How to

6 October 2016

Improvised Survival: Insulation and Other Supplies to be found in ‘Junked’ Vehicles

The makers of films and television programmes seem to have a remarkable case of tunnel-vision when it comes to vehicles. Once the engine cuts out, the whole thing is deemed to be useless. In a real survival situation, following this trope could lead to a rather unsavoury end, particularly if you find yourself stranded in arctic conditions for a sustained period of time.

That’s not to say that you definitely couldn’t survive in such areas without the aid of a broken-down shell of a vehicle – countless people have managed it on countless occasions over the years – but you may find the situation much easier to endure if you know how to make the best use of what you have around you. In the case of your car, there are plenty of parts and components that you can adapt for unconventional use.

For the purposes of this article we will be assuming that none of the vehicle’s various functions are operational, short of opening and closing the doors.


The most obvious option in terms of shelter is the car itself. While not an ideal solution due to the challenge of maintaining a comfortable temperature without heating in what is essentially a large metal box, taking refuge in your car should at least protect you from the wind and rain.

Often the better option is to construct a shelter yourself, taking care to design it in such a way so that it effectively keeps you warm, dry and safe. For this task, many parts of your car can be utilised to good effect.

The cloth or leather lining the interior of your car, for example, can be put to use as crude bedding, or as a waterproof roofing material for the shelter itself. Seat cushions and the foam padding within can be used to form a basic mattress, further insulating you from the cold ground.


As previously mentioned, probably the most useful item in your car in terms of insulation is the foam padding contained within the seats. This can not only be used as an insulating mattress for your shelter, but also to create basic snow shoes or to stuff thin clothing for added warmth.

Rubber car mats are also an excellent method of keeping moisture from seeping into your bedding via the floor, as is any spare treated leather or the like that you may have access to.

Clothing & Packs

In such a survival situation, particularly in cold weather, you may find yourself in urgent need of a few extra layers. There are various materials to be found within your car that can be used for this exact purpose.

For example, the interior cloth and leather can be fashioned into various crude pieces of apparel, including ponchos, wind-breakers and leg wraps for snowy conditions. They can also be used to make a backpack, for which the seatbelts are especially useful. Combine the aforementioned leather with the seat’s foam padding for some simple snow boots.

Rubber items such as tires, tubes and hoses can also be used to make improvised footwear should the need arise.

Straps and Tools

Seatbelts can actually be a surprisingly useful supply, easily put to use in the form of backpack straps, improvised belts, rappelling harnesses or general bindings.

The mirrors, on top of their more obvious use as a signalling device, can also be useful for constructing a crude knife. As a sharp knife is often the first essential listed by survival experts, this could be particularly useful.

Even the hubcaps have a use here, as they can easily be removed and used as snow shovels. In the case of solid steel hubcaps, they can also make an effective cooking vessel.

The multitude of wiring can be stripped of its insulating layer and fashioned into small items such as snares and fish hooks, while the rubber tubing found under the hood can be used to draw water from deep holes.

After thorough cleaning, container for windscreen wiper fluid and other such liquids can be used as a water container, which could just save your life.

Many people also state that the explosives used to deploy the airbags can also be put to use in a number of ways, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you know what you are doing.

Fires & Signals

When it comes to signalling for help, you will want to make use of all available methods at your disposal. The first and most obvious answer is to use the mirrors to signal using reflected light.

Fires are also a tremendously effective signalling device, and have the added perks of providing warmth and a way to cook. Flammable liquids such as motor oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid and transmission fluid all make good fire-starters. The motor oil will also release thick black smoke when burnt, which will be visible across a larger distance. You can also burn rubber items to increase this effect.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.