I will admit that the title that I chose for this article was mostly tongue-in-cheek. There is obviously, no ultimate prepper vehicle. What works for me may not work for you. However, I do want to take the opportunity to make the case for what I think is an excellent prepper vehicle: the minivan. Yes, the lowly, oft-mocked minivan. The “Loser Cruiser” as one of my buddies put it when I drove up one day. As I sensed he was attacking my manhood I responded that if he was getting his manhood from the car he drove, he had much bigger problems than I could help him with! Let’s take a look at why I think this type of vehicle is perfect for a prepper.
First of all, some background and personal experience: My wife and I got our first minivan in the early 2000s. It was a 1994 Dodge Caravan my brother in law was getting rid of and he only wanted $1000 for it so we grabbed it up. It was fire engine red so we called it Clifford the Big Red Van after a character from a book our daughter loved as a child. It was nice, but very basic. We kept the third row seat out permanently as we only had one child and almost never used it. The second row seat was removable but it was a bear to move it. It was unwieldy and weighed a ton. It was hassle enough that I would think long and hard about whether I really needed to take it out to put whatever large item I had into the van.
It also had an aftermarket alarm system installed by the owner prior to my brother in law. (Are minivans really hot on the stolen car circuit?!) I don’t know how this thing was wired but it had a red light and a green light. If the red light came on, the alarm was armed and it could only be disarmed by multiple presses of one of the buttons, which sometimes disarmed it and sometimes didn’t. If it turned red and you turned the car off, you could not get it restarted with the red light on so we constantly had to keep an eye on it. I had two different alarm installers look at it but they said it was so wired into the whole system they were afraid to mess with it for fear of causing other problems.
Even with those issues, Mrs. Spotlight loved it. She drove it every day and we never worried about how much stuff we wanted to take on a trip. In 2008 Clifford breathed his last and we got a 2005 Chrysler Town & Country Touring. Talk about an upgrade! This thing had leather, heated seats, folding middle and third row seats and more bells and whistles than we could have imagined. Mrs. Spotlight really loved this car and I did too. We drove it everywhere, on more trips than I can count, loaded it up with garden supplies, suitcases, wood, etc. You name it; it went into that van.
The only thing my wife did not like was the color, navy blue with grey interior. But, buyers of used cars don’t get to pick their colors. We drove that until December 2018 when we bought the same exact model only 10 years newer, a 2015 Town & Country with only 7,800 miles on it. Again, even though it’s the same model, it has many more upgrades. Heated steering wheel! I thought that was the dumbest thing ever until I tried it and it is actually kind of nice! This thing is like riding in a limousine. People laugh at us since our only child is grown and married and we still have a minivan but the laughing stops when they get in they see how roomy and comfortable it is. We like to go antiquing and the van is perfect for that. One thing my wife didn’t like: the color. It is literally the same exact color, navy blue with grey interior! Sorry, honey!
Why a Minivan?
So, on to why I think this is such a great vehicle for a prepper. First of all, there is the grey man factor. I wrote an article on SurvivalBlog a few years back that espoused the Grey Man lifestyle. For those who may not know, the idea of the grey man is to blend in, not be noticed, etc. The minivan fits that lifestyle perfectly. No one notices someone in a minivan; they’re everywhere and are not flashy vehicles. I used our 2005 for years as a surveillance vehicle while doing private investigation work and no one gives a minivan parked on the street a second look. (I would fold the middle seats down and sit in a folding lawn chair, very comfortable!)
Second, as I have already mentioned, there is room for stuff. With all of the seats folded down on my 2015 I have a space about 7.5’ long x 4’ wide. (I could actually get a full 8”x4” sheet of plywood in there by tying the door closed.) It is easily large enough for both of us to sleep back there if necessary. Additionally, there is virtually no reasonable limit to how many bags, etc. we can bring on vacation. When we were in Maine on vacation a few years back (when we still had the 2005 van), we bought a very large workbench from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. It is 68” long x 30” wide x 36” tall and weighs a ton, it is very solidly built, and they only wanted $60 for it. I only thought twice about it because one of the power seats had broken on that van and as we knew it was on its way out, we had it welded into place instead of repairing it. As a result, the middle row seat on the passenger side could no longer be folded into the floor since the floor piece that lifts up to allow stowing could no longer be lifted high enough with the immovable front passenger seat blocking it. I did a quick measurement and figured the workbench would probably still fit and it did! Even with all of our luggage for a week long vacation and some other smaller antiques we had found, we still had room in the van on the way home. (As a brief aside, the people at the store agreed that I could make sure it would fit before I paid and the older gentleman who helped me load it was very happy to not have to lug it back into the building!) We actually bought it to use as a sort of rustic island in our kitchen and it looks great.
Obviously, minivans are also great for moving people. This van can hold seven people, in comfort. My 80-year-old mother-in-law has been known to jump into the rearmost seats on occasion with no trouble. The middle row is two captain’s chairs that are very comfortable and the third row is a split bench seat. As mentioned, the interior is very luxurious with leather seats (heated in the front), a surprisingly good sound system, built-in GPS, DVD player in the middle row, etc. There are cup holders and charging ports galore and really nice soft lighting in the middle and back row that doesn’t bother the driver at all. One thing I didn’t like about the 2005 version was that it had no center console and lacked storage in general. The 2015 model has a center console with tons of storage (including a sort of hidden sliding storage space), as well as two glove compartments. Additionally, when the seats are in place, there is a huge amount of storage in the space they fold into.
Another nice feature is the ride height. One of the first things my wife noticed about our first minivan was how much she liked sitting up higher in traffic. I definitely notice a great field of vision in the van and with all the monster-sized trucks and SUVs out there, that height is definitely appreciated. Additionally, my wife has had some medical issues that make it very uncomfortable for her to ride in any vehicle that puts her knees at or above the height of her hips so pretty much anything lower than an SUV or van is no good for her on anything but a quick trip around town.
SUV Mileage is Poor
Speaking of SUVs, the MPG on those larger vehicles is a killer. We have always had one 4-wheel drive vehicle. Since we live in a suburban/rural area it is a basic necessity. When I was a cop I obviously had to be able to get work no matter what and even since then it’s nice to know you can get out in an emergency if needed. We have run the gamut from standard 4x4s (a Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty) to an AWD sedan (Ford 500) and a Subaru Legacy wagon years ago but regardless, they are all terrible on gas. I’m actually looking for a newer 4WD now, the Liberty is on its way out and I’m looking at everything from the Subaru Outback to full size pickup trucks so I’ll probably always have a 4WD around, if needed. The Grand Cherokee, which for some crazy reason had a V-8 in it, got about 12 mpg. Granted, it took off like a rocket and I enjoyed cruising up the highway in it, but I did not enjoy the gas bills. The Ford 500 got mid- to high-teens and occasionally 20 mpg on the highway. Our current Jeep Liberty gets about 16-17 mpg, maybe 18 on a good day if I’m on the highway. But, in contrast, the 2015 van has consistently gotten right around 20 mpg and as high as 28 mpg on trips. I usually drive in the 70-75 range on the highway so it’s not as if I’m hyper-miling either. Regardless, we get way better mileage in the van than in any 4-wheel drive vehicle we’ve had.
And speaking of 4-wheel drive, that would be one area where some might say, “Aha, but you don’t have 4-wheel drive in your Soccer Mom van!” True, I do not. However, two things. First, you can buy an all wheel drive minivan. It’s the Toyota Sienna. A friend has one and he says it is built more like a truck. Even looking at it, I could see that it was very sturdy and much more truck-like than van-like. Naturally, there are trade offs. First, the middle seats cannot be stowed in the Sienna, you have to remove them. I thought this was only on the AWD model but a quick check online shows that even the 4WD model’s middle seats have to be taken out to make use of the full cargo area. That is a huge detriment in my mind; you lose one of the main advantages of a minivan-versatility.
Secondly, the Sienna minivan, being 4WD is actually very good in the snow, particularly if a good set of snow tires are put on in the winter months. In all but the worst snowstorm, I wouldn’t feel unsafe in the van. And, if the storm is that bad I probably won’t be out in it anyway. Also, on my Jeeps I’ve always insisted that they have the low range in case I get stuck. Well, guess what, I’ve literally never used it. Never. Now that may be a testament to the Jeep’s standard 4WD system (or to my wicked-awesome driving skills!) but I tend to think 4WD is overrated to some degree. So, while I’ll probably always have one, I am again not all that concerned about the van not having it.
Finally, while most people would not think of it as such, our van can pull a small travel trailer. My brother-in-law recently bought one that he pulls with his Ford Escape and upon checking the specs I see that I could pull the same unit with the van. We’ve talked about getting one for years and the fact that we could pull it with our comfy van is another plus for it.
Well, there you have it. The humble minivan is not for everyone but it certainly suits our daily needs and our preparedness needs as well. Happy (mini)vanning!