Your Character is Ambushed While Inside a Vehicle: Now What?

Note: this article was originally written for the ThrillWriting web site, and was directed towards writers. Nevertheless, it also contains valuable self-defense information that should be of value to anyone who regularly drives or rides in cars or light trucks.

Your protagonist is driving in their car, not a care in the world. Suddenly, after turning a corner they find themselves in the middle of an ambush by armed men. What should they do? How can they effectively fight back?

The first thing they need to know is that the deadliest weapon they have at their disposal is the automobile they are driving. Since it weighs around two tons, it’s far more destructive than the most powerful bullet.

Thus, their first reaction should be to keep moving and run over their opponents. If the road is blocked, they should drive around it on the sidewalk. If their way forward is blocked, they should reverse and back out of the ambush. They shouldn’t worry if any of their tires are flattened during the attack. Most automobiles can be still driven even with four flat tires. There will be limitations to speed and control, but they still should be able to keep moving.

What if they are completely hemmed in and have no way to drive away? If they have a handgun, can they stay inside the car and fight from that position? Can they shoot bullets through the windshield, side windows, or back window from inside a car? Will the bullets still hit their attackers? Will the car itself stop bullets fired at them? Can it provide the protagonist with effective cover during a gunfight?

Most firearms experts won’t be able to answer these questions with any confidence. That’s because they haven’t been able to run live-fire tests using real vehicles. I have done such tests, so I can provide you with accurate answers to these questions.

So, can you fight from inside a car using a handgun? The answer is a definite “yes”. It takes training to be able to safely and accurately shoot from inside such a confined space, but it can be done. I’ve had such training, as shown in the picture below, and so can attest to that fact. In the picture below you can see me shooting at an awkward angle and holding the pistol in something of an odd manner. Even so, I’m getting accurate hits on the target at the side and towards the rear of this car.


Can you shoot bullets through a car windshield without damaging the projectiles? Will the windshield slow them down too much? Will it deflect them way off target? Again, the answer is a “you can”. The picture below shows the windshield of a pickup truck that was used as a test vehicle. I shot multiple handgun rounds through it at the targets you can see in front of the truck. The bullets fired through the windshield struck the targets with full force. However, they were deflected a little upwards by the angle of the glass.


Your protagonist can compensate for bullet deflection in two ways:

1. They can aim a little low on all their targets.

2. They can fire through the same hole in the windshield. The first shot they fire will make a hole in the windshield. That bullet will impact slightly high. The next rounds fired through that hole will be completely unaffected. I’ve used this technique, and as odd as it may sound, it works.

You can also shoot through the rear window of a car in a similar manner. The picture below shows me firing at a target behind the car in which I’m sitting. Again, I’m firing from an awkward position. My shots defect slightly upward because of the angled glass. Still, I’m getting good accurate hits on the target.

Picture 3

The biggest challenge here is getting the seatbelt off and drawing the handgun without it ever pointing it at any part of their own body. You don’t want the gunfight to end with your protagonist shooting themselves by accident.

Side windows of a car are a different matter. The first bullet through them will tend to completely shatter the glass. The entire window will fall away in pieces. After that, your protagonist is shooting through an open window without any glass in the way.

The next question is: should your protagonist stay inside the car? Can they expect it to protect them from incoming rounds during a gunfight? Alas, the answer to this question is a very definite “no”.

The picture below shows a group of us testing out the ability of handgun bullets to penetrate parts of a car. We pretty much shot this poor car, and another one, to pieces that day with some amazing results. All the handguns we used, from a puny .25 ACP pistol all the way up to a .45 ACP handgun, penetrated the metalwork of these autos. We found only two parts of a car that would reliably stop handgun rounds and provide cover during an attack: the engine block, and the rear axle assembly along with its steel wheels. Otherwise, the car offered little or no protection to its occupants from handgun bullets. Rifle bullets were even worse.

Picture 4

The next picture really demonstrates what poor cover vehicles provide. I fired two rounds from a 9mm handgun round into the back of a pickup truck. The bullets penetrated completely through the rear metalwork, through the seat back, through the target, even pulling some of the stuffing from inside the seat through the holes in the target, and finally embedded themselves so deeply into the steering wheel that I was unable to dig them out with a knife.


Therefore, the best strategy for your protagonist is to first deal with any immediate threats while still inside the car. Then they should bail out of it and take up a position where either the engine block or the rear axle and wheels stand between them and their attackers in order for the vehicle to provide them with decent cover.

The picture below shows a shooter in a position shown in countless movies and TV shows. They crouch behind an open car door. Since car doors don’t offer any protection from bullets, this is a bad strategy. It would soon result in tragedy in a real gunfight.

Picture 5

The picture below clearly demonstrates what poor cover vehicle doors actually provide. It shows two bullet holes from 9mm rounds fired from my handgun from inside the truck. They easily penetrated right through the entire door.


The picture below shows a much better use of a car’s covering capabilities. The shooter gets protection from the car’s rear axle assembly and steel wheels. They also get a good deal of concealment from the rest of the car, making them much harder to shoot.

Picture 6

Hopefully your protagonist will never find themselves in such a ticklish situation. If they do, at least they will now have some valuable knowledge for surviving it!

More information about me and my books can be found on my Amazon Author Page.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s