In a survival situation, you’ll need transportation. Maybe you got jumped and lost your keys, or you were running for your life and they fell down a storm drain. Perhaps your car just ran out of gas.
Whatever the reason, one possible solution is to hotwire an abandoned vehicle and claim it for your own. Of course, for this to work, you need to know how to start a car without a key.
Here are some easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions to teach you how to hotwire a car for beginners. While we don’t recommend utilizing this skill in your everyday life, if the world ends and you need to get from point A to point B, it could potentially save your life.
Choose the Right Car
If the S has well and truly hit the fan, chances are your local highways will be littered with abandoned vehicles. If you’re not lucky enough to find some keys hanging in the ignition or hidden above the sun visor, you’ll need to hotwire the car. However, choosing the right make and model is more important than you might think.
Don’t choose a new car. Anything that uses a chip key or a wireless fob will be impossible to hotwire — and that includes anything newer than about 1999. Let us repeat that — you can’t hotwire a car with a chip key.
Without the signal emitted by the RFID chip, the ignition just won’t turn over and the vehicle won’t start. You’ll spend a lot of time busting your knuckles for nothing.
In short, skip the new cars unless you can find the keys. Once you’ve found a car that can be hotwired, it’s time to get to work.
How to Hotwire a Car
There are several ways in which you can start a car without the key. Unfortunately, hot wiring is not as easy or simple as it seems in movies, but the following methods should still work if you’ve found the right car.
Option A: Use a Screwdriver — and Maybe a Drill
Screwdrivers are a great option because they’re quite cheap and easy to keep in a bug-out bag. In some older models, that’s all you’ll need — just push the screwdriver into the ignition and turn it like you would a key. If it starts, you’re good to go and you don’t need to hotwire anything.
If it doesn’t start, you can still use the screwdriver. You’ll just need a drill, along with a small drill bit. The goal is to break as many lock pins as possible with the drill bit so you can turn the ignition tumbler with the screwdriver. Insert the drill bit about two-thirds of the way up from the bottom of the keyhole and press it in repeatedly at low speed.
Once you feel like everything is fairly well broken, try the screwdriver again. If the car starts, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, go back to the drill until you break enough lock pins.
Option B: Crossing Your Wires
This is probably the method you’re thinking of when you hear someone say they need to hotwire a car. Start by taking the plastic cover off the steering column. Use your screwdriver!
Once it’s exposed, you’ll need to locate the wire bundle. There are three under there — one that goes left, one that goes right, and one that goes into your steering column. It’s that third one you’ll need. It’ll usually have five wires: battery, starter, ignition, and two ancillary wires.
If you have the option, pull up a wiring diagram to determine which wire is which. The colors aren’t standard, so what serves as the starter wire on one car might be the battery wire n another.
Ignore the ancillary wires. You won’t need those. Cut the battery, starter, and ignition wires. These wires are live, and you will get a nasty shock if you touch them with your bare hands.
Strip some insulation off the ends of these three wires, and twist together the ignition and battery wires. At this point, if you’ve done everything right, you should see the dashboard light up. This is like turning your key to “On” but not starting the engine.
From here, just touch the starter wire to the twisted batter/ignition wires and the engine should start. Rev it up a couple of times to make sure it doesn’t stall out and you’re good to go. When you’re ready to shut the engine off, separate the battery and ignition wires.
It’s important to know how to do this fast in case of emergency, so try to get some practice if possible.
If the steering wheel is locked after starting the engine, simply jerk it to the side quickly to break the lock. Once you hear it break, you’ll be able to drive like normal.
Option C: Jump the Starter
This method is a little more complicated and might require you to climb under the car. If all you’ve got handy is a pair of jumper cables, it might save you in a pinch.
Start by opening the hood and looking for the red coil wire or the wire heading to the positive side of the ignition coil. Connect that to the positive terminal of your battery. This should light up your dashboard, similar to twisting your battery and ignition wires in the last method.
Connect one negative clamp on your jumper cables to the negative terminal of the battery and the other to the starter solenoid of the vehicle. If you’ve got everything hooked up right, this should jump the starter and start the car.
Still Won’t Start?
If you’ve followed all the steps and hooked up everything right but the car still won’t start, it could be time to choose a different escape vehicle. If it’s not starting, it could mean:
- The battery is dead: Just like starting a car with the keys, nothing works if the battery is dead.
- The head gasket is blown: A blown head gasket can cause the engine to misfire. If enough cylinders are misfiring, the engine won’t start.
- It’s out of gas: Maybe the car was abandoned by the last owner because they ran out of gas.
- It’s too new: If the car has a security system or is too new, following all the steps perfectly won’t help you hotwire it.
- You got your wires crossed: Double check everything, and then check it again to make sure you didn’t get your wires crossed incorrectly somewhere.
Don’t stress too much if the first car you try to hotwire won’t start. There might be something wrong with it. Just move on to the next one.
Only Use This Skill in an Emergency
Learning how to hotwire a car is a useful skill to have in an emergency, but we don’t recommend practicing it on cars you don’t own. We’re not responsible if you get yourself arrested trying to practice your hotwiring skills for the upcoming zombie apocalypse.
Consider getting a cheap car you can practice on, so you can perfect your skills and be ready when the time comes.