Thinking about Bug-out Vehicles

I am in the process of looking for another vehicle after selling my previous “bug out” vehicle – a Chevy Blazer ZR2. My thoughts on what to get and what might be the best bug-out vehicle is beginning to change.

Previously – I had based my needs something that could haul my family of 4 as well as a trailer. Off road capabilities were always considered a must.

Why off-road? I just envisioned blocked roads requiring the ability to take alternate routes as well as the ever possibility of severe winter weather (snow).

Generally – the off-road 4×4 SUV’s do not get the nest gas mileage. My previous vehicle only would get about 16 miles per gallon at best.

With the thought that limited fuel supply will be available – and the distance to my bug-out location is approx 3.5 hours away – fuel efficiency is something to consider.

With the pre-stocking of my bug-out location to be the plan – the need to carry large amounts of supplies is not totally necessary.

Although there is no way to predict any TSHTF event – economic collapse is what is truly on my mind and in my plans.

I suspect that as collapse become imminent – the signs will be there and relocation will take lace without the need for concern for 4 wheel drive off-road travel.

I know – too many assumptions I believe.

Well – what other options are there to a medium to large size SUV? First – a pickup truck can make a lot of sense.

A smaller truck – like the Ford Ranger – is capable of getting 20 miles to the gallon or more on the highway and can even be had with 4 wheel drive.

Cargo space is good. Drawbacks are limited space for a family of 4 people.

Another thought is to buy an economy car. Yes…..that is correct – an economy car. Something like a Ford Focus or Chevy Cavalier. Why? Gas mileage.

Being able to drive farther on limited supplies has definite benefits. Carrying the entire family is not an issue. Cargo space is very minimal. Subaru’s come with all-wheel drive.

Honestly – I can’t see myself standing in my driveway and called a Ford Escort my “bug-out vehicle”.

Important factor that I have failed to mention up to this point  – my budget. I am looking to spend less than $6000. Another important factor – I am not very mechanically skilled. It is what it is.

Alright – I have considered 4×4 SUV’s, pickup trucks, and the economy car.

I know right now I am going to get a bunch of emails and comments telling me that I should look at old and big ex-military vehicles as well as early model of the Bronco (or something close).

Possibly. I also know that I will get emails and comments telling me that it is not a serious survival vehicle unless it it diesel. That is one school of thought.

This article is not for me to state what I recommend – circumstances are so different for each situation – not an easy task. For my situation – I am evaluating, considering, and determining.

I think one key factor – versatility – is critically important. I am leaning back towards something similar to what I had before – maybe something like a Jeep Cherokee. Depends on what kind of deal I find.

Your opinions are welcome –


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26 thoughts on “Thinking about Bug-out Vehicles”

  1. I was in a similiar situation. My wife and I both and sedan’s and we felt the need for a more suitable BOV. We ended up with a Nissan Frontier 4×4 crew cab, which was to be my primary vehicle. We are located within two hours or so of the publisher of this website, so the snow this past winter was no issue as well as hauling materials home from the Home Depot. It has been nice not asking for help to get stuff home from the hardware store. Our gas bill has definetely gone up, but I really love my truck and feel more secure having the means to roll out loaded and go around people on or off the road. Years ago I had a Chevy Colorado 4×2 that couldnt even go thru wet grass without getting stuck.

  2. I was looking at a Dodge Sprinter with a diesel engine yesterday, tons of storage and gets 24mpg. Of course it will make you stand out a bit during a SHTF, and possibly make you a target. But then again it would conceal things more than pulling an open trailer of all your gear.

  3. great topic Rourke.
    It’s something to consider, that’s for sure.
    Get something brown, it’s harder to spot by satellite.

  4. Brother get the Ford Ranger with the extended cab. The boys can fit in the back fold downs. It might not be the most comfortable for them but in a bug out situation comfort comes second. Get it in 4 wheel drive. You can haul wood and other stuff once you get to the bug out location. Being able to haul stuff post collapse is going to be a huge plus. I ended up picking up a Ford f-150 just lately for this exact reason. I found an super nice 92 ford because the computer is cheap to replace and it only has 1 ECU in the truck just for the fuel injection. It is also 4×4 and that is super important here in the mountains.

  5. Too many considerations there. Is this a daily driver and BOV when TSHTF? Or a dedicated BOV? Being not that mechanically skilled is a bit of a setback but not huge. So you need a long range BOV, reliable with good gas mileage and a daily driver.

    Toyota Tacoma Double Cab. Seats 4, 15/20 mpg, tough (albeit modified, a Tacoma did the 4Wheel Ultimate Adventure) and with a small investment into a L-shaped bed tank, you can upwards of 75-90 extra gallons riding out of site in the bed of the pickup. However this is a bit out of the price range.

    Try looking for older pickups, GMC is a good bet and I’m partial to Dodges.

  6. Have you looked into the quad cab Nissan Frontier or even (shudder) the S10 quad cab? Those are becoming popular within the “prep” crowd due to being able to carry some cargo and family members. Then there is even the Subaru Forester or Outback and if you can find one the Baja. We’ve been thinking about moving to the Subaru Forester or Outback and adding a trailer as our BOV. Our thinking is that we will still need to carry supplies to the BOL instead of just relying on our 72hr bags because it just may take more then 72hrs plus additional fuel to get to one of our BOL’s.

  7. If your bug out location is going to be stocked and is 3.5 hours away I would go with a ford ranger or a truck around that size. The advantage of the 20mpg plus the added benefit if you get one with 4 wheel drive will make a nice combo. Not sure if your bug out location is paved when you get close to it or has some dirt roads but from a person who drives a cavalier daily, it doesn’t like even the slightest bit of mud but will handle snow and ice real well with a good set of snow tires. Where I live in Wyoming the rocky’s are a 20 minute drive away and I can keep going for hours further away from people so my bug out vehicle/hunting vehicle is a 68 ford highboy with 35in tires. It works for me because I can get through snow, mud and small creeks with it as I head out to my location. MPG is around 8 with it but in my situation it is the perfect vehicle for what I need it for and I always have the extra gas cans full in the back. Good luck on your search and I’m sure you will find the perfect vehicle for your situation.

  8. Rourke

    I would urge you to plan, on your plan A,B,C and D to fail. I understand your point on the mileage and versatility, but if you ever have to tow, even 1000 lbs. light vehicles will not cut it. I’ve towed with Chevy’s, Ford’s, Jeeps and Toyota’s with small V8’s 4.7L to 5.4L the MPG drops 50% with a 4000 lbs. load. I’ve also towed with with Chevy K2500 and Ford F250 with diesels. Around town I averaged 17 MPG and when towing 8500 lbs I averaged 14 MPG.

    Light vehicles are fine for light loads and driving around town, But if the SHTF you could very well wind up hauling your life around with you. Real deal; what are you going to push out of the way with those light vehicles? With small light vehicles, in my opinion you have limited options. None of this takes into account maint. issued of light vehicles under a constant load, Engine, tranny, bearings and brakes.

    I still like the big 2.5 ton 6×6 late model military vehicles, but its not realistic for most people. If I had your budget my number 1 choice would be a Chevy K2500 diesel crew cab. Second would be a 2002 Ford Excursion Diesel, but these are very hard to find and even with 300k miles hold their value.

    If you are still looking at a car, you may want to look at the VW TDI’s, Jetta or Passat. Just stay away from the 1999, 2000, (not really sure on the year) but the first 2 model years with the tiptronic tranny.

    What ever you do, good luck.

  9. One other though. Since you are calling this your primary Bug out vehicle. Get all your bug out stuff together, strap on your weapons and see if everyone fits.

  10. My 1999 3/4 ton Suburban 2wd has a 454 w/4sp od trans and 3:73 rear gear w/posi and 33” mud tires…
    It does not get stuck if you use your head, & will pull a 10,000 trailer loaded (18,000 loaded truck & trailer) 70mph all day long. Parts are cheap & easy to get. 40gal fuel tank 15mpg unloaded hwy 11-12 loaded hwy….
    I keep 6 Jerry cans full so I can go about 800 miles (+ Or – ) & still have the kids dogs all in one rig…….. Small rigs wear out too quick & have no room so for 4-5 mpg I will just deal with it………. ford,chevy,dodge the same can be said for all……….

  11. Boys, I had a Ranger with a 5 speed it it sure didn’t get 20 mpg. I have a mechanical background, kept it tuned, and sure didn’t get that. After about 100K you will need to adjust the valves, because without premium gas, they will knock like a SOB. Not a bad truck, just not what everyone seems to think it is. I would go with the Tacoma if money allowed. My 2 cents…

    • Hillbilly –

      Thanks for the info. I have 1991 Ranger 4×2 right now. It has 175,000 miles on it and is a total wreck – but still gets me back and forth to work. It has been awhile since I checked the mileage – last time was after Katrina and I was trying to get maximum mileage using a variety of techniques. I always average 19-20 on a tank-full. I was able to get 26 driving carefully – slow acceleration, putting car in N going down a hill, shutting motor off sitting at a red light, etc.

      Would love to get a Tocoma – don’t think I will have enough money.

      Thanks – Rourke

  12. Back on this topic again… I agree with Patriot One about the usefulness of the full size vehicle. Believe me, it’s FAR easier working on a new full size Chevy/GMC than a S-10 or Colorado. I can also agree with the 3/4 ton, very useful for “pursuading” things to get out of your way.

    I also agree with Mike’s suggestion of 4 wheel drive. Not AWD, 4wheel drive. Although with careful driving there are not many places a good 2×4 with a selectable locker (locking differential) in the rear can’t get you that a 4×4 can.

    We can’t all have a Unimog in the driveway, but we can build on what we have.

    FWIW, I’ve driven a late 80’s Dodge p/u as Daily driver and FD response for the past 11 years.

    • Thanks BePrepared –

      Whatever I “settle” on – I will make do the best I can. Going to start looking into more full-size candidates.


  13. I have a Honda Element, Lots of room, all wheel drive, 26 miles to the gallon and the least likely looking bugout vehicle. The can have a good hitch, cargo carrier and carry 4 people easily, more if need be, seats fold out of the way for camping or hauling, It is not terribly fast or real powerful, but with over 300 miles per tank and lots of capacity and not everyone knows about these vehicles. Not a pure off road vehicle but you got to run with the horse that brung you. It works for me and is not too expensive, May be more than your budget but it is a Honda and they don’t often break, are very reliable and economical and have 4 wheel drive, Good compromise vehicle.
    Semper Fi
    Jack Fallin

  14. Full size Dodge 4×4 with Cummins diesel. I get 20 mpg hwy(@60mph), 14 town with 35″ mud terrains. Tows anything. True solid axle 4×4. 30+ gallon tank gives long range. Powerful. Reliable. Surprisingly efficient. I was impressed with a tacoma I owned but my diesel gets same mileage with more room and more towing ability.

  15. IMHO, the 4×4 would be the most beneficial choise. But with said 4×4 gas milage is and will always be an issue.
    Expecially with later model 4×4’s. The front drive train is always engaged.. per say, since its still connected to the hub. It’s like putting your car in neutral and pushing it. Your drive train is still engaged, theres just no power going to it. So even with 4WD disengaged your front differential is still in motion increasing drag on the motor and decreasing gas milage.
    So I would suggest going to manual lockout hubs. Manual lockouts completely disengage the front hub from the front differential. Which will give you 2×4 gas milage and 4×4 capability.
    The drawback of this is a +1000.00 price and will take an experienced mechanic to install, but with gas at +4.00 a gal… it may be worth looking into.

    • Hi Ed –

      Thanks for the info.

      Just went and looked at a 1992 Ford Bronco 4×4 with removable top. It has locking hubs on the front – from what I could tell.

      Don’t know the price yet.

      Thanks again –


  16. Rourke, knowing your situation as I do this is what I would do (if I were you). Buy a Jeep Wrangler or CJ-7. Some of the reasons for this:
    -They will go about anywhere-
    -There are hundreds of bolt on’s to increase capabilites-
    -They are a blast (as you may remember) convertable, trips to the beach, off-roading, ect,ect-
    -They will carry 4 people-
    -With at least a 6 cylinder motor you can pull a small off-road capable trailer filled with supplies-

    The fact is that jeeps are alot of fun and you and your family could have many adventures and good times with it. And I bet your unbelievably talented brother would build you a custom trailer to your specs for cost which wouldn’t be much……… you can thank me later 😉

    • Slaveboy –

      You might be right. How about a Jeep Cherokee? Lots of things can be done to those as well as they have a pretty good 4.0 engine.


  17. ya the Cherokees are very capable if you can find a nice example. Broncos are great to (with removable top) but get pricey for real examples but 6k would get you a real nice one.

  18. One important thing to consider when purchasing a BOV….does the vehicle have an OBD computer? If so, do you have the equipment to diagnose problems, should the vehicle begin displaying a check engine light.

    With that said, I would highly recommend a Jeep Cherokee (NOT Grand Cherokee) with a 4.0L high output inline 6, or a Comanche pickup with the same engine if you can find one. If you look at a Cherokee or Comanche, it may be a good idea to check under the carpet for rust, as these vehicles rust from the inside out. A word of warning…the Comanche comes in 2.5L, 4.0L, and 4.0L High Output. Later years have better engines (see If you want a heavy duty “light” truck, find a 4.0L High Output. If you’re not worried about towing, and want something which will get you the best gas mileage, I normally get 22 mpg with my 2.5L 4 cylinder Comanche.

  19. Hmmm… i’d say good options might be Jeep wrangler 2 or 4 door – 4cyl for fuel economy unless your really gonna modify it) though price might be hard to get something half decent in your price range. Excellent options for price, size & MPG might be late 90’s to early 2000’s Toyota Tacoma quad cab, Toyota ForeRunner, Nissan Xterra, and Subaru Forester or Outback. Lets face it the Toys run forever, they’re all over and I think in the long run a much more durable platform.


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