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EMPs and Automobiles: The Ultimate Traffic Jam

We have a pretty good idea of what a nuclear-generated EMP high voltage blast would do to the power grid and to electronic devices and equipment in general. But one thing that is more uncertain is the effect it might have on our cars and trucks. Over the past three decades or so, car companies have been adding more and more electronic circuitry to the vehicles they produce, and it has gotten to the point where almost everything that an automobile does is controlled by an electronic system. Given how dependent we have become in our culture on our cars, there is naturally a lot of curiosity and concern about how our own personal vehicles might hold up if we were to  suddenly be struck by a severe electromagnetic bolt from out of the blue.

So what is actually known about this particular subject? As we found out, not a whole heck of a lot.

The EMP Commission: Our Government in Action

While not specifically related to concerns over EMPs, car manufacturers have shown an awareness of the vulnerability of new vehicles to electromagnetic interference from various sources, and consequently, they have supplied the electronic systems in the cars they produce with some degree of EM shielding and protection. Apparently, some testing of various makes and models has taken place in EMP simulators, but car companies have carried out these experiments in private and haven’t revealed what they learned to anyone.

To try and fill the huge gap in knowledge that has existed with respect to this subject, the U.S. government’s EMP Commission took it upon themselves to test an assortment of vehicles in an EMP simulator. The results of these experiments were published in a special section of the Commission’s Critical National Infrastructure Report, which provided a comprehensive look at what an EMP attack might do to the electric and electronic infrastructure of our country.  Like much of what emerges from government studies, however, the information released about EMPs and automobiles appears to be of very little value.

To start with, the Commission was so underfunded that it wasn’t able to purchase any cars or trucks itself. Instead, it was forced to borrow vehicles from other government agencies, and it was required to return all the automobiles it borrowed in good working order. Only thirty-seven different types of cars and eighteen types of trucks were obtained for the tests, and the amount of EM energy used in the tests did not come close to matching the intensity of the voltage that would be generated in a high-altitude nuclear explosion. Vehicles used in these government experiments were exposed to gradually increasing levels of electromagnetic energy, up to the point where they began to show some kind of damage or anomalous functioning. In order to save the vehicles from being excessively damaged, tests were halted immediately after a car or truck began to manifest some kind of dysfunction.

Not surprisingly, this approach led the EMP Commission to issue a report downplaying the significance of EMP effects on vehicles with extensive electronic systems. In the tests the Commission carried out, a few cars and trucks experienced engine failures, while most only suffered relatively minor malfunctions in non-essential systems. But the methodology used by an underfunded and unprepared Commission made these relatively mundane findings inevitable – how could anything be learned about the real effects of massive nuclear-generated EMPs on vehicles if the electromagnetic energy feed used in the tests was cut off as soon as things started to get interesting?

Because the testing done so far has clearly been inadequate, right now all we can say for sure is that an EMP would likely cause a certain amount of vehicle malfunctioning; but how much serious, irreparable damage it would ultimately cause remains a mystery.

Protecting Your Cars and Trucks Against an EMP: Doing It Yourself

The main thing you can do to protect your vehicle from an EMP is to purchase snap-on ferrite cores. These neat items act as a shield for electronic wiring of all types, and while they don’t provide total protection from high-voltage atmospheric surges, they can reduce the damage they would cause substantially.

One surprising thing that was discovered during high-altitude nuclear EMP tests carried out by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1962 is that pulses were capable of blowing out the internal operating systems of older vehicles without any electronic circuitry inside. So while it may be a good idea to keep an older car or truck around as a hedge against future catastrophes, plenty of spare parts should still be kept on hand in preparation for an electromagnetic emergency – ignition coils, mechanical distributors, generators, starting motors, fuses, and any parts with enamel wire insulation could all be damaged in an EMP attack.

Riding the Range with Mel Gibson

Whether or not a particular vehicle would work after an electromagnetic pulse is not easy to determine. The one thing that we do know for sure, however, is that a massive EMP assault that destroyed the power grid would cause gasoline production and supply lines to shut down completely, and it would no doubt take a long time before fuel supplies could be returned to anything close to what they were before the EMP attack. So even if most vehicles still worked, getting gasoline for them could be the real problem. In a situation such as this, we could only hope that a Mad Max/Road Warrior scenario did not become our new collective reality.

Our ridiculous over-dependence on the automobile – it is almost impossible to walk anywhere anymore – makes us extremely vulnerable to anything that could potentially disable our personal cars and trucks. While there is not much of a place for them on our roadways right now, it might not be a bad idea for all of us to keep some horses and an old-style wagon around, just in case we need them someday.

©2011 Off the Grid News

© Copyright Off The Grid News


  1. guess, I we will be back to horse and carriage….History DOES repeat itself after all.

    • Personally, I can not think of a better way to travel from point “A” to point”B”…

      Look at the Amish for example, they have been doing it for how many hundreds of years?

  2. There have been tests of automobiles using vapor systems in lieu of gasoline with moderate success especially in the hygrogen arena. The other factor would be the amount of shielding. Using lead lined or reflective devices would work moderately. Horses won’t be needed as much as one would think. Certainly Mad Max and that envision is not as forgone as one might think!

    • Using lead for shielding is almost completely useless for EMP as we are shielding against electromagnetic waves not neutrons or gammas. If you think you will be able to retrofit your car t use hydrogen after an emp takes out much of the country/world just keep right on smoking the stuff you must be smoking… just be sure stock up in advance…

  3. PossumLivingDotCom

    I agree with the part about keeping spares of such items as coils, starters and generators or alternators. But please tell me exactly how EMP is going to destroy a mechanical distributor. It contains no electrical parts or wiring other than the replacable breaker point and a short piece of wire to connect it.

  4. Keep those spare parts in a steel garbage can…the most expedient Faraday cage one can use.
    (line the interior of the can with a non-conductive barrier—cardboard )
    For the real effects of EMP,look at the descriptions from the Pacific Ocean tests that took out the lights
    in Hawaii from a distance of 200 miles.

  5. I had heard (and believed) that my ’68 and ’71 classics would be usable as long as I could obtain fuel. Perhaps I should invest in spare parts and a new ‘Arkansas Credit Card’.
    Wouldn’t the metal body of a vehicle make a reasonable Faraday Cage? Of course you would need to connect to an earth ground when parked. Perhaps better would be a motorcycle or scooter stored in a grounded metal shed or garage that could also house the car/truck.
    With hundreds of feet of wiring in a vehicle, “Purchase Ferrite Cores” is not much help. From ignition switch to fuel injectors, fuel pump, starter, alternator, computer, engine sensors, etc – I would guess you might need a hundred cores installed on each critical wire. Where is some supporting technical info????

  6. what’s a “arkansaw credit card”?

    what’s a “Faraday Cage”? –how does it work?

    • The faraday cage is best explained if you look it up online. has a good description. Look under EMP. It can basically shield against an EMP. It won’t let the wave thru to damage your eqpt. You can make one with heavy aluminum foil if you want. A microwave oven is basically a faraday cage.

  7. Ihaworth, an Arkansas credit card, also known by many other names, is a siphon hose. Look up Faraday cage on the internet. It’s just a metal device, usually of fine mesh, used to protect fine electronic devices from any radio frequency emission, either incoming or outgoing. It has to be connected to ground to work.

  8. dan, would you further explain in detail how to ue a metal trash can for protecrion against emp?
    much appreciated for any and all hope. thank you.

    • You can use the metal garbage can to store your eqpt. as long as your eqpt is surrounded or packaged in nonconductive items like a cardboard box. Place your can on the ground or ground it inside the house. The grounding provides a path for the pulse to go & discharge.

  9. I’m too dang old to go back to riding a horse , nor can I appord to feed some “” just in case “” . I guess I will jusst have to stay put .

  10. an old fashion bicycle might work too, if you don’t like horses. Maybe one of those big tricycles with a big metal basket on it, to carry things around in.

  11. Well a bike may come in handy also. If you have an old truck, think about wood gas for fuel. Engineer775 on youtube has a woodgas powered generator and pickup truck. I think it is worth watching.

  12. If you were to purchase an older van or car; how far back do you need to go before the electronics were added?
    What year? Thanks.

  13. Okay, I have horses. One thing that concerns me is obtaining feed for them if/when a EMP happens. They can graze on grass in the Spring/Summer, but what about Fall and Winter? How long will transportation systems be down, and how does one get the needed feed/hay? Feed will only store for so long. You can only store so much hay, maybe for a couple of years worth? I like the idea of a motorcycle, maybe a dirt bike with a kick start? Stored in a metal storage building that is grounded?

  14. I would suggest that EVERBODY read the book “One Second After” it will wake you up to what life WILL be like if the grid goes down (I believe it will very soon!) not only should you stock food, but do not forget to stock extra ammo and guns, and be sure you know how to use them, your life will be taken back to the 1800″s and it will be everey man for them self, gangs from the citys will kill just to eat, even the farmers will not be safe, and remeber this FEMA will not protect you nor help you, nor will your goverment be their to help you because when the grid goes down, your goverment goes down, so think about it, but the longer you put it off the less chance you have to survive. Darkwind

  15. Pre-79 model’s do not have microprocessors, but have starters, coils, alternators, solenoids. These devices all have copper wire with enamel insulation, which an EMP will fry. If you revert to two-wheeling, they won’t call you a bicyclist, you’ll be a VICTIM!

    Use a metal trashcan and store a transistor radio, batteries, GPS, spare laptop & TV, etc. for use during the recovery time afterward.

  16. i have read extensively about faraday cages and am building one for our 4wheeler, chainsaw, tiller, and various adds and ends, my question: I have the wire mesh cages and copper wire attached to a metal stake in the ground but what keeps the charge from hitting whats sitting in the cage since it is touching the cage? I saw someone said line the trashcan w cardboard…is that what I need to do? Thanks….

    • Don’t let your eqpt touch the cage. The cage acts as a shield and the ground gives the pulse a path to discharge.

  17. what a total bunch of BS!!! I was involved in EMP testing at the Air Force Weapons Lab from 1980-1988 in
    Albuquerque at Kirtland AFB. We tested a lot of aircraft & weapons systems for response to EMP fields at
    the ACTUAL levels that are generated by an exo-atmospheric nuclear weapon burst. And yes, we DID test
    several vehicles that are used by the US military; all vehicles did survive with no damage…can’t say the same thing for the video cameras used to record the tests! I do realize that vehicles now contain much more electronics than they did in the 1980’s, but the manufacturers had access to our data & have taken suitable precautions to protect the vulnerable systems.

  18. NM5TF-
    Can you go into a little more detail regarding your ‘data’ and experience? And what are you doing, if anything, for protection against an EMP. I think sharing what you know would enlighten a lot of people. Thanks.

  19. Just think, you finally figure out a way to keep your motors running, chainsaws, vehicles, bikes etc etc ad nauseum……then when you start them up…the “zombies intent on taking whatever you have will hear them and home in on your place……lol…..guess that makes the rest of us safe 😉

  20. Reading the posts above this, I realize there has been a bit of mis-information. The EMP every one has been posting about is under documented and not well understood. This pulse lasts for a few one hundredths of a second, but is actually the earths magnetic field being plucked like a guitar string. Anything less than a solid sheet Faraday cage is useless to the very wide frequency spectrum pulse. Face it- every thing electric and electronic bolted to your rotor-tiller, farm tractor, 1984 ford truck (like mine) will be fried. put all spare parts into a small metal can, like a canned ham comes in. solder, braze or weld all seams to hold air pressure. This is a test to keep the big pulse out.
    Testing is easy, put it in a microwave oven with your hot dogs, after a min. or so to warm the dogs. Cut open the can and test the parts. If they’re still good, your container will protect them next time from a real EMP. putting these small boxes into a big METAL trash can will help even more, one- it will make hiding them from the looting gangs easier. put a real bag of trash over the small boxes. Keep the METAL lid tightly sealed, this makes another Faraday cage layer. Best of luck to us all….

  21. Maybe one should think outside of the box, literally. Of course one would be hooped if caught out on the road under the duration of the EMP burst.
    Ever consider that maybe it would be cheaper, easier and more practical to make your garage or other storage structure into the “Faraday Cage”? Of course your wheels or DDV (dedicated doomsday vehicle) would have to be in at the time of an EMP burst. Example: EMP hardened shipping container – Might be worth looking into?

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