SHTF vehicle / Bug Out Vehicle

When the topic of Bug out vehicles is brought up, the most common denominator is large trucks or 4×4 off road vehicles. Its as if bugging out means mandatory travels through uncharted trails in the rain forest of Ecuador or fording the nearest river.

I happen to see things a bit different in this regard. When it comes to “Bug Out” vehicles, reality tends to be far less exciting and we learn that instead of going Indiana Jones in the nearest national park you’re more likely to be driving on a paved road stuck in traffic for hours as everyone tries to bug out at the same time. In this case, a reliable car with good gas millage makes more sense than a 30 year old EMP proof car.

I also like to make the distinction between Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) and SHTF vehicle (SHTFV). While a BOV is for getting you from your current location to a separate other destination during a crisis or emergency, the SHTFV is a car you use both for bugging out if required but also on more mundane, ordinary tasks. It’s the car you use during long term SHTF events were everyday life goes on, but there are more challenges and demands on regular basis.

Ideal SHTF Vehicle

For daily use or for evacuating, I’m a firm believer of what you have with you may be all you have during an emergency. That’s why your SHTFV should be a viable BOV if needed, besides an everyday driver. Its like a handgun in terms of defense: Its far from ideal, but the ability of being there when needed makes it of great importance. You may have 5 minutes to evacuate, or 5 seconds. You may leave for work and when you go back home there’s nothing there left for you and your family, not even the BOV you had fully stocked ready to go, and you’re stuck with your Prius because that’s what you used everyday so as to save on gas while the BOV 4×4 truck sits waiting until zombies attack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you wont get emails or text messages notifying you of SHTF events or other disasters. It just happens, and when it does what you have with you may be all you have to work with.

My priorities for a SHTFV would be the following:

1) Affordable: If I cant even buy it, then everything else matters little. The price of spare parts and repairs should also be within your financial means. This is the Achilles heel of most MOD/military vehicles.

2) Toughness: By this I don’t mean military style or hard use off road, but tougher than the ordinary sedan vehicle. Most light SUVs would fill this role well. The SHTV may be pushed into service for moving around gear, furniture, supplies, etc. More capacity than a basic car would be nice. Besides, during disasters and even due to economic factors, roads may be in far from adequate shape. This I’ve seen it myself very clearly. Well paved roads require more care and maintenance than most people realize. After a year of neglect roads are noticeably worse. After a decade of neglect you really need a truck or SUV unless you want to constantly replace tires, rims and suspension. Yet another point is security. Here I’m talking both about car accidents or having to push your way out of carjack attempts, who may cash against you on purpose so as to force you to stop your vehicle. A more solid vehicle is advice in either case.

3) Reliable: You’d be surprised to see how many fancy SUVs and trucks have a poor track record in terms of reliability. Inform yourself before making any purchase. Japanese cars are among the most reliable. Think Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi. Reads plenty of reviews and talk with your mechanic

4) Commonality: This will mean easier to find spare parts and more mechanics that know how to fix your vehicle, or more literature available to learn to do it yourself. A vehicle that is more of an oddity will present greater challenges. If imports ever stop or become too expensive for your pocket, you may have to rely exclusively on the second hand and used spare parts market. The more popular the model, the most likely you are to find what you need.

5)Gas millage: The chosen vehicle must have good gas millage for two reasons. First, a car with poor MPG will rarely be used, this means its less likely to be in use when needed. Ideally, this vehicle would be your daily driver, used for commuting, taking the kids to school, etc. Second, if you ever have to evacuate and use it as a BOV, it will be able to cover more distance with whatever amount of fuel you have left or are able to come up with. An extra 5MPG efficiency may be the difference between getting to your evacuation location with your supplies or hardly getting close to it at all.

6) Ground clearance and AWD capability: I’ve been caught by roadblocks, protests or other forms of disturbance or civil unrest more times than I care to remember. People in first world countries just don’t have that sort of experience. It was years of dealing with that, sometimes three or four days a week. What I learned was that a)I want a vehicle that can go up the curb, over the sidewalk, bulevard or off road so as to escape trouble b)I want AWD so as to not get stuck while doing so.

7) Big enough but not too big: While the vehicle has to be big enough so as to carry people and gear, as well as have the mass so as to push an average sedan to some extent if needed, the vehicle shouldn’t be so big that its difficult to maneuver and squeeze through places so as to escape and avoid trouble. Everything you need and nothing you don´t.

For me, this boiled down to the Honda CR-V. It´s boring reliable if taken care of and fills nicely most of what I had in mind.



SHTF vehicle / Bug Out Vehicle — 16 Comments

  1. My current bov is… a minivan
    I have take it to incredible places, has the space, the carring capacity, I have it, is reliable, it blends.

  2. Great post FerFal! We considered these very factors when purchasing our new (to us) Jeep last month. It is versatile, normal, 4×4 and gets 20mpg. We took it offroad for the first time today to check out some properties – very nice handling. And it blends in perfectly well as we go about our daily lives in our small city. I remember an earlier post you made really emphasizingthe importance if having a vehicle that does not stand out from the crowd, and I took your advice to heart when buying our Jeep. Thanks again,

    ~ Sandy

  3. FerFal,

    I propose a #8:

    Clandestine: Your vehicle should visually match the other vehicles common to your area. If your transportation stands out and draws attention to you…you become a target. A tricked out Hummer with custom roof racks loaded to the gills with valuable looking supplies isn’t a plan…it’s a ‘come rob me’ sign.

    I think the Honda CR-V fits this criterion very well…at least for my neck of the woods.

    Keep on Prepping,

    Andrew J. Jackson

  4. Around here (Appalachia) a big 4WD is EXACTLY what you want. All our vehicles are 4WD and the one I consider my BOV is a 1989 F250 Diesel 4WD. At only $1,500 it more than paid for itself hauling materials to build our retreat which is on the side of a mountain. Being one of the most popular trucks on the road there are plenty of spare parts available in junk yards. We don’t have much traffic to speak of, but in a pinch I can extend the fuel in the dual tanks by adding used vegetable or motor oil.

    I also bought a dual sport motorcycle that sits on a hitch-mounted rack on the back. When I was in Honduras I saw entire families riding on these. If any car will make it to your retreat, than anyone with a car can get there.

  5. I bought a 06 Jeep Liberty 4×4 diesel I can get over 500 miles on a tank of fuel, and can ,if necessary, mix diesel and vegetable oil at 75/25 with no modifications it runs fine with that ratio. I tent camp/hunt/fish and kayak in fairly remote areas often, so I have a 10 ft tilt utility trailer that I have modified with racks, rollers,etc. I keep everything that I need for extended (weeks,even months) stays in very remote areas in the trailer.

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  7. Honestly I think a BOV is only good if you are able to beat the mass of other people trying to bug out too. Lets face it the roads and highways leading out of cities and towns will be nothing but a huge parking lot full of cars all going nowhere due to congestion. I personally think the viable BOV would be something like a dual sport motorcycle, this will also leave you vulnerable to attack from others trying to take your transportation away from you. Another huge drawback would be you would have to travel very light and use every available spot you can to lash your gear to. Another drawback to a motorcycle is that you do have to be an experienced rider in order to travel quickly off road even then when riding a motorcycle a general rule for an accident is not IF you have an accident, it’s WHEN you have an accident, because sooner or later you will end up on the ground.

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  9. A pre 2001 Jeep Cherokee is my way to b/o.
    Plenty of storage, 4×4 and the inline 6 is bullet-proof.
    Parts are easily scavenged.

    • You are absolutely correct about the 2000 on down Jeep Cherokee. But lets be clear, I’m NOT talking about the Grand Cherokee, but the boxy “XJ” Cherokee. These things are legendary in terms of reliability and their off road capabilities. They also get pretty good gas mileage as long as you don’t put huge 33’s on it. And spare parts, these things are EVERYWHERE. In my eyes it’s hard to beat for a BOV or SHTF. Another plus is the doors and rear hatch can easily be removed for “tactical” purpose’s. There’s a reason these vehicles are sooo popular with the off road sect.

  10. Good article! I’m coming due for a new vehicle and have been putting a lot thought into it. I figure that whatever I decide to buy should fit a dual role, as having multiple vehicles isn’t an option for me at this time. It hasn’t been easy for me to decide, but I’ll have to give the CRV a second look.

  11. My bugout vehicle is a mountain bike with rear cargo rack and I tow a two wheel handtruck behind for all my stuff. The reasons I chose a bicycle were; low visibility,no worries about fuel,ability to stop or evade before an ambush,offroad capability and ability to conceal the vehicle and myself in brush to rest overnight. the handtruck is also lightweight and narrow allowing me to squeeze thru alleys and game trails that would stop a 4 wheeler. I estimate that my tow capacity is around 200 pounds. More than enough for my; camping gear,water,survival tools,weapons,ammo and anything found along the way.I have learned that people tend to throw away a lot of perfectly good items when they are bored with what they have.

  12. Bug Out vehicle 1) 1993 White GMC 3/4 ton 4×4 with a 350, 36 gal fuel tank, and 8′ box. 2) 2000 Ford Explorer, 4 dr. 3) 27′ stock trailer. 4) 18′ enclosed trailer. 3) 5×12 utility trailer. 5) 4 Quarter Horses. 6) 8 Bikes. 7) 27′ Motor Home. 8) A Four Wheeler. 9) Tractor with loader. 10) + other vehicles. That being said we are already bugged out. We have 2 locations about 15 miles apart by a gravel road. We can’t imagine driving hours to find your location that is already occupied by a local’s relatives. Possession will equate to ownership under bug out conditions and you better have a plan to live out of your vehicle. It is fun being bugged. The sooner you try it the better off you will be.

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