and verify that it works as well. This not only goes for the computer, but the other electronic parts mentioned below.
In addition to the computer itself, most cars have various electronic modules of varying sorts. Modern distributors, for example, aren’t the mechanical devices of yesteryear, but rather fully electronic devices, which are actuated by the computer, sending electricity to each spark through a series of solid-state relays.
There are also electronic modules for the antilock braking system and in the transmission. While some of these may survive the EMP, without damage (especially the one in the transmission), you can’t count on that. So you’ll need a full set of them.
The computer receives information from a variety of sensors, located around and in the engine. These tell the computer how much oxygen there is in the exhaust, where in the cycle the engine is at any moment, the temperature of the air and gasoline, engine temperature and a host of other information. While the vehicle may run without one or more of these modules, it will not run properly and efficiently without all of them functioning.
A lot of these sensors are nothing more than a pressure switch. Nevertheless, they are critical. So you need a full set of these sensors, in order to ensure that you can get your car running once again.
Tools & Information
Having the above-mentioned electronics is only a part of the problem. Some of those modules and sensors are hidden away in not so obvious places. So, you’ll need the necessary information about where they are located and how to get to them. A printed general service manual will provide you with this information. It will also help you to determine what sensors and modules you need to buy.
One of the best ways of identifying all the electronic components in a vehicle is to look at the vehicle’s electrical schematics. These should be included in whatever service manual you buy. If you don’t understand it, don’t worry, the guy at the parts counter in your local auto parts store probably can help you out. Look for anything that’s drawn as a box and see what it says that it is. Then buy one.
Of course, you’re going to need the tools to replace all those parts as well. A good general mechanics tool set, including ratchets, sockets, extensions, wrenches and other hand tools will be necessary. As you buy your parts, check to see that the tools you have will fit them. There may be a sensor or two that requires a large socket which wouldn’t be in a standard set, in order to remove and install.
Some modules and computer require programming, once installed. I recently had to replace both the antilock brake control module and transmission solenoid module on one of my vehicles. Both of those parts needed to be programmed, once installed. This requires the correct type of diagnostic computer.
Please note that these computers are expensive. This will undoubtedly be the most expensive part of your investment. But don’t cut corners here. Be sure to verify that the diagnostic computer that you are looking at buying will do the work you need it to, before making the purchase. Not all of them can do this sort of programming; some only diagnose.
Gasoline & Other Fluids
The other problem you will have is finding gasoline after the EMP. While there will probably be countless vehicles sitting around with fuel in their tanks, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have access to that fuel. Others will want it for a variety of purposes, including running lawnmowers, chain saws and starting fires. You need your own source of gasoline.
The problem with storing gasoline is that it doesn’t store well. The most volatile hydrocarbons evaporate quickly, reducing the effectiveness of the gasoline. Other components can oxidize, changing their chemical composition. There are a couple of things you can do to help overcome this problem:
- Rotate your gas supply, constantly using your old gasoline and replacing it with fresh gasoline. As long as you aren’t keeping it for more than six months, it should still be usable.
- Add a fuel stabilizer. This will extend the shelf life of gasoline another six months, to a year.
- Store it in a sealed metal container. During World War II, the military shipped gasoline to troops in the Pacific Islands in sealed metal cans. This helped keep it from going bad. The key is to remove as much air (oxygen) as possible and seal the can well.
In addition to gasoline, be sure to store other vehicle fluids. Replacing the transmission module will require draining the transmission fluid. It only makes sense to replace it. Replacing the antilock brake module will necessitate bleeding the lines, which means that you will lose a fair amount of brake fluid. Be sure to have enough fluids for at least one complete change.
Use a Faraday Cage
All of the electronics mentioned above are as susceptible to the EMP as the ones in your car. You will have to protect them from damage until you need them. This is easily accomplished by keeping them stored in a Faraday Cage.
Any metal container can serve as a Faraday Cage, as long as it totally encloses the electronic devices stored inside and those devices are electronically insulated from the metal case. The EMP will travel over the skin of the Faraday Cage, without damaging the items inside. But if any of them are in physical contact with the metal of the cage, the electromagnetic pulse can flow through them, destroying them.
One of the easiest ways of making an effective Faraday Cage is to buy a galvanized steel trash can. It can be lined with 1” thick Styrofoam sheeting, of the type used for insulating sheathing on homes. This is available from any building materials store.
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