Letter Re: A Practical, Reliable Bug-Out Vehicle

A brand new Hummer or Jeep Wrangler, decked out with every available option may sound like the best, most capable vehicle in an emergency situation. The harsh reality is that they could be one of the worst. Don’t get me wrong, they are both very nice, with proven track records, but in an emergency, can leave you and your loved ones stranded.

The problem lies with the tremendous amount of electronics needed for the vehicle to operate. The average newer vehicle (especially within the last ten years) has several computers on board that control not only the engine, but also the transmission, the four wheel drive system, brakes, power windows and locks, and even the lights just to name a few. The fact is, computers have been used in vehicles since the early 1980s. The manufacturers have incorporated them in to more and more of the systems for better emissions, fuel economy, drivability, and creature comforts. The average vehicle has more than five computers, operating on their own network (CANS) sharing information back and fourth, making any needed adjustments for a seamless driving experience. A computer controlled engine will not start and run until the computer commands it to do so. The starter, electric fuel pump, electronic fuel injectors, and electronic ignition system are all dependant on the power train control module (PCM) to function. Unlike aircraft, there are no redundant systems in place in the event of a PCM malfunction.  A computer controlled automatic transmission cannot shift until the computer commands it to do so. Without direction, the transmission [indicator] will engage park, neutral, forward and reverse, but will not shift. Before the computer can command a shift to occur it needs to look at various sensors located throughout the vehicle such as, engine speed, vehicle speed, engine load, engine temperature, gas pedal position, selector lever position, input shaft and output shaft speeds, and probably a few more.

With the ever increasing possibility of a terrorist EMP attack or natural blast from our sun, these systems will probably not survive. The computers are not shielded for such an event. Imagine loading your survival gear and family into your bug out vehicle, turning the key, and nothing happens. The starter, fuel injectors, fuel pump, ignition coils, all receive their commands directly from the PCM. Without a working PCM your vehicle is a 3,200 pound paperweight.

There are several options for a practical EMP proof bug out vehicle. Obviously, many older gasoline powered vehicles were EMP proof. They had carburetors for fuel delivery, mechanical (points type) ignition, mechanical engine driven fuel pumps, no electronics what so ever. Automatic transmissions were also mechanically controlled and needed no electrical controls either. Older jeeps and pick-ups are great choices.  They are pretty easy to find, inexpensiveto buy, and repair.  There is also my personal favorite, the old school diesel. The old school diesel has an all mechanical fuel injection system and no computer either. Modern computerized  fuel injected diesels are in the same situation as their gasoline powered cousins. The starter,  fuel pump, glow plugs and injectors are all PCM operated and will not run without a working PCM.

My personal bug out vehicle is a 1983 ford F350 Pick-up 4×4 automatic with a 6.9 diesel. The truck looks like he**, but it’s mechanically perfect. This truck has two 19 gallon fuel tanks, allowing an over 500 mile range, and plenty of room for my family and all of our gear. I had to take care of some minor repairs to make it road ready. New batteries, brakes, filters, belts, hoses, starter, tires and a front end alignment, all told I have about $2,000 invested in a vehicle that can go anywhere no matter what.  I added some custom features as well such as a cap for the bed, auxiliary off road lighting, police siren with PA system, a trailer hitch, and a 12,000 pound winch. Vehicles such as this can be purchased inexpensively, repaired inexpensively, registered  and insured inexpensively too. There are a bunch of vehicles such as this available from most manufacturers. Ford, General Motors, and Dodge all made diesel pick-ups with mechanical fuel injection and no computers all the way into the early 90s. Ford used the 6.9 until the mid 80s before switching to the 7.3. The 7.3 was used up to the early 90s, before switching to the PCM controlled Power Stroke diesel. General Motors was using the 6.5 during the same time period without any computer, and Dodge was using the 5.9 Cummins, all of which were strong, reliable engines easily capable of 300,000 plus miles. A word of caution though, while there was no computer needed for these engines to operate, some were equipped with computers to make certain automatic transmissions operate. Most automatic overdrive transmissions in these trucks were PCM controlled. Find one with a old style 3 speed automatic or manual transmission, and you’ve eliminated that problem as well.

In my opinion, a diesel has more advantages than drawbacks versus a gasoline engine. Diesels are built stronger with larger bearings, and heavier internal components, A diesel can run on many different fuel types such as vegetable oil, animal fat, and bio-diesel which can be home made a hell of a lot easier and safer than home made gasoline. Getting past the smell of the exhaust and the rattle and hum of the engine are small prices to pay for an emergency vehicle that will work in an actual emergency. – Tony G.