A rather simple question without too many catches.

Basically if there were a zombie apocalypse and no society beyond smaller tribal-esque communities how long could cars continue to run? (No real concerns on the specific type of vehicle, just that due to the setting it'd have to be an early 2000's model at the latest, so no electric cars or anything.) The story I'm writing is going to broken up into a few parts, each one about a year apart eventually covering 5 years into the apocalypse within a stable enough community that has people with the know-how and general tools for maintenance. Scavenging for replacement parts also wouldn't be too difficult either, given the now very uneven living people to car ratio.

But where I'm caught up is on the required parts that degrade over time such as a car's battery or gasoline which, from what I understand, has a limited shelf-life. How would it take for those or any other substance that degrades over time to be unusable? (Keeping in mind I'm not worried about when it's best by, but when it's still simply functional until)

Thanks in advance!


So there are plenty of analog cars that have been kept going for a hundred years. And are fairly easy to maintain, though you would need to know advanced metal working at some point.

Cuba is one example, just about every car on that island has been in operation since they were embargoed in the 60s.

The real question is this,

I heard from a fairly credible source, and this does make sense, that gasoline only remains viable for roughly 3 years. Gasoline is also not easy to refine, requiring very large sophisticated industrial equipment and experience in chemistry. So in all likeliehood you would run out of gas before working cars.

This could be substituted with biodiesel from algae which is much simpler to manufacture. It hasn't quite caught on yet because of the sheer fact its trying to move many industries.

Added Point:

After some influence from comments I realized this;

The real question is how post apocalyptic are we talking, immediately, gas would be the first problem because that has the shortest lifespan and hardest fix. But once we are able to re-establish an economy (the ability to specialize and distribute labor) the only real barrier to getting cars moving is knowledge. We can make a car move a million different hack ways, only reason we use modern car designs is because they are currently the best cost to efficiency solution.

  • $\begingroup$ Add to this the simple issue of availability. Once the electricity shuts off the pumps at the gas station stop working. You're scavanging gallons from individual cars and moving further-and-further afield to find them. Maybe you can break into one of the gas station tanks, that would last long enough to hit the shelf-life limit. But I think accessibility is as big an issue as shelf-life. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 25 '17 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ And ditto with oil, transmission fluid, and grease. I don't know about your car, but mine leaks. :-) And some cars (the german cars mostly) demand specific oils. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 25 '17 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ Actually the oils and fluids last much longer because they aren't needed to combust. Its gasoline's volatility and reactiveness to oxygen that gives it a short shelf life. $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 25 '17 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ Rapeseed oil can be relatively easily converted into a fuel for diesel engines and hand pumps could easily be used to empty the tanks from gas stations, but the lack of lubricants would pose a problem eventual. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 25 '17 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I am serious :). Salad oil is more viscous than diesel, that can be an issue in the winter, and I don't know if modern high-tech diesel motors would like it. But an old diesel motor takes it well. And the smell is only torturing the drivers behind me ... $\endgroup$ – mviereck Oct 25 '17 at 20:55

A well taken care car can work for many years, but this is not going to be your case... And these two items you cited are the most critical ones

Battery would really be a problem. I took a 45 days trip and when I got back my battery was no longer working. I guess even if your characters can go scavenging for replacement, when the need arise to replace it, they won't find a lot of good ones... I

Gasoline spoils slowly... ig gets less and less efficient over time and lasts no longer than 3 or 3,5 years.

I guess if I survived a zombie apocalypse, I would go scavenging for sun energy technologies.

  • $\begingroup$ In more analog cars all you need the battery for is starting the engine which you can hack a bunch of ways. $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 25 '17 at 18:31

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