Pimp Your Bugout Vehicle on a Budget

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bugout vehicleA reliable vehicle is a very important part of our preparedness planning. Not only is it transportation out of a bad situation, but your vehicle can provide lighting, heat/air conditioning, electrical power, and shelter. Most of us don’t have the luxury of procuring a dedicated bugout vehicle; we have to make the best of what we have. The good news is that you can add important capabilities to your existing vehicle without breaking the bank, and at your own pace.

Road Clearance

One thing that will quickly defeat your bugout plan is a tree or vehicle blocking the road. In an ideal world, you could hook up your vehicle’s winch ($1,000) and pull the obstacle out of the way, or use your chainsaw ($300-$1,000) to cut up the tree so you can pass. But winches are only practical on certain vehicles, and chainsaws require significant maintenance; both also come with hefty safety issues as well.

Forestry saw
Chain saw substitute

Fortunately low-tech, cheaper alternatives to the winch and chainsaw are available, but they both require using a bit of muscle, so consider your family’s fitness level if you go this route. A good winch substitute is a cable puller, sometimes called a “come-along.” It gives you a 35:1 mechanical advantage: you move the ratcheting handle and it pulls with about 3 tons of force for about $200. Another poor man’s winch is a tow strap or chain, a fixed length of flexible material ($25-$50) that can be hooked to your vehicle and the obstacle. Your vehicle can move the obstacle, if you have the room to work.

A forestry saw ($200-$225) can cut a freshly-fallen tree or branches without the expense and maintenance required of a chainsaw. These saws are like the hand saws we’ve all used, but up to 4 feet long with huge teeth. They stow flat in your trunk with little bulk.

Staying on the Road

Just about every disaster creates debris, part of which become sharp objects that pose a danger to your tires. A flat tire during your bugout can place you and your family in danger while you attempt to repair the problem, if you are even able. Multiple flats will take your vehicle completely out of action. The good news is that you may be able to upgrade your vehicle’s tires to the “run-flat” type.

Run Flat Tire
Run-flat tire has a stronger sidewall.

The military has used run-flat tires on their High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or “Humvee” for many years. These special tires use several strategies to allow the tire to continue to support the vehicle’s weight even after the loss of air due to puncture or other damage. Cadillac and BMW widely make use of run-flat tires for their product lines, and several tire manufacturers including Goodyear, Firestone, and Continental offer run-flat tires as replacement tires which may fit your vehicle. The run-flat won’t eliminate the flat-tire problem, but it can give you up to 100 miles of additional driving to escape dangerous conditions. Run-flats will cost you an additional 10%-30% per tire.

But run-flats aren’t available for every vehicle. Alternatives include tires with Kevlar belts for enhanced puncture protection, and flat-fixing kits with a chemical sealant and air compressor. At a minimum, a full-sized spare is a critical need.

Pass the Gas

Fuel is one of your bugout vehicle’s Achilles’ heels. Not only is it important to have enough on hand, but protecting it from theft and vandalism is necessary and not always easy. In recent years a theft technique has been to puncture a vehicle’s under-body fuel tank with a screwdriver or sharp object and drain it into a bucket; faster and easier than siphoning for the thief, it also essentially takes your vehicle out of action until the tank can be repaired.

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One way to secure your fuel is to mount an additional fuel tank inside the vehicle, in a trunk or rear cargo area not accessible to the casual thief. Auto racing offer many sizes, shapes, and capacities of fuel tanks that can be

Protected fuel
Auxiliary gas tank

adapted to this purpose; many offer a “foam-filled” version that prevents an explosion if the tank is ruptured. Due to the mechanical and safety issues raised by adding a fuel tank to your vehicle, this modification should be done by a mechanic familiar with racing fuel systems. The tank itself will set you back $120-$250 depending on size and features. Another option, particularly for diesel-powered vehicles, is a contractor-style auxiliary fuel tank.

See Them Before They See You

The most vulnerable time for a civilian vehicle is nighttime.  Vehicles put out light, heat, and lots of noise that is easily detectable. Worse, the vehicle’s occupants are less able to detect other people and vehicles when it’s dark outside. If money were no object, a set of night vision goggles (about $5,000-$7,000) would allow an occupant of the vehicle to detect potential threats at night.

Personal Thermal Imager
Thermal Imager

For the rest of us, a thermal imager can increase your survivability. A thermal imager is a device that detects varying levels of heat in the environment and produces a video image allowing visualization similar to that seen in daylight. If your local police agency flies a helicopter, odds are a thermal imager is on board to help find bad guys at night.

FLIR Systems, makers of military and commercial thermal imagers, has a consumer-level unit called the FLIR One, which attaches to certain Android-based phones and tablets and many IPhone-and-IOS-based devices. The $250 FLIR One uses a combination of a thermal camera and a standard digital camera to assemble a fairly detailed thermal image. This device can provide a passive thermal detection capability for a vehicle or person on foot that could allow movement in full darkness without lights. Potential threats could also be identified and avoided or neutralized.

The Bottom Line

Make a careful assessment of your needs. Consider worst case scenarios but don’t assume that you will always encounter the worst case. Build your capabilities over time, as your budget and time allow.

bugout vehicle

8 thoughts on “Pimp Your Bugout Vehicle on a Budget”

  1. Unfortunately the FLIR unit will not work with the windshield in the way. You can fix the phone to a pair of goggles to make a poor man’s NVG and hang your head out the drivers’ window.

  2. I am interested in preparedness and have been for 30 years. However…the title of your article “Pimp Out Your Vehicle…” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Please reconsider the use of the word pimp. I realize that it’s been used a lot and is starting to take on a different meaning. But it’s crude and demeaning.

    1. Bill Scarborough

      As silly as it sounds, at least to a lot of people, I’m with you here. “P**P” does have a nasty connotation to me. Word usage has deteriorated in recent years and it disturbs me. Another example is the use of what I call ” serious ” curse words in everyday usage …. even media just such as these pages.

  3. Metal skid plates are another option that can protect your vechile from road/off road debris and thieves who try to puncture your gas tank from below. We replaced a plastic “skid plate” with a metal one for better protection.CJ

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