Project Zomboid is an incredibly detailed game and one of the best indie survivals out there. Even without the inclusion of mods, the game’s vanilla version will keep you confused and frustrated for dozens of hours. There’s too much to digest, and the learning curve is too steep. I could do a deep dive into every category of skills and item in the game–and I will eventually. But today, we’re going to focus on an oft-overlooked skill in Project Zomboid, the ability to hotwire a car.
Alas, just because you can hotwire a car doesn’t mean you should. Turning on a vehicle will alert zombies and almost always draw a horde. Not to mention you don’t know if the car has gas or if the engine is still working, and if you don’t have an escape route clear of zombies, you’ll crash your car before you go 50 feet.
So, join us in this Project Zomboid hotwire car guide and explore all the skills necessary to unlock vehicle hotwiring and how to use it efficiently in Project Zomboid.
Key Info Up Front
Alright, let me give it to you straight, kid. No bull. Right to the brass tax.
Get yourself an Electrical skill of 1 and a Mechanical skill of 2. Boom. You can hotwire any vehicle in the game.
Now use this knowledge wisely.
How to Hotwire a Car in Project Zomboid
Hotwiring vehicles in Project Zomboid is both straightforward and time-consuming. To hotwire cars in PZ–any vehicle–all you need is an Electrical skill of 1 and a Mechanic skill of 2. That’s it. With both skills, you can sit in any vehicle in PZ and immediately hotwire it.
It does not mean you can pick the lock of car doors or trunks. That will require a key.
So now that you know how easy it is to get the ability to hotwire vehicles in PZ, let me tell you an even easier way to do it.
Pick the Burglar profession when building your character, and you’ll start with levels in both Electrical and Mechanic. You can hotwire cars right off the bat.
Before You Begin Your Training
But let’s say you chose not to pick the Burglar career when building your character. And let’s say you chose something with no Electrical or Mechanics skill, like a Park Ranger or Carpenter. How does one get their skills high enough to start hotwiring cars?
First, you’ll have to survive long enough to spend the time necessary on training each skill. If you start your game and immediately try to grind Electrical and Mechanic while foregoing other survival skills like Foraging or any combat skill, you’ll die quickly. As weird as it sounds, make sure your character is safe enough to devote time to grinding these skills. That might mean you hone other skills first, like Nimble or Fitness.
But I’ll assume you’re experienced in holding your ground in PZ, outpacing hordes, and not getting too exhausted to run. I’ll assume you’ve got a base, anything from a hut in the woods to one of the mansions in Rosewood, and you’ve gathered the tools we–
What? You don’t have the tools?
Tools of the Trade
You will need:
- Car Jack
- Tire Pump
- Gas Canister
- Car Battery Charger
You will enjoy having:
- Lug wrench
- Spare Tires
- Several Gas Canisters
- Road Cones
And in case you didn’t catch my drift earlier, all of this will go smoother if you’ve survived long enough to establish regular shelter and there’s a vehicle within walking distance of said shelter.
If you’re not skilled enough to fight off a group of zombies with your bare hands, you should spend a few hours getting familiar with combat.
All about Dat XP: Electrical
Getting experience points in the Electrical skill will come with successfully dismantling electronics found while scavenging. Radios, walkie-talkies, digital watches, the wall lamp in the bathroom, etc.
Find anything that requires a battery and rip it apart. But remember to read your books first. Reading Electrical 1 will give your character a 3x boost to experience in the first Electrical skill, making your grind much shorter.
Of course, that means you’ll have to head out and scavenge for different electronics. Depending on where you started, this should be pretty easy. Take your time clearing houses street by street, and search every cabinet and drawer.
If you’re closer to a city, head to the mall or find an electronics store for the best raid of your life. I always find alarm clocks and radios inside houses, so those are good exp. And if I don’t plan on watching TV, I’ll dismantle that as well. CD players and flashlights also give exp.
All about Dat XP: Mechanic
When it comes to your Mechanic skill, you’ll need a vehicle to work on. Pop the hood–or bonnet, whatever–and take a gander at that data heavy nightmare.
Don’t get discouraged. You don’t need to know what each part does. You just need to remove it and put it back on. That’s it. Take the headlights off, then put them back on. Remove the left brakes, then reattach them. Pop off the passenger seat, then slide it right back on.
With each successful removal and reattachment of a vehicle part, you’ll gain experience. You can only gain experience once per day per part per vehicle. So you won’t be able to grind this skill on just one vehicle; you’ll need a few if you want the process to go quickly. You’ll find plenty of cars to work on if you find a parking lot, motel, apartment complex, or mall. The problem is you’ll also find plenty of zombies, so be careful.
This is why it’s important to ensure you can handle yourself in the big, bad zombie apocalypse. You can’t grind these skills in the safety of your home.
Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
Have you got your skills leveled up? Nice!
Don’t turn the car on.
The simulation that Project Zomboid puts players through is a little too realistic. Thus, just because you can turn that car on doesn’t mean you should.
There is so much that goes into using a vehicle properly in PZ that it’s worth explaining. Otherwise, all that grinding will be for naught. So, before you buckle up and ride off into the sunset, let’s go over a few PZ vehicle best practices.
Vehicles Are Not Invincible
If you’re being chased by a horde and try to hide inside your car, you are not safe. Especially if the horde then surrounds your car. You can’t drive through a dozen bodies and expect the vehicle to operate correctly. And you can’t expect a horde of zombies to just stare at you through the windshield. They will break the car’s windows and start eating you. Don’t think that a vehicle will protect you. It won’t. It will merely prolong the inevitable.
If you run the car into a light post, you won’t drive right through it like you’re playing Crazy Taxi. You’ll crash. And you’ll get cuts and scratches and start bleeding like crazy. You’ll also total the car, which means all the work you did was for nothing and now you’re walking to your destination.
Believe it or not, zombies can act like light posts. Run into too many zombies, and your vehicle will take too much damage. The engine will get rocked, the tires will pop, and you’ll go right into the windshield.
Do you know what’s even worse than zombies or light posts? Other cars. And PZ is littered with them. If you T-bone another vehicle, you’ll have a tough time walking away without leaving lots of your blood behind. Take care of your car like it’s a real vehicle.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Cars are loud. They are not as loud as guns, but they will draw a horde if you’re not careful. The bigger the vehicle, the louder the noise. So be aware that if you leave your car idling while you run in to raid the Police Station, you may come out to find it swarmed by zombies.
But let’s say you’re a skilled driver, you’ve got an off-road Jeep, and you’ve loaded the passenger seat with enough rifle ammo to impress Arnold Schwarzenegger. You’re on a mission from God to cleanse Knox County of the virus for good. You drive through town, kiting a horde to the interstate on-ramp so you can funnel them into a narrow killing zone.
Then you unstrap your H&K high-powered rifle with ACOG scope, extended mag, and precision stock. You take a knee, aim, and let gunpowder and brass do the rest.
Yes, all of that is possible in PZ.
But perhaps you get a little too focused on the killing, a little too wrapped up in the purge. You back up a little too far and let the horde get too close to your vehicle. Now you don’t have time to get into the driver’s seat and pull away. The horde has overtaken your vehicle, and you’re left running away on foot.
Or let’s say you manage to get inside your vehicle before the horde overtakes you. But now you have a crowd seven bodies deep surrounding your vehicle. You can’t drive through that, you can’t even drive over it.
Always, always, always have an escape route. Always have a plan of egress. Know how you’ll exit any situation. Never let the zombies get too close before realizing it’s time to dip. They can and will overtake your vehicle, and now you’re stuck hoofing it in your Sketchers.
Know Your Vehicle
There are three different kinds of vehicles in PZ:
- Heavy Duty
Commercial vehicles are the regular cars you see parked around all over the place. Performance vehicles would be sports cars, a good Corvette or Camaro. Heavy Duty constitutes utility vans and off-road SUVs. In order to service a type of vehicle fully, you’ll need to read the corresponding auto manual.
Your character will start with knowledge of commercial vehicles, but if you start off with the Burglar or Mechanic profession, you’ll know all of them from the beginning. If you want to find the auto manuals, check gas stations, book stores, and garages.
Question: What kind of vehicle should I look for in Project Zomboid; which vehicle is best?
Answer: That depends on what obstacles you face in Project Zomboid. A commercial or performance vehicle is your best bet if you have many miles to cover and the roads are clear.
They go fast, and you’ll cover distance quickly as long as you stay on the roads. If you’re looking to go off-road, get a heavy-duty vehicle. The penalty for leaving the road won’t be so steep, and you won’t damage the vehicle every time you drive into a ditch.
Question: How do I tow something with my vehicle?
Answer: First, you’ll need a powerful vehicle to tow a large load. Something like a pickup truck, SUV, or heavy-duty van will do the trick. Next, back your vehicle up to whatever it is you’d like to tow–you can pull other vehicles and trailers in PZ.
Stand between your vehicle and the object in question, and press the V key. This will bring up your vehicle radial menu. Select the option to hitch your object to your vehicle. Easy peasy.
Question: How do I siphon gas from vehicles?
Answer: If you’re lucky enough to find a vehicle with fuel in it but don’t feel like using it, you can always siphon its gas. You’ll need an empty gas canister and the ability to work in peace without any zombies showing up. Head to the gas tank on any vehicle that still has fuel, right-click on it, and you’ll see the option to “siphon gas.” No fancy hoses or tubes are needed.
Question: What perks are best for players wanting to focus on vehicles?
Answer: Some perks will universally help get your character to Electrical 1 and Mechanic 2, such as the Fast Learner and Quick Reader perks. Eagle Eyes and Cat’s Eyes will help you detect obstacles and avoid them easier. And Speed Demon will help you cover those long miles on the highway between cities quickly.
Question: How do I recharge my vehicle’s battery?
Answer: This one can be tricky to figure out on your own. Oddly enough, neither item should be in your inventory if you want this to work. Place the car battery on the ground. Then place the battery charger on the ground next to it. Right-click on the charger and you’ll see an option to “connect to battery.” Doing so will hook up the charger to the battery and allow you to charge it as much as you like.
Obtaining the skills necessary to hotwire vehicles in Project Zomboid can be both easy and a headache. If you initially choose the right perks and professions, you can hotwire cars right from the get-go. If you don’t pick the right perks, getting your skills where they need to be will take time. And trying to level up skills in a zombie apocalypse is harder than it sounds. Thanks to the vast open world around you, there are far too many variables to keep track of during your survival.
Your best bet is to focus on groups of skills at a time. Early-game skills will get you the supplies you need to last longer than a week, and mid-game skills will establish your base and a vehicle. From there, you can explore end-game skills to help establish a settlement strong enough to last generations.
With the right tools, knowledge, and dedication, even you can survive in Project Zomboid for more than a few days. And with the tips I put down in the guide, you can have a sweet ride while you wait for a cure.
Just kidding, there is no cure. This is Project Zomboid.
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