Remember back in 1935 when the .357 Magnum round was introduced? It was selected for use by many law enforcement agencies across the country. The new magnum was highly touted as being able to shoot through the block of a car and stop the engine dead. Well, I’m not sure if that is true. A vehicle’s engine and compartment makes for a pretty formidable bullet stopper. That’s a good thing when using a vehicle in a defensive position. We more or less expect (or hope) that our car, truck, or SUV will shield us somewhat during SHTF escapes, bug outs, or other defensive maneuvers.
By Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author
Is the composition of a vehicle enough to protect you from incoming bullets? Some recent field trials bring new light to this question. The results are both good and bad.
A Thin Veil
First, understand that the exterior skins of nearly all conventional vehicles will not stop bullets from most handguns. The field trial did not test rifles, but it did test 12-gauge shotgun buckshot and slugs. Other reports suggest some rifle calibers such as the 5.56/223 fair no better, but the .308 does have some penetration success.
The good news is that inside the doors and panels of a vehicle are a conglomeration of parts, window winding mechanisms, radio speaker magnets, crash beams, wiring, and other fixtures. These components seem to deter, slow down, or stop bullets quite well.
The field trial I studied used traditional bullets and loads in the .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 12 gauge. None of the pistol bullets had much success in fully penetrating a vehicle if the bullets struck an auto component. The exception to this is with certain types of .45 ACP bullets. Full metal jacketed bullets in the .45 produced some level of success in busting through a vehicle door.
If these bullets ferreted past one of these structural fixtures or parts, then the occupant could be struck, albeit to a lesser damaging threat. Engine compartments including the radiator, water pump, and manifolds resisted penetration. Wheel wells provide a good defensive position, although exterior coverage is far from complete. It is difficult for an adult to huddle behind a car wheel and tire without being somewhat exposed.
I was recently instructed that the door beams between the front and rear doors offer a fair deflective structure for most handgun bullets. In fact, the reason low-riding thugs are crunched down in their seats with their heads positioned behind this middle door jamb component is to avoid bullet penetration to the head. Considering this part of the vehicle can stop incoming rounds, this strategy makes sense.
The Shotgun Conundrum
Likewise, the shotgun buckshot did not perform as well as one might believe. I think most of us rely upon a good 00 buckshot load to sail through just about anything. Maybe we have been watching too many movies. The buckshot pellets passed through car skins, but were then caught up by crash struts, electric window motors, door locks and other mechanisms.
The 12 gauge slug was extremely effective. These loads punched right through both the exterior and interior panels of the test car, entered the ballistic gelatin and passed completely through the entire mold. Bad news bears for those inside a vehicle.
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The shotgun slug should prove a highly viable choice, if you have to be shooting at an individual inside a vehicle. While this strategy may be effective, keep in mind the skill it takes to properly shoot a slug load from a shotgun. It would be wise to consider using shotgun slugs in a self-defense scenario.
Keep in mind that the recoil and muzzle blast can be abusive. Decide if you need to go to a full 3-inch shotshell slug or if the standard 2 ¾ -inch can do the job. The field report I studied did not specify this.
Auto Glass Resistance
Now let’s get some clarity on glass. Today’s automotive glass is far superior to auto glass of the past. Contemporary windshields, side windows, and rear glass are more durable and crash resistant. Moreover, modern auto glass produces cleaner fractures. This is a plus for armed interactions and for passenger protection.
Current auto glass is much more likely to deflect pistol bullets shot from various angles due to the composition of the materials and the rake of auto glass panels. The “rake” of a windshield is the angle at which it rests inside the car frame. For example, a sporty car or pickup truck has a windshield with a sharper rake. By contrast, some Jeep models have front glass that stands square to the frame.
A severe auto glass rake helps deflect bullets and may prevent penetration inside the vehicle cabin. Of course, this is often contingent on the angle of the shot. In the field trials report, most of the pistol bullets did not completely penetrate the plate glass panel. The glass may have cracked and fragmented, but the bullets did not pass through.
So, while modern auto glass cannot be relied upon to provide complete passenger protection, it certainly affords a better barrier than older auto glass. When engaging an adversary, putting several layers of glass between yourself and incoming bullets offers extra protection.
In practice this might mean hiding at the rear quarter panel of the vehicle thus putting the rear glass, side glass, and a windshield between yourself and an assailant shooting from a position in front of the vehicle.
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So, there you go. A vehicle is a reasonable barrier against oncoming gun fire unless the attacker happens to be using shotgun slugs. If a pistol bullet dodges mechanisms inside a door, the passenger could certainly be wounded. The same would occur if the bullet’s pathway hit glass just right. However, I would rather have the structure of a vehicle in my favor than be standing out in the open.
John J. Woods