The television series Revolution depicts a world where the power grid has failed and all electrical devices are rendered useless. It’s a daunting prospect, given our reliance on modern technology, yet in some ways an intriguing one. It recently gave rise to a discussion amongst some of my friends as to how we would manage in such a post-apocalyptic scenario, and eventually the conversation segued into possible uses for the huge piles of non-functioning electrical junk that would be lying around. Eventually we hit upon cars, as they would amongst the largest – and potentially most useful – of the detritus we’d have left to work with.
When I say cars, of course, we’re not talking about tanks or other hardy combat-ready vehicles – as handy as they no doubt would be in terms of defensive capabilities (assuming you were able to find a sufficient fuel source to run them), most people would simply lack ready access to such specialised vehicles. Instead, we focused our minds on standard, run-of-the-mill family cars – the type of vehicle that would be left scattered about the streets in every city.
Initially some of the ideas were fanciful – one person wanted to rig up the car as a sauna in the baking desert sun, another wanted to use it as a lightning rod in order to channel enough energy to charge her smartphone. But the more we thought about it, the more we realised there were practical uses to which we could put cars that would go some way toward addressing some immediate, fundamental needs.
First of all, one of the most obvious uses was shelter. For small families and groups, a car could provide a roof over their heads and shelter from rain or fallout, depending on conditions. As most cars today have power windows, one left with the windows shut would be most versatile – during hot weather, the doors could be opened and the interior used for shade, or alternately kept shut to allow the interior to heat up, providing a warm space to sleep at night. As most cars don’t offer much in the way of insulation, in colder climes seats and other interior fabrics could possibly be stripped from other vehicles to help enhance the main shelter’s snugness.
Alternately, if you had a larger, MPV-style vehicle and sufficient physical labour, the vehicle could be buried to serve as an underground hide-out. Granted, this would require careful ventilation, reinforcement, drainage and a well-camouflaged entrance – some ideas revolved around parking a smaller car on top of the entry tunnel, to shelter the entrance and provide a lookout point from which to assess your surroundings before exiting into open ground.
Moving on from shelter to food, there are several ways in which a car could assist with the necessity of feeding ourselves. Again, if the windows were closed and the climate suitably temperate, a car could easily be converted into a small-scale greenhouse – although admittedly you would need a fair few vehicles to produce any quantity of food. In a later stage, parts of the car could conceivably be modified to serve as cooking equipment. For instance, the engine cavity could be partially gutted to serve as an enclosed grill or barbecue pit, and in hot, dry climates metal sheeting from the car’s exterior could be left to heat up and serve as a spacious, if rudimentary griddle.
There are in fact a number of ways that individual parts of a car could be stripped down and reused. As already noted, seats can be used for insulation and bedding; mirrors could be used for signalling; and exhaust tubes could serve as pipes for a rudimentary irrigation system. Tires could be repurposed on a horse-drawn wagon – indeed, if the engine and other heavy components of the car were removed, the shell itself could conceivably be converted into a wagon and continue to serve in its original role as transport.
There was even some debate over whether a car shell could be rendered sufficiently watertight to serve as a reservoir for collecting rainwater, either for crop irrigation or bathing, or even to be adapted into a boat – but this may come down to the other materials at hand and the skills of those performing the conversion.
Ultimately, the debate proved a good test of ingenuity and lateral thinking – both important qualities to have in a survival situation, expected or otherwise. It’s always a good idea to have an awareness of the materials around you, and the potential uses to which they can be put in a time of need.
Stella Connor is a freelance writer who covers everything from auto and travel to finance and technology. When time allows (and she can get away from her computer), she loves taking to the hills with her family for a spot of camping. She feels somewhat comforted now that should anything ever go wrong, she clearly has a good resource in the family car.