How to hotwire a car

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:

  • 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.

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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.

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).

Step 1: Remove The Plastic CoveringP1 Hotwire Car

This POV is from underneath the dash. This is where you need to start. See that little screw there? That’s connecting the plastic cover which conceals all of the wires below the steering column. This is what you first need to remove. Depending on your car, there can be up to four of those screws, and you’ll need a Phillips-head screwdriver to take them out. Alternatively, you can brute force your way through without a screwdriver, however will render you unable to repair the column if that’s your intention.

Related: How to Conceal Weapons in Your Vehicle

Step 2: Locate The Correct Wires

You will then be greeted with an overwhelming amount of wires. Don’t worry though, because it’s easy to work out what they’re for by looking in the direction they’re going.P2 Hotwire Car

You should be able to make out three separate bundles of wires; one going to the left, one going to the right and one going straight into the steering column itself. It’s the steering column bundle we need.

The bundle you need will be taped or attached together with either industrial tape a clip of some kind. There should be five wires in total in the bundle and they will all be connected to the ignition cylinder (the piece of metal you would normally put your key into).

Step 3: Prep The Wires

The easiest way to do the next part, in my experience, is to isolate that whole section. Pull out wires along with the ignition cylinder so that you can manipulate the wires more easily. For ease of instruction, this is how the one I removed from the above vehicle looks like:P3 Hotwire Car

P4 Hot-wire CarNow, in a survivalist situation, you probably won’t have chance to check the car’s manual in order to determine which wire is which, so it would be useful to practice this step beforehand. The next stage is to locate the three wires required to start the vehicle: battery, ignition and starter.

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The colors of these wires will vary depending on the make and model of the car. In my example, the wires I needed were blue, white and green, however, these were specific to my chosen vehicle. In general, red wires often indicate the battery and ignition wires, and started wires are usually brown/yellow. You can negate this issue, however, by pulling out the ignition cylinder with the wires. It will be the first three wires in the sequence which you need.P5 Hotwire Car

Step 4: Connect The Wires

Cut these three wires loose from the ignition cylinder and fray the protective rubber so you can expose the raw wire. Be very careful at this point. Do not touch the exposed wires with your bare hands.P6 Hotwire CarP7 Hotwire CarYou first need to attach the ignition wire and the battery wire to ‘light up’ the ignition (the same state the car is in when you turn your key twice; when you’re able to access your stereo but not able to drive). To do this, wrap the wires together and make sure they don’t come apart. Use protective gloves throughout (or a piece of clothing or cloth in a survival scenario). The dashboard should light up.P8 Hotwire Car

Then, hold the starter wire against the two battery wires until the engine kicks in. This will only take a second at most (imagine turning the ignition on with your key).P9 Hotwire Car

Immediately move the starter wire away and make sure it won’t come into contact with the battery wires while you’re driving. If necessary, use industrial tape around the edges of the wires to protect both yourself and the vehicle.

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And we’re done. Rev the engine until it sounds healthy. The only thing to do in order to drive the vehicle normally is crack the steering lock, although this isn’t difficult. The lock can be broken by forcefully turning the wheel harshly in one direction until the lock-pins holding the wheel in place breaks.

So, the car is running, the steering wheel is free; what next? Well, it depends on your intentions. If you want to use the car again under normal circumstances then you will need some significant repair work done to the ignition cylinder, the battery wiring, the steering wheel lock and steering column.

If you’re planning on using the car regularly in its current iteration, you simply disconnect the two battery wires from touching each other in order to turn off the ignition. To restart it, re-attach the battery wires, then use the starter wire to fire it up.Banner_solar long

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1. Gather Your Tools.

  • To begin, you’ll need some electrical tape, a pocketknife of some kind, a screwdriver, and insulated gloves (recommended).
  • Do not break into a car unless you own it and have documentation to prove it. Be aware that forced entry will set an alarm if the vehicle is equipped.
  • If you have access to the owner’s manual, check to make sure the steering column and gear selector can be overridden. Serious damage to the shifting mechanism and steering column can result from this method.
  • These are usually held in place with concealed clips or #2 Phillips-type screws. Remove them and pull the access panels free.
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3. Find the wiring harness connector.

  • Once you remove the panels on the steering column, you should see a roil of electrical wires. Don’t be intimidated, learn to recognize the right bundle. There will typically be three main bundles of wires:
    • Wires leading to the column-mounted controls on one side, like lights, cruise control, and other indicators
    • Wires leading to the column controls on the other side, like wipers or seat warmers
    • Wires leading to the the battery, ignition, and starter leading straight up the steering column

4. Separate the battery, ignition, and starter wire bundle.

  • One of these will be the primary power supply for the ignition switch, one will be ignition wires, and the other will be the starter. The other colors will vary depending on the manufacturer.
  • Unfortunately, only one wire is responsible for actually starting the car, and as there is no universal color code for the individual wires, you will have to consult your car’s manual to know which one to look at.
  • Sometimes the ignition wires are brown and the starter wires yellow, but the battery wires are most usually red. Again, the only way to be sure is to read the owner’s manual. Be warned, messing with the wrong wires will get you electrocuted.

5. Strip about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of insulation from the battery wires and twist them together.

  • Wrap them with electrician’s tape if available, and do not allow them to short against metal vehicle components. Connecting these will provide electricity for the ignition components, so the engine is able to run when the starter is turned.

6. Connect the ignition on/off wire to the battery wire.

  • You should see the dash lights and other electrical components come alive at this point. If all you want to do is listen to the radio, you’re done. If you want to drive the car, you’ll need to spark the starter wire.

7. Strip the starter wire about 1⁄2 inch (1.3 cm).

  • This will be live, so you need to extremely careful and keep close hold of your bare wires. Touch the end of this to the connected battery wires. Don’t try to twist it on, just spark it against the battery wires to start the car.
  • If you get the car to start, rev it a few times so you don’t stall out and have to do this process again.
  • Once the engine starts, you can remove the starter wire and continue on your way. When you want to kill the engine, simply unfasten the battery wires from the ignition wires and the car will die.

See, easy, right? Once you’re done playing around, use the electrical tape to carefully cover up the insulation holes you made in the wires. We don’t want any shorts or fires or anything.

If you’d like more information and practice with Vehicle Commandeering, BSR offers a Vehicle Commandeering Course designed to teach individuals how to acquire a vehicle without the use of a key. The training focuses on commandeering a vehicle in an operational environment by improvising the tools needed to gain entry, overcoming the locking devices, identifying and selecting the appropriate electrical circuit, both inside and under the vehicle hood, in order to start the vehicle.

For more information on Vehicle Commandeering and to see course offerings, visit our website.

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