The Apocalypse came on Tuesday, and no one was ready. For us soft city folk, survival was mostly a matter of luck. If you fell in with the right group of people with the right skills and the right equipment, you had a chance to make it. It certainly didn't help that the Tuesday in question was right before winter.

After four bleak months of violence and starvation, spring found us with 30 other families in a well protected valley in the Virginia Piedmont. By fall, things were looking up. The reason we fought so hard for the valley is that it is filled with apple orchards. Potatoes and pumpkins are also surprisingly easy to farm. Best of all, some pigs must have escaped from a nearby farm because they multiplied like no one's business in the hills to the south. By fall they were all trying to find their way into the orchard for windfall fruit and we were practically tripping on bacon every time you went for a walk outside.

Since things are doing better, it is time to think about the future. We have a decent collection of vehicles in the valley, and the scavengers from the old populations centers near the coast are happy to trade a near endless supply of parts (and tires!) for bacon and cider. There were four gas stations in the valley before that Tuesday, so we have nearly 100,000 gallons of gas on hand. That can go a long way at 25 miles per gallon; and we've found a lot of other abandoned gas stations in the mountains with gas still in the ground that we can raid for future use.


The truck we use the most for scouting and long distance trade is a 2007 Toyota Tacoma with a stick shift and an inline four. We have a pretty big stockpile of parts already and a maintenance manual. We figure we have at least 10 years of gas on hand, more potentially hidden away, and we can cut that with alcohol to make it last a lot longer.

What we are really worried about is consumable fluids. The truck will need them, and if they get used up in a decade or so, the scavengers might not be able to trade us more. Which fluids are going to give out first? Which ones can we run without? Which ones will we be able to make a substitute for?

  • Motor Oil: 0W-20 or 5W-20 is recommended
  • Brake fluid
  • Power steering fluid
  • Manual transmission/transfer case/differential lube: 75W-90 to 90W-90
  • Coolant/Anti-freeze
  • Windshield wiper fluid (maybe we can make do without this one)

Assume 20,000 miles per year of driving in rough conditions; mostly on (obviously un-maintained) roads but some of it off-roading. Temperature conditions are summers in the 90s (F) and humid, and winters down to 20 F and occasionally lower.

Unlike the questions here and here, this question deals specifically with fluids and lubricants, which is not addressed in either of those question or their answers.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I legitimately only know about power steering. And windshield wiper fluid. I couldn't tell you anything about how long motor oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc would last. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Dec 18, 2017 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ I still recommend a 1980s diesel, find a mk1 land cruiser if you want a Toyota, it'll probably still be running happily. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Dec 18, 2017 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon Which big predators are there in Virginia these days? It'll be some years after Tuesday until the wolves come back in numbers. Also, the US South in real life has a pretty big feral pig problem. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 18, 2017 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ You shouldn't count on having gas for more than 6 months, regardless of how much you have. The useful bits will evaporate unless kept under perfect storage conditions. Diesel will burn pretty much anything (plant oils) and it is possible to produce gas substitutes, but I'm not too familiar with that. Lubricant is not going to be a major problem. Get a mid/late 1990's diesel engine and you're pretty much set in terms of fuel. $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Dec 18, 2017 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget to trade for gasoline stabilizers. You should be good for ~10yrs on gas, but only if you add stabilizers and store in an airtight container. Without stabilizers, you have 1 year before the gas expires. $\endgroup$
    – John Locke
    Sep 8, 2018 at 19:27

6 Answers 6


When you look at this list of fluids, they basically break down to one of two categories;

  1. Oil Based Lubricant
  2. Ethelene-Glycol or similar

The oil based lubricant may be easier than you think because you have all the pigs around. That means that your engine oil, grease, and even manual transmission fluid are probably okay if you know what you're doing and don't mind the fact that you'll be reducing the life of your car somewhat (but, hey? What else is it going to do?).

As for the power steering, engine coolant, wiper fluids, and brake fluid, they're all some form of ethelene (or propylene) glycol - either for hydraulics or temperature regulation.

These are REALLY toxic chemicals as it turns out and a quick search tells me that I don't want a more detailed search on how to make these chemicals in my ISP's metadata against my name.

BUT, if you have a chemist within your family group, it's possible, though unlikely, that your combination of pig fat engine oil and fruit crops may be able to supply a small amount of these fluids for your needs.

I'll admit that chemistry is not really my thing and perhaps there's others on the site that have a more detailed answer to this but this is at least where I'd start. I don't know for sure, but I think that if you have enough pigs and forego the streaky bacon for short cut only, you can at least generate SOME motor oil and the hydraulic / temperature fluids (in my experience at least) usually last for a while in any event; at least long enough to figure out whether or not you can synthesise the fluids you need from what you have.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ To add to your comment a short video (in Polish) in driving a cars on vegetable oil, pig fat and margarine (also veg oil but with additives) youtube.com/watch?v=OyaBUlNTGyA $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2017 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ Engine coolant is probably the easy one. It's basically antifreeze, and there are tons of harmless chemicals that work. Chiefly, any ethanol/methanol mixture would work as an additive. Which is to say, the requirements are lower than for home-brew alcohol. Your car won't go blind from some methanol. Just add back water in spring as the temperatures rise. For the glycols, I'd expect that filtering and recycling may prolong their lifetime. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Dec 18, 2017 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Water lacks the required corrosion inhibitors. Thus, if you fill a modern car cooling system with water, you may soon find yourself with a corroded cooling system. Can be done in an emergency in a warm climate if the coolant is soon changed, but if the plan is to keep the truck in good condition for a long amount of time, I would use the proper stuff. The quantity consumed is practically zero for a car in good condition, and changes are required as rarely as once per 10 years, so consumed quantity is trivial in comparison with the consumed gasoline quantity. $\endgroup$
    – juhist
    Dec 18, 2017 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ "I don't want a more detailed search on how to make these chemicals in my ISP's metadata against my name" - I hope you're joking only. Com data retention is a pretty effective censorship tool… $\endgroup$
    – Bergi
    Dec 18, 2017 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Bergi; No, I'm not joking. In Australia, we have a law that all ISPs and mobile phone providers are required by law to keep 2 years of metadata on all customers' activity. They only have to provide it to Govt agencies under warrant, but if the warrant is issued and they can't provide it, there's penalties. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Dec 18, 2017 at 21:47

You don't tell us the nature of the apocalypse, so let's assume the majority of buildings and infrasctructure are in place

Oil lasts almost forever. Conventional oil does separate with time, but give it a good shake and you're back in business. It also coagulates with enough time... but that's a very long time. The number of Walmarts, hardware stores, automotive stores, etc. that exist are so many that you may have several lifetime's worth of supply. Honestly, you'll have oil long after you have gasoline, which decays with time.

Ditto for brake and power steering fluid.

Radiators really only need water unless you're traveling in very cold climates. Obviously, radiator fluid helps in really hot climates, but you can just carry more water. But, in the cold, water freezes, which can lock up your engine 'till spring. As I recall, some trucking companies in the far north will run their motors for weeks or months because restarting them is a grade-A pain in the tuckus.

And this all assumes that you don't make use of refineries, which exist in a number of locations throughout the U.S.

In many U.S. locations, survivors might have more trouble finding water than they would oil simply because you need so much more of it. An individual may need a gallon of drinking water a day and more for cleanliness... but a car in good condition may only need two quarts of oil a year.

The real problem is whether or not your survivors across the land figured out that they can burn motor oil like heating fuel. If they did, you might find yourself stuck in warmer climates.

How fast oil survives the need for heat depends on the number of survivors, where they are, and whether or not there's anything more convenient around... like firewood or those big, honking propane tanks at regional distribution centers. But, people tend to think along the lines of simplest-solution-to-success, so they may disassemble their vacant neighbor's house before they lug propane tanks from miles away.

And yet, if you think about it, if enough of the population died fast enough, there would be an enormous amount of a variety of fuels for a very long time. A "Mad Max" style of apocalypse requires destruction of buildings and infrastructure, which you didn't describe in your question. If you update your question, my answer may need to change.

EDIT: Anticipated Answer: All of the fluids your vehicle needs save gasoline are available in such enormous quantities all over the U.S. that they will NEVER be your limiting factor unless your story has provided a reason for their consumption at a faster rate (e.g., used as heating oil). Under the conditions you've stated, they will last long beyond your vehicle's access to gasoline.

If you want a mathematical analysis, you will need to provide the consumption rates for all these fluids. Of course, unless your Tacoma is a beater, the consuption rates for all these fluids will be so low that you can stockpile everything you need for a lifetime in a day — unless there's something else demanding the resource, which you have not specified.

  • $\begingroup$ How much motor oil is there in the average Walmart? How does that compare to usage rate over time per vehicle in rough (post-apocalyptic) conditions? This answer doesn't really give many information I don't already know. I don't have enough gas to run my truck engine all winter, so what do I use for antifreeze? This answer doesn't have many answers. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 18, 2017 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ I kind of feel like the first question can be answered by visiting a walmart and using some fermi reasoning. Or doing the unthinkable and talking to a human being that works there. ;) $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    Dec 18, 2017 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ King, I don't think you understand the reality. There is so much oil floating around the U.S. and your vehicle needs so little that the specific quantities don't matter. The same is true for antifreeze and any other fluid you could possibly use for your vehicle other than gasoline, which has the earliest use-by date and is the least accesible. If you want them to become limited, you need to provide reasons for their limitation. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 18, 2017 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Small point... Antifreeze also has a different boiling point of "just water" and is important in preventing corrosion of the internal engine waterways. You can use pure water for a little while, but it's going to cause serious problems down the road. That said, it's not a "consumable" and unless you get a leak, it doesn't need to be added on a regular basis. $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ "Radiators really only need water unless you're traveling in very cold climates." Not so. Antifreeze raises the boiling point to nearly the operating temperature of the engine, ensuring that liquid coolant is running throughout the vehicle. If it does boil it will not cool effectively, and the pump may stop working, in addition to venting steam into the atmosphere if too much of it boils (and losing coolant). The rest of the answer is good, and applies to antifreeze though - it doesn't break down significantly over time and there should be enough around that you shouldn't run out. $\endgroup$
    – Adam Davis
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:51

You can run an engine with animal or plant oil instead of car oil, no problem.

You can kind of get away even without power steering, wiper fluids (do you really need that post apocalypse?), and brake fluid if you use really old cars or retrofit existing cars with parts from old cars. Most post apocalypse cars would have non assisted steering wheels and brake, they d probably just use water as engine coolant and overheat easily.

But you can't run a car without gasoline.

Gasoline is highly volatile, it evaporates at room temperature.

Gasoline stored in the tanks of fuel stations will go bad in a few month, possibly faster without proper monitoring and maintenance.

You can add fuel stabilizer to extend gasoline lifetime to about 12-15 months.

Within a few years all of the pre apocalypse gasoline will be unusable.


You could try to run very old simple diesel engine with alcohol though.

So really the limiting factor would be the metallic parts themselves. Eventually all pre Apocalypse parts will be so old that they ll be unusable. You d need a pretty bad ass smith to be able to manufacture replacement parts let alone an engine.

  • $\begingroup$ As long as you have the forethought to gather the parts early and keep them rust free you can probably last a long time on parts cannibalized from other cars, Ship of Theseus-style. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2017 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ "you can't run a car without gasoline" - there are of course diesels, and those will run on vegetable fats (with minor encouragement). $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Dec 18, 2017 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Diesel fuel stores much better than gasoline, too. You need to add some kind of agent to keep bacteria from eating it (that's a thing). $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2017 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ This. There's a reason that the premise of (the best movie ever made) The Road Warrior was a compound that had an oil derrick, a cracking tower, and fuel storage. There's plenty of gunk left over from cracking petroleum into gasoline; the vast majority that you get, is not. That's why it's called a by-product. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:15

The reason this wasn't mentioned in the previous post apocalypse vehicle questions is that lubricating grease and oils are a very old concept and relatively easy to reproduce in perpetuity.

Between animal fats, like lard or whale oil, and vegetable fats, peanut oil, olive oil or otherwise, you should be able to come up with a selection of weights of oil and grease that will comfortably do the jobs you need.

While it may not be the 10W-40 that you're after, it'll be close enough and good enough to do the job and keep you on the road for a good few more years.

Whales have a selection of different weights of oil, depending on what you manage to catch. If you're not in a coastal position where you can go whaling, pig fat will do nicely for a heavy grease, and peanut or olive oil can be used for lighter oils.

The reason I always recommend finding an old diesel vehicle at this point is that any oil of approximately the right weight can also be burned as a diesel fuel substitute and the cruder old vehicles are much less sensitive to fuel quality. They often had fuel pre-heaters which allows a greater margin for error on fuel.

  • $\begingroup$ You'd think with all those pigs running around, coming up with a wee bit of lard ought to be a snap. As the other answers point out, you'll probably have already had to convert all the vehicles to use it for fuel long before you need it for lubrication purposes. $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:00

What you might want is a wood gassifier (a pretty simple device that converts dry biomass into vapours and gasses suitable for use in a car, they were used in WW2 during oil shortages and are still perfectly build-able today.) Your car might have a lower top-speed but that's not going be a horrendous problem. This way you don't need motor oil, just literally any plant matter (the enormous amount of paper in our landfill will work aswell). If there isn't ANY plant matter you have bigger problems than getting your car running. Such devices could eliminate your use of fuel or simply supplement it.

The same devices can also be used when not powering your cars to produce many useful chemicals such as turpentine, tar, ethylene, sulphuric acid, cooking gas and even bio-fuel for the rest of your cars https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrolysis which would all be immensely useful (especially if you have a chemist or chemical engineer with you (even a hobbyist with access to scavenged books on the subject.)).

Other answers have all already done a good job explaining how to provide other lubricants, hydraulic fluids and anti-freezes however I will say this in case your assorted animal-oils fail or you simply don't want to bother with processing lard (remeber every person working in the oil factory is one who isn't on the pumkin farms.):

if hydraulic fluid proves problematic your cars in-built braking system is not a requirement, it could be gutted and a simpler fluid-less brake could be set up in it's place it won't be as responsive as a proper brake and perhaps a bit more awkward to use but since you won't be driving though traffic that shouldn't be a problem. (this could range from a device as simple as "Oi doug, drop the plank of wood with all the weights on tied to the back of the car" To a system almost passable as a modern brake.

Running your cars significantly below their maximum performance will increase their life-span and fuel efficiency. You won't be making any trans-continental trips (probably) so driving everywhere at 35 or 40 mph will significantly reduce the number of problems that will arise from engine heat, wear-and-tear, Etc... (given the quality of roads a several years without maintenance you'll probably want to go slowly anyway.)

You can simply drive without power-steering fluid which, since you won't have much traffic to worry about, won't be too dangerous. Especially if you take my advice and go slowly.

There is no need for anti-freeze if your simply keep your car warm. Yes anti-freeze is easy to produce, but so is fire and simply keeping your car in garage or shed next to a small fire (the fire is inside the garage, which has a hole in the roof) could constantly keep it above freezing and would only need to done in winter times. This "hot room" could be expanded to include space for humans (provided they don't mind sleeping next to, or in, cars). There is of course no danger of the car freezing-up when in normal operation.

You can definitely do without windshield wiper-fluid, soapy water and bucket should be more than enough.

Indeed if you are willing to accept significant performance losses (which you should be, given it's the end of the world and all) you can easily run your cars indefinitely (at least till you all die of dysentery or have so many disendants they have no problem building whole cars of their own).


Your truck, is screwed, but don't worry you can do better.

So as other have pointed out, in the US at least, your not going to have a hard time finding oil. You don't need Power steering and any liquid will work for power breaks, same for the transmission. Some are WAY better then others, but, for example water will work (it will also ware the parts out much faster), but even a simple gas station will have enough oils to keep you going.

Antifreeze is a joke if your not in a winter climate. In the summer or hot, dry areas use water and just carry an extra gallon or two. Hell you can even piss in the radiator (after it cools). Again shortens the life, but who cares.

Wiper fluid is just water.

Now your main problem is going to be parts and fuel. You say you raided an auto zone or two so your good on parts, so we will ignore that one. Fuel is going to, be an issue. If you keep gas moving it will last around 5 years. If you let it sit still you get maybe 5 months. You can add some things to it to help, but at the 1 year point fuel is going to be pointless unless your really maintaining it.

In addition to which your truck is going to rust through, fall apart and other issues no too long after that. What are you doing to do when it's computer fails?

Your best bet is to use that truck to head to a junk yard or used car lot and get a < 1970s truck or car. One with a corroborator, rack and pinion steering and no anti-lock breaks. They will be very easy to maintain. In addition they use such "standard" parts that you can make things from almost anything work. There's almost no electrics so batteries aren't even needed. Get a manual and you can push start it.

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    $\begingroup$ I care if I shorten the life of my truck. Horses aren't exactly commonplace, and how else am I going to take half a ton of bacon 150 miles to trade for stuff? $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 18, 2017 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ After the even there will likely be more cars then people. latimes.com/business/autos/… That truck stops working, just get another. $\endgroup$
    – coteyr
    Dec 18, 2017 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/… $\endgroup$
    – coteyr
    Dec 18, 2017 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ fuel-testers.com/expiration_of_ethanol_gas.html $\endgroup$
    – coteyr
    Dec 18, 2017 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. I'm not disputing anything you cited and I think we're mostly in agreement. My main point was if there is indeed a horse shortage (even if it just exists locally), it's an easily solved problem. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2017 at 21:19

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