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How to Hotwire a Car in Project Zomboid

In Project Zomboid, players are placed in the sprawling suburbs of Knox County, Kentucky, early on in a zombie apocalypse that threatens to end civilization as we know it. Securing a vehicle drastically increases your chances of survival, but finding the key to start it up can be a pain. Thankfully, you can get around this if you know how to hotwire a car in Project Zomboid.

As long as a car has gas and a working engine, hotwiring it is possible, and you can skip out on finding the key. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a confusing process. That’s why we’ll help you get a quick start on learning how to hotwire any car with any type of survivor you make in Project Zomboid. This will be an invaluable skill by the end of the game, so starting early on is important.

Hotwiring Basics and Hazards

Attempting to hotwire a car requires you to have a certain minimal set of skills, with one electrical and two mechanics skills required at minimum. Having a higher set of both of these skills will improve your chances of starting a vehicle on the first try.

More powerful engines, like those on sports vehicles, are harder to hotwire on your first attempt. A failed attempt will make quite a bit of noise and possibly attract more zombies to your position. Since you presumably don’t have the keys, you’ll have to first get into the locked car.

Smash a window, preferably one on the passenger’s side or a door that leads to the back seat. You want to avoid breaking a driver-side window to help keep you from getting scratched by zombies that pass by you. Plus, once you’re inside the car you can shift to the other seats anyway.

A common message in Project Zomboid.
Imagine dying because you got scratched while driving. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

The only tool you need is a screwdriver, which you’ll probably want to have in your pack all the time anyway. Screwdrivers are incredibly common, showing up in almost every building you’ll stumble across. You can also find them embedded in zombies nearby.

Once you’ve reached the requirements to hotwire a car, open up the radial menu from the driver’s seat. This seldom-used menu has all sorts of applications for vehicles, including being able to attach vehicles to each other and tow them from place to place. By default, the “V” key will open this radial menu.

From there, click “Hotwire” if it’s available. If you don’t have the skills for it, you simply won’t be able to do it. The biggest downside to hotwiring cars is that they become accessible by any other player on a Multiplayer server. This leads to many multiplayer players removing their car batteries altogether, so they can keep their vehicles.

Best Occupations For Hotwiring

Early on in the game, you select an occupation for your survivor. This provides you with a small amount of starting skills, along with some unique perks that can’t otherwise be attained in the regular course of the game.

These small skill bonuses represent the culmination of a lifetime of regular labor at your character’s old day job, still barely scratching the surface of the expertise needed to apply these skills in a post-collapse survival situation. Three of the occupations you can select will give you a bonus towards hotwiring vehicles that can make the process of getting a car started much easier.

Burglar

For six trait points, you can take the Burglar occupation. This will give you +2 skill points and an XP bonus towards more skills in Lightfooted, Nimble, and Sneaking.

Being Lightfooted allows your character to make less noise at all times, Sneaking will let you make less noise while sneaking, and Nimble controls how quickly you can move while your weapon is drawn and readied. Of the three of these skills, Nimble is exceptionally useful, letting you walk backward more quickly than zombies can walk toward you.

A burglar sneaking about in Project Zomboid.
Breaking into houses is a necessity in the zombie apocalypse. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

The biggest perk of the Burglar occupation is that it automatically lets you hotwire cars without even needing the requisite skills. You’ll simply be able to do it right away, potentially letting you get a huge head start on owning a vehicle so long as you have some gas in the car.

The downside to this is that you won’t be able to repair the vehicle if it takes any damage, compared to a character that has actually earned the skills needed to hotwire a car. Burglar is a solid set of skills in every other way, but since every character can technically unlock their special perk, this occupation may be sub-optimal for a long game.

Mechanic

Taking the Mechanic skill gives you +3 towards your Mechanics skills and a +1 bonus skill point towards short blunt. As with every other occupation, you’ll also receive a huge XP buff toward both of these skills.

Short blunt is a very common sidearm skill, letting you maximize your damage and defense with weapons like hammers or nightsticks, or the classic mechanic’s wrench. You also start the game with the ability to work on standard frame cars. This is a small yet useful perk that lets you skip out on needing to find a particular magazine in order to start working on cars.

Knowing how to maintain your vehicle is just as important as knowing how to hotwire a car in Project Zomboid.
Knowing how to maintain your car after hotwiring it is crucial. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Starting Project Zombid with your Mechanics skill already above the minimum needed to hotwire a car will let you skip a lot of grinding work early on to get your skills up. You’ll only need to train up your Electricity skill instead of worrying about raising your Mechanics skill as well.

This occupation is even very useful later on in the game, as you’ll be fixing up a lot of cars. The XP bonus will really speed this process up and can give you the edge needed to survive.

Electrician

The Electrician occupation costs 4 trait points and gives you a +3 bonus for your Electrical skill, along with an XP gain bonus. You’ll be able to operate Generators right away as well, letting you skip over needing to find the “How To Use Generators” magazine.

This lets you kick the random generation of these magazines out of your long-term plans, allowing you to focus on becoming a capable mechanic and obtaining the other necessary items for long-term survival.

Collect watches off zombies to level up your Electrician skill in Project Zomboid.
Zombies often have watches on them. Take them. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

Even though you only need one Electrical skill to hotwire a car, getting that single skill point can be kind of a pain. Plus, the other occupations don’t provide the automatic ability to use a generator.

Electrician starts are especially helpful on multiplayer servers, potentially saving your entire team from the rotten food and dark rooms that come with a lack of electricity. The downside of taking this occupation only comes if you do have access to the magazine, since this perk won’t be useful anymore.

Training Your Skills to Hotwire a Car

Of course, instead of using any of these occupations, you can always train your skills in other ways to make your character capable of hotwiring a car. Any character can get started on these skills, but you’ll be best off with a screwdriver and a wrench on your belt before you get going.

Finding Books & VHS Tapes

One big way to train your skills quickly is to make sure you’ve read the relevant books before you start trying to grind your Mechanics and Electricity skills. These give you a huge multiplier towards gaining skills, which will rapidly increase any source of XP for the relevant abilities. You’ll want to look for Mechanics Vol.1-2 and the first Electricity volume.

Reading a book to gain XP multipliers to your Mechanics skill.
Reading up on the classics of not dying. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for a series of VHS tapes called Carzone. Watching the three episodes of this show after having read the proper Mechanic’s book will give you a big boost to your Mechanics skills without having to touch a single bolt.

One other VHS tape that can give you a relevant bonus is called “Z-Squad S2.03“, an episode of an A-Team-esque TV show. You can seek out these videotapes inside VHS stores scattered across various places, as well as possibly being hidden inside homes across the map.

Stripping Cars

The brute force method of raising your Mechanics skills enough to hotwire a car is to go and find a piece-of-junk vehicle that you’re willing to sacrifice. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a car that can move or has gas inside it, just as long as it’s parked somewhere that you feel safe working on it.

Sometimes you can find entire lots of vehicles across the map where you can go from car to car and take parts right off of them. The most efficient way to raise your skills is to repeatedly uninstall and reinstall parts off of vehicles until the parts decay too much to be usable anymore, or until you’re satisfied with the skill level you’ve achieved.

Stripping an abandoned car for parts in Project Zomboid is a great way to train your Mechanics skill.
Abandoned cars lay scattered everywhere. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

A character with no perks gained from the character selection screen will need to read one of the manuals of the corresponding vehicle class in order to work on most of its parts. You’ll also need to get together some tools, like a jack and a lug wrench, in order to pull the tires off vehicles and gain access to the more specialized components within like brakes and suspension.

These more complicated components are the best places to work on your skills. Leveling your mechanics skill beyond what is required to hotwire a car will let you work on engines eventually, an invaluable skill for your long-term survival.

Becoming An Apprentice Electrician

Next comes gaining some skill with Electricity. The best way to level up your Electricity skill is to go around and gather up various electrical devices and disassemble them with a screwdriver. After reading Electricity Vol.1, go around houses to find radios, televisions, and watches. Zombies will have watches on them very often.

You can break these down into components, all of which will be useful for repairing generators later on. You can gather a lifetime’s worth of electrical components in Project Zomboid just trying to level your electrical skill up enough to hotwire a car.

Find a safe place before you try to hotwire a car in Project Zomboid.
Find a safe place before training. (Image: The Indie Stone via HGG / Nathan Hart)

It’s good to gather up watches in the field and take them all home before you get jumped by a zombie while you’re standing around dismantling them. You gain 0.5 XP at the base each time you break something down, and 1.25 XP for each use of the “repair generator” task.

Generators will need to be repaired regularly with their use and you need to make sure they don’t get less than 50% durability, or you risk them exploding.

Join the High Ground

With all this in mind, we hope you have an easier time learning how to hotwire a car in Project Zomboid. Now that you’re ready to grab any vehicle you want, maybe you want some help picking which one to break into? If so check out our guide to the best cars in Project Zomboid.

With this guide behind you, you’re ready to drive any car you want into the distance, and take the high ground.

Good luck out there survivors.

 

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