EMP Hardening Your Vehicle

The jury is out, and will never come in, on the argument about EMP damage to vehicle electronics. But I don’t need a jury. I only need what I know.

EMP can kill your vehicle engine and transmission control electronics. Yup. Kill it dead for sure!

….or not.

The vulnerability of ECMs and TCMs and MAPs and MAFs and CPSs and ICPs (and all the computers and sensors) to the over-current pulse many fear depends on a few things.

  • external shielding, if any (vehicle body, dashboard frame, mylar-coated windows)
  • the length of inductive wiring attached, and its design (harnesses, radio and CB /HAM antennae and grounding methods)
  • internal hardening, built in by mere chance, in the form of iC design, land width, capacitive depth, chokes and case structure
  • extra-normal electronic loads (vulnerabilities) built-in as standard by Hybrid designers
  • external environment (located in open space, parking garage, on-board and inside a ferry, underground, metal shed, etc…)
  • distance along the line-of-site of the initial pulse, to the affected vehicle
  • atmospheric attenuation of the pulse, leading to propagation interference (strength reduction)
  • absolute chance, random assortment of all the above, in various combinations of strength and effectiveness

The are many things that need to exist in order for a pulse of any magnitude to upset, confuse, damage or destroy any vehicle electronics and, in particular, those critical to the operation of your engine /transmission combination.

Can they be killed? YES!

Will they? Ummmmm, can’t tell you that. But I can give you an analogy.

Consider a soldier going into battle. Plenty of things can kill the poor sop. Grenades, mortars, tank shells, missiles, bombs, bullets. Nukes. He doesn’t go ahead blindly into a battlefield environment. First, he comes trained and educated – just like survivalists regarding common survivalist concerns. He also comes armored-up. Plate carrier with ballistic plates designed to defeat bullets and heavy fragmentation bits and pieces. A strong helmet to protect his head. Hopefully, a medic, with blood volume replacement fluids, wound patches and blood stop, and other means of wound management. Our soldier goes in knowing he could lose it all, but he takes advantage of all that is available to minimize the risks.

What to DO

We approach our EMP protection scheme in a similar fashion. We can’t really add “armor” to our vehicles. For an EMP fail-safe, that would require massive investments in shielded cable upgrades and boxes for electronics. But our knowledge, similar to his training, allows us to do something else. Unlike a medic working on a dead soldier, we can bring our vehicles back to life. In place of armor, we simply carry spare parts, and the know how to replace them. We also take measures to armor-up those parts, since it is simple to protect parts that are not attached to a vehicle’s electrical (pulse absorption) system.

Remember my chance friend Lisa, from my last post? She has a hybrid. Before we parted ways, I suggested a quick strategy for getting her car prepared. Hybrids are a combination of electric motor power and traditional gasoline engine assisted power. I pointed out that the basic motive power of her vehicle is her engine and transmission. Not knowing much about them, I suggested that she get in touch with a knowledgeable hybrid mechanic and determine if there are specific and serviceable electronics that, on their own, would enable the car to move under gasoline engine power. The goal here is to be able to use that combination in lieu of anything else. We don’t care about the fancy dash panel information center. We give no more than two hoots for the dash gauges. Zero hoots for any radio, GPS or window washers. Engine and the ability to MOVE.

Traditional (read, NORMAL) cars are much easier to prepare. Critical electrical parts are purchased and “flashed”, in the case of ECMs (Engine Control Modules). ECMs are often VIN specific, and a dealer or shop will need to know your vehicle’s VIN in order to flash the ECM with the appropriate information. This assures that the ECM knows what kind of transmission you have, your drive wheels’ final gear ratio, tire size, engine management sensors and more. Necessary sensors and sub-system computers get added, too. For grins, toss in a starter and an alternator. All of these are kept together in an EMP box, not a “Faraday Cage.” If you want to go to a lot of work and take a happy chance that all of it can be flushed down the toilet post-attack, use a Faraday Cage. If you want to KNOW your goodies are safe and ready to work for you, put them in an EMP box – a solid container of steel with no gaps, seams, or opening of ANY size. And do NOT ground the thing. You can do a surface discharge AFTER the pulse has passed, to bleed any residual energy from the outer surface of the box before opening it.

You should be familiar with what these engine control parts are, where they go, how to install them and what tools you’ll need to do so. Get a Chilton’s manual, or a Hayes manual. Talk to a mechanic if you have one you trust. Have a resurrection party with your trusted and talented prepper pals and see how to repair each others’ vehicles. Having the bits and pieces does you no good if you don’t know where they go and how to get them there. Review how to diagnose problems. It might be as simple as a dead engine than spins and spins and never catches. ECM? Likely choice. But there are other things that can keep a good engine down – such as a crankshaft position sensor. These fail even in normal times! If you have someone in your group that has these skills, transfer them to able-bodied members. If you practice installing these parts, you’ll know for sue what tools need to be stored WITH the vehicle.

The EMP Box

Your EMP box can be something as simple as an ammunition can. If you store a starter and alternator, keep them in their own cans, as they are big and heavy, and can beat up smaller electronic cousins. Remove the rubber seal from the lid. Sand the surfaces of the lid and upper can body that come in close contact. Wrap the parts to be protected in their original packaging and mylar bags, wrap those in paper, and wrap them again in aluminum foil, taped closed. This “onion” can be final wrapped in cardboard or better yet, a small plastic box. Glue this assembly to the inside bottom of the ammunition can so that it can hang upside down and not break away. For starters and alternators, wrap them in heavy cardboard material, and tape tightly. Wrap again in aluminum foil several times over and seal it up. You won’t be gluing this to the inner bottom, so provide the part with a stand-off of some material that can handle hot solder, and keep it away from the lid of an upside-down ammo box by at least 1/2″.

Why upside-down? Here’s why. We want a solid seal, with no breaks and no gaps. With the rubber gasket out of the way, and bare metal exposed where the gasket would bridge the gap between both mating surfaces, we are going to flip the box over onto its top. Locked down, the lid will still have a gap. On its head, we can melt solder into that gap and seal it up tight. A small propane torch of the kind plumbers use, and some thick solder wire those self-same plumbers employ to seal copper pipe joints, is all you need. Let the melted solder flow into the gap and harden. If it doesn’t fill completely, add more. The torch makes short work of the thick plumber’s solder wire. Our glued-away parts, or those held aloft by the spacer, will not be affected. You may need to tilt the box onto each side, at an angle, so that the solder finds the lowest point to which it will flow is the inner edge of the joint. Work around to all four edges, tilting as you go, until sealed.

When you need to retrieve parts, you will melt the solder away with the same or a similar torch. Except this time, you will work on the latch side first, letting the melted solder flow away from the box. Some will stay inside, but that’s fine. All you need to do is get enough away from the joint so you can pry or break it open. Laying the box on its side, and melting the joint away from the top down, will do the trick.

It’s Alive! Alive!

By keeping a safe collection of critical parts on hand, you can resurrect your EMP-killed vehicle. It’s take a bit of work, but it’s much less work than walking everywhere. Oh, and for those who think that a pre-80s vehicle without electronics is preferable, I submit to you something I wrote a few years back. Surely, such a vehicle has great points (and condensers, if it’s gas….), but newer vehicles have a few things going for them, too. A massive spare parts inventory is everywhere for late models cars and trucks. Millions of similar examples are all over the place. The older versions are getting fewer and fewer. But, read this article, and you’ll see what I had to say, and I won’t have to re-write it. The only difference between then and now is that I AM a bit concerned about EMP. All other points are the same.

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