Finally, after securing a home, obtaining the basic equipment you need to protect yourself and manipulate the world around you, and having the food you need for survival, you will want a car.
The map of Project Zomboid is VAST. Really, really vast. At times, looting the more remote parts of the town you start in alone, can at worst be something that requires you to spend a day of traveling to get there, sleeping in a much more rudimentary safehouse on the way, and in the end only allowing you to haul back one single backpack full of materials from whatever place you looted.
Even if you decide that you want to live in the woods, sleeping in a tent and making a living of what nature has to offer in the form of foraging and fishing, you will still sometimes find yourself in need of more fishing equipment or better clothes, and be left with no option than to make a trip into the ruins of civilization.
A car cuts down the travel time significantly, in addition to allowing you to haul a heavier load of stuff back to your base.
Beggars can’t be choosers, and at the very beginning of things, you will take anything you can find.
Sometimes you will be extremely lucky, and just hop into a car, finding that it starts right away, and you can just drive off. Most of the time, you will not be so lucky, and will probably need to spent time looking for a car that works, or at worst getting a car to work.
A running car breaks down into three main elements. It needs to have four wheels and an engine that is not damaged beyond repair, it needs a key in the ignition, and it needs some gas in the tank.
When it comes to assessing that a vehicle is not damaged beyond repair, initially a quick look will tell you whether the car is in one piece, and haven’t been crashed too badly. For further, more thorough assessment, walk up to the hood of the car and tap “E”. This will give you an overview of the cars condition. Parts have status between 0 and 100 %, conveniently colour-coded from green to red for the state of distress.
Next is the matter of the key. Certain professions and skills will allow you to hotwire cars, making the last point moot. But unless you know what you are doing, or have a character built for the purpose, you will find yourself walking from car to car, hoping to find it unlocked.
Sometimes the key will be in the ignition, sometimes the key will be in the glove box, sometimes the key can be found on the ground nearby, inside a house if the car is parked in the driveway (although definitely not always) and sometimes being carried by a nearby zombie. The latter is especially true of various service vehicles found in the world, either police cars, SUVs belonging to the fire department, ambulances, utility trucks with “engineers” nearby, or similar. You can also sometimes run into cars where the owner met their demise in the middle of changing a ruined tire.
When you have access to a car that isn’t entirely wrecked (although some vehicles, and service vehicles in particular can definitely have been driven roughly), you have the potential for a running car, if you can get access to some gasoline.
For this, you will need a gas can. Gas cans can commonly be found in the trunk of cars, in garages, and in sheds. Sometimes they are full, sometimes they are empty. Even with an empty gas can, you can still siphon gas from one vehicle, and then transfer it to another. This allows you to circumvent the conundrum of having one car with the keys in the ignition but no gas, and one car with gas in the tank but no key in the ignition.
Cars have a special user interface of their own, unlike most other things. When either next to, or inside a vehicle, you can bring up a radial menu by tapping “v” by default. This allows you to do things such as breaking a specific window you are standing next to, or while seated in the car doing things such as switching seats, going to sleep in the seat of the car, turning on lights, radio, heater and similar. If you are carrying an empty gas can, standing next to a car and bringing up the vehicle menu, also gives you the prompt of “siphon gas”, if the car has any gas left in the tank.
Should you happen to find a gas can with actual gas in it, you can skip this step, and simply go fill up your vehicle. The same applies, stand next to the car, tap “v” to bring up the radial menu, and choosing to refuel the car from the gas can.
Finally, it should be noted that all cars in Project Zomboid (very unlike the real world in the year of 1989) has electronic central locks for all doors, and the trunk. Should you run into a car you want to loot, finding the trunk to be locked, you can smash a window, sit down in the driver’s seat, and simply click the trunk lock icon on the dashboard in order to unlock the trunk. Police cars also have a special layout that do not allow passengers in the back seat to climb into any other seat of the car. Clicking the door lock icon on the dashboard, will lock all the doors, potentially locking anyone riding in the rear seat trapped inside the vehicle. It would be considered very very rude to lock someone in the car, turning on the siren, and then evacuating the area, while playing multiplayer.