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Car Talk: Reader wants older car in case of solar flare

Dear Tom and Ray: With talk about the potential (though unlikely) event of a large solar flare directly hitting Earth, some high-tech engineering types are discussing the merits of using homemade Faraday cages to protect electronics and power-generating equipment and vehicle computers. Rather than place in the garage a large, galvanized steel container that’s large enough to park a car in after the container has been lined with insulation and add a conductive layer around the car, I’m thinking it would be more practical to just buy a spare car and maintain it, albeit one that does not have any electronic controls. I’m thinking a carbureted vehicle built before the ’80s would do the trick. The question I have is, would a car with a carburetor built before 1980 continue to run (assuming that it can run OK prior to this potential event) after Earth has been hit with a large solar flare, similar to the Carrington event of 1859, which was strong enough to cause electrical shocks to telegraph operators? Also, what would be a suggested vehicle to keep for such an event? – Larry

Ray: Well, we all remember what chaos the world was cast into after the 1859 Carrington event, Larry. Life, as we knew it, was extinguished. I mean, try finding a telegraph operator today! Where are they? You think it’s a coincidence that you can’t find a telegraph operator anymore?

Tom: Doesn’t anybody screen these letters?

Ray: Actually, I think it’s a very reasonable question, Larry. We’ll do our best to help you out.

Tom: OK. In order to avoid being automotively stranded by some sort of major, Earthwide electrical disturbance, you need to go back to before computers were used to manage engines and before electronic ignition. That would put you in the early 1970s.

Ray: I think the car for you is a 1972 Dodge Dart, Larry. It’s proven pretty reliable. Since it has a nerdy cult following, there are lots of parts still available for these cars. It has a one-barrel Holley carburetor and no important electronics that would be affected by electromagnetic radiation. In fact, it doesn’t have any electronics at all.

Tom: Or, here’s another idea: How about a nice 1971 Chevy Kingswood Estate Wagon? That’s got a nice, simple, carbureted V-8 engine, and the fake wood paneling should survive any electrical event. Plus, a full-size station wagon will give you plenty of room to carry around the provisions you’ll need for the next 50 years.

Ray: But whatever car you get, just to be on the safe side, you might want to take the radio out and wrap it in tinfoil.

Tom: But don’t use all of your tinfoil. You’ll need to have enough left over to make your hat, Larry. Godspeed.

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Stop the madness! You can stop driving like a knucklehead, and you’ll help your car in the process. Learn how your driving habits can harm your car in Tom and Ray’s pamphlet “Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.