Three Letters Re: Some Thoughts on the Survival Vehicle

Mr. JWR,
I’m surprised this hasn’t been addressed more thoroughly, but the first point of consideration should be whether the vehicle will be diesel or gasoline (since most vehicle models don’t have a diesel equivalent). I know this topic has been done before here, and even led me to investing in a diesel, but apparently it’s worth rehashing.

The disadvantages of gasoline are substantial. Gasoline is difficult to store safely (as it is so combustible). Its useful life generally expires in about 12 months (so should you not have access to your stabilized cache, you can expect your vehicle to become useless before a year is out). It is more common, which means it is more likely to be stolen. Gasoline generally gives fewer miles per gallon. Gasoline engines usually wear faster than diesel engines, and require more servicing (oil changes at 3,000 miles rather than 6,000, with expected engine lives also greatly reduced). The only advantages I can see to gasoline is that you’re more likely to find spare parts and mechanics who can work with them, and that it’s less temperature-sensitive. [JWR Adds: Diesels are also very unforgiving if you ever run one completely out of fuel. Re-priming can be tricky.]

Meanwhile, the advantages of diesel are substantial, for our purposes. Diesel is not nearly as combustible, and so safer to store, and will last longer. It’s less likely to be raided (and someone who does steal your diesel supply won’t be getting far if they’re foolish enough to use it straight away). The engines are generally simpler than gasoline engines and more tolerant to abuse. Most important is the availability of fuel. Sure I can’t siphon out of my neighbor’s car (not that I would anyway), but when the gas stations are out, truck and train depots are more likely to have left over fuel. And when the diesel is out, I can still run on jet fuel, kerosene, biodiesel (which I can make at home), waste vegetable oil, waste engine oil, even coal dust.

Assuming even the least crises we might face, such as a localized natural disaster, the gasoline infrastructure is very fragile, and very quickly that will run out, with gasoline theft very common. When the gas pump goes dry, however, I’ll still be brewing my own biodiesel out of vegetable oil I can pick up at the store or even make myself. (And I’m not aware of any [fire] code concerns regarding storing vegetable oil in the home). Diesel is renewable, gasoline is not (even ethanol production is a losing proposition).

The caveat to this is to buy older. Newer vehicles are getting increasingly temperamental, especially the newest models. Apparently the 2007s and later fall under new EPA standards, and in many cases the standards are so stringent that the vehicle will even bleed fuel into its own oil supply rather than release oxides into the atmosphere. That means biodiesel will literally eat the inside out of the vehicle. 2006 and earlier on most models should be fully biodiesel compatible, with older models working better (although generally less efficient).

Thank you for your fantastic blog. Keep up the good work! – Dieselman


Those were some really good ideas. I’ve done some of those modifications. I would add to the list three items:

1. I have three historic vehicles and one ironic thing about old school technology is that the PSI ratings for various applications on older machinery is not what it is on modern vehicles. For example, I once lost a tiny plug (off of a ’58 International Tractor) that would be impossible to find (or worth it for that matter) so I crammed a piece of cork into it and its been there for years still doing a great job. So, I save all cork from my household for emergency leak stoppers. BTW: cork when burned makes good instant facial camouflage so that’s another reason I keep it stockpiled.

2. I read / subscribe to antique tractor, car, and motorcycle magazines to pick up DIY information. A tip I picked up but haven’t used was from another old car nut. Keep a tampon handy for radiator leaks. It’ll provide a good temporary fix that will get you home.

3. Road flares. Besides the intended purpose, they also do a great job at starting fires if the wood you are trying to light isn’t exactly seasoned and dry. I also used them as a law enforcement officer to chase away the bad guy’s dog so I didn’t have to shoot the dog. (I have five rescued dogs and numerous other rescued animals so I try to avoid any unnecessary force against animals.) [JWR Adds: In my experience, nothing beats a lit 15-minute road flare for crowd control. Nobody wants to mess with them.]
Good luck, – FLHSPete


Hi Jim,
I wanted to add my two cents to the Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) thread going on. I’m sure my thoughts on the subject will appear weak and lazy, but give it a look see anyway. This comes from the perspective of those that want to continue much as they do now, and who possess the ability to do many of the repairs that would be necessary for any truck, no matter how well “prepped” theirs might be via the aid of auto-mall-ninja pimping.

Plenty of people will chose to keep existing trucks, or SUVs as their BOVs. The reasons are many, but usually include the lack of funds to keep an extra vehicle around, and personal preferences. Most will not use a specialized vehicle as their full time rig, but they might consider modifying them for BOV off-road, or inclement situation usage. For those that can’t, or won’t buy /build /modify their way into a full-blown Mad Max vehicle, there remain options for existing trucks and SUVs.

My personal rig is an F-250, 7.3 turbo diesel, early 2000s vintage. It is a crew cab, (4 full doors, independently operable, unlike extend cab units which require the front doors to be open before the rear can), with an insulated shell, and factory step bars to aid getting in and out of the cab. (We also have an older 90s stretch minivan with seven passenger seating and storage, and a pair of five-passenger SUVs).

I’m not overly concerned with EMP, so computer damage from that doesn’t rank high on my list. While having spare components is part of my plan, the fact that they cover EMP possibilities is purely coincidental. Spare computer and sensor parts for the 7.3 International engine run the list of the usual suspects as they pertain to common repair activities. CPS, ICP, IPR,… etc. The acronyms are part of the learning curve for do-it-yourself repairs. Whatever breed of horse is in your stable, you better learn his particulars. For Ford truck owners, an excellent source for tech, tips, real world repair stories and cures, go to the Ford Truck Enthusiasts (FTE) web site. They have a world of excellent information, and them boys and gals help members immediately, when there is an issue. All the special parts names (IPR = Injection Pressure Regulator etc.) are in there, and descriptions of what they do. All of these components are available now, from multiple sources, and will fit in a .30 caliber-size ammo can (which will fit behind the rear seat no problem).

I would encourage people to not be intimidated by the newer setups. Start with a good, solid rig, such as the 7.3L. Buy the spares, and read up on how to change them out. It’s not that hard. You’ll be doing monkey work anyway no matter what the truck, if the poop smacks the blades, so what’s the difference? These days, there are a whole lot more of the newer Ford trucks out there. Parts galore! The parts houses have them in stock. If it gets really bad, and a little creative acquisition is in order…. well, use your imagination.

The 7.3 [liter] diesel is built by International, and has a minimum expected life usage of 350,000 miles. A couple of guys on the forum report that some trucks have gone 600,000+ miles before needing any real work. This engine simply keeps going, and the chassis is very tough to beat.

Diesel fuel is everywhere. It’s in: big rigs, delivery – FedEx and UPS trucks, rental trucks, farm tractors – trucks – agricultural water pumps – and fuel tanks, some busses, most service stations, railroad engines, earth movers and other construction equipment, military bases (who knows, they might go deserted…), emergency back up generators for some buildings…. It lasts a heck of a lot longer than petrol. Doesn’t matter how much gasoline is around for you, it will all be junk without proper treatment within a short period of time. [JWR Adds: Don’t overlook Home Heating Oil tanks as another potential source of fuel that can be burned in diesels in emergencies. (Although it would be a violation of road tax laws to do so on public roads.) IMHO, every retreat should have at least one diesel vehicle!]

As for transmissions, a manual is a good idea, but if you have an automatic, don’t despair. I’ve yet to see a 8,000+ pound truck be push-started without first parking on a hill. With your automatic, you need to be sure it has a fluid cooler installed. Change the fluid regularly and according to common sense. In a TEOTWAWKI world, requisition [purchase]s are off the cuff, and there are plenty of the common transmissions currently in service, and readily available.

Air bags used for load leveling really are a blessing. Take this setup, for instance. A 3?4-ton truck that occasionally pulls a heavy load may use “load levelers” commonly installed for use with travel trailers. These transfer a good portion of the load to the truck’s front tires, but not all of it. Air bag load assist units can take up the rest of the extra weight, and convert your 3?4 ton setup into something much more capable. They don’t get in the way, and are absolutely no liability. These accessories can level a burdened truck just fine, which is a dead necessity if you want a truck that will steer and brake predictably. A truck that sagging in the rear can be deadly in an emergency stop, especially on grades. The use of air bags allows you to keep a good ride when they are idling along. The best of both world there. At the most, if they fail, you are left with the factory load capability intact.

My truck [body] is two inches higher than stock. I like the increased visibility. I like the added travel in the suspension for towing off road. I like how it, just today, went over debris on the road that might have caused damage. The guy in front of me didn’t see it, and bang. I didn’t have enough warning time so I went over it [, without contacting it]. The guy behind me sensed something was up, but he couldn’t decide what to do, so his vehicle went bang, too. Does two inches help? It can. Today it did. It also makes servicing the truck in bad terrain easier. With a truck that has a little more uppity to it, you can get under it without the use of jacks, which are unsafe on sloped ground. I wouldn’t lower a truck for any reason.

For anti theft, one easy to install device is a common switch, rated for the current in the fuel pump circuit. I use switches to disable the fuel pumps. They are hidden, and out of the way. Not too many thieves will spend the time trying to figure out why the engine won’t start… something about panic and going to jail or getting shot.

In keeping with the current mission of trucks, we like our power windows and door locks. The window motors might become disabled at some point, but that’s not a problem, really. If we need them open right now, that’s possible with the glass breaking tools we carry anyway. In non emergencies, we can fix such things. Power door locks have never trapped anyone I know inside, since they all have manual overrides. They are a non-issue, too.

Back to our ‘lil F-250 for a moment. They are copious hand bars in it. Four on each side. Just inside the central pillars, are two very large such bars. We’ve found that these are just wonderful anchor points for harness attachments, which allow for someone to firmly anchor themselves if they need to be sitting on the window sill, hanging out the window for some reason. (Another opportunity to use your imagination.) These internal attachment points almost seem made for special occasions. – Anonymous from Californicatia