DTI Vehicle Defense Class: A Return to Training with John Farnam

As senior instructors at Indy Arms Company, my wife and I make every effort to attend multiple training courses each year. Usually, we can attend with other senior instructors as well. As we continue to train, it has become less often that we find truly new information, techniques, or skills. But, there is always value in getting information from different sources and perspectives. The ability to practice different drills and techniques with guided instruction improves our own abilities while making us better instructors. It is a rare course that I do not take a few ideas away from or at least a better understanding of certain tactical choices that may differ from my own. My worldview means I will always be an “a way not the way” instructor. Just as I believe certain techniques will work for most people, I also enjoy having alternate techniques ready for those that might benefit.

Last year my wife, one of our close training friends, and I attended John Farnam’s Defensive Training International (DTI) 2-day Urban Rifle course. John has a great way of teaching and adapting to a group of students, providing his perspective on real-world tactical choices and tying each drill into needed skills. You will likely not shoot as many rounds as similar classes because of the complexity of the drills, but you will leave with a much better idea of ‘why’ you did the drills and how they fit into a bigger defensive skillset picture. John ensures thorough feedback is provided after each drill, personally reviewing each student’s target, and discussing tactics. 

When we saw John was offering his Vehicle Defense class over a two-day weekend in our home state, we immediately signed up. John Farnam’s Vehicle Defense class uses junk cars and focuses on approaching vehicles, escaping vehicles, engaging threats from vehicles, engaging threats in vehicles, and the ballistic protection of vehicles.

John Farnum DTI Vehicle Defense class
John Farnam’s classes always include his wit and wisdom regarding all topics of self-defense.

Initial Set Up and Vehicle Defense Class Particulars

DTI Vehicle Defense is a two-day 16–18-hour course covering most aspects of vehicle defense. Although the value of staying in the vehicle and using it both defensively and offensively was stressed, most of the scenarios and drills centered around getting to the vehicle (approach and entering), and defending when using the vehicle directly is not an option.

For instance, if the vehicle becomes barricaded or experiences a failure, the drills centered on using the vehicle as defensively as possible for concealment and cover. Though often taught with non-running ‘junk’ cars, we were fortunate enough to also have one car still able to move under its own power, which allowed for some additional drills.

The class was listed as needing 400 rounds, but we likely shot only over 200 each. We were on a private training range that was well maintained with berms to the left and back as well as a large tent providing coverage from the sun and rain, and a porta-potty. We had great weather for the first day and halfway into the second. For the last section of the class it steadily rained, but other than spending a little more time under the tent when not running drills, we continued the class to its conclusion.

Day One

The class opened with John relating law enforcement’s understanding of the value of shooting at moving vehicles. The short answer is not much. The facts from numerous encounters are that firearms are not effective at stopping moving vehicles and the best bet to stop one is with another vehicle.

After a safety brief, John discussed the legal realities of self-defense and stated his two goals for all his classes: “1) That all his students die of old age and 2) that none of them end up in prison.” What followed was a discussion of how to harden homes and vehicles from potential targeting. John’s suggested phrase to get 911 operators’ immediate attention when calling 911 from your home is, “Home invasion in progress.” He stressed the importance of keeping commands brief, clear, loud, and simple such as “Drop your weapon,” or “Leave my house.”

The morning ended with John offering advice on keeping information shared with arriving officers brief. This overall discussion ended with the following advice: “Don’t go to stupid places, don’t associate with stupid people, don’t do stupid things. Look normal, go to bed at a regular hour, and be pleasant and polite.”

After lunch, we moved the cars into position for the first drills and discussed shooting from and into cars using dummy guns. We discussed the impact of handgun rounds on doors (often stopped or greatly reduced in velocity), front windshields (spider-webbed holes), and side and back windows (shattered).

Everyone in the class tried various techniques to cut seat belts if needed to escape as well as breaking out windows. Tires were also discussed, with handgun rounds only causing a slow leak. It was also noted that most cars can still run on all tires being flat if it is still on solid roadways.

vehicle defense class, escaping demos
Though primarily a shooting class, John also covered techniques for escaping a vehicle, including how to cut seat belts and break out car glass.

John pointed out that modern cars are hard to steal, making them worthless until we approach them or are in them (with the needed fob). Thus, we practiced approaching vehicles quickly in pairs. The passenger did an initial examination of the area and then provided overwatch, remaining ready and alert until the driver was seat belted and the car was turned on and ready to leave. Only at this point would
the passenger enter the car, reducing any vulnerability as the car went into motion. We repeated these drills in reverse when leaving the vehicle.

Live Fire Drills

The initial warmup drill did not involve vehicles. It was scanning, moving, engaging, moving, engaging, reloading, re-engaging, and then issuing commands while scanning. Fortunately, all the people taking this class were experienced. After the warm-up drill, we immediately started working with vehicles and from holstered (hot range) guns. Each drill that followed always started with the teams of two approaching and entering the vehicle as previously mentioned.

Once in simulated motion (using our imagination) John would stop the car by pounding on the roof two times, indicating a threat had emerged, the vehicle was stopped, and could not be used until the threats were dealt with. Threats had paper targets and each drill included non-threats (bystanders) that were not to be shot. Depending on the drill, threats might be engaged from inside the vehicles, partially out of the vehicle, or by fully leaving (but still using the vehicle as concealment and cover). Once the threats were engaged, if the vehicle had been left, the team would re-enter the vehicle and ‘drive off’ ending the drill. We repeated each drill twice, with each pair alternating the driver role and the passenger role.

We ended up conducting seven total live-fire scenarios on day one, changing up the threat locations and numbers. We also engaged from different positions around the car — front, side, and rear. At the end of the day, we discussed the importance of discerning what is important in a life-and-death encounter and focusing on what needs to happen, instead of the non-important clutter in the chaos.

vehicle defense drills
The majority of the vehicle defense class was focused on approaching and entering vehicles as a team, engaging threats from a stopped vehicle, and then if needed reentering and leaving the dangerous situation.

Day Two of the Vehicle Defense Class

Day two of the vehicle defense class opened with John discussing how, defensively, a vehicle in motion is far safer than when stationary. The goal is to get to your car safely and get it moving quickly to minimize vulnerability. Likewise, quickly exit your vehicle and leave the area when arriving safely. Next, he demonstrated the best disarming techniques to employ in a carjacking scenario. Finally, John described the likely results of rounds hitting hard road surfaces (a shallow angled rebound). He ended this discussion with an easily remembered quote, “Don’t look for an excuse to lose, look for a way to win.”

More Live Fire 

We returned to live-fire scenarios working in pairs. We continued our practice of entering and exiting our vehicle but added a vehicle to the mix for use as concealment or cover by the threat targets. We conducted drills with the passenger armed with a rifle instead of a handgun and added details of hostage rescue and security work to the drills. After completing these four live-fire drills we moved to actively shooting through the vehicle so that we all had personal examples. This included shooting various 9mm rounds through car doors at an angle with varying success. Some rounds fully penetrated, some rounds partially penetrated, and some were stopped.

Next, we each engaged a target from inside the vehicle shooting out through the front windshield (point of impact generally was above the point of aim). This was followed by shooting from outside the vehicle through the front window to a threat target inside the vehicle (point of impact was generally below the point of aim). We then tested the penetrations of 12-gauge slugs. They often shot through and out the other side of the vehicle) and caused instant flats when shot at the tires, compared to the slow leak caused by a 9mm round.

 bulletholes in front windshield
Knowing what typically happens when rounds enter and exit the front windshield is one thing, but actually doing it and seeing the results helps make the knowledge real.

For the final ‘drill,’ the whole class was invited to form a firing line and engage the side of one of the junk cars with any firearms they chose. This resulted in a combination of handguns, rifles, and shotguns shooting at the vehicle for approximately three minutes. Over 300 rounds were shot into the vehicle, removing most smaller parts such as rearview mirrors, and door handles, and shooting out all remaining windows.

I personally shot five magazines worth of ammo into the vehicle from my Glock 17. Once the drill was over, we checked the opposite side of the vehicle where only a few exit holes were evident (likely rifle and shotgun rounds). This further illustrated why police generally do not resort to firing at a vehicle. It does cosmetic damage but does not usually impact the vehicle’s ability to drive.

junk car shot up with bullet holes
My wife posing with the well-shot-up junk car at the end of class and John Farnam discussing how few rounds made it through the other side of the vehicle.


The three of us have taken similar classes focused on shooting live fire from simulated vehicles, as well as classes working dry from our own vehicles. What made this vehicle defense class well worth the experience was putting these techniques into practice with live fire from and into actual vehicles. That combined with the interactive instruction of John Farnam made this class well worth the time and expense. It is one thing to discuss how bullets react to various parts of the vehicle; it is much more engaging to see and do it yourself.

As John put it, “We take classes to fail and learn limitations, as success tells us little.” The final free-for-all shoot on one of our practice cars at the end of the class was just extra icing on the cake!

Joel Nadler is the Training Director at Indy Arms Company in Indianapolis and co-owner of Tactical Training Associates.  He writes for several gun-focused publications and is an avid supporter of the right to self-sufficiency, including self-defense. Formerly a full professor, he has a Ph.D. in Psychology and now works as a senior consultant living on a horse ranch in rural Indiana.  Feel free to follow him on Instagram @TacticalPhD.

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