Bug Out Vehicles

The “BOV”

A Bug-Out-Vehicle (BOV), is whatever mode of powered transportation that gets you from a bad place, or soon-to-be bad place, to wherever you think you might do better. It really is that wide open of a consideration. If what you have will fill your need, then that is the right BOV for you. The trick is  accurately defining what you really need.

BOVs commonly described are:

  • 4 wheel drive trucks and SUVs
  • High-mileage cars & 2 wheel drive trucks with a good amount of storage
  • Motorcycles (consider a trailer if on-board storage is limited)
  • Motor homes (all classes)
  • Travel trailers, pop-ups (tent trailers) and 5th wheel trailers

Whatever the configuration, it is generally accepted that the BOV should be able to traverse terrain on the primary and backup routes to your destination, carry everyone that is going with you and all supplies you plan to use en route. Anything else is additional. The larger and more powerful the vehicle, the more that can be transported.

In this series of articles, I’ll cover this broad topic in a way that hopefully will point you in the best direction for your Survival Plan, without burying you in the ditch of details. Coming to a decision is an important road to travel. I hope you don’t take a careless shortcut.

The Best BOV – How do I start my planing?

It is common to find forum members that publish posts along the lines of, “Can you tell me what would be the best BOV?” The answers to that question run the gamut. I think it’s better to answer questions like these….

Do I have a realistic bug-out-location to reach?
It’s pretty foolish to waste hard earned, and heavily taxed cash on a vehicle you don’t need. So evaluate your real situation. Do you have a BOL, or a suitable stand in? Do you need one? Hard core “survivalists” will say that you need some means of getting away from wherever you are, and in a great number of scenarios, they are right. What they recommend is often times just too far out for most to acquire or operate comfortably.

You need to chose the most efficient method of transportation that will fit your Survival Plan, not theirs.  A Survival Plan needs to address the realities inherent in the scenarios you suspect are most likely to occur. And in your Plan, you need to address the issues of your BOL and your BOV together. They must work together to make a Plan a reality.

What are the transit considerations (terrain)?
Let’s assume that you do have a BOL, and need to narrow down the choices of a vehicle that will get you there. It’s job is to cover ground, and do so safely and capably. Terrain can be segmented into two categories for purposes of consideration.

Off Road:

  • fields, streams and rivers
  • mountains and hills
  • deserts
  • parks (national, state, intra-city and urban)
  • forests, etc….

On Road.

  • dirt and paved roads
  • major streets
  • highways and freeways
  • bridges both fixed and draw (or pivot, as the case may be)
  • toll roads and bridges (pay points turn into choke /check points)
  • parking lots
  • railroad crossings and rights-of-way
  • ferries

A Survival Plan must consider what was mentioned previously. “…chose the most efficient method of transportation that will fit your Survival Plan.” and “address the realities inherent in the scenarios you suspect are most likely to occur.”

You need to plan at least one route to your BOL. (Two is better, and three is just wonderful!) You need to actually drive that route to become intimately familiar with the terrain. This enables you to determine if that easy-looking path on the map truly is easy, and it helps you to fix landmarks in your mind, and clearly notate them on your map. (By the way, a collection of maps is the best back-up to GPS units. It won’t matter to you how the GPS failed when it did, just that it did. Your stress levels will be much lower if you have a proven backup system.)

Each transition between terrain types requires that you imagine its difficulties. That dirt road may be just right for a quick shortcut, but the drop to it from the highway takes you down a moderately steep embankment, with high brush, and through what looks like a possible drainage ditch at the bottom. Can your truck get to the other side? You’d better find out now….

Once on the dirt road, you can check it out for suitability. For instance: That 3 mile dirt road short-cut was chosen to save you 9 miles of highway driving through a bad area, but has the potential to become a muddy mire if the soil won’t drain. DRIVE THE ROAD. Stop now and then, especially at low points, and look for signs of flooding, bogging, or other problems. Deep tire ruts that have dried indicate soggy wet conditions. That short cut may require that you have 4 wheel drive, or at least a winch capable of pulling you out. Without trees nearby, you’ll need to pull yourself out with a purposely buried anchor such as a spare tire or rim. Plan NOW.

As you can see, the actual test drive, and subsequent practice runs, will point out things you can’t possibly cover, in entirety, via the usual means. GPS, internet satellite imagery, maps and hearsay are nothing compared to experience. If you have the time, running the course in dry and wet seasons will give you what you need. Even if your bug out route is very familiar to you, do at least one discovery run wherein you pick it to pieces looking for failure points. The only help you can expect will come from planning and preparing.

Any access point along your path that can be controlled by humans is of special concern. Toll plazas can be shut down easily, and since they are generally positioned at choice points, they are reason for special concern. If you are transiting during normal times, or during a period of mandated evacuation, you’ll be fine. If a lock-down is coming soon, they will be used as control points. Draw bridges can be disabled. They can be damaged by shipping. They allow for no crossing if unavailable. In worse case scenarios, both of these obstacles could be manned by bad guys looking for payment, or loot. Try to plan around these if possible. If your personality makes driving through them an option, then a stout BOV will be required, along with obvious spare parts.

Similar to our F-250

Similar to our F-250

Most off-road routes will require at least a half ton truck, minimum. If you plan to survive, then your vehicle needs to survive as well, or you better have good boots and a nice hand cart. While a rear wheel drive car and truck share the same driveline configuration, the similarities stop right there. The truck’s suspension, even in 2 wheel drive, can handle much more abuse, and carry a bigger load. Examples of such trucks are the Ford F-150, and the Chevy and Dodge 1500. Of course, bigger is likely better, so the F-250 and F-350, and the Chevy and Dodge 2500 and 3500 fit the bill.

Highway routes are easier to traverse, if not clogged by the masses (you plan to leave early, right?). If your main and backup routes do not include rubber on dirt, your options widen. Trucks are still viable, if only for their added ability to go places you don’t initially plan to go. But added to those are vans and minivans, SUVs, large cars, station wagons, motorcycles… you name it. If it will carry you and yours, and your needed belongings, it’s fair game. I do lean towards vans and SUVs because of their interior space. Even if your supplies will not take up all of the room in these vehicles, the extra space is not a waste. It makes for handy sleeping possibilities. If you are of the type to pick up the stricken and the lost, there’s the room.

What kind of distance am I looking at, and how much fuel will I need?
While it may not seem obvious to some, your vehicle’s range is important. We are used to filling up whenever we want, and wherever we need. Your bug-out plan will best serve you if it doesn’t rely on gas stations. This is only possible if you can carry fuel sufficient to the trip either within the vehicle’s tank (s), or via supplementation by fuel storage cans. (Scrounging leaves you too vulnerable to chance.) Your fuel supply needs can be discovered by a couple methods. The first is by measuring fuel mileage. Either run the route and record the miles traveled, or use one of the online route planning tools, and get a good read on the distance you’ll cover. This is the first part of figuring out your fuel needs. By running the route, you become familiar with it as detailed above, but you also get a feel for how your vehicle eats while working. Distance figures on maps can not tell you how driving up hills and mountains will affect you mileage. While maybe not on the first run, perhaps the second would best be practiced by loading-up everything you think you might need and see how it affects your mileage. You’ll know for sure if you can get there on one tank.

For those that can not make practice runs due to distance, time or other factors, you can still narrow down the fuel storage figures. To ensure that you bring enough fuel to complete the trip, start by calculating your vehicle’s fuel consumption using its worst rating. Every car and truck on the road has a city mileage rating and one for highway. You will be loaded down with supplies and /or people. This affects your mileage, so start with the city rating. Calculate the miles between you and the BOL, and multiply that by you worst mileage. If your F-350 gets 14mpg when loaded, and you have 275 miles to run, you’ll need at least 19.6 gallons (275 /14 = 19.6). This is a figure that does not account for sitting at lights, idling while waiting at check points, wasted fuel burned on detours, or running the engine while laid over in bad weather requiring the use of the vehicle’s heater. To be safe, I recommend carrying double the estimated fuel needs, even if you have driven the route. 19.6 X 2 = 39.2 gallons. Say, 40 gallons for a nice round figure.  That F-350 may only have a 30 gallon tank, so you will need another 10 gallons. This is solved by having a pair of 5 gallon fuel cans on a bumper rack, or on any trailer you plan to drag with you. Having too much fuel is rarely a problem.

Your Plan may call for a return to your home after some time away. You might not be able to count on regular refueling at gas stations. This would justify having all of your fuel for both trips on board when you initially leave. 80 gallons is a lot of fuel, and you won’t be able to carry that much without some serious preparations. It is possible if you have a truck with extra tanks or a transfer tank in the bed, a trailer on which to carry the extra tank or cans, or another vehicle with you traveling as support. If a complete round trip is in your plans, think ahead regarding these possibilities. See our Convoys – Configuration and Operation post.

(For the purposes of this section, a BOV is a vehicle with 4 wheels or more.)

Your BOV will need to move you and yours, and all you plan to take with you, from point A to point B… and maybe several other points if special circumstances arise.  Affecting this mission is the vehicle’s configuration, its ability to be loaded down, and its reliability under stress. Having a plan that includes who and what to be moved will avert the problem of discovering, at the last minute, that you can’t take it all with you. It may also prevent the disaster of a break down at the wrong time, or in the wrong location.

Your BOV’s load-out is mainly limited by two factors. The first is physical storage space. The second is the load carrying capacity of the vehicle.

Storage Space

This is the “cubic foot” rating so often advertised by auto manufacturers. I like to go one further and say that cubic feet are reduced to effective cubic feet due to obstructions. Look at the storage compartments and you will see that they are not perfect squares or rectangles. They contain oblong areas that can not easily be filled by totes or boxes. To take advantage of these areas, you’ll need to fill them with flexible items such as duffel bags or other soft-sided bags, and clothing or linens.

Load Carrying Capacity

GVW:   Gross Vehicle Weight – Base curb weight + payload. (Average)
GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – Maximum allowable total weight for base vehicle, passengers and cargo.
GCW:   Gross Combined Weight – Combined vehicle (passengers and cargo) and trailer. (Average)
GCWR: Gross Combined Weight Rating – Maximum allowable combined weight of vehicle (passengers and cargo) and trailer.
GAW    (front or rear): The Gross Axle Weight – Carrying capacity for that axle. (As operated)
GAWR  (front or rear): The Gross Axle Weight Rating – Carrying capacity for each axle system.

Where you see the word “Rating”, it might be easier to think of “Limit”, as in maximum limit.

Your Owner’s Manual (hereafter “OM”) should list some or all of the above information. Some vehicles come with supplements to the OM, and will have different information contained within. An example of this is my F-250 diesel. The diesel engine supplement supersedes the standard OM in several key areas. If you don’t have, or can’t get an OM for your BOV, check the driver’s door pillar for a vehicle ID sticker. These usually have the weight information most critical to the vehicle, and specifications for tire size and pressures. From my truck’s pillar, I get the following:

GVWR:              8800LB
Front GAWR: 4550LB
Rear  GAWR: 6084LB
Front tires:    55psi
Rear tires:     70psi

Notice that the total combined GAWR for both axles is greater than the GVWR for the whole vehicle. This is because the loads on the axles can vary from front to rear, but should never exceed the GVWR on the sticker. Loading up overweight can damage your tires, overload your brakes, burn up your engine, transmission or differential and cause a roll-over.

You can not exceed the GVWR or the GCWR without risking trouble.  A 5th wheel trailer will max out the GVWR first, and a travel trailer will max out the GCWR first. If you think you are going to exceed the given weights, do yourself a favor and visit a public scale. Weigh the BOV and contents. You might even weigh the two ends separately from each other to determine your axle loads and weight distribution.

Using the recommended tires will ensure you don’t destroy them, if you stay within the GVWR and GAWR limits. Some Owner’s Manuals will tell you that a lower load rated tire will reduce your vehicle’s rating, whereas a higher rated tire will not increase the rating above that given by the factory. It won’t hurt to go higher, since that will ensure the tire survives, but the overall rating won’t increase because it takes into account factors like spring load limits, axle strength, brakes, etc….

Along with overall cargo weight, please consider the cargo density. Some things weigh a lot more than others. For instance, 4 cases of water will weigh more than 2 duffels of clothing, and might take up less space, too. It is a temptation to load the water last, since you won’t have to push it so far into the vehicle (truck or SUV…). This would be a mistake. Heavy items need to be loaded ahead of the rear axle. This distributes the weight between both the front and rear axles. By making the mistake of loading behind the rear axle, that weight is carried only by the rear axle, and actually works to unload the front end. Depending on the weight, and how badly the back end sags, the front end steering alignment can be severely affected, degrading control. Have you ever seen a truck /trailer combo on the highway, where the back end of the truck is so weighed down that the driver has trouble seeing over the hood? That would be an extreme example, but it illustrates the conditions wonderfully. You might have also noticed that he had to fight to keep the thing straight. Something that you probably couldn’t see what how harsh the ride was, and how the wind would have its way with the driver.

The rule: Don’t load dense cargo behind the axle, and don’t be “dense” behind the wheel!

Load Capability Enhancements

I recommend Firestone Ride-Rite Air Spring kits for load enhancements. Now, I’m not saying that you should overload the BOV, but for cases where the rear end is sagging because the load is approaching GAWR limits, air bags are the answer. They will restore a vehicle to a level ride attitude. In that respect, they are extremely valuable. With that return to level comes familiar steering, better braking (since 70% of your braking can come from the front tires) and better roll control. If your vehicle can accept the no-bolt version, it’s easier to install. Check the application chart for specifics. http://www.fsip.com/riderite/

I mentioned earlier that tires with a load rating higher than stock will not increase your overall load limits for the suspension system on your stock vehicle. But… and this is a Big and quantified BUTif you are going to overload your BOV, and if you plan to take it beyond its stock limits, you must upgrade your tires. Overloaded tires will heat up. They will suffer a failure of some sort, such as sidewall blow out, tread separation or bead failure when you least need it – in a turn or on the side of a hill. If you don’t mind burning out axle bearings, twisting axles (or breaking them), wiping out U-joints, etc…. go right ahead and overload that beast. But do yourself a favor, and one for every passenger you value, and get tires rated for the load you plan to carry.


If your BOV is unreliable to begin with, or made so by the addition of equipment and payload beyond its limits, then you should be prepared to go on foot. When the vehicle dies, or comes up lame, you’ll need to have a means to continue some other way, or you will prove yourself to be thinking lame. I’ve read that some people have made preps to continue on:

  • Bicycles
  • Small motor cycles
  • Electric cycles
  • Electric scooters!!
  • Skates… traditional or roller blades
  • Game carts

All of this requires room on board to store the above. If you have a trailer hitch, and no trailer, make use of a cargo deck. These things are designed to handle hundreds of pounds, and will accept most wheeled backup transportation and a goodly amount of other supplies.

I’m going to show you more than a few options for cargo platforms from Amazon. I did some very quick research on these. Some have great reviews, some have next to none at all. I don’t think any of these had bad reviews, and there are more, still. A little time on their site and you’ll get a good feel for these. In the mix was one for wheel chairs. If you transport someone that is disabled, you might have something like this already, but it’s in there for all to see. I also picked out one designed to carry a couple bikes (which will work for some electric bikes and scooters, too.)

Curt Manufacturing 18131 2 Piece Basket Cargo Carrier, Folding

Masterbuilt HP2W HITCH-HAUL 2″ Extra Large Cargo Carrier

Heininger 4011 HitchMate Mounted Cargo Carrier 2″ Receiver

CARPOD Hitch Mounted Cargo Rack M2200

1,000 Lb Cargo Basket Luggage Carrier Hauler Rack 48×18.

Best Choice Products® Mobility Carrier Wheelchair Electric Scooter Rack Hitch Disability Medical Ramp

As mentioned above, take load limits into consideration and don’t beat this thing down. Consult your OM and see what the maximum trailer tongue weight is for your BOV, and don’t load that deck to that limit. Remember…. These cargo decks are BEHIND the rear axle, and will do everything they can to upset your front end. You may want to enhance your rear springs, or add a leveling device, to keep the whole works level if your load is large enough to cause issues. I didn’t mention that an overloaded suspension, already sagging, will be hell to deal with over sped bumps, through pot holes and anything else that shocks the system. The bounce will be worse. The length of up and down cycling will be extreme, and you may bottom out frequently. Your shocks will be working overtime, for sure.

Spare Parts

Your BOV is going to break.  Sorry to tell you that, but if you think otherwise, you’ll find yourself disappointed one day. It’s going to break. Once you have that fact firmly rooted in your memory, you can plan for it. The goal is to have the parts on hand, parts that you can install, that will enable you to get rolling again. To do this, you’ll have to do some research. This should be focused on discovering what parts are commonly used in repairs for your vehicle, and also what parts would be easy to have on board in a general sense.

A few examples. For my F-250, parts to have on board for a Bug Out (short term) would be those I might have on hand for a road trip.

  • Alternator
  • Starter
  • Fan belt
  • Radiator hoses
  • Fuses and fuse puller
  • Fluids… brake, steering, transmission, oil, 50/50 mixture of coolant and water, can of fuel

These also happen to be “general”parts.

For the Long Term Bug-Out, (or permanent), I’m concerned with parts that will take the truck down, that might not be easy to repair, and not so comfortable to salvage. Optimally, I’d like to not salvage anything at all, but transmissions and engines are kinda hard to carry with me. Still, for my truck, certain things will be hard to do without.

  • Driver’s side engine harness. On the 7.3 engines, these can wear through over time, and short out the injectors. This is bad.
  • Fuel filters. A must for these engines. I change them at the recommended interval, 5,000 miles.
  • Oil filters
  • U-joints
  • Brake pads
  • ECM – Engine Control Module, the “computer”. Stored in an EMP Box
  • CPS – Crank position sensor
  • IPR – Injector Pressure Regulator
  • ICP – Injector Control Pressure
  • Vacuum hose
  • Water hoses
  • Parts cleaner solution
  • Wire and crimp-on terminals
  • …and other things

The important thing is to look ahead to regular maintenance, stock up for that service, and then consider things that can break. Check the internet for forums that discuss your vehicle. You’ll find a lot of information by people with real world repair problems, and be able to store things away ahead of time, knowing where your vehicle is weak.

Don’t make the mistake of saying, “My Toyota will never break, so I’m good.” No, that’s not “good”, just ignorant. All vehicles will break. Remember that and plan for it.


One reason I like my newer truck is that there are millions of them in current use. If I do end up needing a transmission, and the stinky has hit the rotor, I may not have to look far to find a “donor”.  One of the internet arguments for a BOV is a non-electronic diesel from way back in the day. Well, unless your BOL is likely to have some of its old cousins running around, parts sourcing will be an issue. Yes, computers are a potential problem, especially for EMP scenarios, but other than that, I’m not very worried. With one in an EMP can, I’m set. The newer trucks are strong, reliable, and prolific. Parts are a non-issue.

Salvaging can happen in a lot of places.

  • Road side wrecks
  • Junk yards
  • Dealerships
  • Parts stores
  • Fleet yards

With a current vehicle, you also have a better chance of finding someone that knows where a donor might be sitting.

Stay away from the unique, such as Hummers. They are strong, sure, but where will you get parts? Can you find a Range Rover dealership where you BOL is? Will that fancy Mercedes Benz SUV be easy to repair without parts nearby? How many of these vehicles are available for parts? If you can get a BOV that is common, you are so ahead of the game.

You might even survive….

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