If there’s anything we’ve learned from watching movies it’s that hot wiring a car is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Whether you’re a time-traveling soldier fighting against a robot army, an elite army sniper who took a bullet in the shoulder, or even an average Joe with a love of cars you can cross some wires and get your ride going in a matter of minutes. While it sounds cool, Hollywood hasn’t really been telling us the whole truth about Keyless Entry 1.0.
It seems you need some tools to make it work.
All Right, So What Do You Need?
Well that depends on which method you’re using. One of the older, more effective methods on cars that were manufactured before the mid-1990s used a regular screwdriver and a hammer. You simply jam the regular screwdriver into the ignition with the blade aligned as the key would be, and try to start the car. This same trick sometimes worked on car doors, but if it didn’t work on the ignition because a lock was keeping it out then you would hammer the screwdriver into the lock, and then turn it. A skilled thief could start the car in no more than a couple of seconds, and drive away provided there were no locks holding the steering wheel in place. If there were those would need to be disabled before pulling out.
But What About the Wires Under the Steering Wheel?
The second method of hot wiring a car is the one you typically see up on the big screen. We’ve all seen how it goes; the hero leans down out of sight in a randomly selected car, pops the cover off the steering wheel, pulls out two seemingly random wires in the dark, touches the ends together and away he goes!
If it was that easy everyone would do it. Just take a look at this video, and you’ll see it’s a bit more complicated.
The ignition lock that you need a key for is the mechanism that keeps your engine safe. Rather than trying to break the lock as with the screwdriver method, this second one actually bypasses the lock entirely. You remove the cover from the steering wheel column, and look for the two power wires. These are typically red, but if you want to be absolutely sure it’s a good idea to check the wiring diagram for the car. You cut the wires away from the column, put on a pair of insulated gloves, strip an inch or so of the insulation off the end, and twist the wires together. This will turn on the lights, the radio, etc.
Once the power is on, the next step is to cut the brown wires and to touch them together. This will rev up the starter, and as soon as the engine turns over make sure you pull the brown wires apart. If there’s only one starter wire (brown), touch it to the twisted ends of the red wire to start the car. Once the car’s running put electrical tape over the brown wires so you don’t get shocked while you drive.
At Least, That’s How They Used To Do It
These two methods are, by and large the ones we see on TV and in the movies. The reason car thefts have gone down in recent years though is because hot wiring a car is almost as difficult as safe cracking and computer hacking all rolled into one. Modern cars have tamper-resistant safety precautions in the way, and they have alarm systems designed to go off if anything is even slightly hinky. They require radio signals, electronic identification, and a dozen other things that will stop even the slickest car thief dead in his tracks if all he’s got is a pocket knife and cool theme music.
Unfortunately technology doesn’t tend to show up realistically in Hollywood for at least a generation. Didn’t you ever wonder why there are still pay phones in movies when they’ve been more or less phased out for years? It’s because that’s what screen writers know from their own lives, so that’s what makes it into the movies. Hot wiring a car is too ingrained in pop culture to be depicted differently now, just because modern cars are more or less immune to that kind of tampering.
There are some skills that are just too cool not to have, whether because they’re fun parlor tricks or useful bits of know-how in serious situations. For instance, you could learn:
How to Break Out The Windows in a Car Like an Action Hero
How to Kick in a Door
How to Get Out of Handcuffs, Flexicuffs, and Duct Tape
How to Knock Somebody Out in One Punch
How to Knock Someone Out With the Sleeper Hold
How to Put Somebody in the Guillotine Chokehold
“How to Hot Wire a Car,” by Rambo Moe at Prepared For That
“How to Hot Wire a Car,” by Jason Torchinski at Jalopnik