Reader Question: EMP Mobile?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Brian asks: Eric, I read your article on the off-grid car and it made me think what would be the best car to have in the case of a total breakdown? EMP is probably a far-off fear, but infrastructure collapse is much more possible and even happening as we see it. I’m thinking of an early-80’s Volkswagen Rabbit truck with its 1.6l diesel engine. No electronics, wrench/screwdriver/hammer simplicity, and will run on any kind of oil. I figure one of those cubical 275g plastic containers with the cheapest fuel oil and a hand pump, and something like the Rabbit truck will go for a couple years. The only downside is that other people might be thinking the same thing. I can’t find one of these 50-year-old cars for less than $4,000. But if I could just keep it under cover until the SHTF, perhaps I could think of it the way I think of my long-term food storage; good to have if you need it

My reply: Anything powered by a mechanically injected diesel engine will run so long as you have fuel. You don’t even need electricity (starter battery, alternator) to get it running, if you have a hill – which can be used to roll-start it. My ancient diesel-powered tractor is one such. It will burn practically any oil and it needs practically nothing else. Vehicles like the Rabbit truck you mention are similar. The problem – as you also mention – is finding one someone’s willing to sell and then paying for it. If you can find one for $4,000  . . . buy it.


That is a great price for one of these thing as they are only going to increase in value. And that’s because the value of a vehicle that will run almost-no-matter-what priceless!

. . .

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  1. And a timing belt, if it has one. Keep that somewhere away from ozone and heat. Also timbing belt tensioner pulley.

    One note…even the fully mechanical Bosch rotary pump in a 1979 Rabbit Diesel needs 12VDC to open the fuel cutoff solenoid. It’s not much juice, a gelcell kept against the day when the main battery dies would be enough to open it.

    • Crusty, that reminds me of the old Mercedes diesels that had the manual kill lever under the hood, in case the fuel shut-off failed when ya went to shut the car off, ya just opened the hood and pulled the lever. I’m assuming because those cars had that feature, that they did not require any ‘lectricity to run- i.e. that the default position of the fuel cut-off was open…and only needed ‘lectricity to stop the flow, to shut the engine down? That’s the way to do it, eh? No wonder those cars were so popular in turd-world countries. Would make great EMF-proof vehicles, if they weren’t so old now- I mean, those engines would never wear out- literally- but there was sure enough other stuff to wear out now that they’re all 40+ years old….but they’re still probably more bulletproof than any other vehicles of that age.

  2. Yeah, pretty much all of the Rabbits are dead from either having rusted away or being worn-out. Pretty much the problem with all the good old easily sustainable vehicles. The good stuff that is left, and if it’s in even remotely good enough shape to be viable, is “collectable” and priced at tens of thousands of dollars….. And the parts are becoming harder to get…even for much newer vehicles. It’s getting to the point where I think it makes more sense to position oneself in a place where we can be as self-sufficient as possible on a good piece of land, where we can produce our own food and fuel for heat, etc. because things seem to be accelerating rapidly as far as cheap sustainable transportation coming to an end.

  3. Eric, if one were to get such a vehicle now, what is the minimum parts one might need to keep on hand for maintenance and common repairs? I’m thinking air filter, fuel filter, injectors. Maybe some bondo.

    • Hi Baxter,

      Mostly, just oil – for lubrication – and filters (for the fuel and the air). Stock up on a few spares and you should be set for years to come. The diesel fuel itself can be almost any oil – including vegetable. Much easier to “refine” than gas!


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