Village Praxis: Choosing the Right Truck for the Coming Unpleasantness by Chris Dates

This segment of the Praxis Series is fairly specific in its scope, and focus. I will not cover repair, or maintenance of all-mechanical Diesels. Nor will I cover lift kits, Diesel tuning, or high-speed go-fast stuff. That said, I will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about maintenance and care of your Diesel in the comment section. There are myriad reasons I have chosen to go with an older diesel for my SHTF truck, and I will try and articulate them to you so you can see the value these older trucks hold.

The big three truck manufacturers all made all-mechanical Diesels. Some of them were manufactured up until the late 1990’s. Many readers of this blog are military, or former military, and they will recall the old O.D green K5 Chevy Blazers the Military used to use. The Diesel version of that truck was all-mechanical. It is incumbent upon the reader to choose the right truck based on the condition of the truck on the used market, budget, manufacturer and aestethic preference. For myself, I have chosen a 1989 to 1998.5 Dodge Ram Diesel. I’m a Cummins guy, and I think the Cummins engine is superior to any engine that is comparable to it in the context of older Diesels. Cummins engines can be found in many more places than just under a hood of a Dodge. That’s just one of the many reasons I chose Dodge. Parts will be widely available in a post-collapse world, but this is besides the point of this essay.

Reason #1 – Automatic Transmission Fluid = Fuel

It is common knowledge in the diesel community that using ATF as an additive to diesel fuel in older Diesel engines can clean up sticking injectors, and remove carbon deposits from the engine. But, it’s also becoming common knowledge that you can just ditch the Diesel fuel altogether, and run all ATF as your fuel in your all-mechanical Diesel Pickup. There are other alternative fuels that one could use in their Diesel Pickups, and they’ll work too, and if cooking oils are easier for you to acquire, then by all means, stock up. However, if the situation in this country turns dire, a Diesel owner needs to keep in mind that just about every vehicle that is on the road now is a potential fuel source. Let’s examine the scenario where an EMP was detonated a couple of hundred miles over the United States. Suppose a vast majority of the vehicles that were perfectly operable before the EMP are now two ton paper weights. These vehicles are dead, and will take thousands of dollars to fix. However, the ATF that sits in the transmission pans of these vehicles is perfectly fine, and is perfectly combustible in your all-mechanical Diesel. Try it out for yourself if you don’t believe me. First try a slight mixture of Diesel fuel and ATF. Start with an 80/20 mix. 80% being Diesel fuel, and 20% ATF. Gradually increase the mix as you feel more comfortable. All-mechanical diesels will run on 100% ATF. So will pre-common rail Diesels.

I cannot stress this enough. However you get your ATF, it needs to be strained through a micron filter before you use it. In a nightmare scenario, you’ll be ok to just puncture a trans pan or trans case, and pour the ATF in your tank, if it ever came to that, but I would not recommend that for extended use.

Another benefit of ATF is that is appears to have no documented shelf-life. It will keep for a very long time. So will Diesel, 12-15 years if stored properly, but it appears that ATF will keep for much longer than that. Start to lay in a stock now. Go around to the repair facilities in your area, and ask them if they have any used ATF they want to get rid of. You MUST make sure it’s pure ATF, and not mixed with oil. Also make sure it’s not mixed with coolant or water. Internal combustion engines do not like water at all. Even a couple of tablespoons of water can hydro-lock an engine. It’s impossible to compress water, therefore when the pistons are on their compression stroke, things will break on the inside. Metal will always give before water will.

It shouldn’t take a nightmare scenario for you to start taking proactive steps on your fuel. Start doing it now, so you can get a feel on how your truck will run on ATF. Certain Diesels take to it well, some will exhibit loss of power, and fuel mileage depending on model, and atmospheric conditions. People from the north already know that getting a Diesel going in frigidly cold temps can be a bitch sometimes. Well, it’s even harder using ATF. The hydrocarbon chain is much longer in ATF, therefore the engine can have a real hard time breaking that chain down to ignite it. This will add to increased soot and smoke. That’s why I say don’t wait, experiment now. People in colder climates will need to use an engine heater, but that’s something that should already be in place for Diesel owners in colder climates.

ATF is a good way to supplement fuel costs if you can find it cheap, or for free. Let’s imagine a severe uptick in inflation. If you’re able to find ATF for free, and you add only 50% ATF to your Diesel fuel, you’ve just cut your fuel expense in half. This approach is doubly good, because you can save money on fuel, and you’re depriving the Tax Man of “his” money.  In the event of all-out hyperinflation, used ATF should still be relatively easy to find, and cheap if you have to barter for it since I can imagine that hardly anyone will be able to afford to drive their vehicles. A family would gladly trade their the trans fluid they have in their vehicles for food or ammunition, or even a ride somewhere.

Reason #2 – All-Mechanical Diesels are just about EMP proof

Any vehicle that was made in the last 25 years are highly vulnerable to an EMP attack. This includes diesels too. These vehicles are full of solid-state components, and these components have the potential to be fried in the event of an EMP attack. However, all-mechanical diesels are not so susceptible to an EMP blast. An all-mechanical Diesel does not use a computer to control the engine. An all-mechanical Diesel engine uses mechanical fuel injection, not electronic fuel injection. The fuel pump, and injectors are mechanical, therefore there’s nothing to be cooked in the event of an EMP.  There are no electronic sensors on an all-mechanical Diesel, because there’s no engine computer to interpret the data. There are some things to be considered when dealing with an EMP blast, and an all-mechanical Diesel, however. There are diodes in the alternator that can be fried, and since the alternator is chassis ground, the potential is there that the battery would be drained if the problem is not caught in time. There’s a very easy work around for this problem. You can simply disconnect the negative battery cable from the battery, or you can mount a ground-side switch in the cab of the truck, and route the negative cable to the switch, and then back to the battery. You can simply flip the switch whenever you get out of the truck. This will only protect you from a drained battery, it will not save your alternator, but you will have enough battery power to start your truck, and since your truck is an all-mechanical Diesel, no electricity is required to keep it running. Electricity will only be required to run the lights, and other accessory electrical systems that were not fried by the EMP, but these systems are not vital to engine operation. I would recommend that you keep a spare alternator in a Faraday cage, so it can be replaced. You’ll need to recharge your battery somehow.

Not every transmission is hydraulically controlled in an all-mechanical Diesel. This means that some of these transmissions are controlled electronically, and they are controlled by a TCM, or transmission control module. These computers are vulnerable to an EMP attack, but if you have an all-mechanical Diesel now with an electronically controlled trans, don’t worry about it. Even if an EMP takes out your TCM, you still have direct drive(3rd gear). Your truck will not shift, but it will still move. If you wanted to be clever, you could bypass the TCM, and wire your own switches in line with the electronic shift solenoids. Shift solenoids are the components that allow the trans to shift when given the signal from the TCM. If your TCM is fried, these switches would allow you to shift an automatic trans yourself. Simply mount the switches in a convenient spot in the cab, wire the switches into the solenoid circuits, and label the switches to whatever gear corresponds to the shift solenoid. You have now successfully bypassed the TCM. You now have full control of your auto trans. You may be wondering why the solenoids would not be fried in the event of an EMP. Well, the solenoids are nothing more than coiled copper, and if those components are severely damaged in an EMP, you’ve got bigger problems….like cardiac arrest. Of course, a manual transmission will not require any modification, and that is the ideal trans to have.

If you feel that some of my instruction was vague, or if you want specific instruction on wiring, or any other questions, I can answer any of your concerns in the comments. I hope this was helpful to you. An all-mechanical Diesel owner need not worry about fuel in a post-collapse scenario, fuel will be very abundant.

34 thoughts on “Village Praxis: Choosing the Right Truck for the Coming Unpleasantness by Chris Dates”

  1. Don’t rely on any plans that depend on most vehicles being inoperable after an EMP event. The only real world testing that has been done resulted in even late model cars still being drivable. GPS, electronic dashboards, etc were out, but the car would still turn over, run, and go down the street.

    All mechanical diesel is by all means a good idea (running 100% is better than running 50%) but the vast majority of vehicles will come through an EMP event (unless we are talking like a cosmic gamma ray burst from a nearby nova, in which case the radiation kills anyone not underground when it happens anyways.)

    1. Most of the testing I have seen reported has been done using high voltage capacitors and the induced voltages I saw did not exceed 10,000 v/meter, with much slower rise times than fission device HEMP. For obvious reasons, nobody has done HEMP tests since the early 1960s, but my understanding is that modern designs can deliver up to 100,000 v/meter. IIRC, the TEAK and ORANGE shots delivered EMPs in the 20-30kv/meter range, and those did cause ignition system damage to cars in Maui.

      1. I’m not buying that argument either, Historian. I’ve been repairing vehicles for a long time. As a team leader my days were spent walking around with a Fluke Meter fixing cars that other guys could not. I know how easy it is to damage a computer module in a car. Ive seen how little it takes to “let the smoke out” as we say in the auto repair biz. Phelps talked about GPS, electronic dashboards, etc being out, and that’s true that those components would probably be damaged, but what he doesn’t understand is those components are all linked together on late model vehicles using the multiplex system. The BCM or body control module controls the components he listed, if that goes out, then it’s possible that the vehicle will not start. I’ve seen it with my own eyes on vehicles I was working on. Generally it’s true on newer vehicles that the module that controls GPS, and dashboard function also controls key program, and ignition immobilizer systems. I’d like Phelps to explain why certain branches of the system would go out, but the module that controls it wouldn’t. It makes absolutely no sense to me as circuits running off of the module tend to be more robust than the computer module itself. Hence the reason for relay circuits.

    1. “Mechanical Diesel” as opposed to “Electrically-controlled Diesel”:

      The engine will continue to run as long as there is fuel and air supplied, with no need for an electrical input. No spark plugs, no computers, no alternator or battery needed, just fuel/air converted to rotary motion and exhaust/heat. “Electrical” Diesels need electricity to run the injectors, sensors, CPU, transmission coordination, instrument panel, pumps, etc. New-ish “electrical” Diesel engines also tend to need very-high grade pure Diesel fuel (no veggie, ATF, home bioDiesel, etc), Urea exhaust gas pollution reduction fluid, are mechanically quieter, and put out lower air pollution then their equal-power old-school engine. Newer engines are often lighter weight, only-somewhat rebuildable, and are designed so that you need very expensive factory part/tool support if not dealer-only service.

      12-valve Cummins in a Dodge PU is a fine unit for North American operation, even if the S doesn’t HTF.

    2. Kerodin,

      Pdxr13 just nailed it. An all-mechanical diesel uses the operation of the engine to pump fuel. There is no electric fuel pump. It has a mechanical fuel pump, and those pumps run at a lower PSI than newer Diesels. Newer Diesels, especially ones that use piezoelectric injectors(or post-common rail)just don’t like to burn alt. fuels. Some of them won’t.

      The fuel injectors on an all-mechanical Diesel aren’t even really “injectors” at all. They’re just spring loaded valves that the fuel pressure has to overcome to spit fuel.

      Here’s the bottom line, though. These older diesels WILL burn ATF as fuel. Very important for freedom fighters to keep in mind. If you have any other questions feel free to ask. It shouldn’t take an EMP for the good guys to see value in this.

      1. All dodge diesels have an electric LIFT PUMP to take fuel from tank to the mechanical pump. Maybe the chevy military type vehicles have a primer pump but I doubt it.

          1. You are correct, but the grid heater and ksb are. They are only needed when cold.The voltage regulator is also in the pcm. All are simple fixes though. Most older cummins will more than likey have the mechanically operated, electric solenoid regulated fuel pump replaced by block off plate and a electric fuel pump added. These pumps were a serious problem, when they dropped presure it would unknowingly tear up the injector pump.

          2. Anon,

            You’re right that the KSB, and grid heater are computer controlled, but these components are far from being vital for normal engine operation as you pointed out. Even if they were, it sounds like you know how easy the computer is to bypass, and modify the timing using the KSB. And the grid heater is just about the simplest of circuits that can easily be directly controlled by the driver. If they ever really even need to.

        1. This is incorrect, I know that at least the 89-93 dodge diesels [and possibly all 12 valve engines] use a mechanical pump on the side on the block, they are low pressure diaphragm pumps that work just like the old pumps once used on all gas cars and trucks.
          This was also the case for the GM 6.2 diesels, the ford 6.9 and early 7.3’s

          Cummins really didn’t have any problems until they came out with the 24 valve engines, and that was only because of the electric lift pumps that the earlier engine didn’t have

  2. 12 valve Cummins diesels in dodge trucks had mechanical lift pumps. When the ‘98.5 trucks came out with the 24 valve engine they had an electric lift pump installed on a bracket in the same position as the old mech pumps, and were not reliable. I agree that a 12v cummins is a good way to go. Starting will be an issue long term post collapse, but so will fuel, long term…

    1. Cummins boy, I agree starting will be a problem long term, but I’m hoping we figure that problem out before the long term gets here. Batteries can be made. I thought Dodge switched over to an electric lift pump in like 93 or 94. Have you ever ran a Dodge on alt. fuels?

  3. In response to your comment, “Even if an EMP takes out your TCM, you still have direct drive(3rd gear).” On an electrically controlled automatic transmission there is a fuel saving component called torque converter clutch (TCC). When the vehicle reaches operating temperature and TCC applies a lube circuit opens that lubes the transmissions internal parts that are splined to the intermediate shaft on a 500, 518 series transmission. Without lube component failure is generally within 100 miles of use. On an electrically operated Dodge truck the wiring harness to the transmission contains a 12 volt wire and a 5 volt wire. Wire your truck so that these 2 wires run from the battery and use a resistor for the 5 volt wire. This is somewhat of a computer bypass and will allow the transmission to shift gears. It is not necessary to remove any wires from the harness, a simple splice will work. Shift spacing may be affected and the TCC function should operate and allow lube.

    1. flaxk9, thanks for your input, and your explanation of what manipulation will be needed on the reference wire.

  4. So my choice of a 1970 M35A2 isn’t too far wrong. It’ll burn fuel oil (some of us live up north) just as well as it does diesel and the only electronics on it is the turn signal control block. No, it isn’t going to win any races since the top speed is about 55mph, but the five-speed transmission and two-speed tranfer case gives plenty of low speed options. Having the option to lock in the front axle and put power to all ten tires is also nice for going off-road.
    Since it was built before the EPA existed it has no emissions control garbage on it and they made so many of them from about 1950-1990 that parts are fairly easy to find. I did have to buy some bigger wrenches and sockets in order to work on it. Battery replacement will be a problem in a few years, they’re large and expensive, and since it runs on a 24V electrical system I can’t just go to the truck top for bulbs and accessories.

    1. Chaplain Tim,

      Do they offer a 12v conversion for your truck? I used to have a Ford 8N tractor that was 6v, and I converted it to 12v no problem.

  5. What about starters in general, I would think that if a alternator is susceptible to an EMP than would a starter be as well? Always figured I could bump start with a clutch. Really good article, thanks

    1. Hillbilly,

      No, starters will be just fine in an EMP event. There’s two parts of a starter. The starter solenoid, and the mechanical device that’s responsible for engaging and turning the flywheel or flexplate. The solenoid is the only part that’s electrical, and that solenoid handles large amounts amperage already. It takes quite a bit of power to start a vehicle.

      The diodes in the alternator are much more delicate, however. In theory it is possible for them to be damaged in an EMP.

  6. I just acquired a ’93 GMC 3500 1 ton with the 6.5 turbo diesel and a manual tranny. Being turbo, it does have an electric fuel pump… I suppose if I want to be completely SHTF-ready, I should get another one and keep it shielded. I will have to play with different fuels and see what works. Is there anything you can tell me about this engine and how well it handles alternative fuel, Chris?

    1. Henschman,

      You’re in luck, because the ’93 DIDN’T have an electric lift pump. It has a mechanical lift pump that sends fuel to another mechanical fuel pump called the injector pump. Just because the truck is turbocharged, that does not necessarily mean that it requires the use of an electric fuel pump. And even if it did, the pump would not require any special attention to guard against an EMP. An EMP would have to be very strong to damage electric motors such as a fuel pump. Early electric lift pumps were not computer controlled. Meaning they did not rely on a computer to ground a relay circuit to turn on the pump. That was the point I was trying to make further up in the comments. So, even if your truck did have an electric lift pump, you’d be just fine.

      I’ve done more research on Ford and Dodge than I have Chevy. My Diesel training was actually through Ford, even though I’m a Cummins guy. I know the older 7.3 Fords will drink just about anything you put in the tank. Even old motor oil. The Cummins will too, but you’ve got to be careful. That said, it looks like you got the last year that Chevys took well to alt. fuels, including ATF. Sounds like you just got a sweet truck.

  7. I assume this will work for diesel tractors as well? What years do the tractors stay all-mechanical?

    Someone will have to dig fortifications, why use a shovel 😉

    1. BG,

      Tractors stayed all-mechanical for quite a while, and will also burn alt. fuels easily. Do research into whatever tractor you want to find out if it’s a mechanically operated Diesel engine. If it is, chances are it’ll burn ATF and other alt. fuels just fine.

      1. Just confirming…being hydrostatic doesn’t change any of that, does it? I know everything’s effectively running off a pump, but that’s mechanical, right? Thanks for all this, Chris.

        1. Jim,

          Nope, doesn’t change it at all. Some computer controlled diesel tractors and trucks just will not burn alt. fuels. There’s just too many sensors that tell the computer, “hey, this isn’t Diesel!” Or, on post-common rail Diesels, alt. fuels are simply too thick to be used. But, in a hydrostatic tractor, you shouldn’t have to worry.

  8. Hi guys! Love the post. It is something I have been considering for a while. I own an ’84 m1008 CUCV. I run it on used motor oil and ATF mixed with diesel which I filter first. Purrs like a kitten on the stuff. Love it. But she(my truck) is ornery as hell. Make sure you have a cashe of extra starters and fuel pumps.

    Fuel will only be a problem post collapse if you do not know how to make it yourself. Quality bio-diesel can be produced from hemp. First press the seed for oil, then turn the stalks into methanol using pyrolosis/gasification (I only have a rudimentary understanding of this process.) Mix in appropriate proportions and add a dash of lye. Produces green colored bio-diesel with a high content of A-Linoleic Acid which reduces the gel temperature to around 30 degrees (gel temp with bio-diesel made from other seed oil gels 10 to 20 degrees warmer). Better stock up on Seafoam if you want to be able to drive in the winter or early morning in spring and fall. I am wondering how hard it would be to produce small batches of petroleum distilates to reduce the gel temperature in bio-diesel. I, however, know nothing about that. Hope this is informative.


  9. Gang,

    I’m a decent repair guy but not a wrench. What do you all think of the dodge ram vehicles between 89-98 with 6 cylinder diesel turbos. Is this a consideration? Lots of these in my neck of woods.



  10. What about the fuel shut off, cold start advance, and fuel heaters on the Ford (International) 6.9s & 7.3s ?

  11. Greetings from behind the lines in NYC! Because I’m still in NYC (rest assured I’m doing my very best to G.O.O.D.), a pickup truck would stick out a sore thumb and it would carry us (three humans and a dog). Hence I considering an older Mercedes diesel sedan or station wagon.

    Any thoughts, including suggestions, and what I should be looking for in this regard?

    In closing, thank you for your Web log!

    1. I am glad you brought this up as I have put considerable thought into it. As a born New Yorker (suburbanite New Yorker to be exact), who lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years before I de-rectal-fied my cranium, I would say that if SHTF you will not be driving out of NYC, unless you live in the Bronx, in which case I would give you a very flimsy maybe. With the handful of bridges that cross from Manhattan island to the mainland there would be utter gridlock and unless you have something that can drive over all of those immobile vehicles you aren’t going anywhere. As far as Queens, Brooklyn and the rest of what is on Long Island “Fuggetabaatit!”

      What are you going to do? Drive from SHTF Brooklyn or Queens into and through SHTF Manhatten just to drive into and through SHTF Bronx??? I don’t think so. Not unless you want to expend every single round you have in the process of protecting your stuff and loved ones. I hope you have a lot of medical supplies ready for that happenstance because it is going to be very messy. Keep in mind that the large criminal underground which is kept in check (sort of) by the Authorities would no longer have that deterrent to worry about and it would basically turn into Mogadishu over night. Now, I am not saying that you cannot get out. I am just saying that you cannot DRIVE out. I would say that a boat would be your least worst option. Keep the wheeled vehicle on the mainland somewhere with the bulk of your supplies. In the city keep only what you will need to get to your boat and to the mainland. All of this is just MHO. Please take it as that and nothing more.


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