Best bugout vehicle project: 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee
So, after a search that started when I was in Afghanistan a couple months, I picked up a SHTF bugout vehicle: a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Why this one? That’s the focus of this post.
There are a lot of schools of thought as to what would be the ultimate SHTF/zombie vehicle in case SHTF. To prepare for a real SHTF scenario, you have to take a lot of things into consideration. You also have to deal with realistic considerations.
Remember, just as in the case of a weapon, a vehicle is just a tool that solves a problem for you. Some tools are perfect for one situation but suck for others. Some tools are fairly good for many situations but aren’t really all that good for any in particular. As with all of your life, you need balance.
What are you preparing for?
The first thing to consider when trying to pick the best SHTF vehicle to get you through an emergency or disaster situation is what situations are you trying to prepare. You need to know what the vehicle is going to do for you and the big picture part of that is what are you going to be dealing with.
It drives me crazy when people have what they think is a “creative” solution to a SHTF vehicle such as; horses, dirtbike, bicycle, sneakers, etc and keep toting those as the ultimate solution.
They are great backup solutions but if you really look at the overall problem, you’re wrong. Those solutions may make you feel smart when you post them on your favorite prepper/survivalist forum on the ultimate SHTF vehicle but they just don’t work. They solve a few problems extremely well but suck for everything else. They are as unbalanced a solution as you can get. Don’t fall for it. Look at your situation and the gaps you have, come up with what it would take for a balanced solution and then make a plan.
The collapse of society in a war-torn country would need different abilities from your vehicle than dealing with the aftermath of a tornado or getting out of your home temporarily during a winter storm. Now don’t get me wrong, unlike what Doomsday Preppers seems to cast people doing, you shouldn’t be focusing on one TEOTWAWKI situation and go full on for that. You need to try to plan for more than one contingency.
There are many bad things that could happen to your world that would require you to move from one place to another. Unfortunately, not only do you not know which of them may come true, more than one may happen. In your planning, don’t be laser-focused on one situation.
Look at the worst-case scenarios that you think are worth your time and effort to plan for, and then look at how those situations will affect your mobility. Where are you going to try to go? Will the roads be passable? Will fuel be available? What special considerations such as security do you need to plan for?
After the worst-case, take a look at the most likely SHTF scenarios that you need to plan for. Hopefully this list isn’t the same as the worst-case. You need to take both worst-case and most likely into consideration in your planning.
Make an overall list of what will be going on in all of those situations and look at these elements as a whole. You should look at figuring out a vehicle that will cover as many situations as possible and definitely do the most critical ones.
What do you need a SHTF vehicle to do?
Now that you’ve had a chance to look at what situation you’re in, you need to get to the crux of the situation: what do you need the vehicle to do?
How many people are you planning it to carry? Are any of those people small children, older people or physically impaired?
How much gear are you going to try to carry with it?
How about OPSEC? If someone sees certain things on a vehicle, they might not only try to steal the vehicle for their own use, they might make certain assumptions about other things you have, thereby putting your family and your preps at risk.
What kind of terrain are you going to cover? If you live in the mountains of Colorado, the terrain you need to deal with will probably be different than someone who lives in New York City. If your bugout route covers off road terrain, you may need something that is very good off road and can be improved easily. A lot of off road capability is due to the driver but even the best driver can’t take a 2008 Ford Focus through a foot of mud.
What about security and protection? A horse may be much more maneuverable in off road conditions but it gives you zero protection from zombie hordes or a cold rain. If you’re considering things such as armor, remember that such additions are EXTREMELY heavy so some vehicles won’t work.
If you’re looking at protection from EMP, you may want to consider an older vehicle that has no vulnerable electronics.
What are your limitations?
The biggest limitation you’ll probably face is your budget. In addition, think about things like local laws, the availability of the type of vehicle you’re considering and what your family will be comfortable dealing with.
How good are you at wrenching? If not so good, you’ll need a reliable vehicle or at least one that is easy to work on.
What about fuel? How far do you need to drive before refilling? Do you make your own diesel or already have other vehicles that have a particular fuel requirement?
How easy is it to get parts for your car?
SHTF vehicle pros and cons
Each mode of transportation has pros and cons in different situations; your vehicle won’t be any different. No vehicle is going to work for every situation. What you need to do then is look at the requirements above, compare it to what your vehicle will do for you and then make a plan to mitigate the problems your vehicle will have in certain situations.
If you have a car that isn’t so good off road but you’re planning on going through a wooded area to get to your bugout shack next to the lake, your choice is to either get a different vehicle or adapt. If getting another car isn’t the smartest situation, what else could you do?
It’s best if you don’t get stuck off road, but second best if you can just get yourself out of the situation if it happens. Having a cumalong (a good one, not a POS you find at Wal-mart) and a strong strap can pull you out of a ditch in most cases and isn’t all that expensive. If you have a truck or something that can take it, a wench is usually better, but isn’t always as adaptable. I would personally have both available if possible. You don’t want to spend the next year and $10,000 investing in your preps only to end up leaving your car and most of your gear in the middle of a wash because you didn’t think your monster would get stuck.
If your car doesn’t get great gas mileage, can you carry some?
How reliable is your car? Does it have any failures that are common to your model/year that could deadline it? What are you gonna do if that happens? Can you upgrade it now?
My SHTF vehicle
I’m not gonna go into the breakdown of what SHTF scenarios I’m planning on in this section because that’s a bunch of posts in itself, and you have stuff you should be doing instead of spending the next 10 hours reading a ridiculously long post. I’m just gonna jump in the middle and show you what I was looking for and what I’m doing now.
As I stated in Part1 of this series, I had the following requirements for a vehicle I was looking for:
- Under $10,000
- Cheap to maintain
- Very good off road
- Can sleep 2 inside comfortably
- Decent gas mileage/range
- Discreet enough that it wouldn’t be noticed as a SHTF vehicle
So, I picked up a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with Quadradrive and a 4.7L v8. Why? Let’s break down my requirements and see how it stacks up.
I’d like to have the vehicle reasonably ready to go for under $10k after any repairs and necessary upgrades. The vehicle came out a hair over $5,000, which was $6,000 tax, title, tags out the door. This leaves me $4,000 for repairs and upgrades.
I took the Jeep to the mechanic shop I’ve been using for years after my initial assessment. I’m fairly adept at wrenching but not a professional mechanic. Here’s pretty much everything the Jeep needs to make it whole:
- Passenger rear electric window doesn’t roll down (hopefully a regulator or something cheap)
- Tires are dry-rotted
- Front brakes are pretty low but rotors can be redone instead of replaced
- Transmission gasket is starting to leak in one corner
- Rear seal of transfer case is starting to leak
All in all, nothing serious. The most expensive fix by far is going to be the tires. Don’t know about the window yet but it’s not something I need to worry about at the moment.
Cheap to maintain
It’s pretty easy to find parts for Jeeps and they’re not nearly as expensive as Toyotas or Nissans etc. Plus, they’re fairly simple to work on so I can do a lot of it myself. This one in particular is pretty reliable too. The biggest problem with it is the engine. The 4.7L isn’t as reliable as the 6 cyl. Not a bad engine but not a top machine. I have to keep that in mind and may end up rebuilding it before it really needs it.
There are several issues that people have had with this model but overall it’s still a reliable machine. I’ll be investing some time to study the particular issues that are common to this year and either make sure it’s not an issue with mine, fix it pre-emptively, or upgrade the part to something that would be better anyway.
Very good off road
Jeep Grand Cherokees are one of the best off road vehicles made. The Quadra-drive system is very good. I don’t have to do much to improve it but it could use a little more clearance and some water resistance.
This video (not mine) breaks down what I’ve found about the stock vehicle pretty well. Great off road system right out of the chute but has room for some improvement:
Can sleep 2 inside comfortably
No problem with this model. The rear area lays flat and has enough room. I’ll have a tent in the Jeep but if things get really bad, I want the flexibility to crawl into the back and sleep through pretty much any weather.
Decent gas mileage/range
The highway mileage is reported as 17mpg with a tank of 21 gallons. This gives theoretical maximum range of about 350 miles. I think I can improve the mileage with some kind of performance chip and a better intake system but it’s acceptable to start with.
Discreet enough that it wouldn’t be noticed as a SHTF vehicle
The Grand Cherokee is great in this part. Balanced OPSEC is a big issue with me and you can’t get a much better compromise than this vehicle if you want something that’s still gonna work when you need it to. The Steel Blue Pearl paint is also a good choice here.
The 10 meter target for this project is replacing the tires, front brakes and the transmission gasket. Also, I’ll be changing all the filters and making sure all the fluids are topped up and don’t show any issues such as metal shavings etc. In total, not counting the power window (because I don’t know if it’s a motor, wire, switch, fuse, or whatever and not all that important), getting the car to reliable condition should be a little over a grand. A huge chunk of that cost is going to be in tires.
I’m also going to be improving the stereo system (you gotta live your preps), and installing my ham radio somehow as well as a better way to keep a weapon in the vehicle when I’m driving so it isn’t in my holster since it’s hard to reach from the small of my back. The spare tire is also going up to the roof to open all that room inside.
The 20 meter target is to do more research into the common issues that this model has (some sort of death wobble problem for instance) and see what’s feasible to fix.
Somewhere in that mix is also to see what I can do to improve the off road capabilities and my ability to deal with any breakdown or stuck situations. EMP vulnerability is one of those considerations. Unless you get a really old vehicle (which then makes your vehicle not as reliable off the bat and probably needing a bunch of repairs/upgrades to get it in line), your vehicle is gonna be vulnerable. I’ll have to figure out a reasonable solution. Like everything else, it has to be a balanced solution.
Since you should always be improving your fighting position, I’ll be continually upgrading the vehicle’s capabilities and how it’ll be able to provide solutions to problems I may face. I’ll be fitting it with an emergency kit and vehicle bugout gear. I’m also going to be look at Jeep Grand Cherokee-specific cargo and off road gear.
So, since you shouldn’t be reading my posts just to see what’s going on in my life, what are you gonna do with this knowledge? Take a look at your bugout plan and bugout route. What does your vehicle have to do for you? What shortfalls does your current car have to solve those problems? Once you figure that out, start making a plan to improve your situation and if it would take too much money to get where you want, or if your vehicle isn’t adequate, start shopping for another car.