Driving 401: Immobilized Vehicle

The vast majority of vehicle tactics courses try and directly translate military, security contractor, or police tactics for civilian use. Here's our take.

September 12, 2020


As one of our 5 categories for skill development, "Mobility" is a topic we cover exhaustively. Whether on foot, horseback, or in a vehicle, we view the ability to move as crucial to all things ISG.

One of the biggest reoccurring sources of bad information is 'vehicle tactics', in which guys pull their pistols and blast out the windows of their vehicles in an attempt to demonstrate how dangerous they are behind the wheel. The problem is that the type of tactics that are on display are almost always a dangerous concoction of:

  1. Out of context drills that don't really teach anything useful to the clients paying for the training.
  2. Counter-ambush tactics taught to military or police that only apply in a VERY small set of circumstances, and that carry serious liability in the real world.
  3. Lack of consequences for dangerously bad training... meaning you don't get shot for screwing up in training, and therefore the bad practice persists without question.

So let's take a long look at exactly why our approach to vehicle based problems needs to be reassessed for validity, as well as how to dodge some of the cringe-inspiring gun glam that we think will, in ordinary circumstances, get you killed or prosecuted.

Why stop?

The respective pillars on a vehicle for reference. There's little to no ballistic protection, but they're slightly better than nothing and you should know which is which.

It actually takes a lot of punishment to stop a decently made vehicle, and if you think about it, there are some similarities between vehicle powerplants and human anatomy.

The vehicle's engine is responsible for generating energy and circulating fluids (similar to the heart), while a complex wiring harness connects the electric systems that keep it running. In order to continue motility, similar to human, the vehicle needs wheels that can gather traction, and destroying its method of maintaining traction can cause it to stop. Not a whole lot different than if one of our limbs is damaged.

Like a human skeleton, the chassis of the vehicle is a strong point reinforced with paneling and connecting rods that keep it all tied together. In understanding this, we can see that like a human target, a vehicle isn't likely to be immediately incapacitated... but with that in mind, the human heart isn't a 250 pound chunk of alloy or steel that makes a big, mobile, area target of itself.

A vehicle's most vulnerable components are typically:

1. The block, which houses the pistons but is generally built to withstand 100,000+ miles of explosions. The block is situated under the head, making it hard to get to.

2. The head, and subsequent valves, camshafts, fuel injection systems, etc... which synchronize and facilitate the engine turning gas into movement. These are the most exposed vital area, and in modern times, are often aluminum rather than steel.

3. The transmission, which allows the vehicle to change speeds by shifting gears. This is generally protected by the chassis.

4. The driver. For obvious reasons.

Destroying any of these  components will stop a vehicle pretty quickly. 
Less incapacitating, but still important are:

1. The radiator and cooling system (including fan). Loss of coolant will cause the vehicle to overheat and eventually fail.

2. Tires. The vehicles tires allow it to gain and maintain traction. Without them, the vehicle is reduced to a slow, noisy, hard-to-control mess.

3. Oil and fuel systems. Though not exposed, loss of oil will ultimately cause an engine to seize. Fuel is self explanatory.

It takes time to disable a vehicle, short of explosives or an IED/VBIED (which is why they're used), because the vitals of the vehicle are intentionally protected... so if we're looking at drills like this, let's do so in context.

A big shootout in the streets using only rifles and pistols is up there pretty high on the totem of fantasy gun gods, and if you're going to get ambushed by a group, don't be surprised if they don't use guns at all, but rather use firebombs or other mob tactics to disable it. We've had some substantial riots in which police, security, and citizens have all been caught up and stopped by mobs. So while we should learn from the lessons of military or private security convoys and high risk traffic stops, we shouldn't expect them to directly apply to the citizen or civil emergencies, and shooting it out probably isn't your best bet.

Taken together, this means that vehicles have weak points and strong points, we need to understand how those points influence our survivability, and we need to divorce ourselves from the weapon fixation that dominates training, and cleanly divide this into two separate, symbiotic approaches to solving the problem:

  1. Mobility
  2. Fighting


In almost every video you're likely to find on vehicle tactics, you'll see an example of a muddled set of priorities.

Pull any video of vehicle tactics on IG or YouTube and what you'll see are dudes going hot immediately, before attempting to stay mobile. When we've said this in the past, people are like "well, yes, but this is a 'vehicle down' drill."
Roger that, but is your mobility entirely reliant on your vehicle?

Let's back up a bit.

As we talk about in "awareness", vehicles are transitional spaces. They force us to interact with the environment before transitioning tasks or environments. Think about it like this: if you're driving (or riding) in a vehicle, you can't transition to walking in most cases. You have to stop driving to start walking. This creates a transitional environment.

If we stop and think about what a disabled vehicle is, it's a transitional event that says "ok, you're done being mobile".

As it relates to most vehicle tactics, the ambush is a tactic designed to prey on that lack of mobility.

When you hard reset to shooting instead of staying mobile, you're facilitating that ambush.

Try this next time you're at the range: Use a shot timer and time yourself drawing from, and shooting a target from a seated position in your vehicle. Take that time, point in, and see how many rounds you can dump into a target in that same amount of time.

The point here is this: Every second you spend trying to transition while you're stationary in an ambush is probably 3-4 rounds that a single person can put into your car. If you're fighting 5 or six cardboard dummies, solid man, rock out. If they're people who move and have bonesaws torching off, now we're talking 20 or so rounds coming in every second. And you can't move.

You're giving the initiator exactly what he wants by having to change your focus, drop seconds accessing a weapon, fumble for target acquisition in a confined space, and then try to engage without full range of motion.

Our suggestion? 
Everyone out as fast as possible from the side not taking fire. First one out gets behind something solid and scans for threats. Second person out returns the favor after recovering anything important. This works whether or not your vehicle was intentionally targeted for an attack, and gives you a sold plan that could help if you have to abandon your vehicle for any reason, but can't risk cutting ballast entirely.

We say often "It's more important to not get shot than it is to shoot". Mobility is perhaps the ultimate expression of that.

Here's our suggestion:

Deny them that hard reset by having a rehearsed ability to quickly and cleanly egress the vehicle and stay mobile.

This might mean sacrificing cool guy points by initiating drills like this while you're still in your seatbelt. It doesn't seem like a cool skill to get out of your vehicle without snagging up on your belt until some knucklehead knocks your window out with a rock and grabs your throat.

It might mean having to recover your rifle later in the game, or not at all. It might mean you have to sprint to a position away from the vehicle to draw the attack away (a point we'll revisit soon), and it might mean leaving down a dark alley after never having fired a shot while a mob flips and burns your car. Such is life, and if you don't like it, the other option - death - is yours to choose as well.

So, let's briefly recap:

If the threats are from an oblique angle, taking a position closer to the front can be useful. If they're from the side (or present from the flank), you're better off from the opposite side rear. Having this diagonal approach allows you to keep from bunching up while staying behind semi-solid structures, and having the majority of the surrounding environment available for assessment. Whether advancing or retreating, move by fire. Make pursuit cost.


2. The vehicle is a transitional space - train to quickly get out of it without stepping into traffic, sitting in it while it catches fire (literally or lead), or getting hung up and tripped and falling flat on your face. It doesn't look cool and no one will blast 'Gangsta Paradise' while you do it. The crowd will be eerily silent about 'what gun is that?', and you might suffer a boring lack of hearts and thumbs, but you'll actually have a useful skill.

3. If you have to counter an ambush, finish out the mobility mission first, and prepare to fight while on the move to something that provides better cover than your vehicle.

Mobs blocking traffic have recently become a major problem and presented a few challenges to the way we view vehicle tactics. Before 2020, this didn't happen enough to make it a major concern but the last few months have given us reason to really look at this, so let's discuss what we're seeing with mob tactics.

Mob Tactics

It probably goes without saying that the first logical step is know what's going on in your area so you can avoid it. That's not always possible.

As of the time of this edit, the purpose behind the mobs stopping traffic is to bring awareness to political causes, and probably the easiest way to deal with the mob is to cheer them on. Who cares? Your goal is to get home safely. If you're not being targeted specifically, chances are you're going to be able to just cheer them on go on about your business.

If that's not the case, we've got a few cases now that show some trends emerging:

Protesters will shoot at you if you try and punch through the lines, with varied results. Let's discuss a few:

  1. Danny Pruitt was shot in the head by Alamosa lawyer James Marshall.
    Key Points: if you're stopped in a vehicle, you're at a deficit. The crowd's testimony will align with their political beliefs.
  2. A Jeep on I225 in Colorado was fired upon by Samuel Young, after it was allegedly struck by a white truck. 2 other protestors were shot.
    Key Points: You don't know who in the crowd is armed, their level of skill, or how they'll react to an altercation. Stomping the accelerator is an aggressive action, justified or not.
  3. Daniel Perry shot and killed Garrett Foster after Foster approach Perry's vehicle with an AK47.
    Key Points: People will report events based on their political beliefs, open carrying long arms is a target/threat indicator which could get you shot. Even if you're not charged, you'll likely end up doxxed... right or wrong. The media is slanted. No surprise. Your social media accounts will be scrutinized to paint a picture of you.

If we look at the commonality regarding mob tactics right now, it's poorly trained, nervous, erratic individuals in tense, rapidly evolving situations. In most cases, avoidance would be 'ideal', but as discussed above, if that's not possible, our goal is to stay mobile. That's hard to do if you've been shot in the head.

Story time: I recall being in a group of guys, one of whom had been working for JSOC for some time. During a course on vehicle acquisition, they had discussed hot-wiring when the other students changed the discussion to just simply jacking cars. That's more expedient, right?

No one even stopped to give thought to using funds to purchase a car in advance and have it tucked away, or have a reliable driver on retainer.

This is important because your best bet might not be a common strategy. It might be as simple as "Yeah, f*** the captalists! Black lives matter!" and drive on. These situations are indicative of low-intensity civil war. Think carefully about how getting doxxed, shot, or killing someone might affect your family.

Now, let's talk about fighting.


So let's go straight to the heart of this issue:

Ambushes are complex (sometimes because they're amateur simple) and mobility is complex, too. The environments they occur in aren't always well-lit ranges (surprise, I know) and we can't count on the bad guys to hold still while exposing their vitals. We have to account for variable lighting conditions, urban and rural environmental differences (burning trash and burning cars vs deep mud and downed trees), and of course, the situation that has us moving in the first place.

More often than not, if we're not deliberately operating in a conflict zone, we won't have rifles on our laps. If we're lucky, we've got more than one person who's armed with a handgun and competent in its use. If we're not lucky, we've got dependents who are utterly relying on us to not get them killed.

This is why ISG drills on vehicle problems as much as we do - they're a massively complex series of tasks that test coordination, awareness, marksmanship, movement, and the ability to navigate transitional spaces.

Let's get to the hard question, then:

How do we use 'traditional' tactics to break an ambush with our carry gun and family? How can we prepare to meet that challenge reasonably?

Before going any further, let's make something clear: We are not saying "all the established tactics on this are bad", we're saying that they're there's a major gap when we translate these tactics to problems faced in common emergencies outside the military/contractor or police Sphere of Violence. If you've got a rifle or a mounted 240B, MK19, or PKM and can send a wall of lead to break an ambush, do it. If you've got armored vehicles that you can use as cover, do it.

Those approaches just solve different problems.

What we do have an issue with is trying to directly translate those protocols the citizen for for fun and profit, because not much, if anything, makes sense if you do.

Briefly recapping:

  1. Fighting is different for citizens, military, contractors, and police. This is the premise of one of our most important articles, "Spheres of Violence".
  2. When we break down the differences, we can find the similarities and use them. This is good practice. Trying to force military counter-ambush tactics on a class for citizens is entertrainment.
  3. Anticipate that, as always, the problems faced in the citizen's sphere of violence will be more complicated, carry more severe penalties for failure, and demand a higher level of commitment than the others.
  4. These situations are endless complex and no one TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) will solve them. Because of this, we can break our training from being contextual, or scenario based, and make it a composite test of the subordinate skills.
  5. It's really unlikely you're going to be able to use the same tactics as the military with your EDC pistol and maybe a spare magazine. If you're dressing up to pretend you can, take a hard look at whether or not that training is realistic. Even if you're a go-fast guy doing go-fast things, consider what we're saying for when you're at home with your family.
Cars can be used as concealment. Keep a gun up and move smart. CenTex team at CSAT

With that said, we can train on the subordinate tasks, and combine them into longer, more complex drills that test our ability to integrate skills. Said simply, the skills we need to build for these situations won't give us a 'master key' to the solutions lock... but it'll give us the skills to handle the problems and the footing so we don't fall flat on our face if something does go sideways.

Subordinate Tasks

Subordinate task in this case is really a fancy way of saying 'a skill we can improve by itself'. Most of us don't do BJJ while carrying our pistol, for example, and the point of going to the range or training in MMA isn't so we can kill our training partners; it's so we get good at the specific skills that a fight might require from us. If we take these isolated skills, such as hand to hand fighting and pistol work, and we use a course like ECQC or Urban Defense to test them together in a non-contextual environment, we can walk away saying "these things work", or "back to the drawing board". The scenario we use to test the integration of skills is less important than whether or not it sufficiently tests our ability to succeed in a complex task environment.

Like ECQC, which puts the student in a variety of roles requiring a variety of skills at random, we should structure our vehicle training similarly. So, in this instance, what tasks should we be considering?

-Can you get out of your vehicle quickly without falling on your face, or are you stumbling to get free of your seatbelt?

-Can you do so without letting your vehicle roll away and become a secondary hazard?

-Can you keep your cool and defuse preventable violence? 

-If a fight does break out, can you combine your vehicle based skills with empty hand or weapon based skills to minimize damage?

-If you're swarmed by a mob, at what point have you met the criteria to use lethal force? What are the ramifications of using lethal force when dramatically outnumbered?

From the top, here's an 'at a glance' idea of how to deal with the situation of a disabled vehicle and subsequent assault:

  1. Be physically fit enough to do the work.
  2. Be situationally aware of what's happening in your area. If you live in a city in which there are riots going on, know where they're happening! It's not always possible to know exactly where they'll end up, but use some common sense, pay attention, and don't get caught with your pants down trying to drive through a known conflict area for no good reason.
  3. Be a good driver, manage your interpersonal communication skills, and don't telegraph your opinions. No one needs to know you're an NRA life member. If you're caught in a hostile crowd of ANTIFA or Proud Boys, just chant the party line and get out of there. That's not the place to make your political stand. Don't get aggressive, stay cool, and don't over-estimate your ability to start running people over. Understand flash mobs, and how they affect vehicles. Greg Ellifritz has canonized this topic, so check him out.
  4. If you get choked in a transitional space, have the skills to quickly and safely get out of your vehicle. We use what we call the "exit protocol", which is designed to work across the spectrum of situations - provided your vehicle isn't rolled over. Don't try to fight from inside the vehicle if it's not absolutely impossible to bail. Think about the limitations of movement and weapon articulation. How many degrees can you move that carbine off 0? maybe 60? What if it's a good ambush and they hit you from the rear and the side? Focusing on pouring fire out the back of your Explorer means you can't move to address threats from oblique angles.
  5. Escape the threat by driving away. Stay at a steady, non-threatening speed - around 20 MPH should be enough that they have ample time to move, and won't entirely stop you if you are accosted. If you cannot continue to drive...
  6. Quickly assess for cover and concealment. Know the hard and soft spots on your vehicle, and stay alert when the conditions switch from a casual drive to a tense situation. There are some hard points on modern vehicles; the chassis, axles and engine block provide some limited cover. Use them wisely, they probably won't last. This is more for ambushes than mobs.
  7. Popping up over cover is a bad idea. Popping up over thin skinned concealment is a recipe for receiving a hot blast of lead. Remember: The panels on your vehicle are only cover if they're throwing spears. ANY AND ALL calibers from modern firearms are going to punch right through it. That said, sometimes we've gotta do the best we can with what we've got. Just remember those semi-hard points on the vehicle. Lean out, don't pop up.
  8. Be able to make body shots on targets out to 50 yards with your handgun. Train with your people on contingencies: getting away by fire, or recovering valuables by fire. Many of us practice IMT (individual movement techniques) or squad tactics, but small group movement - especially when some of that group might be family members - is mysteriously vacant. If you have family and all you're training to do is blow the back window out with your AR from inside the vehicle to react to an ambush, congratulations! You now know you're wrong. Chances are you won't have the goon squad with you. If you do, getting a gun immediately in the fight while the others bail can make some sense. Train for that too.
  9. Don't assume firing positions that cripple your ability to move; keep one foot on the ground at all times. Don't throw yourself prone under your car (unless there's literally nothing else to hide behind within 200 yards), and don't drop to both knees (as seen in that video). Bullets skip along the ground and you're not going to be able to scrote-stop lead zipping towards your crotch at 1100+ feet per second, we promise. Not only that, but you're off balance, can't lean as far, and can't get back to your feet as fast when you're on both knees. If you have to find microterrain, do what you've gotta. You might be better off prone behind a curb than kneeling behind concealment. Sometimes there's just no right answer.
  10. Be able to get better weapons on line, or transition to more capable weapons as opportunities arise. In this case, weapons might include things like smoke or CS. A good ambush will probably have different directional and distance components. Can you get good hits from contact to 300 yards with your carbine, or are you just smoking paper at 15 yards?

These are all skills you can practice in isolation. Paying attention to political unrest in your area, using good driving practices, staying aware while on the road, knowing how to move, shoot, and communicate, having functional handgun skills, and being fit enough to make this all count is well within anyone's capability. Make the effort, think critically, and shuck the pageant.

In All Reality (and conclusion)

The final thought we want to leave you with is this:

If you're in a situation like this and you're not in a military/paramilitary organization, chances are it's not with a bunch of jacked up killers with carbines and war belts. It's probably going to be one trusted partner - at best - who may or may not be your spouse, your kids, or you, all on your own.

What does the common practice in vehicle tactics look like in that situations? Are you preparing for them by addressing this, or is training time an opportunity to dress up and play war with the boys?

If you're the only one armed, do you want to lean out the window and start a gunfight with an unknown number of mobile dudes who set you up?

All we ask is this: Please think through these situations. You can't plan for every possibility, in every environment, and for every vehicle. What we can do is have simple, effective protocols, train on them in isolation until we're pretty damn good, and then combine them to ensure we're not falling on our faces if the enimigos catch us slippin'.

So, a final list of things to do:

  1. Practice good situational awareness to head off problems before they happen.
  2. Stay low-key, avoid trouble, and plan ahead if that's not an option.
  3. Work hard to be a good driver, and have a solid exit protocol that doesn't turn your vehicle into a liability if you have to step out of it.
  4. Do some 'driver down' drills. The fastest way to incapacitate a vehicle is to kill the operator.
  5. Get fit, stay fit, and practice some fighting from time to time. Often as not, the situations you're likely to face aren't lethal threat, but it's a damn fine line, so...
  6. Train to make center of mass hits with your handgun out to 50 yards. Rifle to 300. Keeping some CS in your vehicle can help with dispersing hostile crowds.
  7. Train with your partner(s) on methods of movement by fire that don't include shouting out everything you're doing. That works great when everyone else speaks Pashto or Arabic... here, as always, is more complicated.
  8. Know your vehicle, stage your kit consistently if you're dealing with a Type II or III emergency, and be ready to grab what you need and hoof it, whether to or from a fight.
  9. Have medical kit on your person (1st line/Type I), in your bag or kit (2nd Line/Type II), and stashed in your car. Know how to use it. Don't just get a tourniquet and expect you'll figure it out.
  10. Be ready for reality. You might love those you fought along side like a brother or sister, but you'll never love them like your children. This is high stakes, and there's no room for error. The reality is: if you get involved in gun play, people get killed. Doesn't matter who's fault it is, it happens and if you're not willing to accept that outcome you have two choices: stay back, or get as competent as possible.

Spend a few minutes considering your priorities: are you more likely to be immobilized in an ambush, or deal with road rage? How about deal with road rage vs witness a devastating collision?

Focus on the high risk, high likelihood events first, and slowly work your way out to the less common, or the outright rare.



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