To determine what you need in a bug-out motor vehicle, first you have assess your particular situation. In terms of where you live or work every day, how far are they from safe bug-out locations that you consider viable in the event that you can’t stay where you are.
Will you be starting from within a large city, among the sprawling subdivisions of suburbia, or from a smaller city or town? Have you assessed a variety of potential evacuation routes to determine if your everyday car or other vehicle can negotiate them in any weather or traffic conditions? Will reaching your chosen bug-out location require driving on unpaved surfaces, in other difficult conditions, or do you plan to switch to alternate or backup transportation once you get to the end of the pavement? Will the backup transportation be hoofing it on foot with your bugout bag, or will you need racks to carry a bicycle, canoe, kayak, or perhaps a trailer hitch and the capacity to tow a boat, ATV, or motorcycle trailer? Will you be traveling alone, as a couple, or as a family? How much luggage space will you need for everyones gear, considering that the minimum will be a well-packed bug-out bag for each person, plus additional food, water, and other equipment if possible? Asking yourself such questions, it doesn’t take long to figure out whether you can make do with your everyday vehicle or if acquiring something more specialized is in order.
Disadvantages to Traveling by Road
Before you begin thinking about buying or customizing that perfect bug-out motor vehicle, stop the reality that in a true SHTF scenario, particularly in a big urban area, there will be many real drawbacks to any kind of travel on public roads. The main such drawback, of course, is that practically everyone else will have the same idea of attempting to drive out because that’s all they know to do. But all you have to do is watch the news reports of a major hurricane evacuation on the Gulf or East Coast to see the problems that ensue when a mass exodus from a big population center is tempted by road. There will inevitably be traffic jams slowing movement to a crawl or complete gridlock just from the sheer number of vehicles. On top of that, chaos caused by mechanical breakdowns, vehicles running out of fuel, carjackings, and possibly even roadblocks set up by the authorities (or worse, those who would take advantage of the situation) will plague the only road out.
Travel by road of course limits you to defined routes where it could be hard to those who would stop or ambush you along the way. This sort of concern would be more relevant in the later stages of the aftermath of a major SHTF event, but it’s something to think about. If you are going to bug out by road, be prepared to make your escape early, before the potential for such trouble develops.
Obviously, in many locations you will have little other choice than to use public roads unless you plan on traveling cross-country on foot. In other areas where terrain permits, you may be able to bug-out off-road by motor vehicle, ATV, motorcycle or even a mountain bike, thus avoiding some of the above disadvantages. If you happen to be starting from a location near navigable water, such as a coastline, river or even a good-sized creek, you will have even better options for bugging out by water that could quickly put you out of of reach of the vast majority of the population.Boats of all sizes from liveaboard cruising vessels to human-powerered watercrafts such as canoes and kayaks can get you to places no wheeled vehicle can go, and in many cases may allow you to quietly slip out of a large urban areas unseen. For these reasons and more, boats have always been a part of my personal bug-out plans and as a result, three chapters in my book: Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters are devoted to different types of water transportation. But even if you don’t plan to use a boat, ATV, bicycle or other alternative form of transportation for your primary bugout vehicle, you should still consider such vehicles as back-ups. Many of them could be carried on vehicle roof racks or towed with a trailer, ready to deploy in the event you come to an obstacle or situation that requires you to abandon your main vehicle.
Key Bug-Out Motor Vehicle Considerations:
Gasoline vs. Diesel –
Gasoline is by far the most common fuel used by the motor vehicles most people own and drive every day. Diesel is the only alternative, as electric motors and other experimental technologies are not sustainable options in a bugout scenario, at least for the kind of full vehicles discussed in this article.
One advantage of gasoline engines over diesel is that because they are so common, more people are familiar with them and they are easier to repair in the event of a breakdown. They are also cheaper to purchase initially, reducing the total cost of the vehicle as compared the same model equipped with a diesel engine. Other advantages of gasoline engines include lighter weight for a given horsepower and more horsepower than a comparable sized diesel. Gasoline engines also generally run quieter than diesels.
A disadvantage of gasoline as a primary fuel, however, is that it is harder to store for long-term use, because it is more volatile and dangerous than diesel and must always be properly vented and kept in approved containers to reduce the risk of fire or an explosion. Gasoline also degrades over time unless it is treated with conditioning additives like STA-BIL to keep it fresh. And if your vehicle is powered by gasoline, once you exhaust your supply and its fuel becomes unavailable in a post-SHTF scenario, it cannot be improvised at home, unlike diesel.
Diesel is most commonly used in work trucks, construction and farm machinery, and larger vehicles designed for a long, hard service life. Diesel engines are expensive and require more knowledge to maintain and repair, but tend to require less maintenance over a much longer lifespan than the typical gasoline engine. Diesel engines also get better fuel mileage. Perhaps the greatest advantage of diesel engines in the aftermath of a long-term grid-down scenario would be that biodiesel can be made from cooking oil and other organic byproducts, allowing you to keep using your vehicle even if gasoline isn’t available.
Choosing between gasoline and diesel boils down kind of scenario you are preparing for-long vs. short term. For most people who already drive the vehicle, they will likely use to bug out if needed, and for most bug-out situations that will probably be relatively short-term, a powerful and economical gasoline engine will work just fine for an escape vehicle.
There are many advantages to remaining inconspicuous and blending into your environment in your bugout vehicle. In the urban environment and on the highway, a vehicle that obviously looks like a bug-out vehicle will attract a lot unwanted attention. This is where an ordinary four-door sedan can be the best camouflage of all. It will be so plain and nondescript that it will be almost invisible among the traffic. This is especially true if you choose a model with no status-symbol branding and no especially attractive styling or color.
On the other hand, if you are driving a massive four-wheel-drive SUV loaded down with backup vehicles like bicycles, canoes, ATVs, or boats, everyone who sees you will assume you are well- equipped with supplies and gear. This can make you a target for those who are desperate. You should make every reasonable effort to cover or hide obvious supplies, especially those highly desirable ferry cans of extra fuel, until you get away from the city.
Once you get out of town, blending in is more about the ability to hide the entire vehicle. In the backcountry, earth-tone colors like green, are easier to hide. flat paint is even better, and chrome and other parts should be taped or painted over should consider carrying camo netting of the type used by the military, to drape over the vehicle once you have it parked. This can be supplemented with vegetation from the surrounding area.
One other point to consider is that if your plan involves traveling remote country or primitive roads at night, especially in the desert where lights can be seen at a great distance, you may want to wire in a manual interrupter switch so you can disable your brake lights in such situations. On many nights out in open country, you can see well enough to drive slowly without your headlights, but if your brake lights give you away, there’s not much point. Some newer vehicles also have headlights that stay on all the time and this will have to be fixed as well. If your vehicle does not also have a switch to disable the interior cabin lights when the doors are open, you may want to wire one in or simply remove the bulbs of any that may come on at an inconvenient time and give away your position.
The EMP Threat-
Much has been written on the subject of the vulnerability of modern motor vehicles to a possible EMP (electromagnetic pulse) event. Whether caused by a deliberate attack involving a nuclear burst in the atmosphere or possibly extreme solar flare activity, a strong enough electromagnetic pulse is said to have the potential to render most modern motor vehicles totally inoperable. The reason is that such vehicles rely on complex electronic circuitry for their ignition and a variety of engine controls, and once this sensitive circuitry is destroyed it cannot be repaired short of complete replacement of the affected parts.
Many survivalists concerned about the EMP threat advocate choosing an older model, usually pre-1980, because such vehicles do not have onboard computers to control ignition and other vital functions. Whether you base your bug-out vehicle choice on this advice depends on how real you consider the EMP threat. In the spectrum of all the possible SHTF scenarios that could cause you to need a bug-out vehicle, the likelihood of a manmade or natural electromagnetic pulse powerful enough to shut down modern vehicles is relatively slim. Still, if you are confident in your mechanical ability to maintain an older vehicle, it wouldn’t hurt to have all your bases covered by taking the EMP threat into consideration in your choice.
Old vs. New, and Proven Reliability-
Aside from the remote chance of an EMP attack as described above. better technology and fierce competition among auto manufacturers has resulted in vehicles that are generally much more reliable than those of 30 or more years ago. While some people may enjoy rebuilding an old American truck or utility vehicle from the 1970s or before, the fact is that such vehicles were forever breaking down even when they were in their prime and most had an average life expectancy of well under 100,000 miles, usually with many repairs required to get even that far. An influx of Japanese cars and pickups in the 1970s and 1980s that routinely ran 200,000-300,000 miles or even more changed the way all automakers built vehicles, and thanks to that change it’s not unreasonable to expect that kind of mileage from most any modern vehicle, especially those built in 1990 and later.
Within 20 years worth of such vehicles on the used market, you don’t have to buy new to take advantage of this improved reliability, but it certainly pays to do your research because some models have a better track record than others. In the used market, popular and proven vehicles that have enjoyed a long production run are the most desirable, as any common issues with a particular model will be well-known, along with the fixes for it. Parts for such models will also be easy to come by, whether used, rebuilt or new.
Standard vs. Automatic Transmissions-
Though they have fallen out of favor with most of today’s drivers, standard transmissions are simpler and less likely to fail than automatics, especially in older vehicles (today’s automatic transmissions are much improved). Standard transmissions are easier to repair if they do fail and are cheaper and easier to replace if necessary. The typical vehicle equipped with a standard will also get better fuel economy compared to the same vehicle equipped with an automatic. Another important advantage is that vehicles with standard transmissions can be push-started in the event of a battery or starter failure.
A possible disadvantage of standard transmissions is that they require more coordination and both feet and both hands to operate, at least when you are starting of or shifting gears. This could become a problem if you are injured, or if you need to do other things while driving, such as the worst case scenario of having to return fire to defend yourself from the occupants of other vehicles or would-be carjackers.
Four-Wheel-Drive (4 WD) and All-Wheel-Drive (MWD)-
Four-wheel-drive and high ground clearance are essential if you plan to drive to a remote bug-out location that requires traveling over rough terrain or long distances on unpaved, infrequently maintained roads. They may also be invaluable in an urban evacuation scenario where the roadway is blocked with various obstacles and you need to drive on the shoulders or across curbs, medians, or ditches. The disadvantages of four-wheel-drive vehicles are that they are more expensive to purchase initially and will likely require more maintenance and repairs than simpler, two-wheel-drive vehicles.
Most four-wheel drive vehicles allow the driver to switch from the four-wheel-drive mode to one-wheel-drive for traveling on the pavement. This is the arrangement used In most SUVs and in trucks designed for some off road ability. But all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems are becoming increasingly common in passenger cars and car-based crossover SUVs. Whereas regular four-wheel-drive can cause problems on dry pavement, all-wheel-drive vehicles use a center differential that allows the axles to turn at different speeds. All-wheel-drive can make for improved handling on the road, particularly in adverse weather conditions.
Motor Vehicle Modifications and Optional Equipment:
Towing Packages –
If you plan to pull any kind of trailer for carrying extra gear or large backup vehicles such as boats, motorcycles, or ATVs, you will need to make sure your vehicle has adequate towing capacity and is equipped with a trailer hitch that can handle the load. Even small cars can pull lightweight trailers, needing nothing more than a hitch and a signal light connection kit. Some hitches are a simple doityourself bumper installation, or you can take the vehicle to a shop and have a frame mounted receiver hitch installed. Large SUVs and pickup trucks are rated for much higher towing weights and come standard with a heavy duty tow package that includes a receiver hitch, surge brake connections, and a beefed up cooling system for the engine.
Cargo and Utility Rack-
Even the smallest economy car can benefit from the addition of cargo or utility racks on the roof. The most versatile racks are the removable crossbar systems such as those sold to carry canoes, kayaks, skis, and other sports equipment. Such a rack makes it easy to carry your backup bug-out vehicle as well as additional and supplies or other awkward loads that will not it inside the cabin space. Racks like this are available for practically any style of car, SUV, or pickup truck. Make sure they are rated for the weight you intend to carry on them. Another option is to have a welder fabricate custom racks of the sort that construction contractors frequently install on their pickup trucks for carrying ladders and building materials. You can also build sturdy wooden racks for pickups or other vehicles.
Needing canoe racks on a van I owned at one point, I built some sturdy mounting blocks and crossbars out of teak lumber and bolted them directly to the roof, using marine adhesive sealant to prevent any possible leaks.
Carrying and Storing Additional Fuel-
Other than a mechanical breakdown, running out of fuel will be your biggest worry, when bugging out by motor vehicle. You can’t count on being able to obtain more fuel after the onset of a SHTF scenario, so you should make it a habit to always keep your tank topped off and to keep on hand enough jerry cans of fuel for a complete refill for
when you burn through your first tank. This extra tank of fuel will give you quite a long range in most motor vehicles and allow the reserve you need for long delays in traffic and other unforeseen events.
Clearing Obstructions and Getting Unstuck-
In addition to spare parts for your vehicle that you need to carry to ensure that you can keep it running, there are few other items specific to bugging out by motor vehicle that you should carry to improve your chances of getting where you want to go. In the aftermath of a SHTF scenario, you may find that you need to get through a locked gate or a barbed-wire, chain-link, or other type of fence. Heavy-duty wire cutters will work on many types of fences and a pair of 36-inch or larger bolt cutters will defeat most padlocks and chains. You may also encounter a roadway blocked by fallen trees or other obstructions. These may be the result of hurricanes or other storms, or deliberate man-made attempts to close the road. A chainsaw in your vehicle will allow you to open up all but the worst of these, but if you choose not to carry one, at least take along a large hand saw or axe. Likewise, a powerful bumper-mounted winch or a handheld come-along can be used to clear broken down vehicles and other obstructions out of the roadway. The winch or comealon will also be essential for pulling the vehicle out if you get stuck in mud or other soft conditions offroad
Don’t forget to include a shovel as well; if you get stuck while traveling off-road or in snow, a good shovel can make alI the difference.