Testing The 5.56MM on Car


Most of us know that using a vehicle for cover comes with a few caveats.  We know to use a car as cover, we need to get behind the engine block or try to snuggle down behind a wheel and let the metal of the wheel protect you if that is all you got, but a lot of people do not know that thanks to movie and TV.   On the other hand, we are also told the 5.56 is not very good at penetrating anything thicker than a cotton T-shirt without AP bullets or something made to do so.  Anything short of a bonded bullet or M995 just will not do anything against a car.

Today while doing some training at the local Police range, my friend and I decided to do a little impromptu testing that is not scientific in any way, but it does reflect our experience from doing this quite a few times in the past.   We did not use any ball ammo or M855 or specialty rounds.  We decided to use his department issue ammo.   The round is the Federal 55 grain soft point Tactical Rifle Urban round.   We fired from 25 yards using a 16 inch barrel Colt 6920.

I set up a FBI “Q” target behind the car and he shot through both rear doors to see what would make it through. Five rounds were fired to have the best chance to see results and to account for anything that might go wrong.

The rounds did make it through both doors.  There was of course lots of frag, but the lead core did make it through and still had plenty enough left to go through the cardboard backer and to kick up dirt and gravel on down range.   The rounds did deflect to the left from a foot to a foot and a half.  Still very dangerous and enough to kill a TV cop or robber.

Next I set the target behind the trunk/read. Another popular place  people who do not know better assume is a safe place ( on TV mostly).

No big surprises here for us. The rounds made it through in enough shape and weight to do serious damage and deliver serious wounds at the least. Rounds of course deflected once again.

A lot more fragmentation this time from the car and the jacket. This is due to a few rounds hitting the  gas cap area. Some of the holes  were very cleanly cut and showed no signs of key holing.  The soft points did show signs of significant mushrooming with the diameter looking more like a .30 caliber bullet.

Last we fired through just one door.

We both have fired a lot of rounds through single car doors and knew pretty much how this would turn out. Once we had even fired 40 grain ballistic tips from 100 yards and go penetration through single car doors so we got what we expected.

Every round fired made it through the door with a large amount of upward deflection. But they did make it. Large amounts of fragmentation and bullet deformation, but very deadly. A 5.56 is not useless when shooting through cars at what would be distance used in most police stops or what have you, and I would not want to have to hide behind a car only when some one was shooting at me even with SP bullets. I hope this will demonstrate just how crappy a car works as cover and shows how a 5.56 is nothing to laugh at when used on a car. Keep in my the ammo used was meant for anti personnel use only and was not a load meant for better barrier penetration. Had they been something like a bonded bullet or solid copper HP Barness TSX,, the results would have been even more significant.


  1. I guess the size of the cars is what deceives people. They’re big and bulky so they must be good cover. Just from personal experience I’ve shot a 1/4″ plate and it went through it like butter. And that is a lot thicker than anything in a car body.

    If you ever get the chance to do these again I wonder if there is a way to use a different target backer. I’ve heard in the old days they would use plywood of some thickness to determine lethality at different ranges. Nothing scientific but it would be interesting to see just how much energy the rounds still have.

  2. I’m a retired LEO and military member. I’ve done extensive work shooting cars, both in formal training classes, and in experiments done with our unit.

    The only part of a car that will regularly stop rounds is the engine block. 9mm, .40 S&W, 5.56mm will all go through the rest of the vehicle often. Disk brake disks may stop rounds, but they’re (disks) pretty small.

    We did our tests like you did, with targets on the far side looking for penetration and deflection. There was some deflection and tumbling, but significant penetration.

    If you are in the car, drive out of the kill zone. If you are approaching the kill zone, break contact before you get there. If you can’t get out of the kill zone, (dead car), break contact and leave the car. The assailant will often continue to engage the car, (big shiny thing).

    We train to do immediate action drills for enemy contact, (I’m also a former Infantry and SF officer), there are also IAD’s for vehicle ambushes. (As you Iraq vets probably know.)


  3. Thank you for doing this testing. It didn’t need to be ‘scientific’ – your tests are entirely valid, and showing penetration of paper and cardboard is indicative of more than enough power to penetrate light clothing and skin. Translation: “Don’t be surprised if you sprout leaks if you put yourself into the position of hiding behind a car…”

    Sadly, I believe this knowledge will be of actual use far sooner than any of us want.


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