Wilderness encounters will be one of two types. You may encounter another human player (PvP) or more likely, an NPC gang (PvE). The size/makeup of your enemy's force is dependent on both the number of cars in your squad and also on your squad's total Combat Rating (CR).
PvE encounters are encounters against NPC gangs. The number of cars they bring depends on the number of cars in your squad and also your squad's CR. This usually means the enemies you encounter will be around 1.5 times your CR, but could be much higher depending on factors such as Scouting skill, pirate activity, etc. Rarely will NPC encounters be less than 250 CR even if your CR is very low.
The member with the highest scouting skill in the squad helps reduce this, and shift the odds more in your favour.
The fame of the opposing gang will increase the likelihood of encountering rarer vehicles with more powerful armament. The region in which you are scouting also increases the rarity of chassis—some rare chassis types are almost never seen outside of the more southern reaches of Evan.
Wilderness PvP in Darkwind can occur randomly or when a squad specifically chooses to scout for other player squads.
Unlike PvE encounters the squads very closely matched by CR and there can only be a 20-30% difference maximum.
At the start of the encounter both players have the option to Truce, Fight, or Offer Bounty
Offer bounty is a forced truce which means the player who doesn't want to fight pays a certain fee (varies depending on the town) per vehicle for safe passage.
Return encounters are the most risky of all encounters you will have. Your car(s) will have already gone through at least one combat successfully and you more than likely looted some good cars, although they will be shot up and will have little or no ammo left in their guns. You will only have to worry about a "Return Encounter" when you go scouting. Since the "Return Encounter" will probably be a "Gates of" encounter, you will be able to (hopefully) escape most or all of your cars to town safely. Sometimes your cars will have engine damage making this process a "nail-biter" in the strictest sense.
These mostly happen during travels and it is possible to get several of those during a single travel, these can also happen on very unlucky scouts which would mean you'll potentially have 3 encounters during a single scout (the initial scout encounter, a road encounter and an arrival encounter). It is very rare to get a road encounter during scouts.
The road to Firelight, as especially perilous as it is, offers the unusually unpleasant opportunity to have up to five total encounters: an exit encounter, three road encounters, and a final Gates of encounter.
If one or more of your vehicles becomes inoperable during an encounter while traveling or during a scout, you may not be able to bring all of your gangers home with you. You should attempt to remedy this situation whenever possible by using loot vehicles to bring them home or if you're in a squad with other players, you can hitch a ride with them if they have room. However, if all else fails, your gangers will have to walk. When this happens, the game automatically generates a "Foot Squad" for you and this squad travels independently of any vehicles. While traveling, Foot Squads have a chance of Pedestrian Encounters.
Pedestrian Encounters involve being attacked by some type of wildlife. It's just your poor little gangers and whatever pedestrian weapons they're carrying against whatever is coming to try and eat them. You may have gangers who are injured from previous encounters. Your gangers will likely be suffering from radiation poisoning from walking under the harsh Evan sun. Hopefully you saw fit to give them all something better than the Pistol they came with. How fast any given ganger runs is equal to the ganger's Speed attribute multiplied by the ganger's Activity percentage. So, for example, if you have a ganger with a Speed of 80, but s/he's injured and thus has an Activity of only 40%, then his/her actual speed during the event will only be 32.
Your only options during an encounter with nasty critters is to either kill them all or manage to get far enough away and escape.