Would Your Car Run After A Solar Or Nuclear EMP?

Categories: Survival


I also must re-emphasize the fact that during Soviet high-altitude nuclear tests over Kazakhstan in 1962, rugged diesel generators having no solid state parts were burned out by E1 EMP.  In an important international electromagnetics conference in 1994, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, General Vladimir Loborev delivered an important technical paper in which he stated, "The matter of this phenomenon is that the electrical puncture occurs at the weak point of a system.  Next, the heat puncture is developed at that point, under the action of the power voltage; as a result, the electrical power source is put out of action very often."  This illustrates that even vehicles without an electronic ignition or other electronic components are not completely immune from EMP.

The main advantage of a well-maintained older vehicle may be that it is likely to be much easier to repair if it does sustain EMP damage.  The Soviet experience is a warning to keep critical electrical spare parts on hand for the older vehicle.  This includes things like ignition coils, mechanical distributors, generators and starting motors.  In particular, any critical item with a coil of wire that is insulated using enamel or a similar substance may be prone to breakdown, and needs to have a replacement part on hand.  Also, as I have said on other pages, a good supply of automotive fuses is also critical.

The worst thing about nuclear EMP and motor vehicles is if you happen to be driving in heavy traffic when it happens.  In this event, simultaneously, a certain percentage of vehicles will stop running (perhaps temporarily), many more drivers will be instantly and simultaneously distracted by strange electrical behavior happening inside of the car, and (at the same instant) the traffic lights will abruptly go out or go into a flashing mode.  This instantly creates the worst traffic jam in history in certain localities, and vehicular accidents at some busy intersections are likely to be severe or fatal.  If you have an working motor vehicle in a post-EMP situation, there may not be any clear roads to drive on.

Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is where you are likely to be going after a nuclear EMP event.  If you live in a fairly secure area, the best choice may be not to go anywhere at all for a very long time.  If you live in a less secure area, and know a more secure location where you can stay, you need to think through as many scenarios as possible in advance of the event.  If you plan to go to the grocery store after the EMP to purchase emergency supplies, one second after the EMP event will be too late.  The grocery stores will be closed for a very long time, starting at the instant that the EMP hits and disrupts the inventory control system and the data processing systems that handle payments.  It is also very likely that the electrical power will be out as well.

More important than fuel for your car is fuel for yourself.  If we are unfortunate enough to experience a nuclear EMP attack, many people will starve to death or will die from lack of critical medications while they have a perfectly functioning automobile in their driveway.  When it comes to surviving disasters, it is imperative to calmly think through what is really important.  In any kind of disaster, no matter how terrible, having even a two or three week supply of food, water and medicine stored can allow you to calmly wait out the worst of the panic and to make future plans.  If everyone in the community had similar minimal preparations, it would make it dramatically easier to develop community-wide plans for recovery.

Finally, it would be appropriate here to say something about the effects on vehicles of the real nuclear EMP tests that were done in 1962.  There have been reports of damage to automobiles in both the United States and Soviet high-altitude tests in 1962.  Those reports were all unconfirmed verbal reports, and the verbal reports were made many years after the events.  In addition, problems with the electrical ignition system were one of the most common causes of automobile problems in the early 1960s, so it is impossible to know whether any vehicular problems that occurred at about the same time as the high-altitude nuclear tests were actually related or were just coincidence.  I tend to think that they were just coincidence.  The Soviet military diesel generator problems were definitely related to the nuclear tests, although those diesel generators were probably connected to long external wires during the nuclear tests.  (The Russians have not shared many details about this.)

Since we know that EMP can punch through electrical insulation, especially on things like motor and generator windings when they are connected to external wiring, it is certainly plausible that damage could occur on vehicular electrical systems even if the vehicle contains no solid-state electronics.  The plausibility of this sort of damage in a future EMP is higher when one realizes that the EMP field strengths that were experienced in populated areas in the 1962 tests were only 10 to 20 percent of what could be experienced with known nuclear weapons.

In particular, in the United States Starfish Prime event in 1962, the maximum electric field pulse experienced in Hawaii was in the range of 5,000 to 5,600 volts per meter.  The worst EMP effects of the Soviet tests over Kazakhstan were about 7,500 volts per meter in the area where problems were actually documented.  The EMP may have been as high as 10,000 volts per meter in un-monitored areas of Kazakhstan, but not any higher.  We know that it is possible to rather easily generate 50,000 volts per meter with an old second-generation nuclear weapon of the proper design.  There are reports that may be possible to make nuclear weapons that will push beyond this 50,000 volts per meter limit.

An EMP of 50,000 volts per meter would undoubtedly damage some cars, both with and without solid-state electronics.  What percentage of vehicles would be damaged, and which particular vehicles would be damaged, is something that even the best EMP experts can only make guesses about.  The total available data is just too limited, and the number of variables are huge.

On automobiles made since about 2009, there are so many microprocessors that, even though the car might be driveable, the dashboard would likely be entirely blank (or blinking) and non-functional.

One additional note (because I sometimes am asked about it):

Astronomical gamma ray bursts that produce an huge E1 component have occurred during the history of the Earth, but the extreme rarity of a damaging gamma ray burst means that it is much less likely than a very large asteroid strike.  Also, the stars in this part of the galaxy have settled into their relatively tranquil middle age; and damaging gamma ray bursts are even less likely to occur today than in our planet's prehistoric past.  The only direct EMP dangers to automobiles results from nuclear weapon EMP (and from non-nuclear EMP weapons of extremely limited range).


I wouldn't mind having a Ham Radio if things got out of hand.  In any case, I've heard that to keep it in the microwave would shield it from an emp.  

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