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Before anything else, let’s be clear: we don’t encourage or condone the hotwiring of a car for illegal purposes. The purpose of this guide is to show you how to start a car in an emergency or survival situation, in case you have no other means to escape a catastrophe or a pursuer. At the same time, this enables you to better protect your car against theft, if it is the type of model that can be hotwired. First, a couple of caveats:

 

X Not all cars can be hot-wired

Hotwiring only works on vehicles made before 2000. Models made after 1999 are way more complicated and take too much time for a quick escape. They also require tools only a professional car thief would have.

You can hotwire older cars, like this beautiful classic Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC from 1990.

 

X Practice on a junked car, not your daily driver

For testing purposes never practice on your own car. Hotwiring can do serious damage to a car, since you may have to break certain components like the steering wheel lock and mess around with the wiring. Hotwiring is a one-time deal and might mess up the starter or electrical system. Remember that “practicing” hotwiring also looks very suspicious. For these reasons we highly recommend practicing on a car that’s destined for, or already at, the junkyard.

The tools

To pull this off, you’ll have to bring the right tools. Don’t try hotwiring without them, or you risk electrocuting yourself or causing an electrical fire. You’ll need:

  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Pliers
  • A hammer
  • Insulated gloves
  • One flathead and one Phillips screwdriver
  • Electrical tape

A pair of pliers is one of the tools you’ll need to hotwire a car. Use tools that can perform multiple functions, like the one shown, to keep your kit small and low-profile.

The hotwire

There are at least two ways of hotwiring:

Method 1

  • Insert the flathead screwdriver into the ignition as you would the key.
  • Use the hammer to drive the screwdriver into the ignition, turning the screwdriver clockwise as you force it in.
  • Should you encounter resistance, use the pliers to help turn the screwdriver. In some cases, this is enough to start the car.

In the “right” circumstances, mere possession of a screwdriver (deemed a “burglar’s tool” because of your intent to start a car that’s not your own) can be a felony. Be 100% sure you are hotwiring for valid reasons.

 

Method 2

This is a bit more complicated and invasive. It also requires insulated gloves since you will be dealing with live wires. Follow these steps:

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  • Use the flathead screwdriver to remove the panel that covers the steering wheel column. Behind the panel you’ll see several wires; don’t be intimidated.
  • If there are two brown wires:

Cut both wires and strip the ends. Touch the two brown wires together to start the car; once the car is started, don’t let the two brown wires touch again as these are live wires. Snip off the stripped wires and separately wrap both ends with electrical tape to keep yourself from getting electrocuted or accidentally causing a fire.

  • If there is only one brown wire:

Look for two red wires. With your insulated gloves on, cut the red wires, stripping about an inch from the ends. Twist the ends of both wires together Then strip the brown wire and connect it to the two red wires to start the car. Once the car is started, snip off the stripped end and wrap the end of the brown wire with electrical tape.

 

Some final words

Again: the practice of hotwiring a car is something for emergency use only. Mere possession of the tools you’ll use to hotwire a car can constitute a felony, so use this guide judiciously.

That said, knowing how to hotwire a vehicle can literally be your ticket out of harm’s way. And for defensive purposes, it also gives you a better understanding of how cars can be “procured” without keys, so you can better protect your wheels.

 

Breaking into a Car

Obviously, you won’t have the keys and may not have the time to pick the door lock of your target ride. To get into the car, you’ll have to break a window. Throwing a rock or brick will attract unwanted attention. You can break the window quietly and quickly with some duct tape and a sturdy tool like a knife, multi-tool or tactical pen with a hardened strike face.

First, use the duct tape to mark a huge X on the window. This will help deaden the sound and minimize shattered glass. Next, sharply strike the window’s lower corners where it’s weakest. Don’t strike at the center of the duct tape “X”; the tool may just bounce off the surface if you don’t hit the glass hard enough.

 

Break a car window quietly: place a duct tape “X” on your target window, then hit the corners (the red “x’s” (stockarch.com).