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Will Your Car Survive an EMP Attack?

Will Your Car Survive an EMP Attack? post image

In the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse disaster, do you picture yourself fleeing to safety in your car? Well, sorry to break it to you, but cars are NOT immune to the effects of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). If we get attacked by an EMP weapon or a solar flare releases EMP, there is going to be the biggest traffic jam you’ve ever seen.

If you still don’t know about EMP and its effects, I suggest you read this article first. For all of those who know that they should be doing things like using a Faraday cage to protect electronics and going low-tech, then read on to learn about what you can do to protect your car from EMP.

Parts of a Car which May Be Affected by EMP

In the past, cars were built with good ol’ mechanical parts. Today, increasingly more of a car is run by electrical parts. Some newer cars even have more than 100 microprocessors in them! Sure, you can drive without GPS (you do know how to read a map, right?), but how do you plan to use your car if its electronic ignition goes out?

According to one report from Embedded, cars have over 200 lbs of electronics in them and more than a mile of wiring! By the way, that article was written in 2003, and cars have obviously picked up a lot more electronics since then. Here are just some of the functions of your car which are at risk in event of an EMP disaster:

  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Electronic fuel injection
  • Electronic ignition
  • Powertrain Control Module
  • Electronic locks
  • Air bags
  • Negative battery terminal ground to vehicle frame
  • GPS

Should You Be Worried?

I don’t want to incite panic and say that an EMP disaster is going to happen and we will all be left stranded… But anyone with an ounce of sense will acknowledge the risks so steps can be taken to mitigate damages.

The truth is that we can’t be 100% sure whether our vehicles will go out in event of an EMP disaster. First off, what scale of disaster are we talking about?

If it is a small solar flare, our vehicles might be safe. During a large nuclear attack? Not so safe.

There are many factors to consider, like how far you are from ground zero when the disaster occurs, the direction your car is facing during the event (yeah, this really does matter), whether your car is parked in your garage, which could act like a Faraday cage and prevent some of the EMP damage…

Studies on EMP and Vehicles

Various car manufacturers have performed tests about the effects of EMP on vehicles, but they aren’t about to publically publish the data – especially if it shows that their cars are vulnerable. There was that video showing how an EMP cannon could disable a car – but I am skeptical of anything produced for entertainment.

Here are a few public studies about the effects of EMP on vehicles.

The 1962 EMP Tests

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union and USA did tests which found that EMP could blow out the internal operating systems of vehicles – even when they didn’t have any electronic circuitry inside. However, as Ed Thelen points out, this information is just anecdotal.

We don’t have any confirmation that the circuitry failed, and that it failed because of the EMP. Still, the idea that a major EMP blast could destroy an old car without electronic circuitry is disconcerting. Yeah, it might be a good idea to have an old vehicle on hand in case of an EMP emergency, but you’ll want some spare parts too.

EMP Commission Study

The biggest public study we have about the effects of EMP on cars is the one carried out by the EMP Commission and published in the Critical National Infrastructure Report.

The commission took 37 cars with vintages from 1986 to 2002. The vehicles were to pulses at increasing intensities. If any changes were observed, then the testing was immediately stopped. If no changes were observed, then the testing continued up to 50kV/m.

The results? Three vehicles which were running stopped when exposed to pusles at 30kV/m or more. 25 vehicles had small malfunctions, such as blinking dashboard lights. 8 cars did not have any changes.

Based on these results, we could conclude that cars wouldn’t be affected by EMP when exposed to pulses below 25kV/m. But, as Off The Grid News notes, there are a lot of problems with the EMP Commission study – like the fact that it was so underfunded that they were required to return the borrowed vehicles back in working condition! That kind of defeats the point of having a study about what damages would be caused by EMP.

Today’s vehicles also have a lot more circuitry in them than those of 2002, so they would be more vulnerable to EMP damages. Also, bear in mind that modern Nuclear EMP devices can blast out up to 200kV/m (source) – which is far more than the amount used in the tests.

US Department of Defense EMP Tests

In 2010, the DoD performed a test on the effects of EMP on vehicles. Their findings were more disconcerting.   At this point, it had been estimated that 30-80kV/m was needed to disable vehicles. But they found that a Toyota Prius dashboard went blank and the car was stopped at just 5kV/m.   This just shows how much more vulnerable modern vehicles are because of their small microchips. (Source)

How to Protect Your Car Against EMP

There is a lot of talk in prepper forums about bug-out vehicles and how you could protect your car or truck from an EMP blast. The truth is that we don’t know for sure (again, there are too many variables to consider and we’ve never experienced anything like this in modern times). We can only do our best at planning.

***Every good disaster plan should include a backup! So make sure your disaster plan also includes a backup in case your vehicle is out of commission!!!

Here are some ways you could protect your car or truck from EMP:

  • Keep an old vehicle handy: Older cars have less electronic circuitry and are therefore less vulnerable to EMP. But, if the 1962 tests are to be believed, even cars without electronic circuitry could be fried by EMP – so be sure to learn basic mechanic skills and have spare parts on hand. You’ll want to have a spare generator, fuses, ignition coils, and other parts which are installed with wires.
  • Upgrade your garage: Metal garages could act like a giant Faraday cage and protect your car from EMP. Just be sure you don’t have any electronic wiring in the garage or they will act like an antenna and amplify the EMP!
  • Snap-On Ferrite Cores: These would protect your car electronics from small EMP blasts. They simple go over the wiring and act as a shield. For maximum protection, choose ferrite cores made from type 61 ferrite. (Source)
  • Remember Gasoline! An EMP blast would also cause gas pumps to stop working, so you wouldn’t be able to refuel — and stockpiling gasoline is difficult because it goes bad quickly.  Take this into consideration.

Have you taken steps to protect your bug-out vehicle from EMP? Share your tips in the comments  area below or join the discussion on Facebook.

Image credit:
Traffic jam by walidhassanein. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)