10 Things to Look for When Picking A Bug Out Vehicle
According to Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” If you do not actively search for the best bug out vehicle, you may be failing at one of the most important parts of prepping. A bug out vehicle is more than just a car or truck that will get you from one place to another during a major crisis. You may wind up sleeping in it, cooking in it, and going through some of the worst events in your life while you are in transit. This article highlights 10 main points you should always keep in mind when evaluating bug out vehicles and which options may help you overcome the most challenges.
1. What is the Track Record for the Vehicle’s Make and Model?
Your bug out vehicle should be dependable and reliable in all weather conditions. Basing your decision on what the salesman or previous buyer said, and a small test drive can easily lead you astray. Visit safercar.gov for a range of information on different vehicle models. Aside from recall information, you can also look at consumer complaints. Do consumers complain about fuel pump problems, computer issues, or other anything else that might break down at the worst possible moment? While every vehicle is bound to have a few complaints, there are also patterns for some vehicles that indicate they will not be good for bugging out.
2. Things Your Bug Out Vehicle Should Do
A bug out vehicle should be able to go to any area at a moment’s notice.
It should have enough room for everyone in the group plus tools, supplies, and bug out gear.
Must be able to negotiate obstacles and rough terrain, plus navigate well in bad weather.
You should be able to carry out routine maintenance needs, and make minor to mid-level repairs without assistance from a mechanic or expensive computers.
Tools required for maintenance and repair must not be complex or expensive.
The vehicle should have good ground clearance to cross a desert and rough open ground.
If possible it should also be Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) proof.
Must have a strong aftermarket following. If it does then there will be plenty of cheap aftermarket parts and accessories available even after a disaster has occurred.
You should feel comfortable and confident when handling the vehicle. There will be enough stress from the situation alone. You do not need to add inadequate leg room, sticky seats, or other problems that will increase stress levels and cause driver fatigue to hit sooner.
3. Old vs. New Vehicle?
There are advantages and disadvantages related to both groups of vehicles. On the downside, newer vehicles have computer systems that can be hacked from remote locations by anyone that wants to shut them down. You will also find that newer vehicles have all kinds of codes that must be punched in after repairs or service are made. Without these codes, your vehicle might not run, or may not run correctly even though you did everything else right. That being said, newer vehicles require less maintenance and have better safety and handling features that might be important in certain terrains.
There is a great deal of controversy about whether older vehicles are stronger and better built than newer ones. Do your research carefully to find out about the materials used in the construction of the engine, suspension and drive train. How easy it will be to obtain replacement parts. Both old and new vehicles can be plagued by a lack of available parts. A great deal depends on the model of the vehicle and how many other vehicles share the same or similar parts.
4. Must be 4 Wheel Drive
Two-wheel drive vehicles are fine for driving on well-paved roads and some gravel or well-maintained dirt roads. You still need a 4 wheel drive vehicle for getting over bumpy roads, muddy outback conditions, or other terrains that require more than a two wheel drive vehicle can deliver.
When evaluating the cost of the best possible bug out vehicle and accessories, it is likely to be beyond your budget. Don’t give up on the perfect vehicle in exchange for something cheaper before you consider these options:
- Look for a private seller that might take some type of service or other goods in trade for part of the total price.
- Consider asking others who are part of your bug out plans to help pay for the bug out vehicle.
- What can you sell or trade that might help you gain enough money to pay the vehicle off in full?
- While not the best option – can you get a car loan or a short-term bank loan to finance the vehicle?
6. Is the Vehicle Mostly Stock Parts or Highly Modified?
It is very tempting to choose vehicles that have been modified to improve ground clearance or other things that might seem useful in a bug out vehicle. While some changes may be useful, others are expensive and may prevent you from doing maintenance and repairs in the field. Overall, it is to your advantage to stay with stock parts and keep the vehicle as close to stock form as possible.
A vehicle with stock parts will be cheaper to maintain because it will be easier to get the parts. You will have access to more information about the history of the parts and how well they stand up over time. By contrast, custom parts history may not be readily available in databases such as the ones housed at safercar.gov.
7. Fuel Types
I am a strong believer that the bug out vehicle should have a diesel engine. Despite one or two disadvantages, the following is why I feel diesel engines are the best. If you must store your fuel, diesel fuel with additives can last up to ten times longer than gasoline. Many diesel engines are multi-fuel engines and can run on other fuels such as home heating oils (don’t forget to strain them), kerosene, moonshine, and jet fuels if necessary. Diesel engines are very durable. Their service life is about twice that of gas engines. Diesel engines usually give much better fuel economy than gas engines. Most older diesel engines designs that are mechanical should be EMP proof, or would have minimal repairs if needed.
For all their advantages, diesel engines will not work well in all climates. If you are going to travel through areas where temperatures are sub zero and freezing, these vehicles may not start up, or may not run at all. There are some accessories to help deal with this problem, however they require electricity to keep the engine warm through the night.
Overall, the worst vehicles for bugging out are electric vehicles and hybrids. These vehicles simply don’t have enough power in the motors or the engines. They also have too many computer parts and have expensive batteries that are hard to replace. If you have a hybrid or electric vehicle as a family car, you’d be better off trading it in for a full gasoline engine vehicle until you can get something else that you can reserve just for bugging out.
8. Vehicle Size
If you are budget conscious and concerned about fuel availability, you may be very tempted to choose lighter weight vehicles. While these vehicles may do just fine in city driving or even in small towns, their drive trains, engines, and transmissions are no match for off road driving, high-speed driving, and many other conditions that you may have to deal with while bugging out. When it comes to your bug out vehicle, you are better served by choosing a vehicle with a heavier engine and heavy duty axles. You may not get as much mileage to the gallon, but at least you will not get stuck because the vehicle cannot navigate over difficult terrain.
9. What About Military Vehicles?
This is a great place to look for a good bug out vehicle at a reasonable price. Most of these vehicles are diesel in the 6.2-liter class. You will usually find that they might not be extremely fast, but they will have a lot of power and be very dependable and durable. They are usually set up to tow a heavy trailer. As a bonus you may find a vehicle that is sold together with a trailer.
10. Things You May Need to Change or Add
Color and Paint Condition – Let’s say you found the perfect truck or car for your bug out needs, but it is painted carnation pink with blue racing stripes. While everything may be perfect under the hood, those colors are bound to stick out like a sore thumb no matter where you go. Bug out vehicles must not draw attention or be easy to remember by anyone that sees them. The color of the vehicle and paint condition should match the areas you plan to drive through. If you do find a vehicle that is the wrong color, have that redone. You should also carry along some paint and other gear that can be used to make the vehicle look muddy, rusty, or anything else that will blend in with the local area. For example, if you are driving from an area where rust develops to a drier climate, that rust will mark your vehicle as foreign to the area. In this case, you would add a light covering of thinner paint to make the color underneath look faded. By the same token, if you are traveling out of a desert area into one that gets a lot more rain, you would want to make the paint look less faded, but with a few rust spots here and there.
Vehicle Design and Features – while you may think a lift kit will make it easier for off-road driving, it is also very easy to remember by other drivers. If you have to make changes to the vehicle that decrease its ability to blend in with the local traffic, then pick another vehicle.
Towing Hitch Type – standard ball hitches may be easier to find, but they can come loose on rough terrain and cause the trailer to flip over. This can ruin both the trailer and the vehicle towing it, not to mention cause a road hazard that will draw unwanted attention. Pintle type hitches are safer, heavy duty, and will not let the trailer jump out of the hitch. Usually, you can get these trailers and hitches much cheaper at a military surplus store.
Secondary fuel tanks – choose tanks that can extend your driving range as well as ones that can accommodate different fuels.
Improve front and rear bumpers by strengthening them to take greater impacts without damaging them.
Install brighter lights so that you can travel safer on strange or twisty roads during the night hours. Remember, brighter lights will not necessarily increase the distance you can travel without over running the lights, but it can help illuminate the sides of the road where deer may run out from.
Roof top cargo racks. These racks allow the vehicle to carry more cargo on the trip.
Add a CB radio or a Ham radio
Have full tire spares. If you have a blowout you must have a full tire to replace it with. An emergency spare tire is not strong enough or safe enough to drive off roadways.
Your bug out vehicle is just as important as every other piece of equipment in your stockpile. Choosing the best vehicle is as much about doing research on fundamental elements as it is having a good idea about all your travel needs. If you have any comments on how you built your perfect bug out vehicle please post them in the comments section.
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About the author of this post, Fred Tyrell:
I am an Eagle Scout and a retired police officer. I love the great outdoors and I am very conservation minded. It is my wish to pass along to other generations what I have learned in my lifetime. I am a champion marksman with handguns, rifles, and shotguns. You can read more of my articles on Survivor’s Fortress. Follow us on Twitter.