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, sharing information back and fourth, making any needed adjustments for a seamless driving experience.

A computer controlled transmission cannot shift until the computer commands it to do so. 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, and probably a few dozen more.

With the ever increasing possibility of a terrorist EMP attack or natural blast from our sun, these systems will probably not survive. 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 power train control module(PCM). Without a working PCM your vehicle is a 3200 pound paper weight.

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, cheap to buy, and repair.  There is also my personal favorite, the old school diesel. Unlike modern computerized  fuel injected diesels,  the old school diesel has an all mechanical fuel injection system and no computer either.

My personal bug out vehicle is a 1983 ford F350 Pick-up 4×4 automatic with a 6.9 diesel. Vehicles such as this can be purchased cheap, repaired cheap, tagged and insured cheap too. This truck has two 19 gallon fuel tanks, plenty of room for my family and all of our gear.

I had to take care of some maintenance to make it road ready. New batteries, brakes, filters, belts, hoses, starter, tires and a front end alignment, all told I have about $2000.00 invested in a vehicle that can go anywhere no matter what.

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, General Motors was using the 6.5 during the same time period, 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. Find one with a manual transmission, and you 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 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 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.

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8 thoughts on “A practical, reliable bug out vehicle”

  1. Just looked on eBay and another option would be to buy a used military truck they can be had for as little $2000. I even found a humvee for $25K. There are a couple of reasons to. Consider this 1st: the US government has hardend them against EMP, or are pre ECM ( electronic control module ). 2nd: the best way to hide is in plane sight. Getting past road blocks in a Duce and a half dressed as “solders” is a lot easier than begging the cops to let you buy. Also you look less like a target as a bunch of “solders”, than a family in the SUV trying to escape. 3rd: you can openly carry and AR or tactical shotgun, with drawing much notice from anyone at all. And if other like minded people have military trucks you can form a convoy and get the hell out of dodge.

  2. This is “potentially” easy. First lets get the really difficult obstacle out of the way. Today’s modern auto/truck/suv is very complicated and the various systems are interconnected in a way that would be extremely difficult to bypass and thus make it into a practical BOV. So here is the easy, very unconventional and slightly illegal way to do it. Leave almost everything in the vehicle intact. it’s damned near impossible to retrofit the existing system.

    Step 1) You must have a vehicle with a basic engine that has been around a long time, like a Chevy 350. The reason is you want to convert it to run on carburetion and eliminate all the high tech electronics.
    2) Remove the expensive and difficult to access fuel pump from your gas tank and replace it with a simple old fashioned electric fuel pump.
    3) remove the intake manifold and buy an old manifold from a junk yard that was designed to use a carburetor; buy the carburetor too. Install this and connect to the output from your fuel pump.
    4) Buy an old style distributer the kind that used points (some older electrics will work too).
    5) connect the power to your replacement distributer (and coil) to a toggle switch on your dash and to your positive battery cable.
    6) install a high amp push button on the dash and connect it to the starter solenoid.
    7) There will be a few loose ends from electronic devices that were connected to your original intake manifold and these must be taped, tied and pushed out of the way.

    Pretty much you are done. To start you flip the toggle switch to on and push the starter button. To shut it off you flip the toggle switch to off. Keep everything you took of it and label all disconnected wires etc, and you can reverse this process.
    Yes there are a handful of things you must know and do that I didn’t cover but they are the obvious things any mechanic would know and if you aren’t mechanically inclined you shouldn’t be doing this anyway.

  3. The newer 350 Chevy engines will not accept the early carburator intake manifolds. There have been casting changes to the block and cylinder heads that would prevent this kind of modification. The engine would have to be an older pre vortec era block. With the introduction of coil on plug ignition there is no camshaft driven distributer to speak of, and no distributer drive gear cast on to the camshaft . This procedure also fails to address the fact that the transmission, and transfercase need electronic control to function and receive sensor inputs from the engine systems that you are looking to disable. I stick by my original post, the best choice is an early, non computerized gasoline engine with a manual transmission or pre computer controlled automatic, or the mechanically injected diesel with the same transmission options.

  4. Hello Tony,

    I really appreciate your article. Thank you. However I am not too as knowledgeable as I should be on engines. How do I know if a truck is pre computer or not?

  5. Hi Larry,

    Just about any pre 1980 gasoline powered vehicle was non computer. The easiest way to check if your vehicle has a computer is to watch the instrument panel as you turn the key to the on position and look for a “CHECK ENGINE” light. This indicator light was incorporated on all computer controlled vehicles. Even if your vehicle is equiped, there may still be hope for an easy non computer conversion. Feed Back Carbutator (FBC) systems were an early attempt in the early to mid 1980s to control the exhaust emissions of carburator controlled fuel systems. FBC systems WILL function without a computer. Most FBC vehicles still had some type of electronic ignition. If your vehicle has a distributor with an electronic ignition module, you or your mechanic can swap it out for an earlier “points type” distributor. If you are still unsure ask Rourke for my e-mail and I’ll try to help that way. Tony

    PS, Rourke, you can foward my e-mail info to your readers who request it. I’ll be sure to post follow up answers that I give to folks that I think your readers can benefit from.

  6. How about a pack mule or horse as a bugout ‘vehicle’? *grin* Seriously, I grew up with horses and there were many times, especially when there was deep snow that our horses could go where cars or trucks couldn’t.

    Not to mention that they can go where there are no roads. Don’t break down, they can swim across a river AND keep you warm at night with their body heat. Not a bad idea I think!

  7. Horses are not practical since you wont get as many miles as a good bug out vehicle, you are also limited on storage amd what you can carry. Furthermore horses are slow targets and anyone who is dying of hunger will kill your horse for food in an instant leaving you defenseless.

  8. I like the idea of a fullsize muricin made 4×4 made in the mid 70`s. Mine has 2 tanks 20 gallons each it does not have much electronics to bbq. it has the imporntant things like disc brakes and electronic ignitions. You can keep the few things that could burn out if a emp ocurs.I also like the idea of a pickup truck bed converted to a trailer. You could swap out rear ends if need be also the gas tank on the trailer could be used to store extra fuel also.


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