Car as Cover And The 5.56 On Cars


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 concur with your analysis on penetration of the 5.56 on automobile bodys. The penetration ability of even 55gr softpoints is incredible. I set up a similar test using a Ford pickup and noticed that the rounds went through everything but the engine and rear axle. Brake rotors and suspension componants offered some ballistic protection but I would not bet my life on it.
    Also both 55gr fmj and green tip penetrator make a 3/8″ rolled steel cutting edge from a skid loader (Bobcat) into swiss cheese @ 25yards.
    Nice review and important information.

    • Nato has nothing to do with the round penetrating the metal of the vehicle. It is called Nato due to the Nato countries have or had adopted it as their standard round, also many non-Nato countries have adopted it as their standard round.

  2. Back in the day I found an old 1968 Ford abandoned out in the woods. It was obviously abandoned as the wheels were missing, the windows pretty much busted out and so forth. Well I had my trust old Marlin Model 60 with CCI Stingers and they had no problem going through the doors or trunk either.

  3. NY DEA did an informal test of duty and street calibers against vehicles, 10-15 years ago. Result was simple, cars do not provide cover against 9mm or larger.

  4. Once again I feel validated. ( I know that sound weird) I have been telling folks for many years that the 5.56mm round is nothing to laugh at. If you put the round where its supposed to go, it will do its job. Now if you really want to shut up the nay-sayers repeat this shoot with a 75 grain swift scirocco (which is a bonded core polymer tipped hunting bullet) fired from a 20″ barrel.

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