Scavenging Abandoned Cars For Survival Items

Scavenging Abandoned Cars For Survival ItemsIn every disaster movie, you see a panning shot across a broad highway packed with cars attempting to flee the city. The scenario continues with people abandoning their cars and joining their fellow citizens pushing onward on foot trying to escape. What they leave behind is up for the picking. Scavenging abandoned cars for survival will help you gather essential supplies.

In any long-term survival, scenario scavenging plays an important role. When the dust settles most of the cities will be cannibalized of their resources by the unprepared. Once those supplies run out, you will need to turn towards other types of sources. Scavenging abandoned cars is a good starting point to get useful items.

Spending time scouring buildings for resources is useless, and most probably they have already been picked clean. Scavenging abandoned cars for survival is not a bad idea if you think about. There are more than 300 million cars and trucks in the United States alone, and each one could have the items you need.

Gasoline, vehicles parts and other obscure parts can be scavenged and you don’t have to be a mechanic to find them. You will need some necessary tools and the right eye to spot all the valuables hiding in those metal carcasses.

Before we discuss about the valuable items that one could aim for when scavenging abandoned cars, it’s important to respect some general guidelines.

Guidelines for scavenging abandoned cars

  • Make sure that the car is abandoned. There could be people living inside the cars and you don’t want to fight the occupants.
  • Always have someone to stand guard, a lookup for when times are tense. In a lawless world, some will choose to become law enforcers, and they will not like the idea of people “stealing” from their land. If you see someone coming, don’t stay around and try to justify your actions.
  • Before you start tearing apart the car, you should first look for the keys. Check if the vehicle is in operable condition. It’s much easier taking the car with you rather than cannibalize it on the spot.
  • Almost every car model will have something you can scavenge, but you should target economy cars when scavenging abandoned cars. They are generally easier to work with and disassemble.
  • Keep an eye out for commercial vehicles such as vans and work truck. They may contain valuable items that a passenger car wouldn’t.
  • Always go for the items you need first. Time is a valuable resource in a doomed world and you need to use it in your favor. You can always come back later and get the rest of the items you might need.
  • Before you start scavenging abandoned cars for the parts listed below, you should check the glove box, center console and any other storage compartments available in the car. You can find miscellaneous items that can become very useful in a survival scenario. Bottled water, medications, lighters, sanitizers and first aid kits are just a few examples of what you can find in abandoned cars.

When scavenging abandoned cars, look for these items:


This is probably the most obvious resource that one could scavenge from an abandoned car. Most people will go for it first since it’s extremely valuable. To get the gasoline out of the fuel tank, you will need a small-diameter rubber hose, one or more 2.5-gallon water jugs and a piercing instrument. When scavenging abandoned cars for gasoline, the model of the car plays an important role.

You should know what you have to deal with to avoid making mistakes. Newer vehicles have a screen or a valve that prevents the use of a hose to siphon from the gas tank. If you have to deal with such cars, you should look underneath the car, find the fuel tank and bore or punch a hole using a knife.

Pay attention and work with care as you don’t want to cause a spark. Once you have pierced the fuel tank, place the water jug in the right position and let it fill. You might need to make a second hole to help the gas flow more easily if you are in a hurry.

Suggested article: Fuel types needed for emergency preparedness

If luck is on your side, you might find a vehicle from the 1990s or even earlier. These cars may lack the protective screen from the tank and you will just need to pry the metal flapper near the opening out of the way. Use the rubber hose and your mouth to siphon the gasoline, but make sure you don’t inhale too much of it as serious injuries may occur.

If you do things right when scavenging abandoned cars from gasoline, you will end up having a precious resource that will help you greatly in a doomsday situation.

Jack and tools

You don’t need any advanced knowledge to get the tools from a car. You just need to know where to look for them. Most cars will store these tools underneath the trunk floor panel, but you can also look underneath or behind the seats.

The jack is usually located with the tools and if that’s not the case, you have to look for storage compartments or removal panels in the trunk. There are many ways to use these tools, but the steel lug wrench can be used as a prybar, blunt instrument or even as a weapon.

Carpet and upholstery

In a previous article, I wrote about the survival lessons that the less fortunate (homeless) could teach us and I was describing how they use cars as shelters. Most of them, after using an abandoned car as a temporary shelter, will make sure to scavenge the carpet and upholstery. These thick, soft and insulated fabrics are good materials that one can use in a survival scenario to insulate his shelter. These materials can be used for warm bedding, as blankets or shelter against the elements.

Recommended reading: Survival lessons from the homeless

When scavenging abandoned cars, you should always look for floor mats and seat covers that are easily removable. If someone got them before you, cutting away, the upholstery is your only alternative. Start with the headliner first as it provides one large piece of fabric. The homeless were able to give another good advice, a lesson they learned the hard way: don’t use these materials as kindling. They contain chemicals that will turn into toxic fumes once burned.


If you manage to find the jack and tools, it is time to take care of the tires. You should start first by looking for a spare tire since it will require less work. You can find it inside or underneath the trunk and in case it’s missing you will have to remove the other four wheels. Removing a tire from its wheel is no easy task and can be quite a challenge for some. Getting the tires from abandoned cars is worth the trouble and there are many situations in which these tires can come in handy. You can burn one to create a rescue signal after you let the air out of it.

You can even use tires to create a proper shelter. Earthships use tires to build the exterior walls facing the sun. During the day the tires will absorb the heat and will transmit it into the living space during the night. Cut a tire in two and you now have an animal feeder. Some homesteaders use tires to grow potatoes in tight spaces. They stack them together, fill them with dirt and plant the potatoes. The sun will do the rest. There are many ways in which tires can be used and it’s all up to your imagination.


When scavenging abandoned cars, you shouldn’t forget about the seatbelts. They are made of extremely strong durable nylon and can become excellent cordage if needed. Pull to unravel the seatbelt from its reel than cut it using a sharp knife. Seatbelts can be used for various needs; the same way cordage would be used.


To get the mirrors from a car, you will need a screwdriver or a prior instrument. The exterior ones can be carefully pried out of their housing using a flat screwdriver or a knife. The interior ones can be unscrewed from the roof. These mirrors are great for rescue signaling at long distance or they can be used to start a fire. You can also use the mirrors to help you with personal hygiene (examine debris in your eye or inspect an injury).


A car battery can provide long-lasting 12-volt electrical power. They can be used to jump-start a car or even to start a fire. In conjunction with a power inverter, a car battery can be used to power a variety of AC electronics such as mobile phones or radios.

To remove the car battery, you first have to pop the hood and see what you are dealing with. The location of the battery should be obvious, although some car manufacturers prefer to hide it with a plastic cover. If you want to take it with you, you will need to disconnect the tie-down bar and the terminal wires using a small wrench or pliers.

Keep in mind that batteries are heavy and carrying it in your backpack is not a good option.


Automotive lights are great survival items because they can be wired directly to a 12-volt battery for an instant, bright light. If you know what you are doing, you can remove an entire headlight assembly and use it to light your shelter.

You can remove just the bulbs themselves if you find it easier to do so. To remove the lights, you will need a set of wrenches and a pair of needle-nose pliers. For most of the older car models, you can reach behind the car headlights and unclip or twist the bulbs to pull them out of their housings.

Related reading: How to live without electricity

You will need to cut two pieces of wire from the engine or scavenge them from other electronic devices. You can connect the positive and negative battery terminals to the corresponding bulb terminals. It’s not rocket science and it can provide you with precious light in a darkened world.

Motor oil

Motor oil is an excellent lubricant for mechanical items and especially for your firearms. Not to mention that you can use it in an oil burning furnace to provide heat for your shelter. There are many uses for motor oil and it all depends on the survival situation you find yourself in.

Getting the motor oil is simple and although you will have to jack up passenger cars, I would go first for the pickups. They provide enough ground clearance and you will save precious time. Once you are beneath the car, you need to locate the oil drain bolt and remove it using a wrench. Keep the water jugs close and use it as a recipient to drain some oil into it.

Some will prefer to remove even the spark plugs. They use them as glass-breaking tools, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. If you are in a survival scenario and you need to get chunks or ceramic from spark plugs to break a window, you are doing something very wrong.


If society collapses tomorrow, the drivers will be gone after a few days or weeks. However, their cars will still be there, waiting for you. Scavenging abandoned cars for survival items is an excellent tactic to hoard items that will make your life easier in a world depleted of resources. You never know what you might find in an abandoned car, so make sure you scavenge them if no other options are available.

Other Useful Resources:

The Lost Ways (Homesteading Hacks that will make Your Life Better)

Bullet Proof Home (Learn how to Safeguard your Home)

Survival MD (Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation)

7 thoughts on “Scavenging Abandoned Cars For Survival Items”

  1. Half way through the paragraph on “Lights” there is a typo. The sentence; “You will need to cut two pieces of fire from the engine”, should read wire not fire. lol

  2. You mention the battery, but not a way to recharge it. How about you grab the alternator as well? While not a great source of electricity, it can be hooked up to a windmill or water driven wheel to generate electricity and recharge that car battery.

    Just a thought.

  3. I would also suggest pulling and cutting as much wiring as possible. It can be used for its intended purpose (conducting elec) as well as braiding with other wire to make tie-down cables. Just use brute strength to pull as much wire from behind the dashboard at the back of the compartment, and cut it off. It only takes a few extra seconds and once wound in a coil, will not take up any room for transport.

  4. Drain the transmission fluid while you’re pulling the oil plug – also a useful petroleum product – base chem for a great DIY rust remover …

    Going steel to steel punching gas tanks will get you killed – you need a brass punch along with a few oil change pans and gas cans ….

  5. An old trick taught to me by my science teacher was to breath in before you begin to suck on any type of siphon pipe.
    This means any vapor will remain in your mouth and pretty much can’t enter the lungs.
    Once you finish sucking just breath out through your mouth and expel any vapor.

  6. In regard to the lights and battery. If the car has any smaller LED lights such as the dome light, this is preferable to a headlight as far as battery life.

    In regard to the battery, you may want to plan ahead now. Having even a 5 watt solar panel and minimal LED lighting will insure perpetual lighting with almost any car battery. A car battery that will no longer start a car can usually still be used for low power applications:

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