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Does a car need electricity to run?

I am writing a book. The gist is that where ever the main character is, no electricity works. So can he drive a car? Will a modern car and engine run without electricity? If not, did older cars work without electricity? I know I can pop the clutch in my manual car to get it going when the battery is dead, but then it generates its own electricity. Would it run with no electricity what so ever?
Dan “no electricity” Morrison

If the engine has a spark plug, then yes the electricity must come from somewhere.
Diesel engines, on the other hand, can run without electricity.

Every modern car has a vast number of controls that require electricity to function. I just read an article in the morning paper about hackers being able to mess up modern cars’ controls so as to disable them or affect their behavior.

Your car has an ELECTRIC fuel pump, ELECTRIC cooling fan, ELECTRIC starter, some have ELECTRIC power steering, and so on.

Only a classic diesel engine with no emission controls can run without electricity. Provided you hand crank it to start.

So if your character walked up to a gasoline powered car, yes, it would stall, as would many modern diesels with electronically controlled fuel injection. Only older diesels with 100% mechanical fuel injection would keep running. But couldn’t start, of course.

So find your character an old Benz diesel to drive, and never turn it off!

One caveat here…older gasoline powered engines in cars and trucks ran off of a magneto. No battery needed as a magneto runs off of the current it generates. The character could feasibly find an old, running vehicle at a museum or the Jay Leno collection. I think Jay has at least one of everything ever produced.

Magnetos still used electricity, right? Not needing a battery is different than not needing electricity.

Now I’m confused as to the intent of the question…it needs clarified.
Because a vehicle manufactures its OWN electricity within it’s operating mechanisms…
Does the OP wonder if a vehicle never ever needs ANY electricity ?
Or are they asking about it GETTING electricity from an outside source such as generating stations or solar collectors ?

Well, he says “…no electricity works.” So to me that means nothing electrical, like spark plugs.

A Diesel engine can operate with no electrical power. All gasoline engines have spark plugs which require electrical energy…

NO electricity works? Because the human nervous system runs on electricity. Without it, you’d die :wink:

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Good point!! Thanks for ruining this guy’s day…err book idea… ;0

The modern internal combustion motor plus all the accessories probably uses more electricity then you think. Forget the plugs, without electricity, turning the key would yield nothing as it all starts their. Probably the least essential “fuel” is the gasoline. Many modern diesels are now computerized with electronic fuel injection as well.

Yes, the character can run a diesel engine vehicle, but how is he going to get it started? It would still need batteries and a working starter to start the engine.

The character is going to have to ride a horse.

Well, somebody else could start it while he’s far enough away…

The show Revolution dealt with this subject. They had microbots that took out anything that used electricity. Basically we went back to the Civil War era world wide.

Then you have to deal with everything outside the engine that won’t work, like the heater fan, turn signals, and lights. Will hydraulic brakes work with no electricity? Would air brakes work without electricity?

Yeah, no accessories would work, but the brakes (except the brake lights) would work fine. If it’s old enough to be a 100% mechanical diesel, it wouldn’t have ABS, stability control, etc.

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I was thinking a big dually pickup truck that would have a diesel engine might be the the only modern vehicle that would still run.

Even diesel pickups are now electronically controlled. But you’re right, the newest possible vehicle would likely be a diesel pickup. And leaving it running 24/7 isn’t that bad, that’s what they do with some of the trucks on the north slope in Alaska during the (long) winter.

From the 1920s through 1970, Popular Science had a running series titled “Tales from the Model Garage”. In one episode in the 1950s, the proprietor and head mechanic of the model garage, Gus Wilson, did fix up a Jeep to run without electricity. He removed the exhaust valves and drilled 1/4" holes in the valves about 1/8" deep as I remember the story. After the Jeep had been run on the regular ignition, the ignition switch would be turned to off. The Jeep would continue to run because the holes drilled in the exhaust valves would fill up with carbon, the carbon would retain heat and ignite the next charge of fuel in the cylinder. Essentially, the Jeep was running as a diesel engine. Gus did this for an army friend of his so that this friend would win a contest on running an engine while the engine was submerged in water. Of course, there were stack pipes for the air intake to the carburetor and exhaust. The Jeep, rigged up by Gus did win the contest and kept running while the other vehicles with the waterproofed ignition system eventually stalled out.
Back in the days before fuel injection, dieseling was a problem with some cars. My dad had a Studebaker that would sometimes run on for almost a minute after the ignition was turned off. Gus was just taking advantage of this problem of dieseling. Of course, the engine would be terribly out of time. I guess this could be done as the stories of the Model Garage in Popular Science did seem credible.