In this articles, I will discuss some considerations for selecting and preparing your Schumer Hits The Fan (SHTF) vehicle.
Nearly all post-disaster/prepper/survivalist/etc. novels follow one of two plot lines. The first, our heroes are caught away from home and forced to travel on foot when their vehicle ceases to operate due lack of fuel, mechanical failure, being stolen, etc. The second, our heroes are at/near home and are bugging-in, using the vehicle for short trips until bugging-out when the situation deteriorates. Either of these plot lines show how vital reliable and capable motorized transportation will be when the worse happens.
Over several years now, my Bug-Out Vehicle has changed several times and I have made numerous modifications with the goal of maximizing what I thought to be the required capabilities. During this process, my thought process, goals, equipment have all changed many, many times as my thinking matured, routes and destinations evolved, and new equipment and vehicles have entered the market. I hope that my latest line of reasoning and evaluation will provide you with a springboard to start your own Bug-Out Vehicle Project.
The first place to start your considerations is to clearly define your needs, operating environments, and capacities. Someone that is bugging-in in a major city with a bug-out route over the Rockies will need a much different vehicle than some in a minor suburban area going thirty miles across the Plains. Try to use actual numbers, not just “Well, this should be plenty” or “Hmm, better take few off.” Doing so will help define the type of vehicle that is required.
To define your needs, consider some of the following items. Please take this outline as a starting point–not a completed list.
- What will traffic and avenues of travel be like in my bug-in location? Along your bug-out route and at your bug-out location?
If the local situation is to the point where evacuation is being taken by substantial parts of the population, then it can be guaranteed that traffic conditions will be a mess and will resemble a cross between Mad Max and the end of major sports or entertainment event. Include the likelihood that law enforcement will not be pre-positioned to deal with traffic accidents and keep lanes open, a gridlock situation is almost guaranteed. This would require a vehicle that can: a) maneuver between and around vehicles easily, such as a micro-car, motorcycle or dirt bike, or b) maneuver off established roads onto secondary state and county roads or onto bare dirt, mud, grassy terrain at a variety of inclines without the risk of loosing control, such as a Jeep, a 4 wheel drive truck, or a side-by-side ATV, or c) be physically robust and powerful enough to force its’ way through, such as a large military surplus diesel powered truck.
Don’t forget non-motorized options for bugging-in transportation such as bicycles. These can greatly increase your range of operation, are quiet & highly maneuverable, low maintenance, and are easy to store. A small pull behind cart could be a great addition for transporting items.
- What are possible weather conditions that can affect travel at the bug-in location, along the bug-out route, and bug-out locations?
What are the possible, worse-case weather conditions that could occur? We are all aware of how even moderate weather events can turn even the best roads into unpassable, crawling-along nightmares. Would the highly maneuverable micro-car or motorcycle still be a good choice if trying to move around gridlock with 6” of snow and ice on the roads? How stable will a lifted Jeep with mud tires be traveling at interstate speeds in a downpour? Will that surplus 2-1/2 ton truck diesel start or run when the temperature drops below zero for days on end?
- How many people will need to be transported?
For most, this would consist of your immediate family. Don’t forget to include pets, other members of your prepper group, or close friends and neighbors as they may apply. Try to be realistic in how many people can comfortably fit into the vehicle, particularly if your bug-out route is more than several hours long at best. As anyone who has drawn the short-straw and had to ride in the back of Camaro/Mustang/sports car, just because it has four seats, doesn’t make it a four adult passenger car.
- How much supply will need to be transported? What is the weight and volume of these supplies? How will the supplies be protected from the weather? Will a tow-behind trailer be required?
This will vary wildly from individual to individual. Someone that has an established bug-out location that they visit regularly, such as second home, hunting cabin, etc., will most likely already have that location supplied. If so, the vehicle will only need to handle individuals, their bug-out bags, and perhaps a last round of “nice-to-have” supplies and luggage. At the other end, someone who’s bug-out location is several days away and is set up for short term visits may have to bring as much food, clothing, ammo, etc. as possible to have any chance at all at surviving.
Weight and Volume Test Loads
Once you determine how much “stuff” will need to be transported, you can begin estimating and test fitting for volume by using moving boxes, egg cartons, or ammo boxes to fill the cargo areas. It is best to try to pack as much weight forward of the rear axle as possible. This splits the weight onto the front and rear wheels instead of pulling weight off of the front wheels and making the vehicle “float” in the front. Weight can be estimated by packing a test container full of different supply types such as ammo, dry foods, canned foods, clothing, etc., and weighing with a bathroom scale. Another option, and the most highly recommended, is to do an actual test loading of all of your survival supplies and equipment.
Protecting your supplies and equipment is obviously of vital importance, as all the equipment in the world is of no use to you or anyone else if it arrives at your bug-out location damaged and unusable. Packaging gear is fairly simple if it is going inside an enclosed cab vehicle such as the hatch area of an SUV or back seat of a car and should be little different from loading up after a trip to Wal-Mart. Packing gear for extended travel in possibly poor conditions can be more complicated if using an open cargo area such as the bed of pickup truck or a hitch cargo rack. Options include installing a camper top shell over the cargo area of the truck, packaging supplies in weather proof containers such as Pelican or RubberMade cases, use cardboard moving boxes and then wrap each box with a plastic stretch wrap, or completely load the cargo area and then cover with a tarp. Each option comes with it’s own set of pros and cons and will have to be an individual choice. Be sure to adequately secure the load to prevent movement and damage. If using a tarp, the tarp needs to go around the outside of the vehicle cargo box and secured, not tucked inside. Tucking the tarp inside allows water to pull in the bottom of the cargo box and infiltrate your cargo.
Tow-behind trailers will depend highly on the individual locations and routes. Someone that is trying to bug-out from a city via the interstate to their bug-out location will most likely not want to use one due to the decreased maneuverability, additional vehicle length, reduced fuel mileage, and reduction in off-highway performance. Someone who is traveling along a lightly traveled secondary or lower ranked road from one rural or suburban community to another may not encounter conditions where a trailer is a hindrance. Most likely a loaded trailer– open or enclosed–would be a very tempting target for those taking advantage of the breakdown in social order.
- Will passengers need to be sleep in vehicle encase of inclement weather?
As anyone who has ever went on a road trip gone bad knows, even the most comfortable vehicle to travel in is among your worst options for places to sleep. This condition will be much worse when every seat in the vehicle is filled with either an individual or supplies which may or may not be weather sensitive. Several options are available to minimize this challenge. Having a rotating driver schedule so that more distance can be covered before having to stop. Keep caffeine supplements on hand. Pack all-weather camping equipment that allows for sleeping outside of the vehicle, there are also roof-top pop-up tents are available for a wide range of SUVs and pickup trucks.
- What is the required operating range to travel your bug-out route? What about detours?
Defining the operating range of the vehicle should generally be defined as either a) the longest route practically possible to travel from your bug-in location to your bug-out location or b) the maximum range of your vehicle carrying as much fuel as possible. There are few options available for shortening your bug-out route aside from planning and even than you are still at the mercy of Mr. Murphy as to how far you may have to travel to reach your final location.
Options for Extra Fuel
Increasing the amount of fuel you can carry is an area you can have meaningful effect. For almost all vehicles, it’s possible to somehow carry an additional 2 to 90 gallons of fuel. Multiple manufactures make saddlebag fuel cans for motorcycles, standard 5 gallon metal jerry can or plastic fuel jugs can be found at many local gas stations and nearly every hardware store. Vehicle specific enlarged replacement fuel tanks or in-bed transfer tanks can be sourced at most farm and equipment stores. It should be noted that fuel cans should never be transported inside the cabin of a vehicle and that federal law limits what kind of tanks and jugs that can be used for gasoline.
Now that your needs, environments, and capacities have been defined, let us consider how to prepare your vehicle with some useful modifications, tools, and equipment that can maximize the performance of your vehicle.
- Everyone over the age of 40 has probably seen Burt Reynold and Jerry Reed talking to each other via CB radio as the Bandit and Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit warning about traffic accidents and “Smokeys”. CB is Citizen Band, a form of loosely-licensed radio transceivers universally used by on-highway truck drivers to communicate weather and traffic conditions as well as route advise and gossip about what they’ve seen. It’s also widely used in rural areas to communicate before landline and cell phones developed. Being able to listen in on these conversations could be a huge benefit, allowing you to know what’s a head of you on your route. Depending on the equipment used and weather conditions, transmission range can vary from a few hundred yards for handheld, walkie-talkie size units to tens of miles for dash-mounted or home-based models with more substantial antennas.
- Front End Protection. With the assumption that the Rules of the Road and human kindness will be jettisoned when SHTF, it is highly likely that you could be involved in some type of traffic accident. While never a good thing, this would be even worse while trying to bug-out if the accident damaged and crippled your vehicle. Most vehicle designs place nearly all of the delicate parts such as the engine, radiator, steering system, and sometime the drive system as well, in the front of the vehicle. To minimize the possibility of these systems becoming damaged, consider adding front end protection. For a Jeep, SUV, or pickup truck, this could be as simple as replacing your bumper with a piece of steel C-Channel, I-Beam, or pipe. Or it could be as expensive as a professionally designed and built steel rock or off-road bumper. Either approach would be highly effective in minimizing front end damage. Protection for passenger cars and most SUVs will be more difficult to find, especially if a clean, smooth, refined look is desired. Working with a body or fabrication shop on a one-off custom unit maybe required to obtain to desired level of protection.
- Suspension and Power. If your vehicle has a high probability of being forced to travel off road, then major improvements may be needed. Suspension lifts are widely used to increase the height of the vehicle body over the wheels, allowing for the suspension to travel farther. This makes for a gentler ride on rough terrain and for greater articulation of the suspension, keeping all tires in contact with the ground. The trade-off is that the vehicle may not ride as smoothly as before and/or can experience more sway (side to side) movement when turning or making abrupt maneuvers. Installing these lifts can be done at home in a day or two by a good mechanic. Additional horsepower may also be required, whether in an on-road or off-road situation. Most modern vehicles can easily have their performance increased by installing a high-performance program on to their computers and replacing the intake system with a high flow filter and cold air intake. Replacing the factory exhaust system will also increase horsepower but note that will result in a louder exhaust noise.
- Tires and Spares. Equip your vehicle with good quality tires suitable for your environment. Mud terrtain tires have a very aggressive tread pattern that perform excellent off-road but can have poor stability at highway speeds, wear quickly, and can be annoyingly noisy at highway speed. Highway or touring tires have a very smooth tread pattern and do very well on-road, at speed, or in the rain but perform poorly in dirt, mud, or snow. All terrain tires are a nice balance between the two, offering a relatively smooth and quiet ride on the highway and performing well in moderate dirt, mud, snow, and rain conditions. Have at least one full size spare tire for your vehicle. Do not rely on the factory-included “donut” spare tire. Include an actual floor or bottle jack to lift the vehicle, not the flimsy factory-included jack unit. Learn how to change and plug a flat tire. If you have a likelihood of heavy snow or ice, consider including a set of tire chains and learning how to use them. These are incredible traction aids on winter roads.
- Tools and Spares. Basic auto tools and supplies should absolutely be included. Examples include, but are not limited to; heavy, good quality jumper cables, basic tool kit with sockets, wrenches, and screwdrivers; a tire plug kit; battery terminal cleaning tool; spare headlight bulb; spare fuses; flashlights; a car powered air compressor; and a recovery strap. Note that there is a difference between a tow strap and a recovery strap. A tow strap has a low “stretch” ability, it’s meant to pull an object. A recovery strap is more like a rubber band and is meant to stretch under load and then snap back to it’s original length in order to get a stuck object moving.
- Winches can be very useful in dislodging a vehicle that has become stuck and are primarily seen in off road situations. There are a variety of options on the market starting at hand powered units rated at a few tons and go up to electric or hydraulic powered vehicle mounted units capable of pulling 10 tons or more. Many manufactures also sell “starter” or “gear bags” as well, which include straps, shackles, cable or rope, and sheave wheels. These can be an excellent way to get a basic equipment kit.
- Diesels. A special note for diesel owners. Diesel trucks, especially modern ones, are very sensitive to fuel issues such as algae, contamination, and water. Some models are also prone to the fuel gelling in the fuel filter in cold weather. Extra fuel and water filters with wrenches are absolutely required. Diesel anti-gel fuel conditioner is also highly recommended. If your model is prone to gelling fuel filter, fuel tank heater blankets are available from a variety of manufactures.
Hopefully the preceding outline will provide you with starting points in evaluating your vehicle needs to bug-in or bug-out.