View Full Version : Motor vehicles after a century and a half of abuse

12-23-2009, 01:13 AM
I'm writing a fantasy novel that occurs 150 years after the obliteration of a civilisation with mid 20th century level technology. People's survival in the years that follow rely heavily on salvage of crucial supplies from the bones of the old cities, military supply depot, etc. Until now I assumed that they would be needing to use animal drawn carts and wagons in trade caravans and salvage teams to carry supplies across the extremely dangerous wasteland, but it occured to me that they might have motorized transport left. I'm thinking something like an old pickup or truck that's been carefully maintained over the years and modified for the situation, maybe dragging a few conventional wagons behind it. Fuel is an issue, but the salvage teams are heading out to look for a type of special fuel used in the pre-cataclysm days, so there's no reason they can't pick up some diesel while they're at it.

Some properties the vehicles would have:

Would not need to be able to move much faster than a human can walk or run. Properties of the wasteland inhibit moving fast if you wish to retain your health, and the roads aren't in good shape anyhow.
They'd need to be able to provide shelter for a small group of travellers, their supplies, and whatever they haul back with them.
Need to be robust against attacks by primitive raiders with stone age weaponry.
While the surviving people retain metalworking and salvage for materials, they're going to be sharply limited in terms of quantity and quality of salvage, so replacement parts are going to be difficult to come by.

Would a vehicle have been able to survive and still function after 150 years? With mediocre capacity for restoration at best, what kind of shape would they be in? One of my characters is a mechanic, so how many times would she need to be cracking open the hood in a month of travelling? What would the fuel requirements look like, especially with an old frankenstein of an engine? Are they any neat things that I could use these old ramshackle vehicles with that I might not have considered?


12-23-2009, 01:33 AM
I'd recommend watching History Channel's Life After :-D Without serious upkeep, I would be hard pressed to believe a vehicle would survive that long, and without the necessary parts, even with upkeep a vehicle can last only so long. Of course, its also kinda hard to say, since the modern automobile is only 124 years old now :-D

Mike Martyn
12-23-2009, 01:33 AM
Due to the embargo, Cuba hasn't received anything from the US in over 50 years. Despite that, American cars from the 1950's (think big tail fins!) are still routinely seen on Havana's streets all maintained in some sort of running order. Many are used as taxies. so if you take that as an example, you're one-third of the way to your 150 year timeline.

A fairly primative machine shop (1950's) can turn out a lot of replacement parts provided you have electricity to run the lathes, milling machines etc. Of course a '50's vehicle would be a lot easier to maintain not having any micro electronics.

Also it depends what you have around by way of wreaked vehicles. Today's junkyards are full of them. Visit your neighbourhoood used auto parts yard to get a flavour for your future vehicle car plant. You wouldn't have a lot of Mercedes or BMW's running around but I bet there would be a lot of spare parts for Ford 150's or Honda Civics.

Mike Martyn
12-23-2009, 01:35 AM
Fuel? A very primative still can produce alcohol and you rvehicles could run o thta.

12-23-2009, 01:52 AM
Bio-diesel is not too hard to make.
Supply of lubricating oil/transmission fluid might be more difficult

12-23-2009, 09:57 AM
If I were in that situation (Read David Brin's The Postman for a chilling description), the first thing I would do if get a nice defensible position (like a cave) and put together a Thermal Depolymerization still (see http://www.changingworldtech.com/) for my fuel and lube supply.

Next, I would scour old barns and garages, looking for vehicles under tarps. The older, the better. I would be staying away from basically anything built since the early 1990s. Why? Too much technology - you can't keep these things running without a full-up machine shop.

BTW, can you band of intrepids salvage a machine shop? Somehow, that seems to get missed in most disaster novels. The grocery stores are all raided or armed, and yet the neighborhood garage is never discussed. And yet, that is probably the most important item, long term.

Just my $0.02.

12-23-2009, 06:15 PM
Diesel engines can last a long time and have fewer parts to break, I don't think gasoline or alchohol burning engines would have a chance to last under those conditions.

Heavy duty military trucks and commercial tractor trailors (lorries) would probably be up to the task with some serious maintenance, but they would look pretty rough. Maybe a few well made cars. I've heard about a diesel Mercedes taxi cab that has one millon miles on it.

Tsu Dho Nimh
12-23-2009, 07:18 PM
I've see ox and horse-drawn carts made from the beds and rear axles of pickup trucks. Tires or wooden wheels.

Dicentra P
12-23-2009, 10:54 PM
What about fortified wagons pulled by tractors -- the technology is older and much simpler: (check here for some ideas: http://www.antiquefarming.com/history.html

12-24-2009, 11:15 PM
Thanks guys, that's great information.

How would one go about creating bio-diesal? What kind of supplies and equipment would be necessary?

Elias Graves
12-29-2009, 09:16 PM
Heavy vehicles that burn diesel would be best. A lot of the wear items, shocks, fluids, antifreeze are not going to last that long.
Batteries will be your biggest issue. No way a battery is going to hold up. Without fluids, especially, you won't be going anywhere. Brake fluid, transmission fluid and such break down. Without suitable resupply it won't work.
I find it more likely that your enemies will have functioning guns (maybe only muzzle loaders) than you will have a working car after 150 years.


12-29-2009, 09:35 PM
Thanks guys, that's great information.

How would one go about creating bio-diesal? What kind of supplies and equipment would be necessary?


Need methanol (wood alcohol) and sodium or potassium hydroxide (caustic soda or caustic potash). Wood ash would be a good source of the hydroxides.

12-29-2009, 09:45 PM
gasoline breaks down too.

12-30-2009, 01:12 PM
Clutch plates (manual transmission) for a military vehicle wouldn't last either and they'd be nearly impossible to find and replace. Letting them wear down to the metal would eventually ruin the clutch requiring a complete replacement.

Frankly there's no way for a vehicle to last 150 years of use without the modern support infrastructure.

12-31-2009, 09:32 AM
What advantage are you seeking in mechanised transport that can't be had for less cost and effort from animal-drawn transport (aside from the 'neat' factor)? Or even animal caravans alone? I can't imagine circumstances where fuel or tires would be easier to obtain than animal feed. From camel caravans to 40-mule teams to the flowering of carriage building just before mechanisation made it all obsolete, there's a whole range of choices that would allow for local craftsmen to control the whole process, instead of constantly scavenging for complicated parts.

12-31-2009, 06:35 PM
The nature of the setting makes keeping livestock questionable. Habitable space is at a premium, and while the livestock can likely survive to some extent outside it, it would be very expensive and very dangerous for the handlers themselves, likely necessitating that valuable living space or farmland would have to be given up for the animals. It's not impossible to deal with, but I wanted to explore the possibility of mechanized transport. At least on the surface, it seems like it would solve several logistical issues with feeding, sheltering, and managing the number of animals needed to run a number of simultaneous caravans.