How To Hot-Wire A Car When The SHTF (with pictures)

By Jack May 4, 2017 11:20

How To Hot-Wire A Car When The SHTF (with pictures)

We’ve seen it a million times in movies and TV shows: a guy breaks into any old car, ties a few wires together below the steering wheel and, bam, drives off without any issues. Unfortunately, that’s Hollywood Hot-wiring. Real life hot-wiring is a little different, so before we begin there’s a few important things to keep in mind.

The reason for hot-wiring is simple; to allow you to start a car without the need for a key. There are a few occasions when you might need to legitimately do this to your own car; maybe you’ve lost your keys or your lock tumbler has jammed. It’s important to remember that hot-wiring any car that doesn’t belong to you is highly illegal (even though that likely wouldn’t be a concern in a SHTF scenario).

Secondly, there are several methods to hot-wiring cars, but the one we’re going to focus on is the one which requires the least tools. We’re going to keep things as minimal as possible. It’s not possible to do this entire process with your hands alone, although it is achievable with just a knife and providing you’re also built like Rambo. The tools you’ll ideally need are: pliers, knife, screwdriver, strength. Also, here are the tools you will need when SHTF.

Lastly, you may have heard people mention that it’s impossible to hot-wire a car newer than around the mid-nineties. This isn’t strictly true. Cars up until around 1999 can be hot-wired with the standard method which is outlined below. After this, it doesn’t get impossible, just more difficult and will require knowledge specific to certain vehicle makes and models.

It is true that cars newer than around 2004 are largely impossible to hot-wire. Modern vehicles come with a chip in their key fobs which are required for the ignition to start at all – no amount of hot-wiring can bypass these. There are a multitude of other ways to commandeer such vehicles, but all require either technological hacks through the use of smartphones or laptops, or just straight up stealing the keys.

Related: 12 Essential Things You Can Scavenge from Cars when SHTF

But for now, let’s go back to basics.

We must understand what’s happening when we put a key in our ignition and turn it. With each turn, switches are being closed. Turning the key three times connects the three components needed to start a car: the battery, the ignition and the starter motor. Hot-wiring connects these three things without the need for a key.

So where are these wires located?

Step 1: Remove The Plastic CoveringP1 Hotwire Car

This POV is from underneath the dash. This is where you need to start. See that little screw there? That’s connecting the plastic cover which conceals all of the wires below the steering column. This is what you first need to remove. Depending on your car, there can be up to four of those screws, and you’ll need a Phillips-head screwdriver to take them out. Alternatively, you can brute force your way through without a screwdriver, however will render you unable to repair the column if that’s your intention.

Related: How to Conceal Weapons in Your Vehicle

Step 2: Locate The Correct Wires

You will then be greeted with an overwhelming amount of wires. Don’t worry though, because it’s easy to work out what they’re for by looking in the direction they’re going.P2 Hotwire Car

You should be able to make out three separate bundles of wires; one going to the left, one going to the right and one going straight into the steering column itself. It’s the steering column bundle we need.

The bundle you need will be taped or attached together with either industrial tape a clip of some kind. There should be five wires in total in the bundle and they will all be connected to the ignition cylinder (the piece of metal you would normally put your key into).

Step 3: Prep The Wires

The easiest way to do the next part, in my experience, is to isolate that whole section. Pull out wires along with the ignition cylinder so that you can manipulate the wires more easily. For ease of instruction, this is how the one I removed from the above vehicle looks like:P3 Hotwire Car

P4 Hot-wire CarNow, in a survivalist situation, you probably won’t have chance to check the car’s manual in order to determine which wire is which, so it would be useful to practice this step beforehand. The next stage is to locate the three wires required to start the vehicle: battery, ignition and starter.

The colors of these wires will vary depending on the make and model of the car. In my example, the wires I needed were blue, white and green, however, these were specific to my chosen vehicle. In general, red wires often indicate the battery and ignition wires, and started wires are usually brown/yellow. You can negate this issue, however, by pulling out the ignition cylinder with the wires. It will be the first three wires in the sequence which you need.P5 Hotwire Car

Step 4: Connect The Wires

Cut these three wires loose from the ignition cylinder and fray the protective rubber so you can expose the raw wire. Be very careful at this point. Do not touch the exposed wires with your bare hands.P6 Hotwire CarP7 Hotwire CarYou first need to attach the ignition wire and the battery wire to ‘light up’ the ignition (the same state the car is in when you turn your key twice; when you’re able to access your stereo but not able to drive). To do this, wrap the wires together and make sure they don’t come apart. Use protective gloves throughout (or a piece of clothing or cloth in a survival scenario). The dashboard should light up.P8 Hotwire Car

Then, hold the starter wire against the two battery wires until the engine kicks in. This will only take a second at most (imagine turning the ignition on with your key).P9 Hotwire Car

Immediately move the starter wire away and make sure it won’t come into contact with the battery wires while you’re driving. If necessary, use industrial tape around the edges of the wires to protect both yourself and the vehicle.

Related: Emergency Bag to Keep in Your Car in Case of an EMP

And we’re done. Rev the engine until it sounds healthy. The only thing to do in order to drive the vehicle normally is crack the steering lock, although this isn’t difficult. The lock can be broken by forcefully turning the wheel harshly in one direction until the lock-pins holding the wheel in place breaks.

So, the car is running, the steering wheel is free; what next? Well, it depends on your intentions. If you want to use the car again under normal circumstances then you will need some significant repair work done to the ignition cylinder, the battery wiring, the steering wheel lock and steering column.

If you’re planning on using the car regularly in its current iteration, you simply disconnect the two battery wires from touching each other in order to turn off the ignition. To restart it, re-attach the battery wires, then use the starter wire to fire it up.
Banner_solar long


Please Spread The Word - Share This Post
By Jack May 4, 2017 11:20
Write a comment


  1. Luo Hu Shan May 4, 14:25

    I can hot wire any car, no matter how new it is, getting past steering locks is more difficult, in a SHTF situation, sure look for older pick-up trucks ( Ford are easier) most old steering locks can be broken with some more leverage applied to the steering wheel, maybe with a tire iron or a tree branch.

    Reply to this comment
    • FuckYou May 17, 08:05

      You are full of shit, and a fucking liar.

      Reply to this comment
    • Ben May 17, 08:21

      I find it hard to believe that you can start any car. A lot of modern cars have security built into the ECU (engine control unit) so that you need to replace the ECU if you change keys. Sure you can start any car, but you need the replacement parts.

      Reply to this comment
      • Cop beater. January 23, 03:50

        Why can’t you pull the microchip out from under the hood, fill the space with solder, and then hot wire it the old fashioned way?

        Reply to this comment
  2. dP_Ted May 4, 15:22

    I started hearing around the mid-80s that the cars could no longer be hot-wired. I figured there had to be some way to do it. I’m printing this up and keeping it in my JIC (Just In Case) folder Thanks!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Rick May 4, 15:45

    Back in the early 70’s you could pop out the lock mechanism and remove the tumbler pins.Then anything inserted in the key slot would start the car. Did I just hear “JOY RIDE!” ?

    Reply to this comment
  4. JoshE May 4, 19:33

    I have a little easier way… with a hammer and a bigger flat headed screwdriver. Put screwdriver in key slot, beat the crap out of it. The key part will eventually break and pull apart, once the key portion is separated from the ignition switch, all you need them is the screw driver to start it, use the screw driver like a key.

    You can also achieve this by disassembling to get to the components

    Reply to this comment
  5. 440dodger May 5, 00:38

    Add to your description. Don’t cut all 3 wires at the same time, unless the battery has been disconnected. Motor could turn over unexpectedly causing soiling of the shorts. If starting multiple times a toggle switch and push button can be installed.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Redlist Renegade May 5, 02:29

    Who’s car is this ? How should we know ? The keys aren’t there….Hop In , Let’s GO !!!

    Reply to this comment
  7. poorman May 5, 23:47

    In the old days the 70’s ford trucks had the ignition in the dash. You can simply buy lock cylinder and key at any auto parts store the reach under the dash,unplug the ignition harness and plug it into the one you bought.

    Reply to this comment
  8. DREW V. May 6, 01:38

    Pre 78′ Ford Trucks & Broncos and pre 73′ Chevy And Gmc trucks,Blazers and Jimmy’s can be hot wired very easily by just pulling the wires loose from behind the ignition switch(that is behind the ignition lock low on the dash can be hot wired) On GM cars and trucks upto 78′ you can screw the end of a Morgan Knocker (ie dent puller) into the key slot , pop the lock cylinder out and use a flat blade screwdriver or similar flat object to start… Starting in 79′ GM started installing a hardened steelbolt through the lock cylto prevent easy thefts…screw driver

    Reply to this comment
    • High speed specialist May 25, 16:31

      A good “shaved” key can get you into almost any pre 2000 car. The double sided keys work great. this is why pre 2000 toyota and Honda cars are the number 1 car stolen in America

      Reply to this comment
  9. Jim H. May 7, 01:11

    As an automotive locksmith I can say that this article is not worth the time invested to write it, and publishing it is a disservice to all readers.

    You will waste your time following the advice in the article, not to mention damaging any vehicle you attempt to start in this manner.

    There are quick ways to bypass security on most vehicles, but they involve high technology tools to manipulate the lock cylinders and match transponders to most vehicles.

    Reply to this comment
    • Loz May 7, 11:26

      Yeah, I think an article saying “in order to steal any car you want, just have the the necessary high technology tools to manipulate lock cylinders and match transpondors” would have been much more useful.

      Did you even read the article? If so, what’s your point exactly? The article even says that there are technological options in order to bypass some security measures, as well as specifically stating that the method explained will severely damage the vehicle. If you’re going to criticise, at least offer some counter advice which isn’t useless.

      Reply to this comment
      • OldandGray May 7, 23:18

        Hi Loz,

        I think what Jim was getting at is that it’s not a skill that should be engaged in without the proper knowledge and tools, BECAUSE success would be marginal at best and dangerous at the least. Also, for the reasons I listed in my post below. I agree that Jim had some hard words by cutting straight to the chase quickly and lacked some of the sugar coating that is more easy to digest. There is a lot of this sort of thing promoted and flashed on the movie screens making it seem useful, but reality is so humbling I’m hopeful that readers will not entertain or focus on this risky nonessential survival skill. So again from an experience standpoint, I would prioritize this survival skill very low on SHTF to know list. Just trying to help

        Reply to this comment
  10. OldandGray May 7, 03:41

    First, if we’re in a EMP situation, it’s not going to do any good anyway. Second, the advice and instruction being passed on here is only going to create the environment for some unknowing and witted young person getting in trouble trying to jack a vehicle and worse.

    Let’s go for a SHTF reality check. If someone is going to vacate their car, there’s a 75% chance they’re going to leave their keys behind too. But consider the ability to navigate a roadway in a incognito state of operation. Your defensive and offensive tactical operational elbow room just got pared down to about 4 ft x 5 ft x 3.5 ft (the interior of a vehicle). Your encased movement in one will be alike that of a bad pacman game at best and provide any and all potential hostiles an excellent large target with limited movement and predictable routes. Vehicles are the easiest to stop, ambush and eradicate. Always look for means that provide stealth, minimal logistics and opportunities for over-watch and bounding. This may sound and seem crazy, but only lazy, untrained and naive preppers would risk security/OPSEC and/or clandestine movement. Sorry for the bubble pop, but when you live it you know what works and what doesn’t. Just trying to help.

    Reply to this comment
  11. joe May 11, 15:03

    there is always someone who will find fault. and he may be right – where he is coming from- but the author apparently meant it to be a life or death situation and in that case knowing one wire from another would be pretty helpful

    Reply to this comment
  12. Ben May 14, 16:40

    I know enough about how cars electrical systems work to get the motor started on an older car, but breaking the steering lock is a lot harder.

    For educational purposes only it is possible to get a car moving without breaking anything. I had a 1988 toyota stolen a couple of times by the same thief. I got it back each time with no damage except it was full of discarded cigarettes and other rubbish. To my relief, the thief had managed to start my car without stripping any wires or breaking the steering lock. What he seemed to do was pick the lock as I found there were little scratches around the key hole. The car ignition is slightly more complicated than a padlock as it has tumblers going in two directions, but with a little practice, you can open a padlock in seconds.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Andie May 17, 18:33

    This isn’t as helpful as other articles here. It is of limited utility even in an emergency. Start looking around next time you are on the road. How many mid 90’s cars do you see still on the road? It seemed like practically no cars in Southern CA were that old, maybe less so in other places.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Jeff May 19, 14:49

    Good luck with the pushbutton start vehicles with no actual “key.”

    There is no need to worry about “not touching the bare wires with your fingers.” It’s 12 volts.

    On a lot of vehicles, it’s probably easier to work on the other end of the wires under the hood, on the starter solenoid (if you can get to it), than it is in the steering column.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Teresa Norman June 2, 19:04

    Thinks for trying to help this gives me hope that i might get to safety….lol… while a zombie eats me with my mind on the car it want hurt so bad. I found the article useful for real. I remembered my husband came home in a truck that started with vice grips & the gears were in backwards & his shoe strings worked the windshield wipers. I couldn’t move the truck out of my way so i could get my car out . I had to wake him up he moved with no problem.

    Reply to this comment
  16. vocalpatriot September 24, 13:54

    good info, but better ideas are in the comment section. don’t strip that much of the wire, it is unnecessary and leaves more battery power exposed to accidentally short to something else..maybe something ground.
    Just strip back enough to make the needed connections..And if possible, wrap tape around the excess wire to prevent the aforementioned short condition.
    Also, read the comments here, there are some smart folks there…(not me, so much).

    Reply to this comment
  17. Bob December 21, 20:57

    Get a vehicle from the pre 80’s without steering or hood locks.4 ft. pc #12 wire and pair of pliers is all you need.

    Reply to this comment
  18. Cop beater. January 23, 03:51

    Why can’t you pull the microchip out from under the hood, fill the space with solder, and then hot wire it the old fashioned way?

    Reply to this comment
  19. William Johnson February 27, 12:30

    As a car mechanic, I can tell that this article is outdated. Need to update. Because this tricks will not work on the modern car.

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*


  • facebook
  • Pinterest
  • twitter
  • Google +

You can also find us on: