Preconceived Notions: “Survival” Vehicles

Re-Post from MDT

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As a kid I read paperbacks about SHTF. These included a number of “Survival” vehicles in the stories, like “The Guardians” pic above, or the “Survivalist” series hero Rourke, who rode a Harley during his exploits. The vehicles used were considered “The Best” available for the task in the stories. The Guardians used Cadillac Gage V450 “Commandos”, and of course I thought they were the ultimate survival vehicle, bar none (A Harley can’t compete with a ten ton armored and armed truck). Real world kicks in 30 years later, and low and behold, guess what my “Survival” vehicle in Iraq was? Yup, a Cadillac Gage Commando (The US Army calls it an ASV or the M1117). Was it a good vehicle? Hell yeah! Would I want it for normal “Bugout” preps? Hell yeah! Is it practical to use till SHTF hits? HELL NO! (The surplus ones I’ve seen are pushing 60 grand without any “extras”)

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Loved this truck but practicality is nil for our purposes in SHTF and before.

I have been asked numerous times what I consider to be the necessary attributes in a “Survival” vehicle. My first question is “What are you ‘surviving’?” Usually, the response is “Well, the SHTF of course.” Considering that everything in survival is about compromising and prioritizing to one degree or another, the conversation usually heads into A) What they can afford? (If you can’t get it, it’s mental masturbation), B) Where they plan on having to go? (You have a plan, right?), C) Who/What they need to carry? (They know what the plan is, right?), D) What do they see as the possible threats they will encounter ?(Realistically, not Mad Max, or The Walking Dead.), and E) What upgrades to the vehicle do they need to accomplish the task? (Within the budget)


What’s not to love on a “Survival” vehicle. An M2 .50 cal., a MK19 belt fed grenade launcher, and a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). I switched out the SAW for an M240 about a month later to give my gunner more “authoritah” (range and penetration). This is what we wish we could have as a “Survival Vehicle”.

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A lot of extra lighting was used to ID possible IED’s.

What you can afford? When answering this question, there are a number of other questions that need to be asked for a complete answer. 1) Is this a secondary vehicle geared generally towards a “Bugout/Bug To” type scenario? 2) Will it also have to suffice as your regular commuter vehicle? 3) If #2 is true, what distance do you drive everyday to work?


My normal “Survival” vehicle in Iraq. I used HMMWV’s (Hummers) some, but this was my normal ride.

If the answer to #1 is “Yes”, it makes it a little easier, because you can afford to go with an older, larger vehicle (as your “survival” vehicle), simply because even though fuel economy is important, it’s not the primary prerequisite of a “Survival” vehicle. I’ve heard people say if you have a dedicated “Survival” vehicle you are a moron, but most that would say something like that, usually are the type who can’t afford a second vehicle, and want the advice they give to fit THEIR economic situation, not necessarily what makes sense if you can afford it. Suggestions for this vehicle would be Larger 90’s era SUV’s or crew cab pick ups. Usually they are easier to work on than more modern versions of their model, and parts usually abound for full size 90’s era trucks. Examples would be Ford Broncos, or F 150 or 250 P/U’s, Chevy Blazer’s and Suburban’s along with their 1500 and 2500 series trucks. In Dodge you have the Ramcharger SUV and the Ram P/U. ( Military surplus CUCV type P/U’s and Blazers are good, but there are some parts that are specific to their 24 volt system, and plus they are mostly all diesel). All these truck tend to get between 10 and 20 MPG depending on what you carry in them (supplies), how much preventative maintenance you do, and what you are hauling. Another attribute of the heavier trucks is their ability to survive crashes better, due to more metal between the passengers and the object being struck.

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F-250 Crew Cab. Rugged, Roomy (especially with a cap),Powerful when needed.

Will it also have to suffice as your regular commuter vehicle? If the answer is yes then you need to start thinking smaller, lighter, less able to carry a load. Their are plenty of choices in the 4 and 6 cylinder P/U and SUV market whether it’s from Toyota, Nissan, Ford or Chevy. If gas savings is a necessity (#3 what distance do you drive everyday to work?) because you drive at least 45 minutes or more to work, then you better stick with the four cylinder (but it won’t be as good as you might think, look at the pic below). What’s the downside to a four cylinder? Little power on hills, top speed/acceleration (you can only go so fast, but acceleration for blasting out of a sprung ambush cannot be downplayed, right?) and Load carrying ability. Most of the smaller trucks that I’ve seen have a good track record, especially the Japanese ones. But unless it’s just you, or one other person, how is the load you are carrying in that minimum capacity vehicle anything but a “Temporary Bugout First Aid Kit”?

Toyota 4wd 4cyl

Yeah, I though it would be better too. Hell, on a good day, my 5.7 Liter 4WD Suburban gets 15 MPG with a heavy internal load.

Vehicles to stay away from due to specialty parts or overall cost considerations, Toyota Land Cruisers (has a cult following… I know) especially older ones ( called a transmission replacement company to help a buddy get one for his Land Cruiser, and it was at least a third more than the average Toyota tranny if they could find one, and there wasn’t anything special about it), Land Rovers, (A Friend had one and it was a maintenance hog, and the big thing was it cost out the ass when it needed any maintenance. He sold it and bought a full size Blazer).  Hummers, the H2 and H3 models. H1’s are ok as long as they are the ones that interchange parts with the Mil model (I’d still just get a surplus one and call it a day if I was going with a Hummer).

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Good friend had several Toyota Land Cruisers over the years. He loved them when they worked, but said they were expensive to fix (parts cost about 1/3 more than average), and that was when he was doing it himself with no labor costs.

“Where do you plan on having to go?” Although Some apparently plan on having to ride over thick felled trees at a single attempt while going on a cross country jaunt that makes rock crawling look like the Baja. Reality dictates you’ll need to be conservative in what you try to do off road when you’re bugging out, especially if yours is the only vehicle. Self extraction can be very difficult if you bite off more than you can chew, so do what you can do to avoid that eventuality. Typical 4 Wheel Drive ground clearance is usually good enough to get through most off road, vehicle accessible, areas, and will do fine unless you are not cautious about the route you pick (it can be an art). While in the military, I used Ford F-250 crew cabs and Chevy Suburban’s to patrol the side of a mountain that had some extremely difficult terrain. All I can say is WOW! They did better than I ever believed they could, and is the reason I own a Suburban today.

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’99 Suburban. Rugged, Very roomy (7-8 passengers but if you remove the back seat, it’s a covered truck bed), Plenty of power when needed.

Next up, “Who/What do you need to carry?”. If you’re one of these guys who says he keeps his “Bug Out” pack, gun rig and weapon in the vehicle, and is ready to “Bugout” at a moments notice, all I can say is “Good luck future refugee.” Tell me what is so pressing, situation wise, that you feel the need to bolt from work or the restaurant or the ball game, directly into your “Bugout” escape plan (fantasy much?). Unless it’s a poison release from a train wreck on the other side of town, or you’re the career criminal Neil “I can leave in 30 seconds if the heats around the corner” McCauley in the movie “Heat”, don’t you need to get home first? I guess those guys planning that don’t have kids, because getting them is the first on the priorities list if you’re a parent, right?

If someone is fortunate enough to have two vehicles, and the “Survival” vehicle is at home always loaded up, what’s not to love? What, you and your significant other work together, right? Good for you, but most of us don’t. So planning to meet at home or a private secure location before any “Bugout” operations implementation can occur just makes sense (to expand on this, if it’s that bad, then it’s been that bad for a little while and you just didn’t want to face the situation for what it is. Don’t be an ostrich.  Better a day early than a minute too late, right?). The caveat to having a dedicated “Survival” vehicle though, is that it requires judicious preventive maintenance more than a vehicle you would use every day (I usually drive mine once a week, locally, and at a minimum, I start it and let it run for a little while.). By all means if someone has found a 4WD, terrain humping, blaze out of an ambush with rubber a burnin’,  “Survival” vehicle that gets 30 to 35 MPG, and will haul more than the minimum “Refugee In A Box” survival kit, please, let me know what it is, because I haven’t seen it.

What you carry should be prioritized and packed for at least two things after deciding who and what you’ll be transporting. First up is quick access to things you need if you need to escape the vehicle. Second is to prioritize and pack gear by order of necessity and making the most needed contingency items easily accessible (a chain saw for instance for a tree in the road). Prioritization is also very important if you are using a trailer for let’s say performing a “Bug To” operation to the In-laws. They might only be 30 minutes away, but you never know what you may face or have to traverse in that drive, so being able to jettison the trailer quickly is important. Also, making sure the trailer’s contents are not crucial, or at least as crucial to survival as the contents of the vehicle, is important.

“What do you see as the possible threats you will encounter?” Let’s see, Gang blockades or ambushes, Fed/LEO blockades, Weather causing blockages (blizzard, high winds causing downed trees or lines, flooding, etc). Gang or Fed/LEO blockades? The ability to have a single, smaller, more maneuverable vehicle in front (convoy) cannot be stressed enough in this instance. Barring access to that, map recon to look for likely “Fatal Funnel” (checkpoint) locations (and actually going out and looking at the route “Pre-Situation” for planning purposes) on the road so you can avoid them. This is one reason having off road capability might (skirting the intersection/junction etc) come in handy.

Gang Ambush? In the military, the saying is “Speed is security”. In this instance, getting through an ambush quickly, via “peddle to the metal”, is truly your only option, barring evacuating the vehicle. No vehicle, even military ones, are impervious to ambush. It’s all about scale. A militarily armored vehicle can take more small arms fire (SAF) or blast than a civilian vehicle. My military ASV (M1117) in Iraq could take a harder blast than a military up-armored humvee. Your civilian vehicle doesn’t have much in the way of SAF and blast protection, so getting through the ambush quickly, or evacuating the vehicle efficiently are the only choices.

Having a vehicle that still has punch when needed, even under a significant gear/supplies load, is important. That’s why I recommend full size, V8 equipped trucks, not the smaller 4 or 6 cylinder trucks/SUV’s. If you are only carrying a “Refugee in a Box” survival kit, by all means, get a smaller, lighter truck like you see the Taliban or ISIS using (maybe the US Gov will buy one for you too). Recommending them because the guys over there are using them is ridiculous. They are living with and transporting minimal kit, have supplies cached all over the place, and/or just take what they need by force. Is that YOUR plan?

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Look at the locust moving from “Bugout” location to the next “Bugout” location. If they weren’t scavenging, they’d be done. Is this your plan? Reminds you of Mad Max, doesn’t it?

Weather causing blockages. Avoid high water, carry items used to extract the vehicle from situations where it’s stuck (snow, mud, etc.), have items to clear the road, such as chainsaws, axes, chains and come alongs, etc., and have survival items, blankets, food and water readily accessible in case you can’t extract the vehicle and are stuck with it.

The smaller trucks and SUV’s are great for one or two personnel (or 4 if you are conducting mil type ops like in A-stan or other similar areas), but if you have EVACUATED YOUR HOME, especially with 3 or more people, doesn’t it make sense to have something that will carry as much, in the way of supplies, as you can?. So your concern is that you shouldn’t have a large vehicle, and maybe a trailer, because you MIGHT have to ditch it (and lose all that gear), it’s terrible on gas, or it’s cross country maneuverability isn’t the same as a Toyota HiLux with the four backpacks and combat gear in the back, right?

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Considering that you might have 4 personnel, how long would the “survival” supplies (especially expendables like food, water, etc.) you could carry in this vehicle last you?

If I’m leaving my home and already leaving some of the gear I have there because of the “Bugout/Bug to” (can’t take it all with you if you’ve been prepping for a while, it is an end state “bugout” and you can’t count on anything being there if and/or when you come back, right?), I want to take as much as I can safely transport with me (even if there’s a chance I MIGHT lose it en-route) simply because this isn’t a game with a reset button, and I’ve done to much preparing for my family and I to not be refugees. To just say “I might lose this on the way to the “Bugout Bug to” location (planned realistic situational analysis) , let’s leave it here so we know for sure it’s gone for good.” or “Let’s just take our ‘Bugout’ bags, I love MRE TP!”. That’s nuts!

Whether I have to leave my vehicle (go on foot) with a ton of supplies or none at all doesn’t matter. What I have when I arrive safely in my vehicle with my supplies at my destination could make a HUGE difference! This doesn’t matter to the guy who plans on being a mooch (I’ve met a few). It matters a great deal to the “Plan ahead” responsible adult. You don’t plan to be “welfare” man. If it happens, fine, but at least you can say you did everything possible to avoid it.

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I’m not saying you should overload yourself with sentimental BS, and unnecessary items.

What upgrades/added accessories to the vehicle do you need to accomplish the task? Before we go into that, my suggested “Leave alones” would be 1) Go with a gas motor and automatic transmission, 2) Stick with stock (OEM) or very close to stock tires, and 3) The same goes for engine parts. Being able to siphon gas and scavenge parts or tires off of stalled vehicles could be important, and if your “common” vehicle takes “uncommon” parts or tire sizes, you could be up the creek without a ride.

First on my list of upgrades would be the suspension. To carry a heavy load, whether it’s pulling a trailer, or more importantly, the “Survival” load you’re carrying in the vehicle, the suspension has to be able to take it. What I’ve done with my half ton Suburban is to add helper springs (leaf), and “Spring Over” shocks in the rear end, and upgraded the tires to a heavier ply TRUCK tire to give the vehicle a level appearance, and to keep it from having the “boat” sway, that tires that are overloaded have, as well as improve the handling and performance.

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The black ones are the helper springs

External accessories. A push/brush guard that actually works (not some cheap brush guard that is just for looks) as a pusher would be invaluable in an ambush, to either push a disabled vehicle in your convoy through the ambush, or ram a blockade vehicle out of the way. A gear basket for the roof would definitely be a great addition, and has the added utility of an area to mount extra light all the way around. A rear rack designed to hold a spare tire, a gas can and a high lift jack would be useful. Light and grille covers that protect them from damaging debris could come in handy.

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Rear hitch cargo rack

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Roof basket. Most SUV’s have a roof rack, but these make it easier to secure your gear, and you are less prone to losing it due to maneuvering.

As far as carried accessories (always “On board” kit), I carry a bottle jack with ground supports (makes the jack base “footprint” bigger for soft ground), and a X lug wrench (multi lug sizes), a highlift jack (it can help with some off road extraction issues, and yes, it means you have to learn how to use it correctly, they can be dangerous to the uneducated), a cable come along, heavy bolt cutters (for those forest service locks AFTER SHTF), a decent, but not overblown tool kit, a heavy duty jump start box with air compressor (mine will plug into the 12 volt inverter and run for as long as needed), jumper cables, a two and a half gallon water can, double bit axe, at least 1 (preferably 2) pull strap. a 12 volt inverter (I have a plug in smaller version, and a 400 watt that clamps to the battery terminals), at least 1, but preferably 2 or 3 spare tires. At least one set of tire chains, preferably two. A hitch rack/tray is a great idea, and very useful without being SHTF, and is a great place to carry gas cans when “Bugging Out” (not in the vehicle, obviously). On that note, I carry enough gas cans to fill the tank once (40 gallons). I also keep a centrally located large first aid kit in the vehicle, and Individual first aid kits (IFAK) at hand for each passenger (back of front seats, under front seats).

The last thing I will note is your vehicle’s appearance. Nothing says overt “Survival Vehicle” (the perception, not necessarily the reality) more than a bunch of the external accessories I listed above, with or without the “mandatory” vehicle lift and huge tires. Then, if you combined that with stickers that have “Gadsen flag”, “NRA’, “NIGR”, “You Can Have My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands”, or any second amendment, Confederate flag, or hunting stickers or plate covers. Do I agree you can and should be able to put them on your vehicle? Hell yes! Do I think putting your thoughts out for everyone to see is a good idea? Well, it depends, I don’t anymore. I hear the whole “you should go gray man” BS from guys driving monster 4wd trucks with either the above listed decals, or their military 201 file represented in “sticker story” on all the back and side windows of their vehicle, and have to ask, “Do you even know what ‘Gray Man’ is?”

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What’s the public’s perception of this vehicle gonna “scream” 5 seconds after SHTF?

I don’t have to express my self through my vehicles (to be honest, I used to), they are like my weapons, TOOLS, that’s it. Both my car (Daily back and forth conveyance) and my Suburban are common colors and models, and I see the same colors of those models a number of times a week, so I know they don’t stand out. This is not a hit on you for putting personally identifying stickers and such on your vehicle. It is meant to make you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t advertise my positions.”, and “Should I make my vehicle stand out from others like it?”.


These are my opinions, and mine alone. and are based on years of trying to come up with realistic, affordable answers using the actually information I’ve learned from years of vehicle use in the military and civilian life. Your mileage may vary.



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