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Preview – How Bulletproof Are Cars?

Find Out What Happens When Lead and Copper Meet Glass and Steel

We spend multiple hours every week trapped inside a tin box. Normal rules of behavior are suspended when some people get behind a wheel, as the combination of anonymity and territoriality associated with several thousand pounds of metal and glass becomes a powerful influence on the driver’s psyche. If that person is predisposed to interpret minor driving mistakes as threats, then the stage is set for a violent encounter. This predisposition is known as hostile attribution bias, and if you’re so inclined, you can see many examples of it on YouTube while viewing vertical cellphone videos of assholes arguing with each other over minor traffic oopsies.

While there are several ways you can minimize your chances of being caught up in a road rage incident, they’re outside the scope of this article. We encourage you to conduct your own research and training. RECOIL’s web editor recently spent several days conducting vehicle-based drills at Will Petty’s VCQB course. See the full article on page 100.

Let’s say your best efforts to avoid becoming embroiled in an incident have come to naught. Let’s cut to the chase and look at what happens when that particular Rubicon is crossed and things go ballistic. Specifically, how much protection does your ride provide from projectiles launched from some of the most likely firearms you may encounter.


Ballistics2 Ballistics3

For years, we’ve been told the only areas of a vehicle that can be used as cover from incoming rounds are the engine compartment, with the wheelwells as a poor second choice. Although it’s generally accepted as truth handed down on tablets of stone, just how valid is it as tactical doctrine?

In order to assess the performance of various rounds, we enlisted the help of STA Training, a Phoenix, Arizona- based company that was founded by former Marine scout-sniper Jerrod Johnson. Using its range facility in a remote canyon, we set up vehicle doors backed by Clear Ballistics 10 percent ballistic gel blocks in order to capture the projectile and assess the kind of damage it could do after passing through the shell of a car or truck.

Vehicle doors are generally constructed of an outer steel skin that’s welded to a heavier-gauge inner panel. This holds various mechanisms such as window and mirror controls, latches, release cables, speakers, and reinforcement bars. Despite their outwardly simple appearance, the automobile door is a pretty complex piece of engineering.
In order to ensure some degree of consistency, we aligned panels so that bullets would pass through the outer skin, but miss the inner sheet of steel that reinforced the doors’ interior. Trim panels were discarded as they were so flimsy as to not significantly impede the bullet and also disguised the location of door components that would definitely affect bullet performance.

The selection of door panels as our targets was deliberate, as they represent a minimum in terms of ballistic protection and are the part of the car closest to the occupants. Let’s face it, if we set up gel blocks inside a passenger compartment and shot from in front of the vehicle, this would be a pretty short article, as not even a 50BMG could consistently punch through a grille, radiator, alternator, engine block, firewall, and heater core.

Firearms used included the ubiquitous 9mm Glock 19, a .380 Auto Glock 42, a .40 caliber Glock 35, a .45 Auto 1911, a 12-gauge shotgun, and even a 5.7mm FN P90. Other weapons, including rifles, were employed, but are outside the scope of this article. Ammunition ranged from plain-Jane FMJ to conventional and bonded JHPs, as well as solid copper projectiles from Barnes.


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