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EMP And The Modern Computer-Controlled Car, by Oldgeezer

There seem to be a million different opinions on what will happen to computer-controlled cars, trucks, and vehicles of all kinds after an EMP attack. Maybe my experience will help expand your knowledge base.

My First-Hand Knowledge

I have spent many an hour reading about EMP, watching numerous videos about its effect on civilization, and had some real doubts about some of the claims. While none of us have experienced a true EMP attack, I now have first-hand knowledge of what we may experience when/if an attack occurs.

In 2015, a highway patrol car in our state was struck by lightning multiple times during a severe thunderstorm. With six antennae on the car, it was a rolling lightening rod. The car is a 2013 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan with an Ecoboost twin turbo engine putting out over 365 horsepower. It has a six speed automatic transmission, all wheel drive, 98,000 miles, and is a muscle car under any interpretation. Think of a Ford Taurus SHO on steroids. I also found out that highway patrol and police cars are quite often hit by lightning and often just written off.

How I Ended Up With This Car

Let me tell you how I ended up with this car. The “why” is pretty easy to answer. We were able to purchase the car as surplus/salvage for a song– $2,000. We decided to see what would be necessary to get it back to 100% and if it was even possible. As a long time street car and race car builder (read: grease monkey), the chance of having a full throated muscle car for next to nothing was too much to resist. In addition, as a long time lurker on survivalist sites, the subject of EMP and cars has been of great interest and confusion.

The worst that would happen is that I would have to part out the car and would probably still make significant money. It was a case of “What the heck, let’s go for it”. My wife is very understanding of my whims. In addition, sometimes it is fun to just experiment for yourself!

Continued To Drive In “Limp Home” Mode

While the accepted wisdom is that all of the modern computer-controlled vehicles would die where they are sitting is probably not totally true. The movies, books, and discussion threads all show everything coming to a screeching halt. In the case of our car, it actually continued to run and drive but in “limp home” mode. We could drive it and operate most capabilities, but they were limited.

What Were EMP Problems Versus Wear and Tear

The first step in the process was to figure out what were EMP problems versus what were just wear and tear situations. Some of the problems were because the highway patrol stripped the car of all law enforcement stuff and was done in a haphazard manner. The non-EMP items were probably based more on age/mileage than anything else. An “O” ring here, a broken wire there, it was stuff like that. As a precaution, we replaced all four ABS wheel sensors because the Taurus has a known problem with the detectors. Dirt gets built up in the brake rotors and cause errors in the system. We were also lucky that the engine/transmission suffered no mechanical damage of any sort. Also, the actual wiring suffered no damage. With all those problems taken care of, we moved on to the more complex things.


We downloaded the FORSCAN diagnostics software (a clone of Ford’s diagnostic system). With a ODB II cable, we were able to access the car’s computer network system and start resolving the problems. Every error pulled involved the electronic system. (I use “system”, because the car is a rolling local area network.) The lightning took out just about every control unit except, interestingly, the main PCM. We were able to reset that, but just about everything electronic after that required fixing or replacing. The alternator, the electric power steering, the ABS module, the HVAC module, and four other black boxes needed to be replaced.

Tracking Down Parts A Challenge

Because we were trying to get the car to 100% without spending a ton of money, tracking down parts got to be a challenge. Since ours was the top of the line version, most wrecked local police cars were not compatible. Local police departments usually purchased the downgraded versions, and the highway patrol seldom wrecked cars. We spent a lot of time on eBay searching for “easy to find” parts, but some had to come from a dealer. Obviously, dealer parts are significantly more expensive than used parts. For instance, the car has an electronic power steering system, which from the dealer cost almost $1,400, and the alternator was $250. These two kind of put a major dent in our budget. Most of the other parts were in the $50-$75 range.

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Nothing Is Simple

I will admit that we did kind of cheat on our rebuild. Even with my car building background and over 50 years making a living as a programmer and system designer, a local Ford mechanic really saved the whole thing. The system in modern cars and trucks is so complicated that a normal person cannot solve the problems without somebody who knows and has experience dealing with them. Nothing is simple on these. Even with the computer diagnostic software, it is a really complicated. You can’t just purchase replacement computers, because each one needs to be programmed for the car.

In EMP Might Be Mobile For Short Distance

That brings us to the bottom line. In an EMP attack, you might be mobile for a short distance, but the vehicle is probably just a write off. Because you will probably loose the alternator at a minimum, your driving range would be limited to the charge in your battery. You might extend your range by turning off everything that draws power, meaning no lights, no air conditioning, no cruise control, no radio, et cetera. If you are lucky, you might get about 70 miles under ideal conditions. Gasoline won’t dictate your range, electricity will. All I can say is that you had better have a “get home” bag and a plan in your car.

Modern, Computer-Enabled Cars and Trucks Will Not Be Repairable

After about six months (a lot of time spent awaiting eBay parts shipping), we did succeed in fixing the car and have ended up with a real monster for less than $6,000. However, after an all out EMP attack, it is pretty evident that modern, computer-enabled cars and trucks will just not be repairable. Even the best automotive improvisers cannot overcome the complexity of newer vehicles. I suppose one could stockpile a bunch of the parts, but all it takes is one minor missing part and you are out of luck.

Get Old Car or Truck

My recommendation is pretty much the same as you see after every one of these articles– get an old car or truck. That means an older vehicle that is either a diesel or one that is a distributor/carburetor based gas vehicle. Pre-1968 would be best, but many through the 1980s can work too. Because these are much simpler, any shade tree mechanic can probably keep it running. Diesels are a bit more complicated, but they can still be fixed with simple tools and knowledge. Be sure and get yourself repair manuals for whatever you decide on. You also need to acquire a decent tool set (both metric and SAE) and things like a timing light, vacuum gauge, et cetera. Also get a spare battery, distributor, coil, ballast resistor and belts. There is no reason you cannot have your vehicle for less than $2,500, if you learn before you leap! Remember, it doesn’t need to look good or perfect to serve your needs.

My Go-To Vehicle Choices

With all that said, my “go to” vehicles are an eclectic bunch. Here are my choices:

  • a 1955 Ford Thunderbird,
  • a 1962 Triumph Herald, and
  • a 1985 Chevy S10 pickup.

Why These

Why did I choose these? It is simple. The Tbird gets 21mpg and because, if the end is near, my wife and I are going out in style. The Herald has an 1157cc engine, so I can drive for a long time on a minimal amount to fuel. We can’t go fast, but we can go far. The S10 has been modified to use a carburetor instead of fuel injection and can haul quite a lot of stuff. For each car, I have a spare generator/alternator, a distributor, and a coil. The common denominator on all three vehicles is that they are bone cold simple to work on. None have power anything.

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A screw driver, pliers, and a crescent wrench can fix just about anything on them. If I could only have one vehicle, it would be the S10. Older S10s are practically a dime a dozen and easy to restore/fix. They are ideal for almost every need. A pickup would be the most practical package for most people. I’m a Ford guy at heart, but Chevy/GMC trucks are everywhere. That means parts can be found in just about every tree row. You are going to need a lot of parts over the years, and it will be easier with a GM truck.

I hope this may answer a few questions on EMP type problems in modern cars/trucks. I do not pretend that this is the last word on EMP and cars, but I do think it is representative. An EMP situation is going to be terrible for mankind, and I’m not sure many people will survive. All we can do is make any arrangements and try to cope as best we can.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by,
  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value).

Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

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